Olympic photos from far above — and underwater

Tokyo – These amazing shots: aerial photographs of the most challenging competitions, from top-down Olympic athletes, gymnastics to tracks. A diver who descends gracefully. The swimmer, who cuts through the clear water, was determined to etch his face and was captured in the middle of the stroke by a camera carefully placed at the bottom of the pool.

Anyway, how is it done? Is there a real photographer lying in the water and looking up? Do you have multiple photojournalist wandering the catwalk at an event? Is it robotics?

No, no … and yes.

Since the London game in 2012, The Associated Press has combined robotics, ingenuity and creativity to create memorable photos from difficult places. The complex setup (reconnaissance started months ago and set up weeks ago) gives the world a glimpse of the Olympic athletes in ways that can never be seen otherwise.

AP photojournalist David J. Phillip, Morry Gash, Chris Carlson and Jeff Roberson are in the business of ensuring that AP can deliver these photos from the Olympics to the world. Here’s a little bit of how everything works behind the scenes with Gouache and Philip demonstrating joystick-driven camera control sitting at the Olympic main press center.


What was the beginning of this?

Philip: In London, the first connection to the camera was a physical cable everywhere. We wired everything together, it had to be a direct connection. And it has evolved to be able to do it over the network. And now we’re at the point where we can control all the robots here in the main press center, if needed. Really, I was able to do it from anywhere in the world.

GASH: I’m doing it in a box with a joystick. It’s like a video game. I will put in two quarters.

Is there a special kind of camera in robotics equipment?

Philip: No, they are all Sony cameras, regular Sony cameras mounted in robotics.

How is this preset on Earth?

Philip: So we’ll be attending a briefing for the world’s media outlets. In the meantime, we will tour all catwalks and venues and discuss where trusses are needed and where to put things. Then coordinate with the local Olympic Committee and IOC. Many of the places where riggers are needed can help us. Sometimes they hang out without doing anything to stop them while installing our camera, our robotics for us. Once that’s done, plan in Houston and start building everything to work before you come here. So we pack it all and ship it all from Houston where we go.


Can I move if the underwater camera goes down?

Philip: Go after each session. We’re looking a little further at what the next event is, who is swimming, and which lane. And the IOC is now offering divers to do it for us. In the early days, I had to jump in and move myself. But now they have someone to do this. We basically tell them where we want it and they move it for us. So if you have any problems, you can take out the camera and adjust it. But this year there was no problem.

What sport do you think will work best with this? What kind of results were you satisfied with?

GASH: Great for gymnastics. Some of the ones from the truck were great. I don’t know if there is one best sport. It works in many places.

Philip: We focused on what we know to produce a more unique image that lasts. So weightlifting and boxing. Obviously, underwater is a necessity. That is just such a unique perspective. This is the advantage of robotics. You can do various things. You can also zoom, rotate, and pan.


GASH: Divers, I was doing it manually. But now, tracks can be programmed to run at the same speed they are running, and the speed can be changed, depending on which race they are running. So in almost every race I can get a pot.

What do you like best about this kind of photo?

GASH: I think it’s unique. That’s something you can’t get otherwise. Entry into the catwalk is off-limits and you cannot shoot from there anyway. Therefore, it has a completely different angle.

Philip: It’s definitely a unique perspective to better understand the complexity of the story. You can see it from different angles and feel how and what you need to do these sports. Molly did a great job of finding things and changing things. And underwater was my focus. However, it takes a large team to make this work.

GASH: I love variety. So I like to go from morning exercises to night chase and do something completely different and understand it every time.



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Olympic photos from far above — and underwater

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