Changing China

Giant on the move

Just 5% make it — or, more how the sausage gets made

August 9, 2008

090829b.JPGTo bring you the stunning choreography of the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony, Reuters photographers and photo editors do a complex dance of their own — and then a brutal Darwinian whittling down to select just the best and most iconic images to send to subscribers.The team shot a staggering 18,000 frames during the four hours of the ceremony. Only about 850 shots made it to the “wire” — our file of photos to customers. That’s just five percent. Less than a 10th of those were selected for our web slideshow and a typical newspaper subscriber might only print one two or three shots from the selection.

In a brutally competitive world like this, nothing can be left to chance.

One of our most experienced Olympic photographers and editors, Gary Hershorn, attended rehearsals of the opening ceremony in order to plot out key moments that simply had to be captured.

That advanced planning helped the team of 12 photographers in the stadium, nine immediately outside and six in Tiananmen Square and on the Great Wall get ready to tell the story in images through a mixture of bread-and-butter set-up shots and imaginative compositions that matched the dreamy romance of the show itself.

090830c.JPGThe 12 in the stadium had set positions from the roof catwalk down to the stage and scattered all around the Bird’s Nest. Four were directly cabled into the editors’ computer system (and, in fact, we had two senior editors, including the global head Tom Szlukovenyi, in the stadium itself to do on-the-scene selection of the key shots); the rest sent their computer disks to the editors via runners.The gargantuan task of editing the file was split between the editors in the venue, six editors and 15 processors in the main press centre and a further specialist desk in Paris that selected photographs of VIPs for magazine use.

This type of volume would have been absolutely impossible in the days before digital photography -18,000 prospective shots would have taken some 600 rolls of film, a physical and financial impossibility!

After the dramatic spectacle, the grind of chronicling 204 delegations began. Editors made sure we had shots of the delegation from every place we have clients as well as every place that was somehow newsworthy.

After just a couple of hours sleep, the team regrouped to start the work of capturing the actual sport.

Photo credits: (from top) Mike Blake/Reuters, Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters, David Gray/Reuters

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