Time has come today

In a recent article published by Popular Photography, photo agency Getty Images says that it will only take 120 seconds from the time a photo is shot at the Rio Olympics to when it get published on their website.

In this day of Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat when you can you can post pictures nearly instantaneously, that may not sound very fast. But for those of us who cut our teeth during the film era, sending a photo 2 minutes after shooting it is nearly miraculous.

Shooting an assignment during the film era 30+ years ago when I started then wasn’t too much different that doing one today. Where it diverges is afterwards.

In the old days we would go back to the office (drive time would depend on the distance, anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour) and immediately start developing the film. This process would take about 15 to 20 minutes to produce a dry negative.

Each photographer then edited their own negatives (at some papers photo editors did it with input from the photographers). Times varied depending on how much film was shot. I estimate on average it took a few minutes. Then making a photographic print would take a minimum of another 2 minutes and that’s if you made a perfect print on the very first try (a rare event). It’s another a few minutes for the print to dry while you typed out a caption for a photo. In later years, we got a film-processing machine by Wing-Lynch. It not only cut the development times, it also freed us up to write out captions while the film was machine.

At a bare minimum, it took roughly ½-hour to produce a print (not including shooting the actual event and drive time), but if we needed to send a picture to the AP, that was just the beginning. Associated Press would occasionally request that we send them a photo of a big event such as a political or breaking news event.

In the photo department we had an AP wire photo transmitter. It consisted of a drum scanner in a casing about the size of a countertop microwave oven hardwired to a phone line. A print would be placed into a slot that fed it to drum as it turned. “Turned” may be too generous a term. The drum moved so slowly that you couldn’t tell that if it was working or not.

Former record photographer the late Dave Evans showed me the trick of drawing a line on the back of print with a pen. If the line moved past a certain point as it descended into the machine then you knew it was working. If not then you had to start over again. The whole transmitting process took about 15 to 20 minutes, if memory serves, though it seemed longer.

So, in the “old days” producing a photo and transmitting it could take roughly and hour or so. Fast forward to the digital era of today and things are much different.

The Getty Images workflow has their photographers cameras hooked up to a network via Ethernet cables. They have are several cable ports set up in different locations if the photographers want to change vantage points. There are Bluetooth devices that are available but being hardwired is much more reliable.

JEPG images are sent directly from the cameras to Getty’s computers where a team of 3 editors look at the images. The first editor selects pictures for content. The second makes minor adjustments in color, contrast and cropping and the third adds caption information. The photos are then uploaded to Getty Images’ photo service for their customers to use.

It sounds fast and it is but it takes a lot to set up and to pull off. Getty Images estimates that they’ll shoot about 1.5 million frames and edit them down to about 85,000 finished photos. There were several years of planning and then setting up the Ethernet infrastructure. Getty has a team of 50 photographers and 18 editors along with support and technical staff for a total of about 110 people to make it all happen in as little as 2 minutes.

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