There is an underwater photography drone patrolling the pool at the Olympics

An underwater robot is helping one pro shooter get awesome Olympic pool shots


With so many photo agencies and photographers hitting the Rio Olympics, the pressure’s on to get the best shots day in day out during the course of the 16-day competition.

Having already worked at numerous summer and winter Games, Getty Images photographer Al Bello certainly has plenty of experience under his belt, though this time around he’s trying something a little different in that never-ending quest for the perfect shot.

Submerged

Bello revealed to CNN this week how he’s been getting some standout shots from inside the Olympic pool. No, he’s not floating around the bottom in a wetsuit and pair of flippers with a camera slung around his neck. Instead, he’s gone down the robotic route, using a remotely operated camera placed inside the pool to shoot swimmers as they pass overhead.

It’s not the first time for remotely controlled underwater camera gear to be used at an Olympics, with Reuters having already tried them out at the London Games four years ago. But it is the first time for Bello to use them at the global sporting extravaganza.

“In the past, with a traditional submerged static remote camera, you’d have to visualize the photos you wanted ahead of time and think about what race and stroke you want to capture,” Bello told CNN, adding that you had to pretty much guess when the swimmer was in the frame. Of course, this meant part of a swimmer’s body might end up slightly out of shot, ruining what might otherwise have been a great image.

getty underwater camera
Al Bello setting up the remotely controlled camera and its robotic housing. Getty

Getty’s latest underwater camera setup, which you can see in an explanatory video here, has changed everything, giving Bello his best chance yet of grabbing the money shot. In every race.

Importantly, the submerged robotic camera – a Canon 1DX Mark II placed inside a watertight housing – offers Bello a live view of what’s happening under the surface. Even better, he’s able to adjust the frame by controlling not only the lens’s focal length, but also the camera’s position via the remote adjustment of the base on which it sits. Located poolside with a computer screen showing everything the camera sees, Bello hits the shutter when the swimmer fills the frame in the way that he wants.

The work style is certainly different to what you might expect for a typical sports photographer, with the shooter not even handling a camera during the workday.

Instead, there’s a lot more preparation and maintenance involved, with daily checks made on the camera and its housing, as well as the power cables that run alongside the pool and beyond.

As for the idea that robots may one day make human photographers obsolete, Bello’s having none of it.

“The robots are just another tool for me to get better photos,” he said, adding, “A robot doesn’t think on its own or come up with ideas. But it can help us get photos more efficiently than ever before.”

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