ACM - Computers in Entertainment

Don’t Look Back

By Andy Marken

Capturing, Saving the Olympics One Frame at a Time


If there was an Olympics category for photographer endurance, USA Today Sports photographer Jeff Swinger might have returned to Park City, Utah, with a medal around his neck. Instead, he came home with thousands of captured images of athletes and an OWC Envoy Pro mini on his neck.



Ready for Competition – Jeff Swinger, one of USA Today’s sports photography team, takes a selfie with his iPhone just before another evening of Rio Olympics sports events.


Swinger was one of USA Today Sports’ handpicked team of photographers who joined thousands of photographers, filmmakers and sports news professionals from around the globe who worked outside of the viewing public’s eye to capture the victory and defeat of the world’s best athletes.


And, as the 16-year professional sports photographer veteran said, “This wasn’t my first rodeo, so I knew it wasn’t going to be all glamour and glory.”


Swinger was previously part of the USA Today Sports photo team for the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the 2014 Sochi Olympics. 


He has also covered the NFL playoffs, Super Bowl XLVI, multiple Kentucky Derbies and hundreds of regional and national professional and amateur sporting events.  When not on the road photographing sports, he serves as a USA Today Sports Images photo editor. 


But even with many years of experience as an Olympics photographer, he looked forward to the agony and excitement of the Rio Games.


“It’s not that we weren’t warned about what we had signed on for,” he commented.  “One of our photo editors led off the initial meeting for the photo team by saying, ‘It’s like shooting the Super Bowl everyday for nearly three weeks.’ He didn’t sugarcoat it at all.”



Touché – Swinger captures one of the USA Olympic fencers, Miles Chamley-Watson, in midair after dominating his competitor.


Juggling multiple shooting assignments a day, he covered tennis, judo, track and field, wrestling, basketball, water polo and fencing.


Since the Rio Olympics is a global showcase for many companies, he noted that thousands of photographers have their pick of the newest and best equipment available.


To capture all of the action, Swinger used one of Canon’s new 1DX Mark II cameras and Hoodman CFast memory cards.


“All I can say is that the camera is awesome. It really upped my game,” he said with a smile. 


He and his 20 fellow USA Today Sports photographers were backed up by seven photo editors and two technicians who were responsible for remote cameras, VLans and communications.


He noted that USA Today Sports had made significant use of technology from his first Olympics in 2008 and the Rio Games.


“Previously, we had to shoot the events, write the captions and transmit the images to a central office,” he explained.  “This year, my Canon cameras were connected by VLan (Ethernet cable) so we could pick the best images and send them directly to editors in the newsroom.” 


This eliminated the need for Swinger and his fellow photographers to also have a computer with them at each event.


The editors immediately put the photos into the USA Today system and on the wire where clients can quickly use them for their newspapers, websites, magazines and blogs.


“It has really changed – for the better – the way we cover sports,” Swinger emphasized.



Bumpy Download – Even before he gets back to his room, Swinger backs up his basketball game photos to his OCW OTG drive just in case.  It may be 2 a.m. and he’s dog tired after a full day of competition coverage, but the images have to be safe and secure.


At the end of each day, he had hundreds of GB of images on his cards that had to be offloaded onto his computer’s hard drives to “clean” the cards for the next day’s events.


In addition, he needed a backup … just in case.


For the task, he made heavy use of his fast, rugged OWC On-The-Go Pro portable hard drive throughout the games. 


“Backup and archiving is a very important part of our workflow,” he emphasized.  “The last thing you want to do is tell your boss that all of the great action capture was lost. There is no coming back from a disaster like that.”


In addition, since the remote camera images go directly to the newsroom servers, he also took the added precaution of getting file copies of shots he would need when he returned home.  Then he would have them immediately when he received requests in the future from other members of the USA Today Sports team.



Hoopla – The USA basketball team again dominated the sport, taking home another gold medal.  DeAndre Jordan wasn’t shy about sinking yet another basket in their award-winning performance.


To download the photos, he would give the photo editors his Envoy Pro ultra-portable SSD mini.


“Initially, they just looked at me and probably thought, ‘Oh great, another time-consuming task,’” he said.  “But they were blown away by the speed and size of my mini titan. 


“It wasn’t long and I thought they looked at me with envy because I was walking away with hundreds of images I could either slip in my pocket or drape around my neck.”


Upon returning home and after nearly two straight days of catching up on lost sleep, Swinger sat down at his photo workstation for the first time in nearly a month.


It was time to sort, organize, categorize and save the nearly 100K (actually 97,784) Rio Olympics images he brought home for safekeeping. He added that only a small portion of those shots were sent to editors during the 16-day event.


Thanks to a recommendation from fellow photographer Gregg Ellman, he had purchased a 20TB OWC Elite Pro Qx2 just before leaving for Rio.


With images from hundreds of sporting events spread across a variety of desktop and portable drives, he said he would occasionally wake up in a cold sweat worrying that one or more key event photos suddenly were no longer around.


“Gregg is one of my trusted best friends,” he explained, “and when I shared my concern with him, he said that when your livelihood depends on it, you have to go with some things that have never let him down … OWC and the Elite Pro Qx2.”


So now he’s keeping himself busy between assignments moving all his images since 2011 from the various drives to the OWC RAID solution.


“I’m about half-way through the project and I can already see how it’s going to simplify my workflow,” said Swinger. “I did a test to find a figure skating photo from the 2014 Olympics just as I would do if a newspaper or blog requested one from USA Today Sports, and I found it in seconds … ridiculous!”



Workflow Organized – Swinger added an OWC Elite Pro Qx2 to his photo workflow to organize and protect his years of sports photography. The reliable RAID solution also enables him to find specific event photos in minutes rather than hours.


“Normally, that would have taken me hours of searching through all of the drives, folders and files with someone calling me every 15 minutes asking where it was because he/she was on deadline,” he added. “Now I’ll have it to them almost before they put the phone down.  I wonder why Gregg didn’t tell me sooner.”


While the winning competitors in the 2016 Olympics will put their medals with their other honors, Swinger will soon be draping his Envoy Pro mini around his neck so he can capture and save more sports contests. 


He also knows all of his creative work from this year’s Olympics will be safe and immediately available to him.


“And now that I’m rested from the 2016 endurance contest, I’m looking forward to ‘participating’ in the 2018 Winter Olympics in Korea.”