Footy photography in sharp focus

Vegard Grott at Anfield

Last week I worked at Old Trafford, Anfield and at Goodison Park during the Merseyside derby. Sounds glamorous? It’s not really. Honestly.

Photographers working on sports at the highest level get paid to travel around the UK to cover, for instance, Premier League matches and other major sporting events.

The snappers get free entrance, free food, access to the pitchside and front row seats. They might also bump into a player, a manager or a famous person during the course of their work.

That must surely be a dream job for any sports fan? Well, yes it is… and also no, it isn’t sometimes.

The reality of being a sports photographer isn’t always as magical as it might sound. It’s a special job, yes, but it’s not filled with glamour.

You get treated well, most of the time, but a photojournalist is probably at the bottom of the ladder compared to other journalists working on Premier League football.

The job itself normally consists of carrying huge amount of camera kit, which typically would be two or three camera bodies with a 16-35mm wide angle lens, a 70-200mm zoom lens and a 400mm fixed telephoto lens.

Nice view… Vegard’s spot working at Anfield

All the kit is needed to capture ‘the moment’, which can be everything from the crucial incident where one player is sent off, a penalty is missed, a goal is scored, or a player celebrates victory.

The moment is what the readers will look at online and in the newspapers the day after. All of those moments I mentioned above happened during the Merseyside derby last Saturday.

“Enjoying ‘the moment’ is all about getting the right photos, not meeting your heroes.”

Everton’s Jack Rodwell got sent off, Liverpool’s Dirk Kuyt missed a penalty and both Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez scored a goal for the Reds. Although it might sound easy to capture all this, everything happened in a split second… and I missed some of it.

I got some of my pictures printed in the Liverpool Echo after the match. However, it will take many years of practice before I get experienced enough, and perhaps lucky enough, to do a ‘perfect match’ as a sports photographer, if that’s possible.

It’s not just about capturing the moment, but it has to be done from the right angle, with the right background, sharp enough and quickly enough. You don’t have much time at all from when the incident occurs until the pictures have to be sent around to the newspaper desks.

When I was covering the Champions League at Old Trafford, I spent most of the game in the wire room sending pictures – I didn’t even see the game.

At times it can be a wonderful job, but you won’t start off your career covering the big games with all that expensive camera kit. In fact, you’ll probably have to kick off your career shooting – with your own kit – at a boring youth game being played on a muddy pitch a freezy night in October. And if it rains, well, you just have to deal with that as well.

Vegard Grott at work

Work experience is key in photojournalism just as it is in most of the industry. The pay is not great and you will have to work yourself up.

You might eventually get to work at the big games, but you can’t act as the football fan you really are. You will get to see all the action from the touchline, but you can’t enjoy it from the stands with your mates singing, clapping and celebrating.

You may even get to rub shoulders with Kenny Dalglish or David Moyes now and then, but when you’ve got an important job to do you just don’t think of it as being glamorous.

Enjoying ‘the moment’ is all about getting the right photos, not meeting your heroes.