Interview: Getty Images Sports Photographer Streeter Lecka Talks About Shooting for the Sochi Olympics

Interview: Getty Images Sports Photographer Streeter Lecka Talks About Shooting for the Sochi OlympicsImage via Getty Images / Shaun White of the United States reacts after winning the gold medal in the Snowboard Men's Halfpipe final on day six of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics at Cypress Snowboard & Ski-Cross Stadium on February 17, 2010 in Vancouver, Canada. White won the gold medal with a score in his previous run. Photo Credit: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images.

For the next 16 days, Getty Images photographer Streeter Lecka will be trying to make history. Lecka is stationed in Sochi, Russia for the 2014 Winter Olympics as a roaming photographer, which means he will work 16-18 hour days shooting two to three events from morning till night. "There is definitely no time off during the Olympics," Lecka told us in a phone interview. But for him, the bone chilling weather and long hours are more than worth it.

Lecka joined Getty's team in 2004 and has shot many high profile sports events, including the 2010 World Cup, the Super Bowl, the MLB Playoffs, and the NCAA Final Four. This is his 6th Olympic shoot, and for Lecka the goal is always to take that one, perfect image that stands the test of time. If it's the right shot, it becomes burned in the collective memory of the Olympics, an iconic moment in sports history. We spoke to the photographer about his expectations for this Games and what it's like to be out on the field. Check out our Interview: Getty Images Sports Photographer Streeter Lecka Talks About Shooting for the Sochi Olympics.

You’re really there for the moments which seem to be etched in history.

How do you capture the energy and atmosphere of such a massive event with your photographs?
You have to realize that you’re going to make plenty of pictures. It's just about waiting for the important ones. A lot of times it is the emotion that’s really captured and ends up as the iconic pictures of the Olympics. Whether it is dejection or jubilation, you’re always going to make some really nice looking pictures and graphic pictures, but you’re really there for the moments which seem to be etched in history.

How do you decide where to train your lens?
You try to learn as much as you can before you go over, in terms of who is important, who you’re going to need pictures of, who are the big players. You end up concentrating on them whenever it goes into the event. And the great thing is we get over early enough to get familiar with everything, the events, the venues, how to get there. A lot of times the photography ends up being the easiest part because you deal with some many other obstacles. 

The iconic pictures seem to come as you pace yourself through the long event that it is. You to keep in mind that it is a marathon not a sprint, and to take each day one day at a time. 

How many days do you have before the events start to do your research?
We probably have close to a week. Normally that is just enough time to go over, catch up, and make sure everything is where you want it: talking to people, figuring out your ways around, the best routes to get to certain places.

The big thing for photographers is finding maybe other angles that haven’t been thought of yet and trying to come up with something creative that will set you apart and be different than everybody else. There are hundreds of thousands of photographers, and you want to really separate yourself if you can.

A lot of times the photography ends up being the easiest part because you deal with some many other obstacles.

When you are out on the field shooting, is it a competitive atmosphere with the other photographers? Are you jostling for spots?
Yeah it definitely can be depending on what event it is. In a way it is somewhat of a Super Bowl—it's the biggest event globally that you can be a part of. I’ve done World Cups, Super Bowls, Final Fours, and everything in between, and this the real, real big deal. So you work with everybody else, but there are certain times that you need to be in certain spots.

Fortunately for Getty Images, we are the official photographers for the IOC [International Olympic Committee], so us and a handful of other agencies get a special access area where we are able to be where other people aren’t.


Usain Bolt of Jamaica crosses the finish line to win gold in the Men’s 100m Final on Day 9 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium on August 5, 2012 in London, England. Photo Credit: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images.

What drives this competitive spirit?
I think all of us are super competitive; otherwise, I don’t think we would have gotten to the level that we are at. There's a great deal of pride that we each take in every one of the pictures that we take. We all have the desire to want to do it to the best of our ability. Getty Images creates an incredible atmosphere for working with the other guys. You want each other to do really well, but you always want to go in and have your peers say, “Wow that was something different. That was something incredible.”

Especially for a big event like this, there is a lot of teamwork. We’ve had people over there for weeks already setting up, behind the scenes, the tech guys, the editors that all of our pictures filter through. It is such a big event, and there are such tight deadlines that you have to have all of the other pieces come into play. Otherwise, you are not going to get the pictures out, and nobody in the world is going to get to see them. So it is a very tight knit group, but we all definitely strive to have that one picture at the end of the day.

I think all of us are super competitive; otherwise, I don’t think we would have gotten to the level that we are at.

Is there anything you expect from these Olympic Games that will be different from other shoots you’ve done?
We’ve done a lot of these, and it always comes with a little bit of a risk. I think this one seems to be a little bit different due to the way the media has played it up. At the end of the day, when we get there, it is going to be a safe event.

More than anything, maybe a Winter Olympics compared to a Summer Olympics, you are dealing with more of the elements in terms of the weather. Sometimes you can be asked to stand out on the side of a mountain for 12 hours of the day. You have to have everything in place to be able to do that.

What you do has a sort of athleticism to it. It must be a really intense experience being out there. Do you feel like you are in the game?
Yeah you feel like you are apart of it. Being this close you get to see it in a different light than you would sitting at home. Just the excitement that they have, it kind of rubs off on you. You feel like you are a part of something very special, and you feel pretty blessed to be there and document history. 

What is your favorite sport to shoot?
At the Olympics, anything. There is not one that I’m like, “I really wish I could do this," or "I really wish I could do that.” It is more about being a part of the team, and whatever is asked of me I want to be able to do.

You just have to be ready for it. You could be at something that you might think won’t matter, and it can end up being the moment of the entire Olympics, and you have to be ready for that at all times.

Can you recall a specific picture or a couple of photographs that are some of your favorites?
I would always say the next one—the next picture, the next event. As a photographer you are never 100 percent satisfied. You are always looking for the next thing. Pictures that I was really happy with from past Olympics, after an amount of time you go, "Oh, it could be done better." I think that it’s a little bit of the perfectionist in us, but a lot of it is that drive that keeps you going because it is a long haul, and you have to keep that in mind.

Just being able to be around those kind of incredible once-in-a-lifetime athletes and having those pictures become incredible historic moments, I think is really, really cool. And it's something that gets me up and get me going every single day that I will be there.

I’ve done World Cups, Super Bowls, Final Fours, and everything in between, and this the real, real big deal.

Is there anyone you really want a picture of, or sport, this year?
I wouldn’t say there is a specific athlete. I’ve seen Shaun White in person, and being on the deck of the half-pipe is a pretty incredible experience when you see first hand how high and how fast and the impact that it has. 

There is an added pressure and stress because you can’t tell them to replay whatever action shot just happened. You get one chance at it, and I think that’s the thing that a lot of people might not know: the different set of pressures that come with being a photographer that's not the norm.

What do you think makes the best sports photographs or photographer?
If you can get the perfect action moment with the perfect light, say morning or afternoon light, the perfect kind of angle or vantage point. If you can get the colors, the graphics, the light, and the moment all in one, then you’ve done something pretty special. But a lot of those things have to just add up and fortunately work out, but that’s what you’re working for each and every day.

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Tags: sochi-russia, sochi-olympics, sochi-winter-olympics, olympics, 2014-winter-olympics, sports-photography, interviews
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