US Olympic Team Portraits Come Under Scrutiny

Photographer Joe Klamar has been receiving some criticism over his portraits of the US Olympic Team that many believe could have been done better. Most of the criticism, as you would imagine, comes from photographers who believe they could have done a better job representing the athletes. And with access to these athletes for photographic purposes being so restricted, it’s understandable that photogs would get upset over sub-par portraits.

You can see the full 35-photo gallery over on the CBS News website, but what’s your take on the photos? Do they deserve the negative attention they’re getting, or do they represent the US Olympic Team just fine? Let us know in the comments down below.

(via Solstice)

Image credits: Photographs by Joe Klamar

  • Big Ash

    Did you see the ones from AP and Reuters on the Telegraph website, they weren’t much better!

  • Marja

    But should these be on that same rule? They’re portraits, not a record of events, like a news story would be, or if the subjects were competing in their events. I know the agencies have their specific rules about zero changes, and they’re absolutely right to do it. Just with portraits, it looks like inconsequential things like torn paper could be fixed without violating the rules.

    (I don’t mean to start a debate or anything, I just wonder about it.)

  • Marja

    I don’t think a photographer would deliberately shoot an important job poorly, because his pay was low. It would ruin your career! People will look at your photos and assume you’re a hack. Or if they find out you did this on purpose, nobody would ever hire you again.

  • Marja

    The photos offer up many questions.

    -Did the media coordinators give them zero time/space to shoot these? They could’ve thought you don’t need either, that a photog can just take a few snapshots and that’d be fine.

    -Was it a case of the photog being less qualified at portraits, but was chosen because his bosses think photographers are equally good in each different situation instead of being specialized?

    -Did they just send him “blind” i.e. without explaining what the job would be? (That happens to me a lot, I’ll get sent somewhere and have very little info on what I’m supposed to shoot.)

    I really hate to look at those and say they’re terrible, don’t like putting down others’ work. They aren’t very good, they’re like what any of us would do in Photo 101. When compared to that Canadian link, there’s no contest.

  • Robert French

    Is it just me or does everything that goes online / in print really have to be staged and shopped? These shots from Joe Klamar are a breath of fresh air. If only half the people commenting here re-did these shots, no one would even recognize the real people, the athletes! Well done Joe.

  • Robert French

    And the solution would be?

  • Robert French

    So there are no good photographers on Facebook? Damn, I’ll have to go to Tumblr so.

  • JP Danko

    Had to have been done on purpose. Here’s my take:

  • DavidW

    You have to be really good to be that bad.

  • Indy Photographer

    His mistakes rival what a beginner might have done on his first try at studio portraits. First, he seems to have used two speedlites with no softening. Second, his light ratio was very severe, indicating he shot at low ISO, high f-stop, with the flash turned up and with no reflector. Third, he went too wide and too close to his subjects. Anything wider than 50 mm will look weird, like the gymnast’s feet that look too large. Bottom line is that he should have either done the job right or not at all. If it were me, I would have gotten on the phone with a portrait photographer and asked for some tips before going into this shoot. There are softboxes and umbrellas for speedlites that would have softened his light. Plastic rubbing alchohol bottles make excellent light softeners. A white bedsheet makes a great reflector. If the room was small, he didn’t have shoot wide, just more closeups at higher focal lengths to minimize distortion. Being a sports photographer is no excuse for doing an amateur portrait job of our Olympic team.

  • AlbertRoss

    Isn’t it amazing what you can do with an iPhone?

  • Regs

    You’re absolutely right Mike. And the problem here is that you, as a consumer, should never have had to see these images in the first place. At this point I’m not seeing this as a failure of the photographers, I’m seeing as a failure of those in charge of PR and media. Apparently the USOC has no one on their staff with any experience of this and it really shows. These should never have been released in the first place.

  • pcdropper

    If there is a problem with these pictures, it’s that they don’t look like they were processed by an ad agency. They look like they were prepared by me, or you, or anyone other than the bitter wannabe photographers making these hundred of ridiculous comments. But we couldn’t make photos that could inspire this tremendous level of rancour, because, even the most highly paid commenter on this page is still little more than a hack. No words can improve a photo. Neither can they belittle it.

    It takes professional skill to allow us to remember that these Olympians are people, not superheroes. These pictures will endure a lot longer than all this whining simply by being simple, honest, and yes, slightly messy and off-kilter. Most of the world is sick and tired of those “fabulous” glossy photos that use state-of-the-art to achieve a measure of “perfection”, the types of photos that seem so dear to most of the commenters here. Those types of photos are like most modern tattoos. They often employ impressive equipment and techniques, but they’ll never be as cool as the half-naked hula girl on my uncle’s forearm.

  • Rupert Chappelle

    Can’t we just fix them in PhotoShop and stop complaining?

  • JC Dill

    I think all the piling on is very unprofessional. I suspect that most of the people commenting on this thread didn’t actually go look at the linked gallery, didn’t look at which photos were great (many were) and who shot each photo. There were many great photos by Joe Klanar, and many mediocre photos by the other photogs. IMHO, the mediocre photos being presented from so many different photogs says that there was something VERY challenging about the shoot, and many photogs were not able to bring their A game to the situation. Further, since these are PORTRAITS and not photos of a sporting event, the ADs should have done normal retouching – cleaning up the background, etc. before releasing. The whole thing was obviously done in a hurried way, and it’s totally unfair to pile on Joe Klamar for things that were clearly beyond his control, and which affected the other photogs as well.

    One thing that really stands out for me is the creased American flag used as a backdrop for many of the photos (by all the photogs). Clearly this “set” was not properly prepared.

  • MWalt

    Wow, someone told me these were bad, but not until I viewed them did I really believe it. They look like they were shot by someone in a beginning photography class with no understanding of lighting. Embarrassing really.

  • ceebee

    They’re good. If the majority can’t see why, even better.

  • MrDeviance

    These are not bad pictures, this are real and NOT FAKED pictures!
    This is how americans look in real life when they don’t get pictures shot at clever angles, combined with a shitload of lights and photoshop.
    Americans call these pictures shit, I call them real and representative of real life america!

  • John Bair

    JC Dill….I have no idea what photos you saw. The only creased american flag shots were photos Klamar shot. There were only 2 portraits that were not photographed by klamar and they were done on black backdrops. He has already stated the reason he gave this horrible images was because he was unprepared for a studio shoot. No excuse, this is his job, he is at fault and deserves all the blame.

  • Alex Koast

    I’m a photo noob and I think these were poorly done

  • bt

    I think they are great. Unconventional, unusual, different.

    Get a grip complainers, Norman Rockwell has been missing for a very long time.


  • Mel Woo

    Sorry read the many comments here… But aren’t portraits supposed to capture the essence of the subject ?? I believe that the photographer who took these failed to capture that. Sorry not intending to be mean here… There’s just no wow factor in any of them.

  • David

    Poor !! What was the time for preparation? What was the brief? What was the idea? What was the budget? ? ? ?
    It needs not to be the fault of Joe.
    Whole production takes part….