Complete Olympics Coverage
Michael Steele/Getty Images
Sanya Richards (from left) of the U.S., Shericka Williams of Jamaica, Yulia Gushchina of Russia and Christine Ohuruogu of Great Britain compete in the women's 400-meter final on Tuesday.
Sanya Richards (from left) of the U.S., Shericka Williams of Jamaica, Yulia Gushchina of Russia and Christine Ohuruogu of Great Britain compete in the women's 400-meter final on Tuesday. Michael Steele/Getty Images
Moments after Olympic events end, another feat of Olympic proportions begins. An army of Olympic photographers and editors swings into action.
With every event, these are the people charged with transmitting the enduring images of the games around the globe, and they do it with Olympian speed.
On one particular day, veteran track and field photographer Michael Steele plots his moves ahead of the women's 400-meter final. His work for the event begins four-and-a-half hours before the start of the race.
In a final event, Steele says, you need a strong picture at the finish line, so it sometimes helps to know how the favored athletes might celebrate a victory. He anticipates how runner Sanya Richards might react.
"I think Richards does it upright, so it's a difficult one to assume, sometimes," Steele says. "Sometimes they don't even celebrate, and then you're thinking 'There's no picture there! Why haven't you celebrated?' But generally in an Olympic final, they do something."
An Old School Guy
"Steely," as he's called by his work mates at Getty Images, has been a professional photographer for 22 years. He is an old-school guy who remembers working with 36 frames on a roll of film, doing all his focusing manually, and taking 15 to 20 minutes to develop his own pictures. His digital camera can snap 700 images on a single card.
As the runners in the 400-meters final round the last turn and hit the final straightaway, Steele starts snapping from a platform above the finish line. Nearby, five Getty field editors sit at a long table in a corner of the stadium.
Seventy seconds after the race ends, Steele's first photos show up on a laptop screen in front of senior editor Rebecca Butala. Steele, the guy who used to get his hands dirty with photo processing chemicals, took his card out of his camera, loaded it into his laptop computer and transferred the first photos.
Just like everyone else in the stadium, Butala isn't sure right away who won the race.
Down The Digital Assembly Line
"Yeah, it looks like the British girl crossed first," Butala says. "I'm gonna take this one and I'm goanna take that one. And then I think keep both of them wide, and then I'm gonna see — no one celebrated. Well, the Jamaican girl did but — take those two."
She passes off the photos to field editor Maxx Wolfson. Wolfson will work quickly on the pictures — borders and colors. The photos then move down this digital assembly line to Miles Willis, who writes the photo captions. He's the end of the photo process, sitting at the end of the table.
"Once that caption's complete, I'm ready to send that picture out on the feeds," Willis says. "This is gonna go to every single Getty Images sports client around the world. And there it goes. That's the first image gone."
Some four minutes pass after the top of four finishers cross the line — and already photos are on the wire for journalists around the world to see. Back at the other end of the table, the editors and photo croppers are working on the later photos of the event from Steele and seven other photographers. A total of 23 of their images from the women's 400-meters race will zip around the globe, causing some to pause and stare at the visual story of elation and dejection.
But back at the Bird's Nest, there's no time to pause. The next event is up.