Five Lessons to Glean from Olympic Photo Fiasco

There was a lot of frustration and hoopla this past weekend over the release of the official U.S. Olympic team photos. Most of the photos are lit poorly, posed awkwardly and/or show a ripped and crumpled seamless white backdrop. I kinda feel bad for the photographer Joe Klamar. He’s being trounced by fellow photogs across the globe. But could this have been avoided? Could he have taken steps to ensure he got portraits on par with his stature as a pro? Apparently these photos were taken during a media frenzy press junket. But is that an excuse?

Who knows the answers to these questions. What we do know is that the attention he’s now getting isn’t good. What lessons can we take away from this situation? There are a few that come to mind.

  1. Lighting is crucial. Getting the light right is perhaps the most important thing to do in both photography and filmmaking when creating visuals. If the lights sucks, the image will suck. Do what it takes to make sure you have the lighting you need to do your job. Get Zack Arias’s “OneLight” DVD Learn how to shoot with one light if you have to. :)
  2. Plan Accordingly. If you know you’re going to be in a situation that inhibits your ability to take the best possible photos, find out as much detail ahead of time and plan accordingly. There won’t be any room for all your professional lighting? Find out what you do have room for.  As the old saying goes: plan for the worst, but hope for the best.
  3. Keep it simple. Whether it’s a photo shoot or film shoot, you can never go wrong with keeping it simple. If you’re rushed for time, forget about crazy or creative poses or funky backgrounds. Just go with a white seamless or some other solid color. Make your project black and white if you had white balance or other color issues due to the lighting. (We know the flag is red, white and blue; we don’t necessarily need to see the colors).
  4. Fix it in Post. “But what if your white seamless rips” like the case here? Well, fix it in post. I admit that I don’t know what the rules and regulations are with regards to what can be done to these photos, but I would suspect that for official Olympic photos, some Photoshop work would be allowed. Much of those wrinkled and ripped backgrounds could’ve been fixed with Photoshop.
  5. Don’t Take the Job. This is probably the one piece of advice that no one would ever take. It’s one of those 20-20 hindsight sort of things. But, if you know for a fact that a job that will have high visibility is going to go bust, then it may be best not to take it. It’s better not to ruin your rep by taking a very high profile job you’re neither equipped nor qualified for.

I’m totally at a loss regarding this one. Maybe it’s the photography equivalent of “breaking the 4th wall” by showing the set up. If so, I don’t think it works.

For the record, I do not know Mr. Klamar’s level of experience. I assume if the Olympic team asked him to take photos in the first place, he must be pretty good (generally speaking). All the more surprising to see some of the photos. I also have to say that regardless of the circumstances, an experience pro should be able to think on his/her feet to accommodate for a crappy situation.

Oh if Joe had only started his career as a wedding photographer.

You can see all the pic’s at CBS’s website. What other tips or advice can you give?

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3 Responses to “Five Lessons to Glean from Olympic Photo Fiasco”

  1. Poor guy. These remind me of some images on the Awkward Family Photos website. I think at this point he should bow out gracefully, give them their money back and they should hire someone else to re-take the images. I did look at some of this work and he isn’t a bad photog for the most part. He shoots live action sports and does an okay job, but shooting sports and taking portraits are much different. I’d shoot a military retirement in a heart beat, but I bow out when I’m asked to shoot portraits. I know my limits at this stage in my career. I’d ask everyone to take it easy on him though. You never know when you might have a bad day and royally screw up a shoot.

  2. I have been sucked into reading all the articles about this and I some are introducing the idea that this could have been a publicity stunt and he was hired to do it like this? Peaks my curiosity for sure. I hope he makes some sort of response about them. If it does turn out that he just did a really bad job, I agree with Rusty.. he should bow out, learn from it and know what gigs NOT to take. Or at least bring in someone who knows what they are doing to set up the shots.. I have a feeling he was paid well and could have afforded to bring on a good knowledgable assistant.

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