Jeff Cable has never stood on an Olympic podium, or won a medal. And yet in his trips to seven Olympic Games he’s come home with gold every time – in the form of stunning photographs.
The Saratoga photographer is a regular at the Olympics, working mainly for the Team USA Waterpolo, but amassing a portfolio of photos that view like a collection of historic moments from the modern era of the games.
“You’ve got the best athletes in the world, great lighting, great backgrounds,” said Cable sitting in his Saratoga home surrounded by his Canon cameras, “and just photographically it is a candy store for sure.”
Cable’s first Olympic assignment was at the Summer Games in Beijing in 2008, where his introduction to the sporting spectacle was photographing Michael Phelps slicing through a pool. Cable used a fast shutter speed to freeze the shards of water bursting from Phelps’ powerful stroke. The experience hooked him.
“The first time I was at the Olympics I wanted to pinch myself,” Cable said. “I couldn’t believe I was there.”
From then on as he returned to the games, his cameras courted the big and small moments — freezing bits of time into history. At the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro he clicked a shot of wrestler J’den Cox who’d just won a bronze medal, running with an American flag draped over his shoulders. Cable learned later the flag had belonged to a friend of Cox who was serving in the military in Iraq.
“It gave me chills,” said Cable.
At the London Olympics, he snapped a photo of the arm of a water polo player breaking the water with ball in hand — a forearm tattoo of the Olympic Rings matching up with the Olympic Rings on the ball.
“My job is to figure out what is the story unfolding in front of me and tell that,” Cable said, pulling up the photo on his computer.
Even after traveling to seven Olympic Games, the Olympic thrill hasn’t worn off. Cable is looking forward to the Summer Olympics in Paris which should offer some different photographic opportunities.
Paris will be the first Olympic Games where the opening ceremonies won’t be held in a stadium — instead athletes will enter via boats on the Seine River.
“If it can get good shots with the Eiffel Tower or the Arc de Triomphe in the background, that would be really cool,” Cable mused.
There will also be some new sports to photograph.
“This year in Paris, breakdancing is a sport — an exhibition sport,” Cable said. “So it’d be fun to go shoot that since I never photographed breakdancing before.”
Cable is perfectly comfortable photographing things in motion. He regularly leads photo instruction tours to Africa and the rainforests of Costa Rica where he’s photographed lions and elephants with the same prowess he applies to athletes.
“To me if you love photography and you’re good at photography,” he said, “you should be able to photograph anything.”
Cable said Olympic deadlines are intense; often he has fifteen minute deadlines to turn around his photos. But the self-described adrenalin junky seems to relish the extreme demands of the job. He said there’s a common saying among Olympic photographers that the experience of shooting the Olympics is like shooting the Super Bowl every day for three weeks.
“I like the stress of it,” he grinned.
A tan photo vest is the uniform de rigueur of an Olympic photographer. Cable pulled his stack of official Olympic vests of past games from his closet – each bearing a number on the back to identify the photographer. They’re his prized mementoes from his travels.
“You wear them every day in summer,” laughed Cable. “They could walk away on their own.”
Even with the heavy deadlines, Cable takes time to share his behind-the-scenes experiences of working at the Olympics through his blog https://blog.jeffcable.com, where he dishes on everything from the daily grind, to food, to mascots to the exacting Covid restrictions of recent games.
The adventures photography affords Cable are black and white in comparison to his former career — working as a Bay Area tech executive. Seven years ago, after working at a variety of tech companies, he swapped desk life for a photographic one and never looked back.
“I love tech,” he explained, “but this is so much more fulfilling and so much more fun.”
Cable is as excited to get to Paris as any athlete; hoping to push the creative envelope and come back with some shots that land him on the spiritual podium of photography at his eighth Olympics.
“To be at one is amazing,” Cable said. “To be at eight is incredible.”
Source: NBC Bay Area