CNN Photos

‘Fire the Light’: Portraits of Olympic athletes

Photographer Carlos Serrao first started shooting Olympic athletes for an advertising campaign ahead of the 2004 Summer Games in Athens. He took portraits of 37 competitors in five countries over the course of six weeks.

With the Olympic torch set to reach London’s stadium on July 27, he has had a similarly busy schedule this past year. Time constraints remain the biggest challenge.

“When shooting professional athletes, I am working with someone whose life is dedicated to his or her sport,” Serrao says. “Taking time away from training or practice to do a photo shoot is not usually on the top of the athlete's list of things they would like to be doing.”

Sometimes he has less than five minutes to get a variety of images and satisfy clients such as Nike and Speedo. Even when he has a couple hours, Serrao wants to get each shot in as few takes as possible to avoid wasting time or risking injuries.

“Prior to the athlete's arrival on set, we run through the shots with a stand-in so we can see the dynamics of the action and movement with the camera angles and lighting,” he says.

Already an established portrait photographer at the time, Serrao says his first Olympics campaign helped develop his sense of timing. He was working with the world’s fastest athletes.

Then in 2007, he photographed Michael Phelps for the first time. The champion swimmer went on to win a record eight gold medals in Beijing the following year.

In an interview with Anderson Cooper on “60 minutes” last month, Phelps announced his plans to retire after the London Olympics.

“It's always disappointing to hear; it's like the end of an era,” Serrao says. “But he's accomplished amazing things in his sport, so as with anything, it's time to pass the torch.”

- Brett Roegiers, CNN

View CNN’s complete coverage of the London Olympics.