Olympic Challenges For Photographers

By: Dorothy Ho

(Photo District News)Get ready for tight spandex, jostling journalists, tight security, and atrocious traffic. It’s the Winter Olympics, version 2002.

Traffic and added security are photographers’ top worries at Salt Lake City, Utah. Trent Nelson, a Salt Lake Tribune photographer who covered the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, said security is “the big thing” people are noticing. This year, organizers removed the “photographers only” entrance at the press center, usually available in past Olympics.

“Now there’s one entrance to the little ‘hut,'” said Nelson. “Inside, it’s 90 degrees, and outside, today it was 14 degrees.” National guardsmen are positioned at the only two open lanes, and “20 people standing outside in the cold, freezing, waiting to get in.” Everything from cameras to cell phones is screened. The line is already slow-moving, and Nelson notes, “How are you going to get in when a busload of journalists get to the main press center?”

Heavy traffic or snowstorms could delay photographers even more since most will be relying on media buses to get around. Salt Lake Tribune‘s deputy editor for graphics Chris Magerl said “traffic will be a nightmare.” His photographers are eager to cover several events in a day, but “that’s going to be impossible. What usually takes them 45 minutes to get to from their home now takes three hours.”

If traffic wasn’t stressful enough, this year, organizers decided to hold off the medal ceremonies until the end of each day, at a downtown location away from competition venues. Only 50 photographers will be able to get into the awards ceremony — first come, first serve, although priority will be given to organizations such as the Associated Press and Reuters. “If you came all the way from Poland and your athlete won, you have to book downtown to get a photo of him,” said Nelson, noting that the Polish photographer could very well miss the medal moment. “This creates a huge problem for a lot of people. A lot of emotion will be gone by then.”

Still, photographers are raring to go. Since organizers have held “test events” at Salt Lake venues for the past year, many are familiar with the venues. “I’ve been here half a dozen times over the past 12 months,” said Robert Hanashiro, a USA Today photographer. The added security, he feels, adds “inconvenience and annoyance, but in terms of shooting, it’s not that many changes in how things actually work.”

Photographers are also mindful of the limits on alcohol in the Mormon state. Nelson, who said he’s been getting many queries from other photographers, advises out-of-towners to stock up on alcohol at the State Liquor Stores before checking into hotels. He said, “To get a drink in this town, there are some hoops you have to jump through.”

Batteries, especially for digital cameras, are also a concern, made worse by the cold weather. The cold also means that photographers are packing boots, extra thick clothing, and long underwear. Hanashiro deadpans, “You can’t have enough polypropylene. And the 400 mm lens. You learn to love your 400 mm.”

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