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An Interview with Jeff Cable - Olympics Photographer

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What’s it like being an Olympics sports photographer? I had the chance to interview Jeff Cable who has been photographing the Olympics since 2008 where he captured stunning images at the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing. Since then he has been the official photographer for Team USA Hockey (Men and Women) in 2010 in Vancouver and the official photographer for Team USA Water Polo in 2012 at the Summer Olympics in London. Jeff is just days away from the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, where he will once again be the official photographer for Men and Women’s Team USA Hockey.

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How did you get your start as a professional photographer?

A friend asked me to shoot a bar mitzvah back in 2004. People really liked those photos and started asking me for my business card. So I went out and had some made and have been busy ever since. It just kind of snowballed from there and has created a life of its own.

Are you professional trained as a photographer?

I’ve always liked photography and had an eye for it, but I didn’t really understand it or know how to control the camera. So I read incessantly every photography magazine from cover to cover. I also have access to some of the best photographers in the world in my day job as marketing manager at Lexar. Lexar sponsors some of the top photographers in the world and I’ve been able to hang out with them and learn. Getting the chance to learn from them is better than any book or class. They have been tough on me but I encourage it and want it.

What did it take to become an Olympic Photographer?

Though my weekends were quickly filling up with bar and bat mitzvahs and weddings, I had the opportunity to take photos for the San Jose Sharks. Through a connection with a friend who is a trainer for the Sharks, I was introduced to several of the players and granted access to them and the arena. This is when my quest to be an Olympic photographer began. Definitely connections helped. I wasn’t fully credentialed (at the Beijing Olympics) but I was able to get day passes for some of the events through my job at Lexar. I worked the press center so I had access. I spent months trying to figure out who could get me credentialed. It was the connection with the Sharks that got me where I am. Their recommendation was key.

How involved is the Olympic credential process?

Being credentialed involves months of planning, up to 18 months before the Games. There are tons of applications and paperwork to fill out with hundreds of photographers, publications and agencies hoping to get named to a very finite number of credentials. Applications are cross-referenced from the country’s organizing committee and my local National Organizing Committee and backgrounds are checked for security. This can take months. We usually get the “OKAY” from the appropriate committee about a year prior to the Games. Once that is secured the logistics and planning begins.

You are the official photographer for Men and Women’s Hockey but are you allowed to photograph other events?

I’m contractually obligated to shoot all of the hockey games. Depending on the schedules, if the men and women’s teams conflict it all depends on if it is a medal game. Otherwise if there are no conflicts and there’s a break between hockey games I am credentialed to shoot any other sport during the games. At the 2010 Winter Games I would have to say that short track speed skating was one of my favorites. This sport moves really fast and the competition is fierce. My son told me if I don’t shoot Shaun White not to come home. (White took home the gold and Cable caught that moment in pictures.)

What are preparations like as you get ready for the 2014 Sochi Olympics?

In these final days of preparation leading up to the games there is a ton of stress. Do I have the right gear? Do I have backups in case something breaks? Are my travel documents in order? And this particular time there is a great deal of concern about safety. But packing my camera gear gets my excitement level up. My gear consists of two camera bags that I carry on board, I never check it in. I use the LowePro Pro Roller x200 which is the most important bag to me. I can fit a ton of gear in this case and the wheels save my back. My second bag is the LowePro backpack that carries more camera gear plus my laptop and Wacom tablet.

What gear do you bring?

I pack four camera bodies, - 3 Canon 1DX’s and my Canon 5D Mark iii. I have a wide assortment of lenses the biggest of which is the 100-400mm. Canon provides enough other loaner lenses (the big glass) for me and other photographers and they transport that to the site. I have a 200-400mm lens waiting for me to use at the Games. I used a prototype of this at the London games and it was amazing. Tripods are not allowed in any Olympic venue, but I use my Gitzo travel tripod for night shows of the Olympic grounds. I also use my Canon 600 EX-RT flash for the private team parties but again flash is not allowed at the Games.

Do you shoot remotely with any of your cameras? How do you get those amazing shots at the goal?

For that I am hoping to mount a camera in the rafters at the hockey arena and shoot images straight down on the goalie. I use Pocketwizards to trigger the camera. These custome wireless units have been tweaked to have a frequency only I use so they don’t interfere with anyone else.

How many photos do you expect to take?

I expect to shoot over 100,000 images over the course of the two plus weeks that I’ll be in Sochi. I have a bunch of 64GB and 128GB Lexar Professional 1000x CF cards and my plan is to have two cards in every camera and shoot to both for redundancy. I use a Lexar Professional USB 3.0 reader to download the photos. These readers are incredibly fast and help me with my deadlines.

The excitement and honor to be an Olympic photographer is palatable. Be sure to check out Jeff’s blog and Facebook page as he shares his travels to the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.

Check out Jeff's Facebook page to see photos of his gear and to be up-to-date on what's happening with him at the Games.

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