Your FIFA 2018 Prep: From the eyes of a photojournalist
HackPack member Maria Plotnikova has worked as a sports photographer traveling to the Olympics, World Championships, lived in Brazil and Argentina. Now Maria mixes coverage of major sporting events and street photography while working at the top media outlets and blogs (RBC, Lenta.ru, RIA Novosti, Big Picture), takes up commercial requests, travels and plans to cover the FIFA World Cup.
To help you prepare, Maria spoke with HackPack to share her thoughts on sports photography and how to prepare for with the FIFA World Cup.
First off, you need to expect that even sporting events at the international level have issues with organization and logistics. A lot of time is often lost at security checks as you take out your laptop, then sometimes all your equipment. It was a complete mess at the 2018 South Korea Olympics. The buses didn’t run according to the schedule, volunteers couldn’t answer basic questions such as where the press center was located or how to find the press bleachers. Don’t expect things to be smooth.
During the Summer Olympics in 2016, I didn’t feel safe. During the first few days, many photographers had their equipment stolen. Also members of the press would have to pay for transport to the stadiums. At least during the World Cup in Russian, journalists ride for free on public transportation.
Secondly, you’ll run yourself ragged. At the Winter Games in Sochi and South Korea, we raced between the Mountain and Coastal Clusters which are dozens of kilometers apart. We worked from 6am until late in the night, slept no more than 4–5 hours a day. For three whole weeks, you have to give it your all. It’s exhausting.
As for the actual photo shoots, there is almost never a force majeure. At all major sporting events, Canon and Nikon provide tables with equipment, and accredited photographers can rent cameras and lenses.
What I try to do is treat major sporting events as an adventure. Later on, you’ll forget about the entire absurdity and only be left with nostalgia.
How do you squeeze through the crowd of photojournalists to get the best photo?
Really it is only during the awards ceremony that you’ll need to actively use your elbows. Most photographers struggle to take the best, most centrally located position in front of the podium. I stay off to the side and try to guess which direction an athlete will run toward as they celebrate their victory. This way I can capture all of their emotions.
During the games though, photographers are allocated special seating. This could be several rows in the bleachers with the fans, a separate decks, or benches and chairs along the perimeter of the field. For every match, each photographer receives a designated chair, and they can leave their computers and lenses there. The spots with the most advantageous angles are reserved for the global agencies though — Getty, Reuters, Associated Press, Agence France-Press, etc.
What type of photos are in highest demand?
Photos from the awards ceremony: Photos of the athletes on the podium, holding the medal in their teeth with happy faces in the background, tears — you need to capture emotions. Besides that, the majority of online publications list the best moments and plays. Only the top sports publications request of 20–30 photos from a match. At the end of the year, you can always send your best photos to competitions.
I love taking photos of the fans. They are just as important as the athletes in sports photography. And football fans are the most picturesque. At the World Cup, photographers have a ball with fans in the craziest outfits. During the World Cup in Brazil, a group of Russian émigré dressed up in Russian national attire before Russia’s match. I lost them in the bleachers though and didn’t get a chance to take their photo.
What are you planning to do for the World Cup 2018? Anything you’re focusing on?
I’m working as a freelancer accredited by RBC, so I’m free in terms of selecting the topics I want to cover. I’m not that interested in taking photos of the Russian team. Instead, I’m planning to drive to each city and take photos of all the unique activities surrounding with the games. For example, photos of fans from Latin American and African teams visiting the Russian cities and their reactions should provide a very textured image. I’m placing my bets on the Argentinians. Based on my experience in Buenos Aires, I know that you can’t find more passionate fans.
I’m also planning to actively post photos and stories from the games in my Instagram. I’ll show life around the games, fans, volunteers, etc. Those types of photos tend to catch a lot of interest from my followers based upon activity during the Sochi and Rio games.
How much can you earn per publication?
On average, a photo story or feature in Russian online publications is worth between 6000–10,000 rubles (100USD — 170USD). In major publications, you can earn 15,000 rubles (250USD) for a publication. To get to that point, you have to work on a specific topic for several months, so you can’t really call that a respectable wage. Publishing in news is just to develop your name and reputation. Your actual livelihood comes from commercial work that is worth 15,000–30,000 rubles (250–500 USD) per day.
How are things in the general industry?
Traditional news publications practically do not do their own photos of sporting events. I started doing sport in 2006 in a little agency called Ves Sport (All Sport). I would often travel around Russia for work. But today, even the major sports publications rarely send a staff photographer to the Olympics or World Cup. The major wire agencies completely own this field. They instantly upload high-quality photos and it is far more cost-effective to buy a few dozen photos from them than send your own photographer.
But many of the photos from the wire agencies are as similar to each other as two drops in a bucket. The top agencies pump out 12 sharp and high quality photos per second. Since the time to publish is more important than the quality of the photo, photographers often send in everything straight from their cameras. As a result, the build editor selects and edits the photos based upon their own tastes and the results can sometimes be horrible. During the Olympics in South Korea, one photographer joked about removing his name as author of the photo.
I’ve also noticed a general trend among the top agency photographers. They started uploading their best photos to Instagram. Some of the photos appear more often thanks to likes, while others will even end up as ‘editor’s choice’. Another aspect of Instagram is that photographers see the best photos of their competitors and try to do something similar the next day. This is also one of the reasons that photos from the agencies tend to be the same.
What advice would you give someone covering the games for the first time?
At each stadium, there is a team of photo managers who are responsible for coordinating the photographers. The head manager — usually an experienced photographer — knows all the entrances and exits to the stadiums, the best viewpoints and aspects of the lighting. He shows and explains all of that to novices and will be your main assistant. I would advise immediately getting to know this person well.
Before the tournament, I recommend studying the photos by wire agencies from previous world cups. This will help give you ideas as to the best angles and locations on the field and help select the right lenses.
Another lifehack is that the most interesting events occur around the stadium 3–4 hours before the match starts — in the bars and parks. It’s then that the fans have tossed a few back, loosen up and begin to get energetic.
What other projects are you dreaming of doing?
My dream project would be to show how global technological changes are affecting our lives. The Internet, Big Data and artificial intelligence permeate our lives to the extent that online is becoming more important than offline. For the last 10 years, people have started to identify define themselves not only as consciousness with a physical case, but as a virtual personality with a complete separate life.
Currently this can be expressed visually by showing people «glued» to their phones, but in 10 years this will all change. We live in this transitional period. In 50 years when technology completely changes the physical world, it will be interesting to look upon these photographs.