Along with the top athletes from around the world, the 2008 Beijing Olympics has attracted thousands of reporters and photographers, working around the clock to file stories and images from the biggest event in all of sports. And there's a good chance that the photos you've seen from the games were imported, edited, and transmitted on a Mac.
In the digital photo editing area of the Kodak Photographer’s Center—a massive workroom located in the main press center at the Olympic park—hundreds of photographers at a time assemble to file their images using high-end workstations and tech-support supplied by Apple (the same was true at the 2006 winter games in Turino, Italy).
Headed by Joe Schorr, Senior Product Manager of Photo Applications, Apple set up fifty broadband-connected Mac Pro workstations, complete with 30-inch Cinema Displays and a set of essential photographic tools including photography workflow software Aperture, Adobe Photoshop, FTP software, and PhotoMechanic (a popular tool with many sports photographers).
“We know from experience that photojournalists love Macs, and that our software is used by a huge segment of this industry,” says Schorr, scanning the media room for photographers who need help.
“Our goal is to get them to fall in love with Aperture, but we’re perfectly happy to have them using other tools as well," says Schorr, who adds that Apple is also providing general Mac support, since "these guys are working under incredibly tight deadlines, and there are situations where they’re panicking." Tech support has included fixing a faulty DVD drive, providing missing cables, helping with network issues, and even providing feedback on photographers' editing choices.
Aperture made its Olympic debut in Turino, where many photographers caught their first glimpse of the company’s post-processing tool. Many of those photographers have returned to Beijing, now as much more polished users.
The Kodak Photographer’s Center, and in fact the whole main press center, is a 24-hour operation—the facility is complete with a McDonalds, a shipping center, a general store, a cafeteria, and more. Waves of photographers flood the press center as events conclude and photographers rush to meet deadlines.
For sports photographers, speed is key—something Apple focused heavily on as part of the 2.0 version of Aperture. “We can really say we’ve made significant inroads in this segment,” says Schorr, “particularly in delivering a quick-editing workflow that can truly keep up with these guys.”
In the downtime between deadlines, many photographers have asked Apple's support staff for demonstrations or about system purchase recommendations. In more than one case, photographers arrived at the games as PC users, and since purchased or ordered a new Mac. (The presence of an official Apple store in Beijing has been helpful.)
Schorr says he's also taking notes as he talks to photographers, gathering feedback for future versions of Aperture. “This is a pressure cooker,” he says. “You see what these guys really need and what they go through and as a product manager it’s been amazing to spend that much time absorbing how people respond to our current product. It’s worth more than a big stack of market research papers just to be able to work with these photographers.”
With the Vancouver winter games only two years away, the team has already been discussing support possibilities for the next Olympic venue, where photographers will be able to work with a future version of the application developed around the lessons learned at Beijing.
[David Schloss is a photographer and author, whose Aperture Users Network has been providing support alongside Apple to photographers at the Olympics.]