San Jose Mercury News
August 27, 2012
By Deborah Rice
Tenacity, determination and skill get athletes to the Olympics. Those same traits worked for Saratoga's Jeff Cable.
Cable just returned from London, where he was the official photographer for the U.S. men's and gold-medal-winning women's water polo teams.
By day, Cable is director of marketing at Lexar, manufacturer of memory cards, card readers and USB flash drives in high use at recent Olympics.
But for two weeks this August, he was among 2,000 accredited photographers whose breathtaking images of the Games will last a lifetime.
Cable, a 22-year Saratoga resident, describes himself as a self-taught photographer with good coaches and good connections. One is Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak.
Cable and Wozniak met over a mutual love of technology while Cable worked at Wolf Computers in Los Gatos. They liked to talk tech--about products and features and what would be the "new next."
The two hit it off. So much so that the two traveled several times to Akihabara, Japan, known as "Electric Town," a techie's Disneyland, to find the latest gadgets not yet available in the U.S.
"When digital cameras first appeared, they became another common interest," Wozniak says. "I'd try all sorts of new products and tell Jeff which digital cameras I liked best and why. Jeff introduced me to early prosumer cameras. He knew this technology better than I and became very skilled at using early 'good' digital cameras. He also had better connections and knowledge of upcoming products, so he shot to the top of the curve."
Cable says, "It was ironic. Steve Wozniak was my tech idol, and here I was advising him!"
As a thank-you for Cable's help, Wozniak gave him his first digital camera.
"After time Jeff got very talented at 'seeing' good photo shots, controlling lighting and perfecting his photos in all the professional ways. He had blogs and gallery websites and was shooting weddings and a variety of events professionally," says Wozniak.
Typical events were bat and bar mitzvahs from Seattle to New York, but soon Cable had Olympic dreams.
Working on site for Lexar at the Beijing Olympics, Cable talked his way into becoming a temporary non-accredited photographer. That got his foot in the Olympic door. Parleying that with San Jose Sharks' connections got him official accreditation at the Vancouver Winter Olympics.
He was then determined to photograph the London Games.
"I don't take no for an answer. I'm polite, but tenacious," says Cable.
Perseverance paid off and he found a home in the USOC with the U.S. water polo teams. They are quick to praise Cable's work.
"Jeff did an excellent job for us providing images from every one of our matches. He captured the magical moment when our women's team won their first-ever gold medal, and supplied us with images that will be cherished for a long time to come," says Greg Mescall, associate director of communications for U.S. water polo.
"I don't do this for monetary gain. I do it for the excitement and adrenaline--just like the athletes. We're all competing in one way or the other," says Cable.
Competition among photographers is fierce with each trying to get something slightly different in their shots. Photo positions are assigned and crowded. Credentials get you into some areas and keep you from others.
"I'm such a Type-A person. I live for pressure." Cable says he is as passionate about photography as he is about life in general. "When I get involved, I go full bore, and that has been the case with my photography. It's taught me so much. I see the world in a different way now. That goes for lighting, angles and people's expressions."
Cable was able to photograph 25 other Olympic events. But the highlight of the Games?
"That would definitely be shooting the gold medal women's water polo game. I really cared about those girls. That was the first time a U.S. women's team had medaled in gold. So I was able to see history made. That's what I do. I capture history and have a lot of fun. It makes for a truly joyous day," says Cable.
Brenda Villa, a member of the U.S. gold medal-winning women's water polo team, told Cable during the competition, "We can't wait for each game to end to go on our team's Facebook page to see your shots. I love your photos, Jeff!"
"We never get to see pictures of our games or our funny expressions or our intense celebrations. We were all excited to look for Jeff's pictures on the USAWP Facebook page. It also gave us a chance to see pictures of our family and friends being super fans in the stands. It brought us some laughter and love from those we love," Villa says.
The respect and friendships went both ways.
"I got very close to both water polo teams, having shot thousands of their photos, so I felt like part of their family. One event I really enjoyed was the team celebration after final competition, [when] the athletes could let down their hair," says Cable.
"Jeff was well-liked and easy to work with--a consummate professional. He pitched in to shoot other non-competition events, such as pre- and post-press conferences," says Mescall. "And--this is important--our team's photos were to us in a timely manner."
A timely manner meant fast. Speed is one significant change Cable has seen affect his job even in the four years since Beijing.
"The main difference is the reality of, and expectation to, move faster. I was contractually obligated to post the water polo team photos within two hours after each match. That meant editing and uploading to the Internet, and finishing in time to prepare to shoot the next match," observes Cable.
It's almost as if covering the Olympics as a photographer is like being a decathlon athlete.
Olympic photographers are wise to prepare themselves on a physical level. They face long hours concentrating through viewfinders, carrying gear and running for shuttle buses between venues.
"You have to be able to do everything," Cable says. "It helped that having been to three previous Olympics I knew the routine. It's a lot of long hours and hard work, but it's worth every minute and I am very fortunate to be able to have been there."
Olympics photographers face two battles. One has to do with the difficult logistics of covering such a massive event, with its crowds of people and unending restrictions and permissions.
The second is entirely photographic.
"You must bring the right gear, find a great vantage point for capturing it, and figure out just how to add your own visual twist that will set your photos apart. We're all going for that picture that will go down in Olympic history. We're there to capture it in real time, under pressure, because in sports photography, there's never a 'do over,' " says Cable.
"One thing I've learned covering sports is if you see it, it's too late. You have to anticipate it before it happens," he says.
Water polo is a tough sport to shoot. So much of what happens is under water. So what makes a great water polo photo?
"Knowing the strokes, the angles of the pool, and where you can go and where you can't go. Reactions after a match are very memorable," says Cable.
"These Olympic athletes have put their whole lives into being here. Things can happen that you don't expect and could never predict. Sometimes there's magic in front of your eyes. As a photographer, you have to be ready for it," he continues.
Making a different picture may be one thing, but making a great picture is another.
"The best pictures are about the human story. What really matters is life and feelings and emotions," says Cable.
He says that it's essential to know the sports and the athletes you'll be covering.
"It's important to know who's who, and what physical tendencies they may have," he says. "You can get great images by anticipating how each athlete may react to winning or losing. That can make a killer photograph."
Cable adds, "And good planning matters. I packed way in advance. I had the best equipment, the right accreditation and a clear idea how I might cut time getting from point A to B to C," he says. "I was able to shoot over 25 different Olympic events--buses between venues leave every half-hour. If you miss one, you waste valuable time waiting for the next one."
Wozniak says he's awed at Cable's transformation.
"I'm still amazed to have seen a close friend start out with a normal gadget interest and develop into a skilled professional photographer," Wozniak says. "It's a great example for any entrepreneur. Jeff pursued his passion for photography and didn't give up just because it's a long road to the high skill level. And I particularly liked that he developed his profession online, not in a studio office."
U.S. men's water polo team member Jesse Smith is also a fan of Cable.
"Jeff Cable is a great guy," says Smith. One of Cable's photos taken of him with son Brooks appeared on NBC. That led to admiring recognition for Smith and wife Brittany around the Games. Appreciative, Smith gave Cable one of his many U.S. Olympic team swim suits as a thank you.
"It's a wonderful job. I get to capture history, feel the efforts of the athletes and share great moments with the rest of the world," says Cable.
"It's a privilege to do work we love. But sometimes it goes beyond that. As a photographer, I am lucky to be introduced to amazing individuals and experiences. The competitive spirit that the athletes feel, I feel. The emotion I had when the U.S. women's water polo team captured the gold was like no other. The memory still gives me chills," says Cable.
He's already been asked to submit papers for the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
And it's all happened because one day he decided to pick up a camera and figure out how to use it well.
For information, and to see some of Jeff Cable's photos, visit www.jeffcable.com.