Photographers' Blog

Portraits of Olympic preparation

Park City, Utah

By Lucas Jackson

It’s that time of year again. All around us the leaves are changing, the air is getting crisp, and while most of us are enjoying one of the nicest times of the year around the world, thousands of world class athletes are entering the final phases of their training to compete in the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics.

GALLERY: TEAM USA

This past week I was assigned for the second time in as many years to take portraits of more than a hundred members of the U.S. Olympic team before they finish their training and head to the Olympics. These media weeks organized by the U.S. Olympic Committee are an amazing opportunity for media outlets from all over the country to sit down, interview and photograph our athletes with little disruption to their training schedules or personal lives before one of the biggest events of their athletic careers. For the photographers it is a whirlwind three days where we spend anywhere from 30 seconds to five minutes trying to capture a portrait of every athlete who attends.

In 2012 at the summer Olympic media summit in Dallas, Texas I thought of a series I wanted to work on during my last day photographing. Luckily, I able to expand upon that idea this trip. In Dallas I began asking the athletes to stretch as they would before a competition or training session, to think or visualize as their would prior to performing. Instantly I noticed their faces changed and the look of focus that got them to this point took over their expression. At this point I asked the athletes to ignore me for a few minutes so that I could photograph moments that to each athlete was as routine as sleeping and eating, but to me were honest moments that I was not directing.

It was this concept I decided to work with going into this year’s portrait session. I decided that for the entire summit I would ask each athlete to imagine that they were minutes from competing in their sport and to try and enter the mental head space that they do just before they go out onto the ice or hurdle themselves down the mountain. For a number of athletes I asked them to put their gear on in the same order they would for a competition and then to envision a run or going out on the ice. By doing this I was able to capture personal routines and small rituals that manage to capture a tiny slice of the focus that these athletes have demonstrated to get to this point. For me, these portraits achieve a level of honesty that can be difficult to capture and it is exciting to have done so successfully.

With this idea in place I also knew that in order to highlight their physique or their equipment I needed a relatively simple setup. It started with a grey seamless backdrop shoehorned into a small curtained off space in a room with six other photographers and their respective mini-studios. I then set up one Profoto Acute2R 2400 pack with two heads and medium strip softboxes on each side of the studio at a relatively low setting to highlight the athletes profile and add depth to the images.

Stretching the Olympic portrait limits

By Lucas Jackson

Over the course of three days Reuters, along with several other prominent outlets, was given a space and (almost) guaranteed time with every member of Team USA that was able to attend a media summit in Dallas this past May, in order to take portraits of the team members. It was a win-win situation for all involved. The athletes were able to take care of a great deal of their media availability in one weekend and members of the media were not required to travel all over the US in order to get portraits of these elite athletes before they head off to London for the 2012 Olympics. As the photographer from Reuters assigned to this portrait marathon there was only one issue; how to take a single space along with extremely limited time with each athlete to make unique, interesting, and ideally self-explanatory images of dozens and dozens of athletes.

It was a daunting task to say the least but I started with a simple lighting setup that played off of several portrait collections I had seen, including Douglas Kirkland’s, and work that tends to appear in either men’s health or sporting magazines. I finally settled on a dual setup where my first setup would use a simple grey background and light to enhance the muscle tone of the athletes. My second setup was to use a large American flag (given to me by my brother as I arrived in Jalalabad, Afghanistan) to take photos of the athletes who were involved with sports that did not lend themselves to the flexing of muscles or shedding of clothing. I wanted to use ProFoto lights as they have a remote controller and trigger called the “Air Remote” that I could put on my camera to control the light’s power output from the controller mounted on top of the camera. This would save me precious time as I wouldn’t have to physically go to each of the four lights to change their outputs depending on whether I was shooting on the grey seamless backdrop or the flag.



FULL FOCUS GALLERY: TEAM USA

I cannot think of a single athlete who was not gracious and accommodating in the time we were given. Some of the times were shorter than others. The uber-popular yet incredibly bouncy gymnasts gave us between 30 seconds to one minute. Overall, everyone was up for whatever pose or idea that you could come up with. Some of the competitors brought the tools that accompany their sport like racquets, rifles, bows or fencing swords.

Having fun in the office

We, photographers at Reuters, usually work outside the office.

In truth, we will go anywhere which is likely to guarantee worthy news stories and stunning visual images.

Therefore, the list of our working places is as various as our pictures.

You might find us somewhere like  the middle of a violent demonstration, miles away from a crippled nuclear power plant releasing nuclear radiation, on the deck of an aircraft carrier or on the roof of the Olympic stadium…..

To witness the historical moments and pursue capturing stunning images, we’ve happily thrown away the comfort of working in the luxurious Reuters office.