Athletic endeavors for remote cameras

By Reuters Staff
August 16, 2013

Moscow, Russia

By Fabrizio Bensch and Pawel Kopczynski


Canon 1DX, 70-200 1:2.8 + 1,4 converter, 1/2500 sec at f/8, 1250 ISO

The great success of remote and robotic cameras during the London Olympics opened up a new window of opportunities to shoot sports pictures from above.

With that in mind, our preparation for the World Athletics in Moscow started back in November 2012, as we began to analyze the venue from a technical point of view.

Fireworks explode over Luzhniki stadium during the opening ceremony of the IAAF World Athletics Championships in Moscow August 10, 2013. REUTERS/Pawel Kopczynski

Canon 1DX, 8-15 1:2.8, 1/4 sec at f/4, 400 ISO

Competitors clear their hurdles in the men’s decathlon 110 metres hurdles event during the IAAF World Athletics Championships at the Luzhniki stadium in Moscow August 11, 2013. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

Canon 1DX, 70-200 1:2.8, 1/2500 sec at f/8, 800 ISO

Usain Bolt (C) of Jamaica crosses the finish line after competing in the men’s 100 metre heat during the IAAF World Athletics Championships at the Luzhniki stadium in Moscow August 10, 2013. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

Canon 1DX, 70-200 1:2.8, 1/2500 sec at f/8, 8000 ISO

Luzhniki stadium is not a new one. It was built in the mid fifties and was upgraded just before the 1980 Summer Olympic Games. A large metal roof structure extends far into the inside of the stadium. Three separate catwalks attached beneath the roof looked like an ideal place to install our cameras. Our first impression was that shooting from above ought to be a relatively easy job compared with some other venues, where access was difficult, with no catwalk at all.


Photographer Fabrizio Bensch (L) and technician Peter Jebautzke set up a robotic-remote controlled camera about 50 meters high on the roof of the stadium in Moscow.

While awaiting approval from organizers to install our cameras, we got a phone call from our office in Moscow, with unofficial information that access to the roof in Luzhniki would only be possible with an industrial climbing certificate. A few days later, an official’s letter arrived, confirming the news. From that point, we knew that Reuters photographers would not only have to shoot excellent pictures and have pretty good technical knowledge. They also needed climbing skills.

Everyone from the team went through a very difficult course of IRATA (Industrial Rope Access Trade Association) training and, after passing the exams, received a certificate that not only opened the door to the Luzhniki roof but also gave us a chance to learn how to safely access difficult construction areas. We brought 20 Canon 1DX cameras to Moscow to use for different remotes on the roof finish line and infield. To be fast, all the cameras work as part of a network, transmitting pictures directly to our editing system.

A graphic showing where the remote cameras were set up at the Moscow stadium

And to be sure that we don’t miss the important moment, we also use cables to release the cameras, since wireless solutions aren’t 100 percent reliable because of interference from TV wireless cameras.


Photographers set up their remote cameras for the finish line at the stadium


Remote control cameras are lined up for the finish line shot at the stadium

Usain Bolt of Jamaica runs to win in the men’s 100 metres final during the IAAF World Athletics Championships at the Luzhniki stadium in Moscow August 11, 2013. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

Canon 1DX, 24-70 1:2.8, 1/1250 sec at f/5,6, 2000 ISO

This is our set-up at the stadium. Our staff photographer, Lucy Nicholson, is in charge of the head-on position, shooting on the new Canon zoom 200-400, and releasing up to seven remote cameras mounted with different lenses on a special bar just in front of the finish line.

Specialist photographer Kai Pfaffenbach uses a pedal to shoot three to four cameras installed on the side of the finish line, in addition to his normal photographer’s job.

Yelena Isinbayeva of Russia reacts as she competes in the women’s pole vault final during the IAAF World Athletics Championships at the Luzhniki stadium in Moscow August 13, 2013. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

Canon 1DX, 70-200 1:2.8 + 1,4 converter, 1/1250 sec at f/11, 8000 ISO

Fabrizio and Pawel operate and release six roof cameras from the editor position at the stadium. All the robotic cameras are fully controllable so we can change any parameters such as pan/tilt, zoom, focus, shutter and more.

This set-up gives us a 100 percent chance of covering a race, or any other event, from any possible angle.

Wang Yu of China competes in the men’s high jump qualifying round during the IAAF World Athletics Championships at the Luzhniki stadium in Moscow August 13, 2013. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

Canon 1DX, 70-200 1:2.8 + 1,4 converter, 1/2500 sec at f/8, 2000 ISO

Volunteers prepare the sandpit for the 14th IAAF World Championships at the Olympic stadium in Moscow August 7, 2013. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

Canon 1DX, 70-200 1:2.8, 1/800 sec at f/5,5, 100 ISO

Competitors run at the start of their women’s marathon during the IAAF World Athletics Championships at the Luzhniki stadium in Moscow August 10, 2013. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

Canon 1DX, 70-200 1:2.8, 1/2000 sec at f/8, 1000 ISO

Othman Hadj Lazib of Algeria competes in the men’s 110 metres hurdles heats during the IAAF World Athletics Championships at the Luzhniki stadium in Moscow August 11, 2013. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

Canon 1DX, 70-200 1:2.8, 1/2500 sec at f/8, 400 ISO

Willem Coertzen of South Africa competes in the men’s decathlon discus throw event during the IAAF World Athletics Championships at the Luzhniki stadium in Moscow August 11, 2013. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

Canon 1DX, 24-70 1:2.8, 1/3200 sec at f/8, 800 ISO

Yury Shayunou of Belarus competes in the men’s hammer throw final during the IAAF World Athletics Championships at the Luzhniki stadium in Moscow August 12, 2013. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

Canon 1DX, 24-70 1:2.8, 1/3200 sec at f/8,2000 ISO

Ida Marcussen of Norway competes in her women’s heptathlon long jump event during the IAAF World Athletics Championships at the Luzhniki stadium in Moscow August 13, 2013. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

Canon 1DX, 70-200 1:2.8 + 1,4 converter, 1/2500 sec at f/8, 3200 ISO

Medical staff attend to Diego Ferrin of Ecuador after sustaining an injury in the men’s high jump qualifying round during the IAAF World Athletics Championships at the Luzhniki stadium in Moscow August 13, 2013. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

Canon 1DX, 70-200 1:2.8 + 1,4 converter, 1/2500 sec at f/8, 2000 ISO

Even for an experienced photographer who has covered many sporting events, it is a big challenge to have control over all that technical set-up. In Moscow we are using around 3.5 km (2 miles) of LAN and fiber optic cables. To make sure that the pictures from the cameras can reach our servers, we have a special event technical support team made up of Peter, Magnus and Sylvain, who constantly monitor the network and run to help the photographers out if they get into any difficulties.

On the journalists’ stands, however, we feel a little like Captain Kirk commanding the enterprise: “New technology, the final frontier”.

The essence of sports photography is capturing “the perfect moment.” A combination of the right technology, the photographer’s creativity and that extra little bit of luck can make that happen.

All the effort pays off if you are published in papers around the world and the pictures appear in online galleries.

One comment

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Ok. I’m ready to work for Reuters – I have great climbing skills:-)

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