Getty photographer Tom Pennington talked with FanSided about the challenges, highs, lows and most iconic sports photos from this year’s Olympic swimming events.
The Olympics always create a slew of iconic sports photos and this year, Getty Images helped us round up the best. We’re also talking with specific Getty photographers about the challenges of the sports they covered and some of their favorite moments and photos. Here, Tom Pennington talked about shooting Olympic swimming.
What makes photographing swimming different, challenging, or exciting at the Olympics?
Photographing Olympic swimming is unique in several ways compared to other sports. The tempo of the event schedule is relentless with back-to-back events for nine days straight. We shoot the races from a roaming position on the “field of play” or the pool deck where we move around to utilize different angles. The atmosphere during the Finals at the Games was slightly muted this year without the stands being packed with cheering fans, but still electric. You could feel the intensity and focus of the athletes from the instant they arrived to the starting blocks. This intensity carried through the swim and really came out with the athlete’s reactions to winning a medal and especially when setting a new world record.
What’s the story behind some of your favorite images?
This image of Katie Ledecky of Team USA dominating the competition in the Women’s 800m Freestyle Final was shot using an underwater robotic camera. In order to get this shot, I control the robotic camera with a laptop computer set up on the pool deck. I can change the camera position live as the race unfolds. I positioned the camera to show the dominant lead that Ledecky had over her competition on her way to a gold medal. This perspective clearly shows Ledecky’s face which is rare with a freestyle race. She is a legend in the pool and was unstoppable at this year’s Games winning four medals.
The second image of shows Alessandro Miressi of Team Italy as he prepares to exit the pool. Miressi had removed his swim cap and was shaking the water out of his hair. I utilized a very fast shutter speed on the camera to freeze the water as it made a spaghetti-type pattern. This is an example of a little detail that we as photographers are always searching for outside of the standard race action.
What are the logistics as far as photographing an event for this sport at the Olympics?
Getty Images assembled a team of four photographers to cover swimming at the Olympics. During races and competition, we rotate through four photo positions around the pool to cover different angles. In addition to these photo positions, the team uses an underwater robotic camera and an overhead robotic camera to showcase all race moments. Most of the race action and reaction is shot with 600mm and 800mm telephoto lenses that allow us to isolate the athletes. These cameras are tethered to our remote editors via Ethernet cables and transmit the photos in real-time. On an average Olympic day where we are shooting swimming preliminaries, Finals and other aquatics events, we can shoot up to 10,000 images. The volume of images is much lower with the underwater robotic camera, which on average is between 200-400 images. This is because with the underwater camera we are keying on very specific peak race action moments.