The Winter Olympics only come around every four years, so the importance of the hockey part of the tournament cannot be overestimated. The winning team achieves bragging rights and gets tagged ‘Olympic Champion’ which becomes it’s moniker as well as becoming the highlight of its players’ careers. 

Our task as photojournalists is to capture the moments that define the Olympic experience as well as to document each step along the way with images that depict every rung on the path to Olympic gold.

Along the way we’ll shoot a heavy heaping of hard hits, celebration and dejection, close-ups of faces exhibiting determination and focus, and a varied group of images depicting the fan experience.

In essence, our goal is to capture a visual history in still photography that tells the whole story.

My approach to game planning and coverage is rather formulaic and based on years of experience, including three Olympics, over 30 Stanley Cup Finals and numerous international events. However, each arena poses its own challenges in anything from photo positions to lighting, access to positions and movement around the arena, and remote camera locations.

In Vancouver, we had an NHL sized arena, and in Sochi the rink will be the larger International size. This difference cannot be trivialized as it affects lens choice and photo locations.

One other challenge we had in Vancouver was that we were only permitted to go to our remote cameras before 6am or at midnight after games, although that rule eased up part way through the event. We are hoping this isn’t the case in Sochi.

My planning began more than nine months prior to the event. I downloaded schedules of the men’s and women’s games and reformatted them in multiple designs for my needs. I was provided maps of the venues along with a diagram of the planned network wiring that will speed our images back to editors for processing and uploading to our clients and to our web site. In addition, images of the two hockey venues were shot for me by Mike Heiman, and he provided answers to most of the 20+ questions I posed regarding these arenas.

Taking some of the uncertainty out of the equation leads to better preparation for the formulation of our game plan, and most importantly for the packing of the necessary equipment. This is Russia, not Vancouver, and I’m pretty certain that the same resources we found in Canada for last minute needs won’t be found anywhere near Sochi, nor will overnight shipment service be affordable, if available at all.

Let the packing begin!

In mid November (about three months prior to the first game) I shipped a case with more than 70lbs of clamps and wires that will be used to secure cameras in the rafters and other locations. I certainly will have more than enough to carry on my Aeroflot flight with a rolling backpack filled with cameras and lenses and a laptop bag. Checked luggage will include a 70lb case of equipment and a 50lb clothing bag. To round things out, additional clamps and equipment will come from other sources including loaner cameras and lenses from Canon.

I will head up the larger venue Bolshoy, where most of the men’s games and the medal rounds will be held. The very capable Martin Rose from our German office will head up the second venue Shayba where most of the women’s matches will be held. I have prepared the coverage plan for both arenas and have emailed equipment needs and planning maps to Martin. In addition, when we get on location, he and I will set the remotes in the arenas along with the assistance of another photographer or two to help with the heavy lifting.

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Martin and I will cross over occasionally, and other photographers in the Getty Images crew will be scheduled to float in and assist in coverage. Having one of us in each venue provides a consistent point man that the IOC venue chief can become familiar with and rely on.  We will also be available to assist the daily supplemental shooters on all details including positions, cameras settings and remotes.

The photographers assigned in the arena will be tasked with shooting the game with hand held cameras as well as triggering multiple remote cameras. This is a very important part of our coverage as many of the photo positions are quite limiting. From on ice positions at which you shoot through glass, you can only see about one third of the ice surface. Without remotes, the rest of the ice is lost space. From a position upstairs, you can see most of the ice, but if a player scores and turns in the other direction, that shot could be pretty worthless.

Personally, I prefer the ice level positions as it is important to see the player’s faces, and the images appear more like you are in the midst of the action. But with refs, linesman and other players blocking numerous shots, the safest angle of coverage is from elevated positions near center ice. Simply put, the remotes help you cover the ice from multiple angles as your odds of capturing the games important moments becomes much higher.

In addition, we will cover many games using the camera in the net, aptly named ‘Netcam’. As mandated by the IOC, we rotate placement in the net with the Associated Press and Reuters. All images are ‘pooled’, which means that we share these images amongst the three agencies as well as with Agence France Press who will be assisting in netcam image transmission.

All remote cameras (except for the netcam) are attached to high speed network lines that transmit images to editors who are across town at the Main Press Center. The cameras that the photographers use are tethered as well. It’s an expedient way to get images out, but care is needed not to get too tangled up in all the wires.

And although the remote cameras assist our coverage tremendously, there’s nothing like having an extra body or two in the arena. Early round games for both men and women may have one or two photographers, and this number would escalate to three or four depending on the importance of the game. The preferred coverage on big matches is two photographers at ice level in diagonal corners in separate ends of the ice, and two elevated at center ice across from each other. On game coverage with fewer bodies, we would rely more on remote cameras to fill in missing angles.

We are in great shape as the advance planning and reconnaissance work takes a lot of the guess work and uncertainty out of our coverage so that we can follow the game plan as soon as we arrive. So…let the games begin!

 

Editor’s note: Bruce Bennett is a sports photographer for Getty Images.

About Bruce Bennett

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