Think of any iconic picture at the IAAF World Championships and there is an extremely good chance a Getty Images photographer will have been responsible for capturing that moment.
From Mike Powell’s epic Long Jump victory over Carl Lewis in Tokyo 1991 to Usain Bolt’s jaw-dropping sprint achievements in Berlin 2009, the international media agency has been on hand to snap every moment of agony, ecstasy and drama across the 30-year history of the biennial competition.
This week inside Moscow’s regal Luzhniki Stadium, photographers from Getty Images, the official supplier of pictures to the IAAF, will once again be on hand to shape the visual legacy of the nine-day competition.
Steve Rose, Director of Sport Photography at Getty Images, has been involved in all 13 previous editions of the World Championships and will oversee their team of seven photographers, four editors, two operations staff and an IT expert present in the Russian capital.
Cutting-edge technological equipment will ensure the photographic process will take minutes to process in Moscow – far removed from Rose’s memory of the inaugural World Championships in Helsinki.
“We only sent two photographers back then,” he says. “It was all shot on transparency film and edited back in our office in London. It took many days to go through the thousands of rolls of film before it was sent out to clients with the help of couriers.
“Today the pics are shot and processed from the stadium and we would hope to have the images of the 100m final sent straight out to clients within two to three minutes of the race ending. It is amazing how technology has moved on in that 30-year period.”
The pace of technological change never stops. Moscow 2013 will be the first World Championships where Getty Images will use images from robotic cameras rigged up to the roof of the Luzhniki Stadium and linked to a control panel which is operated via the media tribune.
“These (cameras) can fire shots from unique areas where an actual photographer can’t go for health and safety reasons,” adds Rose. “It will offer a completely different perspective and shape on the action.”
Yet while robotic cameras offer a new, exciting opportunity, Rose insists the “manned photographer” in the traditional sense will never be replaced – the complexity and art of the job requiring a human touch.
Working to a clear and detailed brief, each day the photographers will pursue any number of athletes or shots specifically required by the dozens of Getty Images clients. The challenge is to grab pictures of “the key moments” and ideally “a unique image of the key moments.”
“The art (of athletics photography) is to keep track of what is going on in the stadium,” he says. “You may have an array of field events going on at the same time as the track events and you need to be there at the right time for each discipline. You don’t need to be a fan, but a knowledge and understanding of the sport, its disciplines and personalities is vital.”
He also explains the photographer needs to prepare for the unexpected, citing the post-race celebration as one such moment.
“This is one of the biggest challenges because you have no idea how the athlete is going to react,” he adds. “The winner may could grab a flag from the crowd, greet their family or go absolutely ballistic. A photographer needs to be ready for those mad moments.”
Working gruelling shifts of up to 18 hours each day, life on the Getty Images team can be an endurance-sapping experience.
Yet in today’s digital age, Rose insists the chances to find that “killer shot” are greater than ever.
“Camera technology has definitely helped the photographer achieve excellence,” he explains. “It is a huge benefit and is a crucial part of the business.”
As for Moscow 2013, Steve has no doubt the team will provide their usual array of unforgettable images.
“The Luzhniki is a massive stadium and for track and field (images) it should be excellent,” he insists. “It has got great potential and hopefully great crowds will help build on that, too. The World Championships is one of the biggest events on our calendar and we put together such a big team because we want to maximise coverage of it.”
Steve Landells for the IAAF