How AP photographer captured Gabby Douglas Olympics photo: Practice, practice, practice

Associated Press photojournalist Greg Bull was waiting for that moment, the point in Gabby Douglas’ balance beam routine at which she leaps the highest, spreading her arms and legs and looking straight up at the ceiling.

He had tried to capture it before, but it never quite worked — he was too late, perhaps, or she was off-center. His photo “didn’t seem to be as amazing as I thought it would be,” he said by phone.

Thursday night during Douglas’ gold-medal performance, Bull got it. “I don’t know if I’ve seen a more beautiful picture than this one of Gabby Douglas, at least in a long, long time,” tweeted The Verge’s Tim Carmody.

U.S. gymnast Gabrielle Douglas performs on the balance beam during the artistic gymnastics women’s individual all-around competition at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Thursday, Aug. 2, 2012, in London. (Gregory Bull/AP)


Amazing photo,” tweeted New York Times Assistant Managing Editor Jim Roberts. Deadspin’ Erik Malinowski wondered “how sports photography gets any better than this.”

Gymnasts do the same routines over and over, so Bull and the other two AP photographers covering gymnastics that night knew what moments they wanted to capture. Bull had photographed the gymnastics Olympic trials in San Jose, Calif., a month ago, so he had seen the routine about five times already.

Thursday night, he set his camera at the widest aperture and framed the shot loosely so there would be plenty of air around Douglas. “I was thinking, I’m just going to set a stage and let her do it right in the middle of the frame.”

He wasn’t sure he had gotten the shot, though. Because he photographed the entire competition, he didn’t have time to look at anything. He put the card in his laptop, sent the images to an editor, and kept shooting.

Only later did he realize that he had nailed it. “That’s actually what I was hoping it would look like.”

Deputy Director of Photography Denis Paquin told the Associated Press, “the beauty of the shot lies in the combination of ‘the graceful motion and the horizontal lines between the balance beam and her perfectly-positioned body – all captured at the precise moment during her routine.”

Bull has heard about all the attention the photo has gotten. “It’s wild to be here and hear that, because I’m just a guy who went on to shoot trampoline today. We just keep going on.”

Editor’s note: In scoring this post, the judges deducted two-tenths of a point because Myers wrote that Douglas was on the “balance bar.” It’s a balance beam. A Balance Bar is something you eat afterward.

Correction: This post originally stated that Tim Carmody works for Wired, but he works for The Verge.

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  • http://twitter.com/Leonorxm Leonorxm

    …..
    goo.gl/AoGuc

  • http://twitter.com/Leonorxm Leonorxm

    …..
    goo.gl/AoGuc

  • http://twitter.com/Leonorxm Leonorxm

    Victoria responded I am taken by surprise that anybody able to make $8965 in 1 month on the net. did you look at this (Click on menu Home)

  • http://twitter.com/Leonorxm Leonorxm

    like Jeff responded I didn’t even know that a mother able to profit $8423 in 1 month on the network. have you look this(Click on menu Home)

  • Anonymous

    Watch the video. He’s referring to television cameras. Nothing to do with flashes.

  • Eddie Harper

    Why not just praise Mr Bull for capturing Gabby at the decisive moment and appreciate the fact that we have this picture for posterity instead of making suggestions as to how he could have improved the shot?

  • http://twitter.com/denniswarren Dennis Warren

    Practice…I love the story George Lepp tells about photographing his dog with all fours in the air racing toward him…the next photo he shows is a Bengal Tiger doing the same.  Pays to be ready and have some idea of what you are doing.

  • Anonymous

    Again proof of two immunable “rules” of photography: 1) a photographer’s most importnt tool is his/her brain; 2) Preparation. Is. Everything.

  • D. Keith Higgs

     I imagine it’s more important to hide the flash attachments of other cameras behind the beam than the actual cameras.  All those extraneous sparkles could distract from the intended focus.

  • D. Keith Higgs

    Gotta love the Editor’s note! Brings the whole thing together with the typical Olympic scoring process!

  • http://photographie.x90x.net/ Photographie en français

    This photo is working even if I don’t understand why. The composition is  not as it’s often said, have space in front of the subject.

  • http://twitter.com/Joycetem1 Joycetem

    as Barry responded I am in shock that a mother can mak

  • http://twitter.com/Joycetem1 Joycetem

    like Ricky explained I am surprised that a student able to earn $5962 in four weeks on the 

  • http://twitter.com/Joycetem1 Joycetem

    like Carl said I am inspired that a mom able to earn $6439 in 4 weeks on the network. did you look at this 

  • http://twitter.com/Joycetem1 Joycetem

    like Albert explained I am startled that any one can make $9301 in one month on the network. did you see this(Click on menu Home)

  • http://twitter.com/Joycetem1 Joycetem

    Debra responded I am blown away that you can profit $6561 in four weeks on the network. did you look this(Click on menu Home)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=779037019 Keecia Buster

    The photo is aligned to the most important aspect of the photo, Gabby Douglas.  Great shot.  As is.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/VNB72JIMMFSHAHFFQ4FFZ5Z5MQ Gary

     It is level.  Look at the stairs in the upper level.  The photographer was not straight on (orthogonal line of sight) to the edge of the beam.  The slant of the beam appears (to me) to be  only due to perspective shift, not camera tilt.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-A-Kaplan/1333623976 Michael A. Kaplan

    kevin, you’re an idiot.  It’s an image as captured by the photographer through his/her camera.  The photographers integrity and AP’s guidance dictates “its a photograph”.   Nothing but light going through a camera lens onto a sensor converted to a digital format.   Wanna arm wrestle about it?!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-A-Kaplan/1333623976 Michael A. Kaplan

    it’s a weak story and the writer isn’t a photographer.   Even up the framing of the shot too, photo editors.  You know, great exaggeration by everyone involved.  It’s just a shot.  Wide to mid angle, focus on the balance beam, high ISO and decent shutter speed, lens wide open and shoot away at whatever speed the camera handles.  Not one photographer put his/her camera down during the entire routine, worst case scenario was the buffer got loaded up!

  • http://www.poynter.org Poynter

    @facebook-100001157844667:disqus Yes, see my response to Pam above.

    Thanks,
    Steve

  • http://www.poynter.org Poynter

    Hi @openid-13421:disqus , Greg told me he was shooting with a Canon 24-105, which opens up to f/4.0. He wanted a narrow depth of field. If he had chosen a deep depth of field, as you suggest, more of the background would have been in focus, distracting from Douglas. 

    Greg Bull went into a bit more detail in this video, explaining how he crouched down to hide other cameras behind the beam. 

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XpPPIEg5A-g&feature=youtube_gdata_playerThanks,Steve Myers

  • http://www.poynter.org Poynter

    @facebook-201600443:disqus and @twitter-39438619:disqus I noticed that too, because in the photo that the NYT ran (linked in Jim Roberts’ tweet), the beam is perfectly horizontal. I got this image from the AP Images website, and there was a note on it that said it was the raw image from the camera. I don’t know if the AP moved a version that had the horizon corrected or if NYT rotated it slightly (which I see no problem with). I know an AP photographer who has told me that they do very little “work” to their images.

    Thanks,
    Steve Myers

  • http://twitter.com/NanaLenore Penny Hernandez

     Nasty to shill for whatever around this wonderful photo

  • Anonymous

    I tell you, those judges know squat…! The point of anything you want to do with the skill of a craftsman, is always practice, practice, practice.

  • http://twitter.com/daletidy Dale Tidy

    Not sure why it is an idiotic comment. It’s the first thing I noticed about the image. Such a simple thing to fix too, and their is no issue about edits like cropping, dodging and burning. That is not effecting credibility in any way, that is simply processing an image. And the horizontal correction should have been done to go from a 99% awesome image into a 100% awesome one. 

  • Anonymous

    Idiotic comment lol

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Everette-Jay/100001157844667 Everette Jay

    True, but depending on the lighting in the arena he may have had to open the aperture to get the quick shutter speed he wanted. He obviously wanted to get rid of as much motion blur as possible, freezing her in mid air. With her on the beam, not moving fore, or aft, the shallow dof wouldn’t have been an issue. 

  • Anonymous

    Prove it. I dare you.

  • http://www.facebook.com/tawan.bazemore Tawan Bazemore

    You know sometimes people are actually that good and anyone who claims the photo was altered is just hating or mad because they didn’t shoot it. this world…My God…

  • http://www.facebook.com/tawan.bazemore Tawan Bazemore

    You know sometimes people are actually that good and anyone who claims the photo was altered is just hating or mad because they didn’t shoot it. this world…My God…

  • Kevin Burdick

    Anyone who knows photography and has seen this shot knows it is a composite image. They also know this photo look’s like this is a recreation of the Obama “hope poster”.  Not an EPIC Olympic photograph but a subtle image that reigns a not so subtle truth. Such as an accreditation that was forged before it was sealed. BUNK! 

  • Cameron Lundstedt

    At least there was a human factor in this shot. i find the remote ran shots to be too staged.

  • http://lifebythecreek.wordpress.com/ Pam D

    A friend of mine who works for a newspaper told me that all of their shots HAVE to be SOOC, in order to avoid any charge of altering an image. If someone claims that something crucial was added or removed and they put up the original shot and it’s had even innocent edits, then their credibility is blown. I do wonder about the comment that the photog set his “camera” to the widest aperture (that would be the lens… not the camera) for this shot. I would think he would have actually set it to the narrowest aperture that he could get away with to get the best depth of field possible. Wide aperture equals narrow DOF.

  • http://www.facebook.com/chrissilva Chris Silva

    They could have at least corrected the horizon…

  • Anonymous

    the washington post fronted it and i couldn’t stop staring at when i got my paper yesterday morning.  both the photographer and gabby douglas are awesome.

  • Anonymous

    OK wow now there is a dude that knows whats going on man.
    Do-Privacy.tk

  • http://www.falconvalleygroup.com Gayle Falkenthal

    Thanks for the inside details. I post photos for Communities at Washington Times and it’s a joy to see the work of the AP photographers streaming in, literally within seconds it seems. I get so engrossed in looking through all the work that I need to force myself to stop and just choose something. Now I find myself looking for the photogs on NBC’s coverage and seeing if I can get a glimpse of the name badges to put names to faces. Thanks guys and gals! It was true when I worked in television news and true now – photographers never get the credit they deserve for being true journalists, technicians, and artists all at once.

  • http://www.poynter.org Poynter

    My apologies. I had that right and then must have changed it when I revised. It’s correct now.

    Steve Myers

  • http://www.capecodtoday.com/blogs/index.php?disp=bloggers citizenkane

    Iconic!

  • http://This1That1Whatever.com/ David Wong

    Stills or slow motion is needed to truly appreciate how fantastic their athleticism is.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_SOBVIV5BHPBFIZZAR35A67KRM4 FarNiente F

    yeah

  • http://kodea.gotdns.com Nuno Maia

    Tim hasn’t been on Wired for a while now…

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Egg-Man/681171228 Egg Man

    i liked the photo of her face to camera smiling. that’s more real the in the air….. SMILE says it ALL..bravo!

  • Anonymous

    actually, i liked the slow-motion shot
    which played on n.b.c. much better,
    because, well, it showed movement.

    and i don’t take anything away from
    the photographer, because this really
    was a magnificent bit of planning, but
    it _was_ “planning”.  it was a _routine_,
    a bit of choreography done repeatedly,
    so he _knew_ he would have that shot,
    at that particular point in time, for sure.

    and that’s quite different from, let’s say,
    a shot of a crash that happens at nascar,
    or in the middle of a boxing match.  those
    are unchoreographed, unplanned moments,
    which is what sports photography is usually
    considered to be, at least in my opinion…

    it surely doesn’t take away from its beauty
    to acknowledge these facts about the shot.

    -bowerbird

  • http://twitter.com/ChristinaJolie5 ChristinaJolie


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  • http://twitter.com/ChristinaJolie5 ChristinaJolie

    Randy explained I am impressed that anyone able to make $6048 in 1 month on the network. did you look at this(Click on menu Home)

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the background to this pic which is a perfect 10 and deserves its own gold medal for the tenacious work combined with luck.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the background to this pic which is a perfect 10 and deserves its own gold medal for the tenacious work combined with luck.

  • Anonymous

    Fantastic. Thanks for telling this story, and congrats to Bull. 

  • Anonymous

    Funny that the St. Pete Times didn’t use it.