When it comes to Olympics photography coverage, Getty Images has it down. Its team of photographers and editors shoot, upload, edit, and share images in as little as two minutes, so audiences around the world are never far behind the action. What’s perhaps more impressive, however, is that Getty’s image-delivery system in Rio was seven years in the making.
In planning for the 2016 Games, Getty held its first meeting with the International Olympic Committee in 2009, shortly after Rio de Janeiro had been selected as the host city. “We partner with the committee to basically link all of our photographers in the key photo positions that they work in back to our editing hub in the main press center,” said Ken Mainardis, vice president of sport imagery and services for Getty, in an interview with Popular Photography. “And that network takes years of planning, because it crosses cities and it has to be able to handle about 1.5 million images during the duration of the games.”
That network is the key component of Getty’s impressive image-delivery times. Six to 12 months before the games began, the agency ran Ethernet cables to all the important positions, such as the finish lines of the track and pool. “The latest top-of-the-range DSLRs from Canon and Nikon allow you to plug an Ethernet cable directly into the camera so it becomes part of the network,” Mainardis said. “If the photographers need to move, they simply unhook the cord and put it back where they found it, then move onto another position and another cable.”
While Getty photographers have relied on Wi-Fi hot spots in the past, such as at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, the preference is for wired networks whenever possible. While having an Ethernet cable attached to the camera somewhat limits a photographer’s mobility, wireless networks can become too unreliable in crowded venues due to interference from all the other wireless signals bouncing around.
All of the images from various sports are transmitted back to Getty’s editors in the press center. Mainardis said they were receiving up to 10 images per second in recent tests. From there, an image goes through three editors before getting pushed to Getty’s customers. The entire process is completed in as little as 120 seconds. “Watching these guys work is like watching a musical orchestra,” Mainardis said. “It’s incredible how slick and efficient they are.”