The introduction of robotic cameras to the repertoire of technology photographers use has been game changing. Photographers can now shoot from inventive angles that were never before possible, allowing us to all see the Olympics from new vantage points. Getty Images photographer Richard Heathcote shares some of his favorite images he’s taken from Rio using this revolutionary technology:


Sometimes people look at amazing images and think ‘how were they achieved?’ This is the roof of the Maracana stadium. Getty Images photographer Ian Walton and I planned the pictures we wanted in advance, then we installed the cameras and network equipment to fire and transmit the images. The roof was covered in pyrotechnics for the opening ceremony so instead of being able to walk on the inner ring, we had to walk across the canvas roof itself, 70 meters in the air.

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Because of the proximity to the fireworks and the amount of radio interference we expected, all our cameras were fired over the network connection. This gave us the ability to make camera setting changes on the fly from  below and send the images to our editors as we shot. We had to make five trips to the roof during the course of the week building up to the opening ceremony but in the end, all the hard work and effort was worth it.

This was taken from our robotic camera that was mounted directly above the cauldron. It’s a closeup detailed shot of the sculpture with the Olympic Flame reflected in its orb structure. Once I saw the sculpture revolve I thought it would look great reflecting the flame and opted to go for a tight shot. The entire picture is lit only by the Olympic flame burning away just a couple of meters from our robotic camera. Luckily it survived!

I have been thinking about this shot of Phelps for nearly four years. We had robotic cameras during the London Olympics and I was experimenting with a pan movement but he never quite swam under the camera in the right place. Then he retired and I thought that was that. I could still do the shot but it wouldn’t be Phelps, the greatest of all time. As soon as he announced he was returning for Rio I knew there was only one shot I wanted to plan for and that was this slow pan during the butterfly to get the moving ‘wings’ shape. The robotics actually make this shot a little bit easier to achieve because you have a steady fixed base to pan from. You have to line everything up then use your judgement and skill to track the subject at a smooth enough pace. Too slow or too fast and you won’t get a sharp subject.

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The fencers get very emotional and can provide good celebrations. The camera is very low above the finals piste, so you have to keep moving up and down to make sure you’re in the right spot when they celebrate. They have been known to run off at the end very quickly. Luckily Sangyoung Park dropped to his knees screaming upwards as he defeated Imre of Hungary to win the Epee Gold medal.

The greatest Olympian of all time delivering on an amazing night where he smashed the 200m fly and then popped up in the relay. I may have even been cheering for Phelps to win the 4x200m over the Brits. History like this is a pleasure to record. I dropped the shutter speed of the camera to increase the chance of catching a flash from another photographer. Thankfully one worked to produce an iconic image of an iconic Olympian.

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