UPDATE: Associated Press photographer Julie Jacobson wrote this morning to let us know the composite images she and other photographers have been creating at the Olympics were not done in Photoshop, but rather in their cameras implementing a feature Canon has built into its newest bodies, the 1Dx and the 5D Mark III. Thanks, Julie, for writing.
The explosion of digital imaging has been a boon for news agencies covering the Olympics. Both broadcast television and still photography have benefited from camera hardware and computer software, and the Olympics is one of the best places to see imagination and innovation come to life.
That wasn't true even four years ago in Beijing where technology was still burdensome or expensive. Underwater cameras, remote cameras, wireless transmission: only the largest agencies or television networks could afford to implement them. Look at Michael Phelps' miraculous touch on the wall in Beijing: only Associated Press, Getty and Sports Illustrated had the ability to make those images.
That's not as true today in London. The technology and, more importantly, the costs associated with imaging have put ambition in reach for more photographers.
Even so, it's not as easy as merely wanting to do something different.
On Sunday night I had a conversation with Rob Schumacher, the great Arizona Republic photographer, as he was riding the train back to his hotel in Russell Square. Rob is on assignment for US Presswire, and has responsibility for the swimming venue. Rob has made some terrific images from London, but admitted the requirements of covering so many athletes has made it difficult to be as creative as he had hoped. That one day, he said, he shot somewhere in the range of 4000 images, covering every race of the day, and nearly every athlete.
Still, if you have the opportunity like we do to see the work of dozens of photographers side-by-side it becomes apparent these Olympics have inspired shooters to take chances they might not have before.
One of the more unique approaches being taken by numerous photographers is the creation of an image containing a sequence. Sequential images are a wonderful tool to show movement, and reveal just how complex a particular athletic endeavor is.
JULIE JACOBSON / AP
In this multiple exposure photo, U.S. gymnast Kyla Ross performs on the balance beam during the Artistic Gymnastics women's team final at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Tuesday, July 31, 2012, in London.
Yesterday during the women's team gymnastics competition, AP photographer Julie Jacobson stacked together a sequence of US gymnast Kyla Ross executing a leap on the balance beam. Still photography cannot do what television does. But by stopping the action and combining the sequence we can have a greater appreciation for Ross's athleticism by seeing a single move play out beginning to end in a single still image.
There are a couple of ways of stitching together images, and there are a few automated bits of software that can help any amateur accomplish the same thing as the pros. I don't know for certain what any of the photographers represented here did, but it's likely they achieved the effect in Photoshop. A simple search on the internet on stitching together pictures into a sequence can generate tutorials, and software makers who can take some of the guesswork out of the process.
But it's not always as easy as using Photoshop's automation. As Rob Schumacher noted, most photographers covering the games are shooting thousands of images every day, and moving as quickly as they possibly can to get those images back to their publishers, or online. Making an effective sequence takes effort and time many don't have to give. It also takes a little planning.
No matter what software you use to combine images, there are a couple of things you have to consider. One, does the sequence actually reveal anything? Two, by combining images do I increase the amount of background noise in the image? Three, can I line up my images effectively?
That last point is important. One of the best ways to quickly assemble an image is to employ a tripod. That allows you to keep your lines straight and your background constant. But the IOC has banned still photographers from using tripods; there simply isn't enough room. So many photographers are forced to hand hold their camera and hope they don't move too much during any given sequence.
You can see in Jacobson's picture where she's probably hand holding the camera. The beam isn't sharp, and the crowd appears to be moving. But what makes the image work is that the gymnast is framed against a black backdrop, allowing her to stand out when the images are stitched together.
CHARLIE RIEDEL / AP
In this five frame multiple exposure, Lionel Guyon, of France, rides Nametis De Lalou as he competes in the equestrian eventing cross-country stage at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Monday, July 30, 2012, in London.
In comparison, look at the photograph AP's Charlie Riedel from Monday's equestrian event. Charlie didn't need a tripod because the camera is, most likely, on a plate sitting on the ground. The background lines up beautifully. But it's arguable how good a sequence it is given the movement is predictable.
ANDREW MEDICHINI / AP
This multiple exposure photo shows Italy's Elisa Di Francisca, left, and South Korea's Nam Hyun-hee competing during a semifinal fencing match at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Saturday, July 28, 2012, in London.
What most of us love about most indoor Olympic venues is the black background, something which Andrew Medichini uses to his advantage in this sequence from women's fencing. In a panoramic view we can see what appears to be five images stitched together as the athletes lunge into battle. That wouldn't have been possible or the least bit effective had the background been lit. Stitched together, the images create direction which is very hard to do in the 2D world of photography.
We're less than a week into these Olympics. It's not only the athletes that represent the world's best. It'll be fun to see what other innovation and perspective the photographers covering the Games can generate.