Making the Most of the Olympics

Photography: Rick Sforza, USAF

It’s the high point of their lives, the culmination of years of training, an opportunity to show off their talent and a chance to win the respect – and envy — of peers.

And it’s not bad for the athletes either.

More than 21,600 accredited journalists are covering the Olympic games in Beijing, including 5,600 press reporters and photographers. The International Olympic Committee alone has sent “an elite team” of 24 photographers to China. They are expected to take 70,000 pictures of which 25,000 will join the Olympic database.

Of course, unless you’re reading this in China, your images won’t be among them.

But the Olympics can still be an opportunity for photographers, even for those watching the games at home.

Learning from the Olympics

The first opportunity lies in the lessons that can be learned in the stream of images pouring back from China. The New York Times is just one publication offering a slideshow of attractive images from Beijing. Marc Aspland, an award-winning photographer, is also writing a blog for the London Times, and the images of medal-holders beaming across the front page can provide important examples of how even a simple image can tell a story – and even when it’s always a picture of Michael Phelps.

But the other opportunity lies in the chance of grabbing publicity. Paul Hartunian, a publicity expert, suggests that business owners who want to become well-known need only produce a story idea that the media wants to cover and send it in as a press release. A reporter will get in touch and reward the entrepreneur with a story that at the very least will mention their business and at the most will sing its praises. Either way, they’ll gain exposure more valuable than advertising — and for no fee at all.

When a major event like the Olympics rolls around, the press are going to be hungry for stories about the games. That’s especially true of the local press who will need to rely on pooled images and photos from wire services to report what’s happening.

Create your own Photo Olympics

A photographer who can provide a local spin on an Olympic story then stands a great chance of winning publicity.

One option is to create an event. Michelle Sheppard, a photographer teacher at Algonquin Regional High School in Northborough, Massachusetts, created a lesson plan that she called the “Photo Olympics.” She might not have done it with the goal of winning publicity but the title was catchy enough to win her coverage at A photographer who organized a Photo Olympics competition of their own and told the local press about it could well find themselves picking up some useful coverage, especially if they also got local kids involved.

Or you could track down some previous competitors in your area and do a photo story about them. 69 News in Cincinnati covered a group of former athletes who were doing little more than signing autographs in a bar the day before the games opened.

When the local press is prepared to spend time on stories like this before the Olympics, you shouldn’t have to pitch too hard to find buyers for a photo story about a local former athlete, a hopeful young swimmer or a gym training the medal-winners of the future.

And finally, you could organize an exhibition of Olympic-themed images. For sports photographers in particular, there will be no greater chance to cash in on the public’s interest in a theme. That’s why exhibitions like these have been popping up in places from Accra to Ethiopia. Get together with other artists or mount an exhibition of your own but if you can think of a way to link your images to the Olympics – and find a place to show them – then getting coverage for your show should only be a matter of writing a press release and faxing it to the media.

Clearly, nothing is going to beat joining the throng of photographers standing at the finish line of the 100 meter dash in Beijing. There’s always going to be a difference between capturing the fastest runner in the world and showing your photo of the fastest twelve-year old in Goleta. But for photographers who didn’t make it to Beijing, the biggest sports event in the world can still be a chance to come away a winner.

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