How Did He Shoot That?

March 26, 2008


Alain Bernard of France is seen from underwater as he enters the water to set a new world record of 47.60 seconds during the 100m freestyle in the men’s semi-finals at the European Swimming Championships in Eindhoven March 21, 2008 (Photograph by: Wolfgang Rattay).

It is of course not possible for a photographer to be in the pool during a swimming competition, but that doesn’t stop a determined photographer getting the picture!

I have worked on this problem over a number of years, and got it down to a fine art. It is necessary to pre-position an underwater housing containing a regular Canon EOS 1D Mark 2N with (usually) a 15mm fish-eye lens. When the swimmers hit the water or swim over my camera, I release the shutter via a waterproof cable. The data is transferred from the camera to another housing containing a Canon transmitter that transfers the images from the camera to my laptop.


Above: Setting up my equipment at Eindhoven

Within seconds of the end of the race I am in a position to transmit the photographs to our desk operation in Singapore. The desk then immediately moves them globally.


Above: Setting up my equipment at Eindhoven

The underwater pictures of Alain Bernard were out on the wire four minutes after the Frenchman set a new world record over the 100m freestyle. In my mind this is a world record too, because I appear to be the only photographer – using a remote controlled underwater camera like this – who has worked out how to achieve consistent results with this notoriously unreliable set-up. Therefore I don’t need to wait for a couple of hours for the competition to end before jumping into the pool to retrieve my CF card, as do the other photographers

In the competitive world of sport photography, just like the swimming competition, seconds count. An hour is a life-time.


Above: At the end of the day, washing off the chlorine in my bathtub.


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So the lesson here, I suppose, is that investing in an underwater housing is a pretty good idea if you’re covering swimming.

Cheers to Mr. Rattay!

Posted by Skyler Reid | Report as abusive

Just wanted to say that this is very cool.

Posted by C4 | Report as abusive

i’ll stick to photography as a hobby …
but the picture looks good …

Great job Wolfgang. I’ve always wondered how that was accomplished without distracting the divers.

That’s pretty neat. Underwater. 4 minutes from shooting to publication? He’s got it all worked out..

Amazing! Shows that Reuters photographers are always the best at what they do.

Posted by Five Times | Report as abusive

Great picture… now that I know what went into it, I like it even more.

Posted by Emily Church | Report as abusive

What’s in the other housing? The Canon transmitter? Does WiFi transmit through water?

Posted by underwater | Report as abusive

That is some amazing use of technology. That’s definitely taking a plunge of the deep end to get the right shot.

Brilliant work around.

Awesome picture!

As you can see on the picture, there’s a really long cable connected to it

Posted by DLuckyE | Report as abusive

Wow, pretty amazing! I wish I could shoot a photo like that someday… That would be awesome. I’m into diving photos, underwater photography, but never had so much style in any of my photos!

The technique is not new. I had a housing for my f4s way back in the day when it was the top end of action photography. Remote and motion sensor photography also isn’t new. The only new thing about this is how quickly he can not put this out to his editors. Ten years ago the best we could hope for was an hour to develop the film, a couple of minutes to scan the negative, a few more to photoshop it, then a few more to email it where it needed to go.

The speed is great, and so is the shot, but there is very little new in the way of technique.

cool shot and great idea to get it.

I think the point is not that he has an underwater housing but that he can get the pictures immediately. A standard wireless photo transmitter will not work underwater. So he has a solution that gets him the pictures ahead of everyone else.

Posted by Cerium | Report as abusive

So he got the pix to his editor in no time at all? What’s a few minutes. Besides, who’s watching who won, anyway?

Not all folks are swimming enthusiasts in this world. There are other more pressing things in life.

Posted by Ken | Report as abusive

Absolutely great picture, tools and idea – thank you Wolfgang -

Posted by Klaus Bothe | Report as abusive

I think you should have a look ( Donald Miralle (GETTY), ( You will agree he,s the Nº1, sure. And you did,t mention the Master (and Pioneer): Heinz Kluetmeier.

If they did,nt transmit from the water yet is becouse they don,t need so. They are working this way for years, and they are very modest.

Emilio Lavandeira

Posted by Emilio | Report as abusive

very interesting article, i am working on the same question, is it mandatory to wear a winter protection siut in a heated pool? cheers Mollycoddle

Posted by Mollycoddle | Report as abusive

Hello bloggers,
I am a bit overwhelmed by the feedback and interest on this. It is not rocket science. Of course water is to dense for wireless x-mission. I am using a regular Canon WFTE-1 transmitter on a 70m long regular CAT-5 LAN cable to transmit the data to my server. The transmission unit is in the second waterproof housing which is designed by Uwe Kiehl to hold a common flash unit. Since Uwe and me built the set in 2006 for the Budapest European swimming championships it is working fine. Uwe will confirm – fumbling around with the tiny little firewire cables is far from fun. Keep the fingers crossed the cable and the slightly modified Novoflex off-the-shelves mounting tools are chlorine-resistant enough to work fine in the near future. Cheers Wolfgang

Posted by Wolfgang Rattay | Report as abusive

Of course you still have to know under which swimmer (the one who’s gona win) to position your gear if you want to get “the” shot.

Posted by Olivier | Report as abusive

Most of the times the best swimmers – the ones you want – are competing in lane 4 (and 5). OK, most of the times. In Eindhoven one final was won in lane 8.

Posted by Wolfgang Rattay | Report as abusive

here are two interesting sites for Mr. Mollycoddle, .php and ei/weichei.html
too bad it does not translate well into English. A short suit helps to stay warm and healthy (for two weeks of competition) when I am checking the camera position (sometimes up to 3 to 4 times) before I like it for next day`s competition.

Posted by Wolfgang | Report as abusive

hello, this is fascinating but i hope you can clarify one point for me. the canon transmitter uses short range radio waves, which do not pass through water. in a comment above you say that the transmitter is on the end of a 70m cable, but if this is the case why is it in a waterproof housing ? i would be grateful if you could clarify this point. very good work and thankyou for the informative blog entry !

Hi James,
I am more than happy to clarify this.
As per earlier, the Canon transmitter can not be used in wireless mode.
Due to the density of water – no matter if it is just two inch deep – wireless transmission quits working. The unit has to be used in wire-mode in order to work from the pool.
The other big issue to be solved with Canon’s Mark 2 is the firewire signal that comes from the camera. Unfortunately fireware does not travel over more than approx. 1.2m of cable length. Therefore the unit that “translates” firewire into normal “LAN-language” has to stay close to the camera. In my underwater setup a 0.5m long custom-made waterproof firewire cable goes from the camera housing to the second housing that contains Canon’s WFTE-1 transmission unit. The transferred image data is then filed over the second cable – the red one in the picture – to the ftp server. Previously mentioned – it is a specially treated regular CAT-5-LAN cable. Therefore we can view, acquire and edit the images from underwater within seconds after they have been taken. Cheers Wolfgang

Posted by Wolfgang Rattay | Report as abusive

Fantastic article. Very insightful, thanks for making my day :)

Wahoo wolfgang .. thats a cool way. i have been thinking in investing in underwater housing… and now i will for sure invest in one.

Awesome! i’ve never seen this bef.

Posted by ichh | Report as abusive


Thank you for these exelentes advices(councils). I am doing a special magazine on photography of alimpiadas and need the technical specifications of since(as,like) there was taken the photography that has this legend:
Nicholas Robinson-Baker and Benjamin Swain of Britain compete in the men’s synchronised 3m springboard diving end(final) at the National Aquatics Center during the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games August 13, 2008. Great Agradecere his(her,your) collaboration.


We are talking about my “curly-wurly pictures” of synchronized diving, I guess. If so: it has been taken with a hand-held 400mm lens with a 1/15 of a second shutter speed on 200 ASA at f8 or so. Hope that helps. Cheers Wolfgang

Posted by Wolfgang Rattay | Report as abusive

Hello,Wolfgang!I’m Zhou Hao,a volunteer in the triathlon venue. I worked in the photo workroom.It’s my pleasure to meet you.Hope you have a good time in Beijing!

Posted by Zhou Hao | Report as abusive

Wolfgang – I know this isn’t the best place for this question, but I can’t find any other way to contact you.

Can you explain the photo, credited to you, located at les/2008/11/track-guard-300.jpg? The caption reads “A German police officer guards the railway track in Lueneburg where a train transporting Castor nuclear waste containers will travel later in the night to the northern German town of Dannenberg, November 9, 2008. REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay”

But clearly, the photograph is not of a German police officer, but of a model train track with a plastic figure.

I’m curious about the story behind this story…

Posted by Kevin | Report as abusive

Wow, that is amazing! Gotta love the transmission of images instantaneously to the laptop! Don’t forget to wash the chlorine off after a days work, that would probably ruin the casing. Cool article, thanks!

this is incredible. I love the way this article teaches the basics of how he accomplished feat. Great explination.

Posted by JCarsonDay | Report as abusive