category: Fun Stuff

Final Rio Olympics Blog Update!

I am writing this last blog post from the cozy and safe confines of the American Express Centurion lounge in Miami as I wait for my next flight home to Dallas.

Trying to digest and put into words what myself and our wonderful team at USA Today went through over the last few weeks is not easy, but I'll try...

First the positive... Huge thanks to Bob Rosato and the USA Today sports management team for extending another invite for me to be a part of the photo team again. Bob is the consummate  professional and really knows just about everything when it comes to what to expect and not to expect with these events. He's like a walking encyclopedia of information as he was a long time Sports Ilustrated staffer in a previous life with more SI covers than I can even count! In addition to that, Bob is a tremendous human being and friend who is willing to help anyone at anytime.  So thanks Bob for all of the cool assignments and the chance to learn and photograph so many different sports and create fantastic memories!  

Like I mentioned before, the Olympics is one of the most difficult and grueling things a photographer can do but sooooo rewarding when you persevere and make great images that will last a lifetime!

The negative... Rio is a challenge period.  It is such a shame that a city with SOOO much beauty everywhere has so much crime and poverty.  There were stories after stories everyday of folks getting robbed or equipment stolen. (Some even in the supposed "safe" zones.) 

Here is a photo that my colleague Erich Schlegel took at the sailing venue of this woman in blue without a credential attempting to walk off with a 600mm f4 lens before getting caught red handed!


I had a conversation on a bus ride with another woman who lives in Rio and she told me that before the military showed up for the Olympics, she got robbed 3 times and even at gunpoint on Copacabana beach during the day!!

She pretty much told me that once the military leaves, the place will pretty much be insanely dangerous to be in. I also spoke with a woman at the airport who told me her roommate got held up on the road in Deodoro during traffic as a group of men on motorcycle circled the cab she was in while stopped in traffic and forced them to get out at gunpoint while they stole the car! Only after the thieves realized the car was a manual transmission, did they abandon it and ride off.  This is literally stuff out of the movies and it really sometimes felt like the Hunger Games for photographers. 

Since a lot of my events were over late at night, I chose to take a cab back to the hotel as the media buses dropped us off around 2.5 blocks from the hotel.  Well, at 2am, it can be pretty scary walking by yourself with all of your gear!  I always walked with my monopod out as well as with a personal alarm.  Luckily, despite running into a few homeless folks and onlookers, I wasn't really bothered. Maybe because I also look Brazilian. :)

As a photographer, it is difficult enough to get great story telling and unique images when you are battling with hundreds of other international photographers without having to worry about whether or not your gear is safe! Some gear even got stolen out of lockers, buses, and offices!!  I pretty much tried to carry everything I would need most days in a backpack, but sometimes I just needed more equipment and had to take my roller bag too.  I'm just glad and fortunate to be returning with all my equipment intact.

Traffic in Rio is horrible! Honestly, staying in Copacabana was both a blessing and a curse. While the environment was beautiful and the food was great(when we actually had a chance to eat), the bus routes and commutes that were provided were downright atrocious! Sometimes I would wait for buses that would never show up or they would show up an hour late, etc... Well, this was completely unacceptable if you had a 9am competition to cover. Basically after covering a midnight beach volleyball game and getting home around 2:30am, I'd have to get up at 4:30am and go wait for the bus that might or might not show.  After a few days of this, I said the heck with that and got taxis whenever possible!  The good thing was that taxis were really cheap but the bad thing is that some drivers didn't understand much English and sometime took more creative routes. Still, WAY better than the media bus rides.  

In fact, on my last bus ride back to Copacabana from the media press center, the bus made it to Ipanema before pulling over and the bus driver simply got off the bus.  When he returned about 5 minutes later, he stated that the bus wouldn't work and we would have to switch over to a new bus. Well, I am sure that would have taken hours, so my buddy and fellow USA Today photographer Kyle Terada and me hopped off and got a cab to take us the rest of the way.  For me, traffic and logistics to the venues were 80% of the battle! Once I got to venues and figured out the best positions, etc... photographing was the easy part!

We really didn't have any downtime until yesterday where we had an 8 hour gap between events and so Kyle and decided  to visit Christ the Redeemer.(You kind of have to when in Rio, right?)  It was also funny as I flew in with Kyle on the 3rd and pretty much didn't see him again till yesterday.

It was a pretty surreal thing to see once we actually got to the mountaintop.  We had to catch a shuttle in Copacabana and drive up halfway on the mountain where we would have to catch another shuttle to take us to the top. Once on the top, we would have to hike up what seemed like endless steps! (Only afterwards did we see an escalator! Yes, I blame Kyle for this. :)

As would be the theme of my Rio experience, our shuttle bus waited forever to go up and pretty much made us miss a glorious sunset. :( 

It was still a great sight to behold though and here are a few images we got before having to get back for the women's beach volleyball bronze and gold medal games.



Since my last blog, I did assignments at field hockey, equestrian, track and field, and lots more beach volleyball.  

I went out and covered the equestrian show jumping which was something else I had never done.  I thought it would be fun to setup a remote camera underneath one of the jumps so I got permission from the photo manager and found a pretty cool spot that I knew would be hit or miss as every horse jumps differently.  All I needed was one or two nice frames to make me happy and that is exactly what happened!   Here is a photo of me testing out my remote focus.  I knew the horses would jump higher but as long as they were on the same focal plane, my focus would be sharp.


And here is one of the resulting photos...


I shot the "normal" photos too, but I noticed that some horses had some really long tails and I thought it would be fun to play with the hair in the composition for a few photos.  I positioned myself at an angle where I would hopefully get a few cool photos and it worked out!  Here is my fun with horses tails...


I was off to track and field for the first time and it was fun seeing the layout and trying to play with the light and be creative!  Here are a couple...




I then covered the heartbreaking loss of Team USA beach volleyball players April Ross and Kerri Walsh Jennings.  It was the first loss that Kerri has ever had at the Olympics and I feel that I captured a great moment of her and April embracing after the match...


It was also great to see them win the bronze medal as well as the Germans win the gold the next night.  Very exciting stuff and it's always great to photograph a medal ceremony!





Since our flight was at 8pm last night, Kyle and I decided to walk around Copacabana for practically the first time and even had a chance to grab some authentic cheese bread and pizza before our flight!



And this is for our friend James Lang who I know can't wait to get back to the states to dip his french fries into a chocolate frostie!


All in all, it was an experience I will not forget and one I would do again in a heartbeat if asked. Thanks again to everyone for all of your comments , questions, and support over the last few weeks. I hope you enjoyed sharing the experience with me!  Now I am off to Dallas to snuggle with Alycia and my puppies and to catch up on some much needed sleep! Obrigado!

Olympics Blog Update Number 3 - I'm NO Sailor

I'm not even sure what day it is as I write as it really starts to feel like Groundhog Day about now! The only reason I know is because of the schedule that I receive showing us our assignments. Here is the infamous "whiteboard" located in our USA Today offices in the main press center.



I mentioned our incredible hard working staff and editors who caption and push out thousands of images every day here and so I thought I would post a few of them in action.




I left off my last blog as I headed to field hockey. I have been friends with Team USA players Lauren Crandall and Katie Bam ever since I did portraits of them for the London games, but this was my first time to actually see them play in person! Despite the rainy weather, this was a treat and they both played awesome leading Team USA to a big win over Japan! Hopefully, I'll get to do another one of their games soon!

Next it was off for a full day of Beach Volleyball. This is a really cool sport complete with concerts, dancers, and colorful people.  The staff here is also great making sure that we always have water and are comfortable.(It gets crazy hot during the day!) Another cool thing about this sport is that they play matches at night! Some even start at midnight!! The atmosphere  is akin to a rock concert and very exciting! Here are a few of my faves from the day...
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So yesterday, I got the assignment of sailing and even though water is not my thing, I thought I'd give it the old college try. They actually put photographers in a boat so that we can follow the action to get photos.  Well, the race was delayed for about an hour an a half and so we just went up and down and up and down for the whole time.  This was not good for me as I could tell I was starting to get pretty dizzy and a bit seasick.  Not to mention, the smell around that bay really is not pleasant.
Once the race started, I definitely felt pretty bad but still tried my hardest to get the photos that we needed.  Mad props to the professional sailing photographers as taking photos while being tossed around and moving up and down is WAY hard!!
Here are a couple I liked...
Loved the light on this first one!
I then ran home and immediately took a hot shower and will probably burn those clothes I wore. I took a ton of vitamins and went to bed around 8pm.
It's Saturday now and I feel much better after sleeping off the seasickness. I took a ton more vitamins after breakfast just to make sure that I don't have any after effects.  I am in the middle of shooting men's basketball all day and just had a wild double overtime game between Argentina and Brazil!  It felt more like a soccer match than a basketball game and it was tons of fun to shoot!  Here is a behind the scenes iphone pic of my camera connected to our VLAN via the orange cables.  As I take a photo, I can just hit button on the back of my camera and the image is sent to my editors in less than a second!  Pretty cool stuff!
We also have a remote camera setup for all the men's games and I happened to get a few good ones! (Well I never saw them but my editor Shanna picked them and they look great to me!)  This game was pretty fierce as these countries are huge rivals with Argentina winning in double overtime!  Here are a few...
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I have two more basketball games to shoot tonight before heading to beach volleyball tomorrow for the quarterfinals.
Let me know if there is anything in particular you guys want to know about!

Rio Opening Ceremonies, Michael Phelps, and Sleep Deprivation

If you are following me on social media, you know that I tried to write a blog post last night and promptly fell fast asleep about 2 minutes into it. Either my own writing bores me to tears or that my body finally said enough.
When people say the Olympics are rough, they aren't kidding as I have been averaging about 2 hours a night since the opening ceremonies. This being said, the Olympics are one of the few things, that I'd give up my precious sleep for. :)
Opening Ceremonies - This was my first to cover and it was pretty amazing once we finally got started.  These Olympics are in three big clusters - Copacabana, Barre, and Deodoro and throw in Maracana for some soccer and opening and closing ceremonies.
Well I am staying "at the Copa" (Yes, Barry Manilow has been stuck in my head the whole time.) While Copacabana is beautiful with lots of great  food and restaurants, the media transportation is severely lacking. In fact, we left our hotel at 10am to wait for the bus to the stadium for the opening ceremonies and we waited for over an over before finally giving up and catching another bus that went through the media center first. All in all it was four hours before we set forth on the stadium grounds.
All of the major agencies wired several positions in the stadium and my spot was off to the center about middle ways up. Even though we have a cable in those spots, there is no guarantee at these things as it pretty much a first come first serve thing. Once we were allowed up to our spots at 4pm, the mad dash to secure a spot ensued. Luckily we were early but had to wait another 4 hours in our spots before the ceremony actually started.
Once it did start, it was quite the spectacle! Here are a few of mine...(I was so hoping Pele would light the flame, but oh well.)
 LOTS of fireworks at this thing!
 Did I mention fireworks?
Technology is amazing these days!
Some guy on a boat. :)
Tom Brady's wife Gisele walks the stadium runway as the girl from Ipanema.
Great moment as Michael Phelps is the flag bearer for TEAM USA.
 Brazilian marathoner Vanderlei De Lima lights the flame...
And I am still trying to figure out what this is...
Once the ceremonies were over, we went outside to catch the media bus heading back to Copacabana and guess what? Yep, it never came after we waited about an hour.  So, we decided to risk our lives in one of the craziest cab rides ever from Maracana (Which is sketchy at best) back to Copacabana. Want proof, check out my video of a part of our cab ride. We did get back in world record time though  :)

We get our assignments about 2 days in advance and contrary to what it looks like on tv, you can only do 1 sport or maybe two per day here. (Especially since they are so spread apart.) Shooting a lot of these sports are brand new to me, but I am treating them like everything else...good action, good light, clean background as much as possible, and emotion for sure!
Ok so my first event was road cycling and I had previously signed up to take a van after the start of the race to go to a very scenic part of the course where I could make some pretty pics. Well, they misplaced my reservation somehow and I was stuck going to another spot which was not that pretty....well except for the side AWAY from the racers! Smh. Since I had a 2 hour wait for the racers to show up, I got to take some breathtaking photos of Rio below me, so it wasn't a total loss.
Check out this gorgeous view from the wrong side of my road cycling spot...
Next up was rowing bright and early the next morning. I was super excited as it looked like some cool pictures could be made with the awesome mountains in the background! I had to attend a 6:30am photo meeting with the venue's photo chief (yes, each venue has a photo chief to enforce rules and help out photographers) before the races were to start at 8:30am.
After the meeting, I was all set at the start line when they decided that the winds were too rough and they would cancel the day. Dang! At least I got this cool warmup shot early that morning. I'll be back there soon, so hopefully we will get some racing in.
Since my day was cut short, I got asked to go up and cover weightlifting. This was another first for me and I simply loved all the emotion that the competitors show. Added to that, I got to capture a world record being set by China's Quinquan Long! Here are a few of my faves...
After weightlifting, I saw legendary British photographer Bob Martin waiting for the same bus and so we hung out and waited over an hour for it to arrive. The volunteers told us that there was some sort of protest and they had no idea when a bus would come.  Well, about 5 minutes later, a media bus pulls up.  Once we were on it, something just did not feel right as the driver took us the wrong direction and into a super shady town about half hour away from our route. The bus filled with journalists from all over the world were all yelling and screaming as everyone thought that we might be getting kidnapped.(I even phoned in to USA Today to give them a head's up in case.) Well, it turns out the bus driver just got seriously lost. When we finally got back to the media center(where I still needed to catch another 1 hour bus ride back to Copacabana), people about lost there mind yelling at the driver. I'm finding out from speaking to a lot of people, that this is a pretty normal occurrence.)  Here is a quick snap of Bob and me once we realize that the driver was just lost...whew!
I got back to the hotel about 3am and had to be out the door at 5am to get to the equestrian venue. I took a one hour power nap and a shower to wake me up. This along with power bars and Rice Krispie treats have been my staples. :)
Once again, equestrian was a total new sport to shoot for me, but I quickly picked it up and by the end, I was enjoying the jumping and almost had a couple riders fall off which would have been horrible for them , but great for me.  Here is also a behind the scenes setup for how we put up remote cameras.  Another cool thing about working this event is that most folks speak ENGLISH!  That was soooo nice as I didn't have to use my Google Translate App once!  Here are a few of my faves...
KJ4_6954 KJ4_7057 KJ4_7272Remote cameras everywhere!
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And this horse wanted no part of jumping!
Yesterday,  I started off early with Beach Volleyball all day. This is a fun venue and a lot more chill than equestrian for sure. :)
I started at 10am and went to the top to try to get some cool shadows before coming back down to get some reaction and action.
Here are a few from my first beach volleyball game including a cool sunset shot.  Oh and for some reason, I really don't mind photographing these women's games. :)
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How about this culture difference between Italy and Egypt.
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Now for the highlight of the night which almost didn't happen! I was scheduled to help shoot swimming in Barre and the traffic between Copacobana and there was absolutely ridiculous and I ended up spending like 2.5 hours trying to get there! Well, when I finally got to the aquatics center, my job was to gets shots using the Canon 600mm lens with a 1.4 converter from head on the opposite side of the finish.
I have watched swimming events all my life but this was actually the first time to photograph it, and only at the world's biggest stage!! Not to mention getting to photograph Michael Phelps going for two more gold medals! (No pressure!) Here are few...
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It's funny as I haven't really even looked at the photos I have been taking as we are sending our take from each venue directly to the press center where editors are working on and posting the images for the world to receive.  I think I may do a behind the scenes look at that soon as well as it's fascinating technology!  USA TODAY even has robotic arm cameras that we are using!
Feel free to ask any questions or leave any comments as at least the buses have wifi for those long trips back!  Now I am off to women's field hockey for another challenge...

I made it to RIO!

Hey Everyone!  I made it to RIO with ALL my luggage and I have to say that this city is absolutely gorgeous! (Well in Copacabana anyway.)  Also, there are practically NO mosquitos that we have seen.(Not that I am complaining!)  The weather has been a heavenly 70-80ish almost 24 hours a day and so we are all mostly wearing regular shirts and shorts.

The one thing that is noticebly horrible is the traffic!!  Not only that, but the bus routes around here are pure insanity.  It really is a challenge getting to some of these venues, but the photos should stunning once the games actually begin!

Here are a couple pics of the Olympic "Fast" lanes which allow the media buses to bypass the normal mess of commuters...



I am staying in Copacabana and I know everyone wants to know about the housing.  Well, I'm glad to report that our hotel is pretty nice!  Great wifi with electronic card readers, safe, minifridge,  hot showers, and a fantastic breakfast, etc... I'd say it's comparable to a nice dorm room...

MLB: Oakland Athletics at Texas Rangers


Today, we went to the Main Press Center in Barre to get our photography vests, get our cameras programmed to be used on our VLAN to get images out super fast.(More on that in a later blog), and have a USA Today photographer meeting to go over assigments, rules, etc...

Here is the view outside the window of our USA Today office as the media below goes through security to get into the Main Press Center.



Here is Bob Rosato leading our photographer meeting...



I know a lot of photographers will be reading this so I thought I would show you a behind the scenes look at the stash of camera bodies and lenses that Canon has to supply all of the Olympic photographers.  In fact, I think Canon brought over 70 folks to help distribute and clean equipment! (Thanks for the quick behind the scenes look Elizabeth!!)





Since the games "officially" start with the opening ceremonies tomorrow night, tonight was  the last bit of free time that we will probably have for awhile so a few of us walked around Copacabana and grabbed dinner.  One thing I must say is that the food here is SO much better than Sochi!

Since we are actually in Brazil, we decided to go to an authentic Brazilian steakhouse named Churrascaria Palace and oh my word, it did not disappoint!  Even though I was pretty much stuffed from all of the meats, those of you that know me know that I would have to try the delicious Flan and it was as advertised!  This is also what it looks like when seven American photographers pay the bill together. :)

MLB: Oakland Athletics at Texas RangersWalking back to the hotel, we scouted out the Beach Volleyball venue as well as  took in some of the atmosphere.  There were a few pretty cool sand sculptures and we all decided to get a quick obligatory Olympic rings photo.(I'll have to get a much better one before I leave. :)





I am super excited to be shooting the Opening Ceremony tomorrow night as well as the Road Cycling competition early the next day.  Look for my next update then!


I am headed to Rio for the 2016 Olympic Summer Games!

I am extremely honored and blessed to be headed to Rio to cover the 2016 Summer Olympic Games for USA Today!  I will be posting constant blog updates as well as fun behind the scenes stuff on Snapchat(soonerkj), Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter so follow me @kevinjairaj  if you want to see the experience through my eyes.

I thought to get everyone ready for the games, I would post some of my photos and stories from the recent Olympic Media Summit held at the Beverly Hilton in Los Angeles.  USA Today hired me to take some portraits of a few selected Olympians and we had a great time creating some fun images!  These are sometimes tough as we had a pretty small ballroom and I had to find a way to make 4 or 5 sets work in a small space.  A huge thanks to Christine Bentley, Rylee Gonsar, and Angie Walton for helping with setting everything up and taking a lot of the behind the scenes photos!

Another HUGE shoutout to the following companies for their wonderful support in making the shoots a success...

Profoto - There are no better lights in the industry in my opinion and Profoto is the only equipment I will ever use!  When you need color and light consistency, these guys are the best!  We used a cobination of D1 Airs wired units, B1 wireless units, and a ProB4 generator with 2 ProB heads.

Silverlake Backdrops - This is my new "goto" supplier of backdrops and floors as they simply have the best variety and the easy on and off velcro system on their colorsmacks are a lifesaver when you have to switch out backgrounds in a hurry!

Tether Tools - The tools they have allowed us a simple, portable, and convenient way to view all the images in real time on my laptop and I will not do another shoot like this without them!

As you can see, we pretty much packed the room with sets using just about every inch of space that we were given!  We were able to get the hotel to put down two dance floors like they do for wedding receptions so that it would be much easier for athletes to jump or put spikes on, etc... without sinking into the carpet.(Not to mention hotel ballroom carpets are usually the ugliest things anyway!)  It also helped when I wanted to put down any faux floors or special mylar(See below).




As you guys know from my previous posts, I usually have anywhere from 2 to 20 minutes with these athletes so speed and adaptability are crucial. Here are a few of the photos that I liked as well as some behind the scenes...


I predict that Simone will pretty much become a household name and a HUGE superstar after these games! In fact, she might already be the best female gymnast in the history of the USA!  Unfortunately, I literally only had a couple of minutes with her as her schedule was insane, but we got some great photos!



As a 17 year old in her first Olympics in London, Missy won 5 Medals including 4 GOLD medals!   She is also the world record holder in the 200 meter backstroke.  I had Missy for about 5 minutes and she was wonderful and so much fun to work with!  In fact, I think she laughed throughout the whole shoot!!

We also had the athletes pick out props and do a "fun" shot for our instagram feed and this is what Missy picked...


 Kim Rhode - Shooting

Kim is one of our most decorated Olympians as she has pretty much dominated the sport of shooting!  In fact, this will be Kim's 6th Olympic Games!!  She has won 5 total Olympic medals with 3 being GOLD including one at the last Olympics in London.  I first photographed Kim for the London games and we really hit it off.  We have been friends for awhile and so it was such a fun time getting to see Kim and her family again! I can't wait to see what she does in Rio!



It has almost become tradition, but Kim always lets me take a fun photo with all of her Olympic medals and it never gets old!  In fact, I felt like Mr T with all her bling!



What a cool name! English was awesome to photograph! She was up for any idea I had and we got some really cool stuff!  Look for her in the women's 100mm dash as she alreaday has the 7th fastest time in the world this year!





I had a chance to work with two of the BEST women's basketball players to ever play! Not only are Elena Delle Donne and Tamika Catchings incredible baskeball players, but they are also very photogenic and a ton of fun to be around.(And also WAY taller than me.)   Look for them to lead Team USA to the gold medal in Rio!






  • Maggie is the captain of Team USA's water polo team and should lead them to teh gold medal if all goes well!  She was a ton of fun to shoot and has a wonderful personality to go along with her incredible athletic ability!  She's also super photogenic which made my job very easy! :)





I mean she even plays air guitar in a tutu!



You guys may remember me photographing Gabby 4 years ago when she was a relatively unknown.  Well as you know, that all changed when she won the all-around gold medal in London!  I have stayed friends with her and her family and am thrilled to see her make it back for the RIO games!  I am looking forward to seeing her try to make some history!

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I photographed Nathan before the London games and we simply hit it off during our photoshoot!  He is a multiple gold medalist and looks to get more in RIO!  I had a special water splashing shot that I thought Nathan would be perfect for and as usual, he delivered!!  Can't wait to see him swim in the Olympics!