I Could Have Done Better – Portraits of Olympic Athletes

If you aren’t a photographer, you may not be aware of the veritable uproar over the “shoddy” portraits of the 2012 U.S. Olympic Athletes. In a nutshell, Joseph Klamar (Agence France Presse) photographed dozens of U.S. Olympians during the Olympic Media Summit in May, and the pictures are pretty terrible. Poor Joe. I feel bad for him. Apparently, the sub-par portraits were a result of lack of preparation, and photographing outside his comfort zone. Some examples and Klamar’s explanations for his controversial portraits can be found here:


What I find amazing is all the theories that pop up for why this happened. I’ve read speculations that Klamar was trying to make a statement about how Olympic athletes are human, and these portraits were meant to portray their lack of perfection. One guy actually believes we’ll look back on these portraits as art.

Give me a break. It’s as though no one can believe this could happen by mistake. I think it’s so easy to take good photography for granted, that it’s hard for people to believe anyone could mess up this badly. Surprise – good photography takes skill and preparation. If you take a photojournalist and throw him into a studio setting without giving him time to prepare, this is what happens. It’s not art. It’s not a statement. It’s incompetence.

I’m not blaming Joe. Like I said, I feel bad for the guy. And he actually did manage to pull off a couple of good ones, like this one of Brittney Reese, which I think is terrific (If you’re on an iPad this will link to the start of a slideshow. The photo I’m talking about is slide 31.):


That’s how you make lemonade out of lemons. If Joe had been an experienced portrait photographer, I think he could have pulled off more gems like this one.

I am also perplexed as to why Joe didn’t do a harder edit of these. Perhaps he didn’t have a choice in the matter. But then I’m perplexed as to why Getty chose to publish these photos. The whole thing is weird.

And now – to join the bandwagon of photographers thinking, “I could have done better…”

My shot of a Junior Olympic track athlete, from a couple of years ago:

Yes, I would have taken people outside, into natural light. But say I couldn’t, here’s an example of what I would have done in studio:

And I have yet to photograph gymnasts, but here’s an idea of what I would have done:

So what do you think – could you have done better than Joe?


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