Getty Photographer on What It's Really Like to Capture the Olympics — and Shares Favorite Pictures

Getty Images sports photographer Maddie Meyer was on the ground in Tokyo for the Summer Olympics, photographing athletes for the third time at a Games. She tells PEOPLE a little bit about what it's like to be snapping photos in the exciting and fast-paced environment.

Katie Ledecky
Katie Ledecky. Photo: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images
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Olympic Opening Ceremony
The Olympic Opening Ceremony. Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

"The atmosphere is completely different this year in Tokyo than from the two previous Games. In Rio and PyeongChang, the energy of the roaring crowd was palpable. You could feel the vibrations of the stands and hear the screams of chants in different languages from around the world, all crammed into one stadium. I often know a big moment is coming because the roar of the crowd will begin.

"One of my favorite Olympic moments is when athletes unite with their families after winning a medal. Usually tears are streaming down their faces or they are smiling from ear-to-ear. Of course, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, families aren't here in person this year, and the stands are sparsely seated with athletes and journalists. The intensity is still here and extremely apparent as these athletes are fierce competitors who have brought their best with or without fans in the stands."

02 of 18
Michael Andrew
Michael Andrew. Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

"Being part of the Olympic Games feels like being in your own little world for a few weeks. I stay in a media hotel with other journalists, and we take busses to and from other venues. It can be isolating because we're in a bit of a bubble. It is one of the most demanding sport assignments because we usually work 16+ hour days and run on very little sleep."

03 of 18
Michael Andrew
Michael Andrew. Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

"The underwater robotic camera is so much fun to use and adds a great amount of variety to our coverage for our clients and customers. As a photographer, we are always looking for different vantage points — 'What is above? What is below? What will this look like close up? Or farther away?' The underwater camera takes the viewer into the pool and I love being able to capture those moments."

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Cate Campbell
Cate Campbell. Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

"Usually swim meets are loud and chaotic. Coaches can be pacing the side of the pool, media photographing and fans screaming, but the underwater photos are calm. It feels like a serene moment compared to the louder reactions or splashes on the surface. We control the camera with a laptop from the pool deck and are able to move and adjust the camera dependent on the race."

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Katsuhiro Matsumoto
Katsuhiro Matsumoto. Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

"I need to make sure I am prepared to work long hours and get the job done. I brought three bags of camera equipment to Japan and accessories to be ready to photograph all of the aquatic events. I also am sure to bring plenty of food! It's rare we have time to sit down for a meal while shooting so I bring plenty of protein bars and I can eat quickly on-the-go between events."

06 of 18
Ahmed Hafnaoui
Ahmed Hafnaoui. Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

"A challenging thing about photographing aquatics is also what makes it my favorite: the water. It can be incredibly difficult to get clean, sharp, action photos with water splashing in front of athletes' faces.

"For instance, if I'm positioned from the side of the pool and I need to photograph an athlete in lane five, but the athlete in lane two is splashing in front of their face, that can be frustrating. Strokes like butterfly and breaststroke can also be a challenge depending on the athlete's form. Some give plenty of time for your focus to lock on their eyes and others splash a lot of water in front of their faces, so as photographers we have a very quick window to make the image as clean as possible."

07 of 18
Team USA
Team USA. Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

"Amazing moments are all about emotion for me, so the connection between teammates or an athlete sitting on a lane line slamming a fist into the water are always great.

"Quieter moments are also important because they feel more behind-the-scenes to me. For a photo of an athlete who failed to win a medal and is expected to retire, I think about how they will look exiting the pool. Or for a photo of a tear streaming down an athlete's face as their national anthem is played with their hand wrapped around the medal, I think about how they've likely dreamed of this since they were a kid and how I can convey that. Both are important to capture and both illustrate the emotion of an athlete and take our viewer up close in the moment"

08 of 18
Water polo
Women's water polo.

"I can often hear or feel an amazing moment before I see it. When a camera shutter opens to make an image, it blocks what the photographer can see. An early mentor of mine used to ask, 'Did you see it or did you shoot it?' because if I saw it, I didn't make a picture."

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Katie Ledecky
Katie Ledecky. Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

"With swimming in particular, it's important to know the races and athletes well because there can be fractions of a second between winning a gold medal or coming in eighth place. Everything happens very quickly. I keep an eye on the scoreboard and the moment the winner touches the wall, I'll find the athlete and focus on them. Often, I will know they have won before they do."

10 of 18
Women's swimming
Women's swimming. Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

"Water feels like another character added to each image. Though it can get in the way, it can also add so much — like the beautiful waves made by a breaststroke as an athlete leaves the water or the distortion of an athletes face under it as they emerge for their first breath during a backstroke race. These elements can be really interesting creative details."

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synchronized diving
Synchronized diving. Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

"Something I never realized until I came to the Olympics myself was the massive production and support team that goes into every aspect of the event. From security, coaches and trainers to the drivers, caterers and media members, and the list goes on. The planning is years in the making, all for events that are relatively quick. The men's 100m final is under 10 seconds, but the venue, camera angles and ticket sales have been in the work for years."

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Blake Pieroni
Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

"I have such an appreciation for not only the athletes and the work they've put in, but the entire group of people and staff that make the event happen."

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Katie Ledecky
Katie Ledecky. Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

"Emotions are so heightened at the Olympics which is by far my favorite part. I spend a lot of my time at work photographing sports in the middle of a long season, like the NBA, NHL or MLB. During these seasons, athletes are grinding through many games to get their team in position for playoffs months down the road. Here at the Olympics there is so much on the line for each race you can feel the intensity."

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Tatjana Schoenmaker
Tatjana Schoenmaker. Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

"Some athletes are calm before their races while others you can see their nerves. The celebration, dejection and comradery between athletes from all over the world is something that can only be seen here and is really special."

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Katie Ledecky
Katie Ledecky. Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

"Technology is the biggest logistical hurdle we have when covering the Olympics. Getty Images is able to transmit photos from our cameras to our customers and website in as little as 30 seconds. In order for that to happen, we have an incredibly talented technical team who helps us with servers, internet connectivity and technological innovations that connect our key photo positions from inside all the venues directly back to the Getty Images office in the Main Press Center and to our editors across the globe in real time."

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Naoki Mizunuma
Naoki Mizunuma. Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

"We have an editing team of over 50 people working in various locations around the world live editing all 339 Olympic events — a first for Getty Images for this year's Olympic Games."

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Ryan Murphy and Caeleb Dressel
Ryan Murphy and Caeleb Dressel. Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

"The strength these athletes have can also be illustrated by how they push and churn through the water and that's something I love about photographing swimming."

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Tatjana Schoenmaker
Tatjana Schoenmaker. Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

"As a sport photographer, there is no place I would rather be, and I take the responsibility of photographing these athletes at their peak and on the world's biggest stage very seriously."

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