Sochi Winter Olympics: Eleven Things I’ve Learnt About Taking Photos at the Olympics

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There’s a pattern to the way photographers behave. It’s like the audience at Wimbledon. Everyone does exactly the same thing. You’re all stood waiting to hear the skiier approaching the kicker. He flies over the top. Everyone snaps like crazy. It sounds like hundreds of dragonflies slapping their wings together. As soon as the skiier has passed, it’s eyes down on the screen to see if you got the shot. Then ready poised for the next one.

As it’s my first time taking photos in any sort of professional environment, I’ve certainly learnt a few things. Gone are visions of glamorously basking in the sun while taking a casual photo here and there. It’s hard work – mentally and physically – the hours are long, you don’t get a day off and I think I’m coming down with something. But when you get a good shot, it’s totally worth it – and a hell of a lot better than a day sat in an office.

This isn’t professional advice by any means, just a couple of interesting things I didn’t realise before I got here about being a photographer, particularly at the Winter Olympics.

  1. You will get fit. Anyone who carries heavy equipment up and down steep, icy slopes for three weeks straight and doesn’t have time for lunch will develop some serious core muscle strength by the end of it. I’m expecting to come home with a body like Jessica Alba.

    Fancy a hike from the stadium to the rails with a big heavy backpack?

    Fancy a hike from the stadium to the rails with a big heavy backpack?

  2. You need crampons. This has been the bane of my life since I got here. Who knew you needed crampons? Apparently they’ve been made compulsory since a photographer fell into the halfpipe at another event. I’m still in the process of trying to hunt some down.


    Taken from the bottom of the hill but would have been better if I’d been able to hike further up

  3. You can’t be everywhere at once. I was sad to miss catching Jenny Jones win bronze in the slopestyle because I had to shoot men’s 20K skiathlon. I just had to manically follow the updates on Twitter instead. Such is life.
  4. It’s no good having one camera, you need at least two. Most photographers I’ve encountered have two cameras slung around their neck – one with a 16-55mm lens for wide angle shots and another 400mm+ telephoto whopper to catch those close-ups where you can see the beads of sweat on the athlete’s forehead. Often they’ve got a couple more lenses stashed away in their bags as well.


    Athlete preparing for skeleton

  1. Get there early. When you’ve only got a measly 300mm lens like myself, it’s best to give yourself a good chance of getting a decent shot by staking your spot in the photo area early. Turning up to training sessions is the best way to get to know the course and work out where you can get the best frame.Skiathlon15K8_M_09Feb14
  2. You don’t get to catch all the action. When I was shooting the slopestyle up at the Extreme Park, I didn’t have a clue who was winning or what was going on because I was up the mountain with no commentary and no WiFi. My mum sat at home in London definitely knows more about the ins and outs of each event than I do.
  3. Don’t try taking photos of high-speed sports when you’re hungover. It’s hard enough when your brain is in working order to catch a downhill skiier racing at 100kph, let alone when it’s recovering from one too many Siberian Classic beers/vodka shots.

    Women's downhill skiiers can travel up to 100kph

    Not easy for suffering brains

  4. Make friends with people in the lunch queue. My latest conversation was with two camera men who worked up on scaffolding above the piste. Result? I got access to a viewpoint that none of the photographers had.
  5. Stand your ground. Plenty of people will try and push in front of you to get a better angle, particularly on the start line of the bobsleigh track where it’s one straight line and everyone is vying to get a clean shot. Firm but polite is the way forward.
  6. …but don’t be one of those pushy people. No-one likes those people. I’ve learnt it’s best to check with people you’re in front of to see if you’re in their shot. If you’re respectful of them, chances are they’ll do the same for you next time.
  7. Even if you think you’ve got your shot, stick around and take more. I read this on an online photography tutorial guide and it’s so damn true. I’ve got some of my better shots by hanging around a bit longer at the end, taking more photos than I need to and there was one surprise image I didn’t even realise I had.Waiting at the finish line

6 thoughts on “Sochi Winter Olympics: Eleven Things I’ve Learnt About Taking Photos at the Olympics

  1. Nina, I’m really enjoying reading the blog – and learning from you about taking photos. More please! (And I was on the phone to your mum when we were both looking for you during the halfpipe.)

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