Ever wonder just how that picture from Rome or London or Tokyo or wherever in the world gets to your newspaper?
First a photographer shoots it. He or she may be one of nearly 200 Associated Press photographers assigned to locations around the world, or one of thousands of stringers who work for the AP, or a staff photographer on a member newspaper, or a member of another picture service.The film is then developed, edited and a print is made. A caption is written. The print is then wrapped on the drum of a transmitter and sent via telephone, satellite or cable from one of AP's many control bureaus directly to your newspaper's picture receiver, which prints out a black-and-white duplicate.
It takes about 10 minutes to transmit one black-and-white picture. It takes about 30 minutes to transmit a color picture because color requires three transmissions representing magenta, cyan, and yellow layers. These layers, when combined, form a color picture.
In all, the AP transmits about 120 black-and-white pictures a day to its member newspapers. Actually, more than 120 pictures a day are transmitted, but many photos are filtered out at domestic control bureaus for regional use only. London, Paris, Rome, Tokyo and other international control bureaus do the same.
Over the years, the ability to move stories on the wire to your newspaper has been speeded up considerably, from 60 words per minute to 1,200 words a minute - and soon to come at 9,000 words per minute.
However, the number of black-and-white photos transmitted each day has remained at the same rate that it was in 1935, when the AP introduced its wirephoto transmission system. It still takes 10 minutes to transmit a black-and-white picture.
That's soon to change.
At a recent American Newspaper Publisher's Association Technical Exposition in Atlanta, the AP introduced a new system of transmitting pictures called PhotoStream. With PhotoStream, the AP will be able to transmit a black-and-white or color picture to your newspaper in less than 1 minute. The system is expected to be in operation in less than a year.
The benefits of such a system are many.
Hal Buell, the AP's assistant general manager in charge of Newsphotos, told the Atlanta convention: "Pictures are now transmitted primarily in black-and-white. The day is not far away when most pictures will be transmitted in color.
Buell said the technical quality of pictures transmitted will improve sharply as the AP transmits directly to scanners and screening devices.
"The PhotoStream system will also offer publishers and editors an opportunity to reduce the cost of chemical, optical darkrooms as we know them today," he said.
At present, all photos are transmitted analog, a narrow bandwidth system used on most telephone lines. In order to improve picture quality, make it easier for newspapers to handle pictures, and to get the pictures into the newspapers' pre-press systems, the AP has created a system for the entire journey of the newsphoto - from the photographer's moment to the printed page.
The new system takes into consideration the editorial and production needs of daily newspapers.
Buell explained, "We looked to digital transmission because digital was universal. You can make pictures digitally, transmit them digitally, and handle them in newsrooms and pre-press systems."
"And," he said, "we had a secret weapon - the AP electronic darkroom, a computer that digitized pictures; equipment we had developed and worked with for more than a decade."