Nick Butler
Nick Butler in the Olympic StadiumTwo days in Sochi so far aside, I have never covered an Olympic Games before so, like many others, I have been reliant on television and images for my Olympic memories.

This was a theme explored in an insidethegames blog last week by my colleague Mike Rowbottom who described how for him Games of the past are a "slide show" of iconic images and recollections.

After the splendour of Russia's Torch Relay and its trips to the North Pole, Outer Space, Lake Baikal and Mount Elbrus - not to mention the recent influx of visuals documenting the arrival of athletes in Sochi - we expect this fresh onslaught of iconic images to continue over coming weeks.

But what of the photographers who actually take these images? What are their motivations and challenges and how has their job changed over time?

I must admit that, during my time as a journalist, I have not paid too much attention to their plight and the interaction that has occurred has tended to involve a photographer's frustrated protests after a snapping opportunity was prevented by my uncaring, if innocent, intrusions.

One particular example of this arose during the Flame Lighting Ceremony in Ancient Olympia last year when I, along with one journalistic colleague, managed to arrive at the crucial moment to photograph the handover of the Torch to ice hockey superstar Alexander Ovechkin and in doing so position myself directly in front of photographers who had spent all morning patiently waiting to ensure a perfect view.

There is also a slightly dismissive element on our part I feel due to the fact that we manage to not only take photos but write articles as well. But the validity of any superiority complex is of course nonsense and there is a world of difference between taking photos on a camera phone and taking them with the volume, precision and complexity of a Getty Images cameraman.

Besides, I struggle to believe that a professional photographer would spend half an hour baffled at a camera showing a black screen only for it to turn out that a piece of paper was blocking the lens - as the insidethegames team did en route to Sochi...

Photographers will be there for every second of Sochi they were the for the Olympic Torch departure for Outer Space last year ©AFP/Getty ImagesPhotographers will be there for every second of Sochi 2014, as they were the for the Olympic Torch departure for Outer Space last year ©AFP/Getty Images

Luckily an opportunity arose to speak to Getty photographer Alexander Hassenstein to understand more about how exactly this advanced world operates.

Hassenstein joined the Berlin-based sports paper Deutsches Sportecho in 1990 after completing a classical traineeship in photography. He has since worked for Bongarts, as well as Getty, and has covered 11 Olympic Games and three FIFA World Cups alongside a multitude of other events - receiving numerous awards along the way.

He will be focusing on Alpine skiing in Sochi as part of 69 strong Getty team who will be uploading more than 2,000 pictures per day.

"In terms of sport nothing has changed during my career - it is still about athletes, competition and Olympic values", Hassenstein explains to insidethegames with a kind of youthful enthusiasm that you would have assumed nigh on 25 years in the industry would have quelled. "But in terms of photography there has been huge progress."

After starting with frames and slides and having to wait overnight before looking at prints in the morning, Getty are now "leaders sending pictures around the world immediately". 

During priority "medal moments" in Sochi for example, an image can be published within 180 seconds of being taken. "This is fantastic but only possible with teamwork - such as by having technicians in the mountains uploading photos straight away", it is explained.

Hassenstein is just one cog in the wheel of Getty's coverage of Alpine skiing action at Sochi 2014 ©AFP/Getty ImagesAlexander Hassenstein is just one cog in the wheel of Getty's coverage of Alpine skiing action at Sochi 2014 ©AFP/Getty Images

But despite insisting that all they do is "press a button", a day in the life of Getty photographer at Sochi 2014 is far from an easy one.

"If an event starts at 11am in the morning, we have to be on our photo position one-and-a-half hours before", Hassenstein explains. "But before that we have to ski down the run two or three times to inspect the background and action and to see where colleagues are. To do that we have to start at 7.30am - which means getting up at 5am to get everything ready to leave the hotel.

"The important thing is making sure you stay warm and have a supply of batteries and a hot bottle of tea.

"I cannot work with gloves on because you can't feel the button, but I am lucky in that I have a high body temperature so I never freeze and always stay warm! I never get cold and I can sleep anywhere!"

Hassenstein, who will be covering Alpine skiing having previously focused on bobsleigh, biathlon and luge, spoke happily that his events will take place in daylight.

But his happiness is not, he explains, for photographic reasons but because it gives him the evening to take pictures of other events. "I am absolutely hungry to take pictures", he admits.

This enthusiasm and love for sport is one of two things immediately apparent.

He speaks with genuine passion of photographing icons ranging from boxing's Klitschko brothers to German luge competitors Felix Loch and Natalie Geisenburger.

Because he lives in Munich, the 2013 Champions League Final between Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund was a particular highlight.

"I was doing special requests for UEFA with Getty so I was on the field and in the tunnel when the players came out and I also got to photo the celebratory dinner and party afterwards - it was such a privilege."

Bayern Munich's Champions League victory last year was a photographic highlight for Hassenstein ©Getty ImagesBayern Munich's Champions League victory last year was a photographic highlight for Alexander Hassenstein ©Getty Images

But, and this is something I can certainly understand, it is the Olympics that get his photographic juices flowing more than anything else.

Speaking from his hotel room upon arrival in Sochi, Hassenstein is "happy to be back in Sochi after the 2012 test event", and despite the ongoing furore over media hotels, describes "everything as perfect and with the Olympic spirit fully on show".

Indeed, he seems reluctant to comment upon any of the criticisms which have dogged the build-up to Sochi 2014 and insists that as a sports photographer his job is to only to "take the pictures of the glory of sport".

But despite this, and this is the second thing which comes across, he still considers himself a journalist who is there to document feelings and stories as well as the basic action.

"A good picture is a document revealing lots of different views", he describes. "It should have lots of different features and different emotions and should convey journalism but also beauty."

"You must separate the action from the individual. So photographing someone like Usain Bolt is really good because he has so many poses and reactions - he is nice to photo. Sports like weightlifting and fencing, where people celebrate and smile a lot, are also good for this."

Predictably perhaps, a celebrating Usain Bolt was picked as a particular photography highlight ©Getty ImagesPredictably perhaps, a celebrating Usain Bolt was picked as a particular photography highlight ©Getty Images

With its volatile and high speed nature - not to mention the practical difficulties of lugging up to 30 kilograms worth of equipment up a mountain - the Winter Olympics provides additional challenges.

But you get the feeling that over the next few weeks Hassenstein will be documenting every high and low and thrill and spill on the mountain's of Sochi. And he will be loving every second.

One question remains however. Considering the technological revolution that is continuing, and the vast progress that has been made over the last 25 years, where will the world of photography be in another generations time?

"In the future, we will have even more possibilities to capture the right moments - higher speed, better technology and much more", Hassenstein predicts.

"But our basic job is the same as it was 50 years ago and will be the same in 50 years time. Like a dentist we will continue to do the same role but use these different means to do so."

"Technology is our partner and we will continue trying to capture the moment."

Getty Images dedicated section on the Sochi 2014 Olympic Games can be found here.

Nick Butler is a reporter for insidethegames. To follow him on Twitter click here