Behind the AP Photos of the Carnival Splendor Situation

Associated Press senior managing editor Mike Oreskes shared the story of how San Diego-based photographer Greg Bull was able to overcome several obstacles to submit film and video of the cruise ship Carnival Splendor, which was stranded out at sea with 4,500 passengers and crew. The email from Oreskes:

The story was literally out of reach. An engine fire had left the cruise ship Carnival Splendor and its 4,500 passengers and crew marooned at sea. There was no email or cell-phone contact, and even when San Diego photographer Greg Bull managed to get within range, it was a challenge to get his material out.

His persistence and ingenuity produced exclusive video, a beat on still photos, and the Beat of the Week.

When Bull heard that the aircraft carrier USS Reagan would be airlifting aid as the stricken liner was towed to San Diego, he headed to the base and tried to talk his way on board.

He shot images of cases of Spam being loaded onto helicopters, and, once on board, made more photos and several minutes of video.

Bull called in color and first-person detail to the news desk, but filing the photos and video proved more difficult. The Navy’s email system would allow only 5 megabytes of data at a time, and Bull spent eight hours just editing and filing to get around that size limit.

He filed 15 photos, all of which made it through, beating photographers from Zuma and the Los Angeles Times by 20 minutes and topping Web sites for the next 12 hours.

Video was the hardest part.

First, Bull unfurled his satphone on the carrier’s deck, but with the ship rocking side-to-side and constantly changing direction, he couldn’t keep the device locked on a satellite long enough to maintain a call.

He turned back to email, but the video was 56 MB, 10 times too big for the email system.

He set to work cutting the video into the smallest possible pieces, 10 clips of about 9 seconds each. After several tries, four of them made it through, and the Broadcast News Center in Washington edited them into video packages for OLV and APTN through the night. (Video here and here.)

Neither the Zuma nor L.A. Times photographers shot video, and a CNN crew watched helplessly next to Bull as they were unable to get any of their own video out.

Bull slept for two hours and started again. When the ship docked the next day, he fed the rest of his video.

For his industrious efforts to take the lead on a technically and logistically difficult story, Bull wins this week’s $500 prize.

The included photo was obviously one of Bull’s.