At this year's Australian Open tennis, photography agency Getty Images captured thousands of images every day, using high-end digital SLRs that produce massive digital files. And speed — the speed of getting those high-res, high quality photos out to the world, on news websites and social media — is key. The biggest change in delivering them, says Getty, is Wi-Fi: the wireless camera transfer tech that started out in much cheaper cameras built for hobbyists and travelers.
The difference in Getty's photography and image delivery process between last year and 2017 has been immense, and it mainly comes down to one thing — the ability for photographers to get those iconic, award-winning, match point shots out to the world — happening over Wi-Fi. Gizmodo talked to Getty Images' Australiasian vice president Stuart Hannagan to understand what's changed.
"We're doing all these things much more intensely than before. The quality of the photography is always amazing. What's changed is getting it into the hands of photographers as soon as possible.
"We used to — and we still do — have 13 or 14 photographers out all over the courts, and we have three card runners running back to the main press centre, where we have two or three editors sitting there editing all the material. You've got to wait for the cards to come back, be downloaded, and then away you go. There can be half an hour, an hour, an hour and a half before you get to certain pictures.
"What's changed is that photographers are able to send wirelessly, directly back into the editors — so the photographer can shoot, immediately tag and send that best photo that he or she likes into where the editor is sitting. We're seeing those photos 10 to 15 seconds after they're taken.
"Then we have all the templates made up for the captions — who's playing who, what court it's on, the metadata for the date. Then the editor makes a decision on cropping, a bit of colour correction, add the 'what-where-who'... and then upload it. We've gone from about six to 10 minutes for an urgent photo to around one to two minutes this year."
As well as relying on its award-winning staff photographers to actually capture frames, though, it's Getty's editors on site and around the world that fulfil a crucial role in getting the photos out to the news services that use them.
"Working for everybody means we've got to take great pictures, and we have to make sure they're in the hands of our clients, but we basically have to deliver a full-time streaming service — we have to upload lots and lots of pictures. The minute a picture gets run, five minutes later it can be made redundant — and it needs to be updated.
"Editors are critical to the business. Without a good editor, the best pictures don't get uploaded, get missed, get lost. A good editor knows the sport inside out, the player inside out. The role of an editor is first and foremost to spot the best frame — what are the best pictures, what are the most newsworthy.
"Secondly, it's cropping them and colour adjusting them to make them look as true to life as possible. We can't manipulate images, they have to be as true to life as possible. And the third role is to make sure the metadata is right — there's no use having the wrong name in a picture, then you have to kill it and get it back and that annoys our clients.
"The last piece is to actually get it out there; we can dictate where we send the picture, whether it's global... Say it's New Zealand playing PNG — you might not send that global, you might send to that to New Zealand and PNG. But if the girl jumps the net, trips and breaks her ankle, that's a great story — now the picture has to go global.
"Then the editors have to go back and look at anything that might also be valuable at a later date. It might not be relevant on that day, but we might need a stock frame of the tennis player hitting a ball, a general view of a crowd, or a court."
Emerging tech, too, like 360-degree photos, are becoming increasingly important for Getty. Every one of its field photographers now has access to and carries a Ricoh Theta handheld 360-degree camera — it's also tried Nikon ones — to capture an immersive panoramic view from the Australian Open courts and other events that Getty covers.
"The quality in the cameras is getting better all the time. All of our photographers used 360-degree cameras during the tennis and were uploading at least one image a day or more — with plenty during the packed-out final, for example."
The process of delivering 360-degree photos, too, has become increasingly advanced, to the point that the simplicity rivals a regular digital frame.
"Two years ago, it was a major effort — we had to get the picture, we had to send it off somewhere overseas, they'd stitch the image, we'd get it back, we'd upload it — around 24 hours later, if we were lucky. That's all changed; it's basically the same process to upload a 360 now. It's brought into our editing cabin, the best picture is picked, it's captioned, and it's sent to the site — seamless."
The main hurdle for the 360-degree images has been for Getty's photographers to become familiar with shooting a 360-degree frame — a process where everything is in the shot.
"It's all easy to say: here's another camera, now do a 360. I'm the first to tell you that there's some average, dull and boring 360s — we really rely on our photographers having the great photographic eye to capture that picture. It might be a 360-degree picture, but it's still a picture — and it takes thought and professionalism to understand what's going on.
"You don't want to load photographers up with too much — they're trying to compete with 100 other photographers to get the best still frame, and then to ask them to capture a 360, or a video... what you can end up with is reducing the quality on all of them, you get an average set of pictures. And it's not the photographer's fault. So we're very conscious to not overload the photographer, and also to double up with people where we need to."
The still image is still king, though — it's Getty's bread and butter. "That still frame is key. Everything else we're working towards — the technology is still moving along, but it's still an embryo. The still frame is what our clients expect of us to deliver, and that's what we'll keep focusing on."