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.
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.