Photographing the Olympics is something that very few people—and very few professional photographers—get the opport-unity to do in their careers.
But one Stony Brook alum, Al Bello, was one such photographer in London during this year’s Olympics. As chief sports photographer in North America for Getty Images, Bello has photographed major sporting events around the world for years, and it all began at Stony Brook University.
Bello graduated with a liberal arts degree from SBU in 1989. He spent the majority of his time here as a football player for the university back when the school’s mascot was the Patriot, not Wolfie the Seawolf. Bello always had an interest in photography, but was unable to take the one photography class SBU offered at the time because it was always taught in the fall when he was busy playing football.
But when the class was offered in the spring one semester, he took it. It was this class that made Bello finally decide on a career, a decision he didn’t make until his senior year of college.
“Once I was done playing ball, I wanted to continue staying close to sports,” Bello said. He began by photographing SBU’s football team for The Statesman in 1988 while also working his first paid job as a photographer for the “Three Village Herald.”
“Al was a professional, in all aspects of the word,” said Mary Lou Byrd, who was Editor-in-Chief of The Statesman during Bello’s time as a photographer for the paper. Byrd currently works as an investigative reporter for “The Revered Review.” “His dedication and hard work were evident in every photo he took for The Statesman. He could always be counted on to meet a deadline and his photos were top notch.”
After graduating from SBU, Bello began working for a boxing and wrestling magazine called “The Ring,” where he was the dark room manager. Bello then worked for the sports photography agency Allsport before it was bought by Getty Images in 1998. However, Bello said he’s just “been along for the ride.”
And what a ride it has been. According to his website, Bello has photographed multiple high-profile sporting events, including Super Bowls, World Series, Stanley Cups and both the winter and summer Olympics. He has also photographed the World Cup, U.S. Open, French Open and Wimbledon, and has worked on assignments for “Sports Illustrated,” “ESPN the Magazine,” “The New York Times” and “The Los Angeles Times,” among other publications.
“It’s a special job, not going to work with a pen and computer,” Bello said. “Your job is wherever your event is. It’s never the same. I don’t go into an office. I don’t report to Manhattan every day. There really is no other job like it. Being a sports photographer is a world of education; you never stop learning.”
Bello’s job has brought him around the world. He has “been all over Europe, Australia, Japan, China, Mexico, almost all the states,” and he has visited the Great Wall of China, Big Ben and “been to places people dream of.”
Looking at the list of events he has photographed, there’s not much left for Bello to do. “I’ve pretty much covered everything that I want to do,” he said. “I just want to keep doing it.”
Continuing as a sports photog-rapher has been a growing concern of Bello’s as he gets older, as the job requires a large physical commitment.
“It’s a very physical job. You can be underwater, skiing down a mountain, running, jumping. You’re almost like an athlete,” Bello said, adding that all of these activities are done while carrying camera equipment. “It’s one part of the job I don’t enjoy. Having to carry anything, it wears you out. Working out in the sun, day and night, it takes a lot out of you. My body is falling apart and I’m trying like hell to keep it together.”
Photographing the London Olympics was no exception. Bello and his team photographed all the swimming, diving, synchronized swimming and water polo events underwater. In order to get the shots that were published by Getty Images and broadcast on Twitter by the London 2012 Pool Camera account, Bello and his team became scuba divers, donning wetsuits and flippers in order to spend more time in the pool than the athletes.
Each day, Bello and his team would enter the water to adjust the three cameras they had situated there, hoping to get the pictures they were looking for.
As reported by “The New York Times,” Bello said, “You’ve kind of got to visualize what you want. You have to look under there and see the ceiling or a clean pool with no swimmer in it and just think to yourself: this is what’s going to happen, this is where the swimmer’s going to break the water, this is where a reflection might be, this might be a good angle where a swimmer might come into your frame.”
After finishing up in London, Bello traveled back to the states in order to cover the U.S. Open. Bello spends half of the year traveling for Getty Images. “I always want to be home more but my job is what it is. When things come up I’ve got to go.” He said that it is not uncommon for his family to join him when he’s on assignment.
While he plans on being a sports photographer for the rest of his life, Bello said that he would also like to get into wildlife photography. “I’m gonna go, before I’m dead, to South Africa and photograph great white sharks. That’s a bucket list I have.”
Bello said photography has been a type of education for him. “What I’ve learned from photography is how beautiful this world is. How you just see things differently when you’re not taking pictures, the way you look at stuff that a person who’s not a photographer wouldn’t notice, like the way light falls on a tree or a really nice angle.”
As advice for those looking to get involved in sports photography, “You got to be able to work,” Bello said. “You got to be able to separate yourself from everyone else, use your head, have some kind of talent and use that to stand out. You’re not going to make money right away, you don’t get into this to make money.” For Bello, the education and experience has been enough.