Photographer Joe Klamar Explains His Controversial Olympic Portraits

AFP photographer Joe Klamar’s portraits of US Olympic athletes have caused a firestorm of controversy in the past week, with people calling the images “insulting” due to their lighting, angles, and concepts. Klamar has responded to the controversy over on AFP. Rather than being intentionally “bad” for the purpose of making a point, they were simply the result of being unprepared:

“I was under the impression that I was going to be photographing athletes on a stage or during press conference where I would take their headshots for our archives,” [Klamar] explained. “I really had no idea that there would be a possibility for setting up a studio.” It was the first time AFP had been invited to participate in the U.S. Olympic Committee’s Media Summit, which was held this year, in May, at a Hilton Hotel in Dallas.

Joe had come armed with two cameras and three lenses (17-35, 70-200 and 300), plus one flash and a 12-inch laptop. To his horror, he saw upon arriving that his colleagues from other news agencies and media organizations had set up studio booths with professional lights, backdrops and prop assistants. “It was very embarrassing to find out that I wouldn’t be able to take advantage of a studio,” Joe told us by email.

Pixels and piety: Photographing Olympic icons (via A Photo Editor)

Image credits: Photographs by Joe Klamar/AFP/Getty Images

  • Been there done that,

    You are forgetting he had less than 3 minutes with each athlete. These are not professional models. It is like pulling teeth to get them to relax in the best situations.

  • Pioneer

    I don’t get it why everyone is so harsh on him, I doubt the people talking crap could pull it off.

  • Pioneer

    I don’t get it why everyone is so harsh on him, I doubt the people talking crap could pull it off.

  • Chuck

    Not that I vilified the photog for taking these pictures in the first place, after reading his “excuse” I don’t absolve him from snapping some pretty awful images. I am no professional, but I have managed to snap far better images with less equipment and even poorer lighting (1 camera, an 18 – 55 kit lens, onboard flash, inside with sunlight behind subject.. a bride). He tanked, plain and simple. I’d respect him quite a bit had he just said so.

  • Been there done that,

    He was shooting for a photo bureau. He doesn’t get to choose what is release. He is under contract to deliver, He does own what he shoots.

  • John

    I’m sorry, but I’ve been a photographer for the past 7 years and I learned early on that you must always be prepared for ANYTHING when going on a photo shoot that is outside of your personal studio. That means take everything that you could possibly need with you. I understand that this was your first time shooting for the Olympics, but isn’t that also another reason to be completely prepared? Now because of this lack of readiness, you have brought down the dependability of your photography business. Thank you though! One less photographer in the market as my competition.

  • jessv

    He should have researched what Media Summit was all about, how it all works, and stuff. If you’re going on an assignment, you’ll want to know details – who, what, when, where, how. If he did his homework, there would not have been surprises.

  • Mansgame

    Also, it doesn’t sound like he had any modifiers with him and the one speedlight may not cut it depending on the ambient lighting around.

  • Mark

    Yeah, except that some of the other photographers present managed just fine and got some exceptionally posed and creative photos. Stop making excuses for this twit!

  • Hgnewby

    I took the photo of the gymnast with the flag and in less than 8 min I had a photo that would have been releasable:( I guess I just wish he would have taken time to tweak them after finding out he didn’t have what he needed to produce quality shots….it happens but usually there is always a solution.

  • Pete T

    Limited gear? Okay. But that’s not a GOOD excuse.

    Leaving broken and dirty backdrops in the photos w/o using something as simple as a HEALING brush on them is just beyond dumb. Not only is the photog at fault but so is the managing editor for letting such flaws go.

  • grh

    Not gonna happen. These photos are atrocious, and time will not heal that problem.

  • grh

    Then you don’t know a good photograph from a bad one. Those pics are atrocious.

    Maybe this explains why so many terrible photos get lots of votes on contests with public voting. And why people think instagram is interesting. (It’s not.)

  • Kristian

    You also used the repair tool on the paper.

  • Kristian

    I guess since he doesn’t report to you, it doesn’t matter if you’re satisfied.

  • Crees84

    The most embarrassing thing about this whole thing is the comments which have been posted in response to this. “OMG, this guy is horrible, they should have hired me”. “His pictures are insulting”. If you don’t like the pictures, then don’t look at them. It makes me embarrassed to be part of a community where everybody has something to prove about themselves and in order to make them feel capable, they have to trash talk another photographer. Everybody has bad days and I am surprised he explained himself. While his explanation calmed some people, others keep on with the negativity. Jeez…

  • JP

    You can adjust exposure level, saturation, sharpness, reduce noise, and crop for wire services. It’s not a violation of any journalistic standard to create a photo that has a subject that can actually be seen.

  • Marion ‘Crush’ Rush

    Oh, he doesn’t know how to bounce his flash, or have any type of flash cards or a light-sphere? I’m not trying to sound smug, but there are a couple of things I always have in my bag. No matter what I’m always prepaired to light a subject evenly.

  • lj

    They do look pretty amateur, not much thought went into the shoot obviously. I agree some of the poses are horrible.

  • Nabila

    Its not like he couldn’t fix it in post-processing even if he didn’t have the studio lights.

  • Mev

    Oh give me a break. Being unprepared has nothing to do with the weird and inappropriate staging.

  • Michael Kemper

    It looks like Klamar’s other work is more photojournalism than anything. He showed up for a spelling bee and found out it was a beauty pageant. It truly is a nightmare! One flash? No assistant? Surprise! The internet hates you now! I don’t blame Joe for a second.

  • patrick

    In photojournalist work, work is presented to the wire in an unedited format. Yes, the editor is as much to blme as the photog, but the nature of editing is a topic that will actually get the photog removed from working with the PJ sources.

  • Silton Buendia

    Still doesn’t explain why the pictures were so bad and seems like he had some backgrounds and props which kinda doesn’t make sense. To top if off it doesn’t explain why he chose to take most of the pictures with the wide angle lens. He had the 70-200 worst case he could have shot at 2.8 and bounced the flash of something and keep the backgrounds simple and clean better then making it all ghetto.


    exactly. david hobby would have dont a way better job. with the sam equipment

  • Pouria

    No matter what he said, take a look at his resume, nothing in his statement explains the poses and angles, I believe he meant these pictures to be like this to make a point. the lighting. stop saying you could have done better than him. the lighting, the stage and the poses are all by intention.


    another thing if he only had one light. how did he get the blue light on the back drop and the key light on the swimmer guy. “i forgot his name and cant be assed to google it” any way it clear he had access to more than one light.


    if he had ambiant light there, why not just use that? he would have still had better photos

  • CptNerd

    It just looks like a lot of prima donnas to me. It’s good to keep in mind exactly how your fellow “professionals” feel about you and your work.

  • Ute Sonnenberg

    Its a pity that he comes up with this explanation now. Maybe the pressure made him doing that. I read a quote yesterday I liked much more where he says that he wasn’t shooting a NIke ad. I like his photos, because they are art and not the “look like any other glossy what we expect” images. But I understand what pressure from the public, that wants everything to be like it always is, can do. Hope he will keep up with his controversial work.

  • uksnapper

    spot on,stick to the original plan and deliver what was wanted.

  • Robert H.

    Does this all really matter? Let’s move past this. It is silly we are hung up on some photographs that don’t suit our fancy, let’s stop the negativity, and move forward

  • Elliot

    Who cares if you’re satisfied or not? And what makes you think that the guy has an obligation to satisfy you? You’re not the one giving him the paycheck. It’s amazing how people appoint themselves authority on issues that are not even closely their business. Just because you have internet connection and can type on the keyboard does not make you part of the story. The guy did not even have to make an explanation but he did, so it is already time to move on and mind your own business. How about you provide us with a link to your portfolio with photos from a
    similar photo-shoot where YOU improvised at the last second and under
    that kind of pressure.

  • Ffgtdnkwtd35

    He is a photojournalist, not a studio photographer. Couple that with his explanation and it makes sense to me. Would you really want the world to judge you based on your worst day ever? We have the luxury of anonymity. He doesn’t. We also have the luxury of photo editing, and he didn’t. I don’t know who should have informed him about the fast food studio he would need, but it would have helped. I am fairly certain that the people barking the loudest against this guy will soon feel the sting of a similar situation in their own lives.

  • Rudy

    OK…I shoot with additional lighting (more than one flash) and he had more than one flash in some/most of the photos I saw. Also, I feel (my opinion) is that they are intentionally photographed this way. He could have used the 70-200 to frame the photos to eliminate the borders from the back drops., use it to shoot from low angle, etc This is assuming he was using a FF camera and not a crop sensor. For a crop, the 35 end would have given decent results. Look at the photos and you will see there were more than one flash used. This guy is making some sort of point….just not sure what point.

  • José Tomás Tocino

    Indeed, and that blue light seems so focussed… He surely had some kind of snoot or grid. This guy is a fraud.

  • Paul Jennings

    Who cares! Last time I checked I wasn’t the one taking the photos and have no control over any of this. Just like people to cry over something this unimportant.

  • wk

    He clearly side lit a lot of these photos from both sides as well as a key light. He had more than one light. He certainly could have borrowed an umbrella to help his situation.

  • Chris Burke

    This guy needs to go take the strobist 101 course.. Those lenses and a single flash is really all you need if you know what you’re doing.. I’ve done plenty of portraits with a single flash… He’s just making excuses for his crappy work..

  • M Reed

    Agree 100% Crees84. What I would like to see is if any of these shallow minded internet critics were actually in a booth next to Joe, and have material that they could use to back up their rhetoric. Further, I wonder if any of Joe’s colleagues who were actually there that day would feel compelled to be so nasty towards him. I don’t think so. I am sure those that did earn the right to be there are far more respectful to the art then any of these Bozo’s.

  • Ludovit Puha

    I think the biggest problem was that he was in awkward position, he dasnt have control ower the situation. In this situation you cant expect he will be abel to relax the objects on fotographs…

  • David Simchock

    Why didn’t he just ASK what the shoot would involve before he went??? Isn’t that what any respectable photographer would do before a big project???

  • Ohaiyo

    Lol, this is amusing.

  • ninpou_kobanashi

    But, who are you, to tell someone else, that liking something is bad?
    Variety is the spice of life. If we were all the same, we’d all be boring clones.

  • junyo

    Heck, gorillapod and a sheet. Gaffer tape and copy paper. The corner of two white walls.

    Sh!t happens. Equipment fails. Situations change. Deal with it, or step aside for those who can.

  • Gerrald

    These are great photos! I like the spontaneity!

  • Gerrald

    David Hobby is not a photographer. I am pretty sure he is a blogger!?

  • JoeBlo

    Some of the absolute worst images I have ever seen of Olympians!!!!!!!!

  • John B.

    Sometimes you just don’t get the shot I feel bad for the guy ,because when I take pictures of an event and i don’t get quite what I am looking for I feel very embarrassed ,but for someone like yahoo to post an article that hundreds of thousands will see is just plain mean why don’t they post pictures when the images people take are great.

  • Jay Benjamin

    You don’t like them because its not the way you would have shot them. Generic poses, regular even lighting gets boring. Maybe not the best client to experiment with, but isn’t this what creativity is? Pushing the card… He’s not a studio photographer. He shoots with natural light and never poses anyone. I think some of his shots are pretty good. If you don’t have a shoot like this once in a while, i think your boring.