21 gravity-defying photos of Olympians soaring through the water and air

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Al Bello/Getty Images

The Olympics, particularly the summer Olympics, are a kind of festival for elite sports photography.

There’s no two weeks in the year that produce a heftier haul of world-class images of athletic competition.

All the major agencies covering the games fight for an edge in the photographic shoot-out. And this year, Getty added a new weapon to its arsenal: a small army of underwater robots.

Here’s what you need to know about them, along with some of the amazing images they’ve created.


The Olympics are a bonanza for beautiful photography of the human body in motion.

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Adam Pretty/Getty Images

All the major sports photographers compete to take the most creative and mind-boggling photos possible.

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I’ve always been partial to shots of Olympians suspended in the air.

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Pandelela Rinong of Malaysia in action during diving training.
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Adam Pretty/Getty Images

There’s something mind-bending about them.

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But in 2016 the underwater photos are, if anything, even more astonishing.

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The greenish hue of the diving pool, caused by an algae bloom after some mistakes in pool management, helps.

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Vincent Riendeau of Canada practices.
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And it’s not unusual for Olympic pools to be full of waterproof cameras.


But Getty tells us that this year was the first time they installed fully-articulated robotic cameras in the Olympic pools.


Getty photographers are using video game controllers to follow the action in the pool.

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Laszlo Cseh of Hungary competes in the Men’s 200m Butterfly heat.
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Adam Pretty/Getty Images

Previously, like in this photo from the London 2012 Olympics, photographers just had static cameras they could trigger.

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The underwater photography is still pretty new to the Olympics. In 2004 Getty was the only agency to have an underwater camera looking up at swimmers from below.

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Adam Pretty/Getty Images

And they got some awesome shots.

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Al Bello/Getty Images

But photographers had to rely a lot more on guesswork when it came to setting their shots, since they had no opportunity to adjust their cameras in the middle of competition.

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Adam Pretty/Getty Images

In this year’s games, photographers are free to tilt and whirl their cameras, which opens up a whole new world of opportunity.

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Clive Rose/Getty Images

The result is more dramatic, beautiful shots for us to enjoy.

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Clive Rose/Getty Images)

The results aren’t just artistic though.

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Clive Rose/Getty Images

Underwater photos tell the Olympics’ stories in new ways — like this image showing the moment Simone Manuel of the United States (left) and Penny Oleksiak of Canada (right) tied for the gold medal in the Women’s 100m Freestyle.

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Or this image of Katie Ledecky leaving eight of the world’s best swimmers in her wake during the Women’s 800m Freestyle Final.

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Getty tells us they have 20 robotic cameras in action across all the Olympic venues.

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Adam Pretty/Getty Images

The underwater robots, which Getty developed with Mark Roberts Motion Control and Nikon, let their controllers alter their vantage point and focal length, and swivel the camera 360 degrees.

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Al Bello/Getty Images

The results are amazing.

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Clive Rose/Getty Images

Though we have to admit, the photography happening above the water’s surface isn’t half bad either.

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Clive Rose/Getty Images