There are moments in any photographer’s career where they know they’ve reached a tipping point of immeasurable success. This moment is defined by working for a certain client or on a certain project, when a photographer’s direction in their creative output aligns perfectly with their career goals, leading to opportunities that may have seemed daunting and even impossible in the beginning. For Switzerland-based photographer David Carlier, that moment came when Discovery Eurosport called him in December to shoot the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics as part of their digital team.
What does it mean to be shooting at the Olympics? Well, it means a lot to me. It’s like climbing Mount Everest for a mountaineer or participating in the Tour de France for a biker, or a Grand Slam tournament for a tennis player. It represents simply a huge step forward in a photographer’s career!
As soon as he answered the call, he knew this assignment would be different in every manner possible. Eurosport was after a completely different take from the sports coverage of the other media outlets, focusing more on the story of the event and the athletes involved rather than the conventional reportage formula. In addition, the client was looking for portraits along with a series titled “A Day With”, following some of the Olympians at the event. With all that was happening and needed to be captured, David’s job was going to be tougher than that of any athlete out there.
Shooting the most photographed event on the planet requires a lot of preparation, a perfectly oiled workflow, a lot of passion, and understanding for the sports in general. It meant shooting as many as 50 events in 2 weeks, 25,000 frames with 5 different cameras, editing and meta-tagging 3,500 of them, accounting 1.5TB of data and 2 remote backups! Better get your workflow right.
Luckily for David, Eurosport gave him carte blanche to shoot as many events as possible however he saw fit, a photographer’s dream scenario, the only caveat being that he needed to deliver 30 to 50 shots for distribution every day across the various Discovery and Eurosport outlets. He definitely needed all the support he could get from the client because everything else was going to be an uphill battle, or more like a climb up a perfectly vertical cliff.
With a busy schedule leading up to Pyeongchang, David had to cover as many bases as he could. Going to the Olympics without doing his homework could prove to be a costly mistake, especially with the trust placed in him by Eurosport.
I decided to take different types of cameras with me, from a Leica M, to DSLRs and also a small mirrorless camera, in order to be as flexible as possible. I arrived in Pyeongchang one week before the opening ceremony which was key to have some time to visit the different clusters and venues, attend training sessions and meeting some key people who would then allow me to get access to the field of play or other key positions later on during the games. I tried to see as much as possible before the games, during training, to get used to the different sports that I had never shot before like figure skating, ski jumping or curling!
The training served David well, but it only lessened the severity of the challenges because as he put it, the shoot was brutal. He covered more than 50 events, laboring for around 20 hours a day for 3 weeks, leaving very little time for anything besides work. He hardly had time to socialize or say Hi to a friendly face. On top of that, all the Olympics events are controlled and supervised to the nth degree. Each of his camera positions needed to be pre-approved by the organizers and the security checks were taxing, eating away at the limited time he has to make sure he snaps the right photos.
Other times, it felt like David was lost in the wilderness, stranded on an island without food, not knowing where he was headed.
One funny anecdote: I was stuck in a bus in a traffic jam on the highway and I looked at the map on my cell and saw that the Biathlon venue was not that far away. I could cross a forest on foot to reach it. So I left the bus on the highway and walked for 2 hours at sunset through bushes to eventually end up on a road that led to the venue. And I made it in time to shoot the event!
It took David a week to nail down the timing of the buses, but food and sleep was a puzzle. With all the hustle and bustle, David missed meals or simply didn’t have the time to eat. The long working days meant little to no sleep, and the weather was cold and harsh. Life played out like an episode of Survivor.
Despite the rigors of the shoot, there was always a worthwhile reward at the end of each day. He witnessed the finest athletes from each country in the world, from Shaun White to Lyndsey Vonn, take to the Olympic stage and leave it all out there for the world to see, in the hopes of winning gold. It was an unforgettable experience for the photographer, and one he was able to share with the rest of the world through his images.
Eurosport circulated David’s images extensively, extremely pleased with what he produced and the reaction on social media was the cherry on top of the cake. Pyeongchang definitely serves as a crucial part of David’s life and career, but he doesn’t think it’s a full stop on his work in South Korea.
I’d love to find someone interested to make an exhibition with the images. They deserve it. Maybe a book?