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Virtually in the Action: How Technology Is Changing Sport Photography

26/07/2016 10:28 | Updated 03 August 2016

The Olympics in Rio next month is sure to be a huge spectacle of sporting achievement and success. However, that success won't be limited to the competitors taking part, but will also be true for the new technology being used to capture the event and share it with the world.

The way we view and experience sporting events is changing. With growing access to virtual reality (VR) devices like Google Cardboard and Oculus Rift, it's becoming possible to experience VR at home and at an affordable price. Furthermore, it's now possible to watch 360 degree videos on smart phones in an increasingly intuitive way and this is being offered through publishers and social media platforms like Facebook. People's need to feel closer to the action is driving the demand and development of imagery and technology that can get us closer to the real experience. Nowhere is the demand greater than around sports.

While new technology is allowing us to experience sporting events as if we are there, social media is providing a way to host and share that content. Earlier this year the NFL announced its live streaming partnership with Twitter. The partnership allows a global audience to view all games of the 2016 NFL Regular Season for free, live and across all platforms. When you consider that Facebook was also fighting for this deal for its Facebook Live platform, it's clear to see that live streaming sports through social media is an area the big tech and media companies want to own.

To show an example of this, at the end of April, American Football player Alex Morgan live streamed a whole women's football match on Facebook, and received 663,000 views, 26,000 likes and 7,000 comments. For a game that would struggle to make it on to traditional TV channels, it was a great success and has played a part in ensuring that the women's game is reaching a wider audience than would have been possible before live streaming on social media platforms was available. Whilst we've long wanted access to up-to-date reports and data, we now want this to be as close to the real life event as possible.

This change in consumption is driving the evolution of the technology on the ground. In 2012, Getty Images first revealed it's increasing use of 360 degree technology when covering the London Olympic Games. The results brought an experiential and immersive element to the games, something that had never been seen before. This was repeated again at this year's Wimbledon tournament, where our photographers shot 360 degree imagery of various moments and of the venue such as Centre Court. These images are hosted through the Oculus app, giving the viewer a dynamic experience of what it's like to be right in the action of Wimbledon.

Getty Images is also the International Olympic Committee's official photography partner and for the Games in Rio this year we'll be increasing the deployment of VR and 360 degree cameras to our team of photographers. This content will again be hosted and viewable on the Oculus App platform.

As people's desire to get up close and have a richer experience of the action in sports increases, the techniques used by photographers and the distributing media companies will need to evolve. We want to feel part of these events and be able to share with our friends. New technologies for generating this deeper content and the improvements required to social media that make it easier to host and share this content will go together to mark a major turning point in sports photography.

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