“Hello, this is Dave Black. Let’s talk about shooting the Olympics.”

Today started with a call from Dave Black.

Imagine the Mahre brothers calling with ski tips.  Or Kikkan sending a “Let’s work on your V1 skate” text.  Maybe an email from Serena about your backhand.  That’s the equivalent of this morning’s call.  Dave Black is one of the all-time great photographers.  And his sports work sets the standard for the rest of us.

My introduction to Dave was through another amazing photographer, Corey Rich.  I had reached out to Corey to find out if he had any experience shooting the Olympics.  “I’ve never shot one, but my friend Dave has shot a bunch.  I’ll introduce you.

Dave has shot twelve Olympics.  And he generously spent the next ninety minutes sharing lessons learned in the process.  In no particular order, here are ten tips from Dave Black’s Highly Unofficial Guide To Shooting the Olympics :

  • “Location, location, location” – Great location matters even more in photography than it does in real estate.  And to get the best locations at the Olympics, be prepared to get there early.  You’re competing against the most talented photographers in the world.  And while almost everyone can push a shutter button, not everyone is prepared to hike out to the best spot and sit in the cold for two hours to wait for the action.
  • “Pack cold medicine” – It’s not a matter of “if” you get sick at the Olympics, it’s simply a question ofcold medicine “when.”  You’ll be too busy to find cold medicine in town and that’s assuming you can read the label.  Pack a couple of bottles from home.  And it makes a great sleep aid in a pinch.
  • “Leverage your skiing ability & knowledge” – “You actually can ski?  You know these athletes?  As soon as we hang up, reach out to the photo editors and tell them.  Because the rock star photographer they hired from [agency] has absolutely zero interest in sliding down the mountain with his or her gear and has probably never shot a ski race.  That’s an opportunity for you.
  • Bring Your Own Gear” – The camera manufacturers — Nikon, in my case — typically have gigantic equipment depots at the Olympics that are chock-a-block full with the latest gear.  The process is simple — bring in your credentials and leave with a 400mm/f2.8 or anything else that strikes your fancy.  Just bring it back at the end of the day.  That’s great, but what if the facility isn’t open when you’re headed to the race hill?  Or if the depot is way across the village?  Better to bring your own gear whenever possible.  If Nikon can supplement your own set-up — great.  But it’s not Nikon’s responsibility to make sure you have the right gear.sandwich
  • Always pack an extra sandwich.” – We came back to this one a number of times.  And while I thought Dave was channeling my Mom, his point was one I’ve heard before — food is tough to find and carving out time to eat during the Olympics is even tougher.  Always have something extra in your gear bag.  And if you don’t need it — the course volunteer that has probably been there longer than you probably could use it.  And that small gesture could lead to a better location.
  • Take advantage of every bathroom” – No additional explanation necessary.
  • Hand Warmers.  Lots of them.” – These things work miracles on toes, batteries, fingers and gear.  And you’ll never find them in South Korea.  Bring a bunch and give an extra to your nearest course worker.
  • Don’t forget custom codes on your remote triggers” – Done.
  • Don’t forget a magic arm or two” – Done.
  • “Be kind to the volunteers” – Over the course of our discussion, Dave must have mentioned this fifteen times.  It doesn’t matter if it’s the Bill Chenard Memorial in Carrabassett Valley Maine, the NCAA Championships in New Hampshire or the Olympics — these big events depend on volunteers.  They’re the first to arrive and the last to leave.  They’re standing around in wind, rain and cold.  And while not the “stars,” the events couldn’t happen without their efforts.  Give them your extra sandwich or a hand warmer.  Say thank-you.  And if it translates to something that makes your job easier — great.  But you’ll be doing something good along the way.

Just a great way of spending the morning and a true honor.  Thanks Dave.


(P.S. – You should follow Dave on instagram : @daveblackphoto)


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