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Olympic Photographers Face 14 Minute Deadlines

Olympic Photographers Face 14 Minute Deadlines

“When I first shot the Olympics, my contract allowed me 12 hours to go through the photos and get them back to the team.  When I photographed the Summer Olympics in London, my deadline was shortened to 2 hours. . . Now, with the ever increasing immediacy of the Internet age, they want me posting images at each break. So that means when the buzzer sounds at the end of the first period of hockey, I have 14 minutes to download my photos, go through them, edit, re-size them and upload to Team USA.”

You heard right! Olympic photographer deadlines have been getting shorter and shorter and now there is almost NO time to make mistakes. With a 14 minute deadline, you need to have the perfect workflow technique to get things done. I mean, I spend that much time figuring out which filter to use on Instagram and how to tag it (jokes, it actually only takes like 10). It is crazy to see how quickly the Olympic photography scene seems to be changing.

On photographer Jeff Cable’s blog, he talks about his current workflow for the Sochi Olympics and the gear needed to make it happen. “I am using the fastest memory cards, fastest card readers, and fastest computer I can get. All of these pieces are critical in my workflow.” The last thing he needs is Photoshop freezing for a few seconds then closing out. He also has to worry about how fast his data transfers to the computer by getting top of the line cards and card readers.

Jeff uses the new Lexar Professional 1066x CompactFlash cards tag teamed with his Canon 1DX cameras. His card reader is the newer Lexard Professional USB 3.0 reader and he runs that into his MacBook Pro Retina. In terms of software, he uses Photo Mechanic which he says most of the photographers at the games use because it allows for him to caption and FTP files from one program.  Photo Mechanic is known for its speed and reliability of viewing pictures which makes it the perfect program to have on the spot.


The best part of Jeff’s blog was he broke down his actual routine and workflow. Here is what he does:

  • At the buzzer, I eject the Lexar memory card and put it into the USB 3.0 reader
  • Photo Mechanic comes up asking for a folder name to download to and asks for IPTC info.
  • I have already created a folder with the appropriate name (usually something like "20140212_Hockey_USA_vs_Canada_Women")
  • I enter the IPTC data (something like "USA vs Canada (Women) Hockey"
  • I start reviewing the photos as they are downloading, and try to find the best of the bunch
  • I mark the best with a color rating, so that I can filter for just those.
  • I go through all the photos from that period and then filter to show only the winners.
  • I quickly go into Photoshop to tweak each of the best (exposure, contrast, crop...) and save the file appended with "Edit_"
  • After I have done this to the best, I need to caption them with the names of the athletes. For this I have created a document called a replacement code file with every player on Team USA, men and women. I can type in "/26w/" and Photo Mechanic will insert "USA Hockey's KENDALL COYNE (#26)" 
  • Before sending the photos off to the team or the wire service, I have a preset in Photo Mechanic to resize the photo, and all the FTP info is pre-stored. One touch of the button and off they go.
  • I then eject the card from the reader, pop it back in the camera and start shooting the next period.

“Usually, by the time the game is over and I am finished with everything, the images have already been posted on the USA Hockey Olympic page and the wire service.

The hardest part Jeff says is finding time to blog, which he managed to do quite well actually.

What do you think about the deadlines Olympic photographers face? Do you ever find yourself in the same position?

If you want to see how Sports Illustrated photographers cover high profile American Football games, the situation is pretty similar. Make sure you check out our Fstoppers Original "Behind The Scenes With Sports Illustrated."

[images and info via Jeff Cable Photography]

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John White is a photographer from Northwest Indiana. He specializes in individual portraiture. Outside of photography, John enjoys building websites for fun, doing graphic design, and creating videos. Also, he really loves Iron Man. Follow him on his social media profiles to keep up to date with what he has going on!

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Personally, I couldn't handle that kind of pressure and workflow. More power to them.

I think you have the right idea. Have the cameras transmit via WiFi (or ethernet) as they are shot and have another person handle the process he describes above.

Thanks for the link!

The only issue with WiFi is that if other photographers around and also using WiFi the spectrum could get jammed. One other option is if the photographer can get a reliable internet connection is to shoot tethered and upload the photographers to Dropbox (for example) and an offsite person/studio manager does the work on the pictures and then uploads them to the client in real time. The reliable internet connection is the issue.

At the WebSumit in Dublin a client wanted a photo so urgently the only way of getting the photo out in the time allocated was to shoot it on my iPhone and send it immediately. Luckily it was an interview shot so I did not need to shoot long (lens).

This is already done. The current pro cameras from Nikon and Canon have Cat5 connections built in, and wifi connectors have been available since the early 2000's.

...and this is why I use Photo Mechanic for everything.

This workflow has become standard for all sporting events. At least in Denmark, that is. We all need to send a small gallery (2-5 images at least) between periods, and then a larger gallery after the match. And some photographers have already started sending directly from the camera during the game. For online newspapers, that's very valuable, as they often update articles during the match, and if one team scores, it's nice to have a picture.

And to all the guys using Lightroom, saying that it's faster. Try shooting a sporting event with a 14-minute deadline between periods. You'll never use lightroom for that again. Never :)

I only shoot for my University's newspaper, but photographing sporting events is pretty much the same for me. With football and basketball we send photos at halftime and have to have everything processed and uploaded in a similar timeframe.

In an age where most people are pretty much content with images taken by smartphones 14min seems plenty of time. Nobody cares about quality anymore.
Apart from that ... there is such a torrent of visual information that hardly anyone would spend more than split-second watching a single image. Consumers rush from Twitter to Instagram and back to FB. There is no time for watching great images when the next tweet woos for attention.

I think it's idiotic. No sport in the world is important enough to put that much time pressure on the journalists. In fact I can only think of a few things that are less important.

i think it more of a matter of getting it up before the rest or the people there. with so many photographers at one event taking pics of the same key moments, the first person to post the key moments gets the majority of the clicks.

Idiotic? Yet, he still gets it done. Pro's pro.

I didn't mean that he is idiotic. Of course he has to adapt if he wants to keep his job. I rather mean that it's idiotic that there is actually a demand to get photos almost instantly, even if it's about something as inconsequential as sports. It's idiotic that putting the photos online an hour later would already put businesses in jeopardy. I mean, it's not as if they photograph the President announcing World Peace, or anything. Can't that stuff really wait a few more minutes?

I know, that's how it is and you have to go with the flow or you drown, but I don't have to like it, because quality will suffer. Well, not that quality is worth a damn these days, when people think cell phones can replace professional cameras.

While software development isn't the focus of this article (or this audience), a few years ago I used this type of scenario as the use case for how to build a collaborative workflow using Adobe products that would allow for rapid publication. Using the Adobe Creative Suite SDK I built a Photoshop extension that would allow multiple collaborators to work together in the field to photograph an event and publish in close to real time. It included shooting wirelessly to Lightroom, working with an assistant editor for retouches and a metadata assistant for detailed IPTC additions, all working together simultaneously without worry stomping on each other's modifications. I presented about it at a conference where I demo'd my solution by photographing the audience and showing how multiple people could work together at the same time in rapid publication workflow.

Schematic and demo snapshot:
http://twitpic.com/4k1rwk & http://twitpic.com/423dq0/full

At the time I wasn't sure how valid a use case this was, until I later saw an article on PPA Mag about how the US Golf Association solved this problem: http://www.ppmag.com/current_issue/pdfs/811/canon811.pdf

All furthering the fact that people value photography less and less. You probably could simply shooting into your iphone via wifi and have them upload into a dropbox. If clients demand work that fast, its about speed not quality. We want to tell ourselves we are still artists but in reality you are simply providing comtent not art, in their eyes.

You're missing the point. The point that you are missing is that the folks at the very top of this profession can deliver speed AND quality. This is why they still have jobs. If it was just about being fast, you'd be right. It's not.

14 minutes? ... no problem :)
3 minutes ... that is the challenge:

That's nothing new. When I shoot NBA games I have to edit, caption, and transmit several images before the end of the first quarter, get back out, shoot, then do it again at halftime. Depending on the game, they expect images from me within 15 minutes after the final buzzer sounds.

Code replacement for-the-win btw.

Im a small time photographer in a small town in a small country. And I use assistants for small jobs to operate the computer.

If they had an assistant directly behind them to pass the card whenever they choose to their assistant. Their assistant does all the uploading, editing, downloading, and ftping, That would make it all so much a better gig for the photographer.

I believe the photographer would probably get far better shots

But then I suppose they are not allowed to have an assistant do this.

I've never experience deadlines quite that tight, but for the past couple years I have been using Eye-Fi that wirelessly sends images to Adobe Lightroom. I can have files automatically uploaded from my camera to my computer and then up to something like Facebook within minutes of taking a photo.

Whenever I am shooting somewhere with an electrical outlet, I usually have my laptop and let clients regularly look at our photos. It is like the old days of "tethered" shooting.

I was in a similar situation when I was working in Times Square for the New Years Ball drop. I also had a similar workflow, the only difference was I would use stars to mark the ones I liked and once I was done editing, and they were exported, I would label them with red to let me know they were done. If anybody has another way that works for them, or has any feedback, please share.

As one of the Northeastern University sports photogs, I can attest to just how much fun it is to photograph Kendall Coyne during a game. I'm not under deadlines anywhere close to that, but I try and pull a few tweetable images between periods, much easier for hockey than other sports though.

Love his Canon gear.

14 minutes is tough and I have to admire his efficiency and assuming the quality is good, the guy is a champ! .. I shoot AFL Football in Australia and filing at the end of each period of play (25 minutes) is sufficient but still feels rushed on the day. Online news services are ever demanding. Hoping we do not get down to 14 minutes.

so you need a camera with wifi and constant upload, so any picture you take go directly to the web, no need to download and reload to the web; but need to be jpg, because raw is a chalenge for any wifi camera

He'd save a lot of time if he set the IPTC data ahead of the event and just caption the players names and keywords using the code replacements when reviewing the pictures and selecting those to upload!

Pays to be prepared in that situation. A lot of dry runs I bet. Kudos to those that can handle the pressure - sure hope the pay is worth it.


Honest question: why use Photoshop to go through every photo if he could just use Lightroom and it would be that much faster?

Standard practice for PJ's. Before the wifi card we could select from the back of the camera and send via bluetooth network and I would post with in minutes of a football play with captions.

WHy not shooting thetered or wireless and have an assistant make the first rough selection or tell your assistant to mark a picture when you know you have good ones, that should be a uge timesaver don't you think so? (I use capture one, this enables resizing en color correction etc etc pretty quickly you are able to set up recipies for you shoot and aply them easely)

To the people who are saying "just use an assistant". Using an assistant would mean two press passes for the newspaper, and assuming the newspaper would be willing to pay for an extra persons living expense (even assuming that person doesn't get a salary) those passes are really hard to get. Best case would be to have an reporter standby, but really they probably have their hands full doing their own job already...

Thats' some nice workflow. In post had 130 images due in 8 hours or less. Product photos - Clipping paths, color correction (they were shot horribly from the get go), reflection manipulation and realistic drop shadows. That was a fun day.

Why? ...comes to mind. (Of course I know why, but I think it's ridiculous that it has come to this.)

Thanks for sharing the details of your workflow. It would be interesting to know how many images you typically sift through in that 14 minutes and how many final photos you end up selecting/delivering

Let the robot photographers do the work.

So glad I'm in a different line of work...

Welcome to just about -- my 'every day' world..

Between quarters, periods, halfs... if your on the wire, they want those jpgs culled, cropped and flying within that time period.

Your only as good as the last period. Imagine a place in the world where you'd on;y have to contend with this ONCE every 4 years ! HA !