Demystifying the world of sports photography

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Podcast: Episode 45 – More reasons to hate Messi

Podcast: Episode 45 – “More reasons to hate Messi”

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Matt talks about shooting high school kids and before you pick up the phone to call the authorities, he was there for his ongoing “Under the Brim” project.  Ryu talks about something he can’t talk about, but now he can.  Skill Twins.  No, he didn’t shoot the video.

Master Class

Effort v Results.  Just because you try hard doesn’t mean your photo is worth something.  Listen to us tell you that your blood and sweat do not guarantee an entry into the BLFS heaven.

Training Ground
Training Ground is now on video. If you’d like to participate (and we think you should), enter your pictures in the Flickr thread and make sure to tag them BLFSTG201502.

Training Ground will now be split off from the podcast, and will run approximately two weeks after the podcast.

You Win

Well well well.  It’s our first ever new format You Win and we had a disagreement on who should be crowned the best of January 2015.  Just because we can, you should listen to find out who won.  Because honestly, we like surprises.


Matt goes golf and Ryu goes WTF, Business Insider? (Jelena Jankovic).  And we also don’t understand why World Press Photo 1st place singles award went to this average photo, 2nd place went to this great moment≠not so good photo, and let’s not talk about this catastrophe that is the 3rd place.  As for the story category, this one is sublime and this one is not a story and not good.

Special thanks to…
Our producer Robb Massar
Icon by Arvin Bautista

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Big Lens Fast Shutter is funded solely from the pockets of Ryu Voelkel and Matt Cohen. If you think the information we give you about sports photography is making you a better sports photographer and as a result a well balanced human being, please show us your appreciation by clicking on the “Donate” button and send some of your hard earned dollars/euros/Brixton pounds our way. People who donate will be mentioned on our next show unless you want to remain anonymous. Thank you for supporting us and may the force of sports photography be with you, always.
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Get ’em young I say, get ’em young!

Matt and I, we both get occasional emails asking us how to grow a nice moustache.  Strange, yes as Matt has the worst moustache I’ve ever seen on a human being.   But even more occasionally, we get asked how one becomes a sports photographer.  In most cases we tell people to go through the entire library of BLFS first and if we haven’t answered your question by the time you’ve listened to them all, only then come and ask us for our advice.  We firmly believe that after 50 episodes of BLFS and our blog posts, there is enough information for you to decide whether or not becoming a sports photographer is actually not a stupid idea.

But sometimes we get questions that require us to actually write a blog post about it.  About a week ago, my friend NL (he’s not Dutch, but to protect his identity, I’ve cleverly came up with this acronym) who is 12 years of age, asked me how he can become a sports photographer.  Just so people don’t start speed dialling their local authorities, NL and I met about 2 years ago at my friend’s wedding which I was shooting, of course.  An intelligent chap and we’ve kept in touch since.  I don’t think I have had any influence on him wanting to become a sports photographer, but he sounded serious enough.  So maybe he’s the odd one here.  What was interesting about his question is that he wanted to know which classes should he take at school to help him become a sports photographer.  Interesting.  I then asked him to give me the list of classes available at the moment.  They are as follows:

PE (Gym for some)
Modern Studies
Home Economics


Therefore if you are an aspiring sports photographer between the ages of 10-12, here are the classes Ryu tells you to take:


I think this is a no brainer.  What we teach at BLFS is for you to come up with your own distinct style.  We don’t want you to become a cookie cutter sports photographer.  The only way you can do is to look at other people’s work, but in a much broader sense.  If you have been paying a bit of an attention to the world around you, photography is not the only art form out there.  Painting, sculpting, dance, music, video, fashion, whatever.  Art is sometimes unnecessarily everywhere.  I’m assuming this “Art” class will concentrate on a traditional definition of art so painting, sculpting, installations, and other fun things like art history.  As a sports photographer, to have interest in other forms of art is very important.  You don’t know where your next inspiration can come from.  Looking at beautiful things and learning the process behind it will help you through your creative processl.  So yes to art and try not to fall asleep when you’re forced to remember when van Gogh detached his ear off his face.


I called it PE in my school as well, so we are cool.  In this profession, you need to be fit.  So definitely yes to PE.  Because in some cases you have to run to your shooting location ahead of the others.  It’s usually first come first served so you should even start raining by running with 20kg of gear on you.  If you don’t have that much gear near you, carry your classmate around your neck and run around.  That might help.  In any case, keep fit and strong.  Exhaustion in any form will ruin any concentration and you’ll need plenty of it during the course of a match.


I’m not into history much, even if it involves art and dinosaurs.  But this is about whether this class will help him with his pursuit of a career in sports photography.  I say no.  I don’t remember a single moment when I thought “God damn it, had I known the day Berlin wall fell, I’d have shot that football match better”.  Therefore, no.  But in general you should know a bit of history.  Says my wife.


Same as Art.  Music can inspire you, unless you don’t like music.  Which is fine.


If we lived in an age of BW photography and you needed to know the chemical reactions that occur in a developing bath then yes.  It’s better to know these things because when you do, you can become a mad scientist in the dark room. But we live in the 21st century and I have feeling that most schools don’t even have a dark room. I don’t think quantum physics and molecular biology will help you come up with a better composition and lighting for the coming cricket match.  Unless someone comes up with cell football.


My wife will say yes (she’s French) and surprisingly I’ll say yes as well.  Not necessarily French, but learning another language.  If you are not a dumb American, Australian, or Anglo-Saxon, you need to learn how to speak another language.  This is to prevent you from being ridiculed when you leave your country.   The reason is that if you want to become a sports photographer, it will be very helpful if you have good communication skills.  I don’t want you to just end up shooting in your own country, but to travel around the word shooting sumo and sepak takraw and jai alai.  You should aspire to become an international sports photographer.  Therefore if you can blag your way around in Spanish, French, or whatever, you’ll be that much better than the other monolingual sports photographers.  Combine that with charm, you’ll get into places no other sports photographers dare try.  Since so much of sports photography hinges on location, if you can sweet talk a Belorussian security guard into getting a position where you are normally not allowed to, you’re golden.

Modern Studies

I have no idea what this class entails.  I guess you talk about modern things.  But for some reason, it will probably be much less important than math, which is conveniently lacking from this list.  Most of photography is based on math.  So you should definitely take it.  No, you don’t need to have AP-Calculus under your belt to get a better angle on your remote cam at a high school basketball game, but you need to know basic math.

Okay, just googled it.  This is a class very specific to schools in Scotland.  From what I’ve read on wikipedia, no, you don’t really need it to become a sports photographer.  But if you’re a Scot and in need of separation from those pesky English at some point in your life time, then yes.


Yes.  At the very least you should know where 90% of the countries in this world is located and whether how many transportation options are there for you to travel from Barcelona to Madrid (Answer: 4 bus, train, car, and plane).  If you do not know where your own state is located (hint hint Americans), it’s bad.  I overheard a conversation last night with an American trying to describe to a Madridista where he is from. “Yes, I live hour and a half from Buffalo”.  As if someone in Madrid knows any other cities in USA besides New York and LA.  By learning about each country in a geographical sense, you won’t be caught wearing a down jacket and leggings boarding on a flight to the Australian Open.

Home Economics

I’ve never taken one, but I’m assuming you make things, right? Unless you are going to start your kickstarter campaign to fund a underwater housing for your Polaroid camera, I wouldn’t bother.  Some people like to concoct things on their own to make their job easier like that guy who invented the monopod socket to put an umbrella or that guy who invented a monopod socket to put a tray for your laptop.  To date I have not invented a single gadget to help me with my sports photography.  Maybe I should.


I have no idea what this is.  I’m assuming it’s something technical which makes me think it’s the same as Home Economics.  Which means NL wrote it down twice or I’m too stupid that I have no idea what this is.  I first thought about basketball when I read it.


Oh come on now.  It’s 2015 and you still have I.T.?  I mean, that shit should be in your life by now.  Unless you are so shit at using computers or anything with dials and knobs, you should take it.  But then, who uses dials and knobs now?  Okay, forget it.  Don’t take it.

There you have it NL.  I’ve made my recommendations.  In the future, take a business class.  Remember that if you want to become a professional sports photographer, treat it like a business, not like a hobby.  But if you want to do it as a hobby,

treated as a hobby.  And a photography course?  Definitely yes.  If it wasn’t for the photography courses I took in high school, I wouldn’t be here right now.  I also hope that you will be able to process BW film.  Because that shit is magic.  I’m not guaranteeing that you are well on your way to become a rockstar sports photographer after taking these courses, but at least these classes will put you on the track to a better sports photography life.  And I’m definitely not guaranteeing that you will be popular with the ladies if you ever become one, but you know that already. :)



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Big Lens Fast Shutter is funded solely from the pockets of Ryu Voelkel and Matt Cohen. If you think the information we give you about sports photography is making you a better sports photographer and as a result a well balanced human being, please show us your appreciation by clicking on the “Donate” button and send some of your hard earned dollars/euros/Brixton pounds our way. People who donate will be mentioned on our next show unless you want to remain anonymous. Thank you for supporting us and may the force of sports photography be with you, always.
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Ryu: Top 10 of 2014


Happy new year.

First of all, I’m really sorry about people not receiving my pinkest book ever “No Hands”. For some reason (I do have my suspicions), the delivery is taking a very long time.  I really apologize for it.  Most of Europe has received it and hopefully the goodness will reach out across the pond to the Americas and across Siberia to Asia.

Second, blog posts.  I must admit that from my end, there isn’t much more to write about in terms of sports photography.  Don’t get me wrong.  We have enough topic to discuss about it on the podcast, but perhaps not write about it to the extent we have been writing all these years.  That doesn’t mean we won’t have anymore blog posts, but most likely only for special occasions.

Which brings us to the third and final point which is the top 10 of 2014.  I thought about it and looked at my results from last year.  All I can say is, “Well, I tried”.  Trying isn’t good enough.  Matt and I said that if effort added value to the quality of your photo, more people would have graduated from BLFS long time ago.  But alas that is not the world we live in.  My work from 2014 reflects just that.  I tried, but I didn’t succeed in some cases.  Sad, but that is the reality of sports photography.  You have to fail first to at least get a chance to create something unique and great in the future.  I hope to redeem myself in 2015 with what I’ve learned in 2014.

Chess Boxing
It was my first attempt at shooting chess boxing and as you can see from the result, it’s a step in the right direction, but there is much work to be done.  The point here is to shoot chess boxing and not to shoot boxing.  When it comes to a sport which isn’t a major sport (yes, football counts as one), your photos need to who what it is all about.  Maybe not all of it, but at least a glimpse of it.   To include an element of chess into every single boxing image was not an easy one, but in the end I sort of kind of got it.  But I feel as though this is a sport that I will revisit more in the future as I don’t think I have exhausted all the shooting possibilities.
PSG v Barcelona
Lomography lent me a Petzval lens and I used it.  I HATE manual focus and I LOVE auto focus.  I have no idea how my predecessors faired without auto focus.  I really don’t. I digress.  I used one of the aperture blades that had stars on it as that gave it the starry feeling.  The bokeh on this one is interesting, but every condition has to be met for you to achieve one.  I’m always looking out for an interesting lens, so let me know if you know any.
Standard v Panathinaikos
I’m going to keep on losing my Greek fan base as I continue to complain about how to spell Pantahanaikos.  Or Panthanaiakos or whatever.  Anyway, I went to this match for an assignment and came away with an image I was fairly happy with.  Since I’m not a good action photographer (really, I’m not), I rarely pay attention to the action scenes.  Nor do I put much effort into taking one.  But this one I got lucky as I was shooting the goalie and I was equally lucky he jumped the way he did.
Germany v Ghana
Yes, the world cup.  I am finally starting to miss my adventures there because before it was nothing but one month of continuous “No, not another match…”.  But I do want to talk about the fact that this light business is something I really got into last year.  Due to our shit long winter, most football in Europe is played in perpetual darkness with flood lights.  Seldom do we get to play with lights.  But fortunately, most of the world cup happened during the day and that gave me an excuse to do what I wanted to do with lights.  I had no idea Lahm would call it an international career after 2014, but I got the El Capitain in this light.  Just so you know, if you want to get an image like this, you’ll need to make sure that the ray of light is only hitting that particular area and that you underexpose it to a point that everything else fades to black.
Chelsea v PSG
I have obsessions.  Thank god it hasn’t led me to any jail time.  Yet.  Mourinho is one of my obsessions and I’m glad I got this image, because to me he’s a well coiffed man with a notepad and a pen.  Always.
Bayern Munich v Hoffenheim
Or anything multiple exposure.  I still haven’t figured out a great way to use this technique, but it’s kind of going somewhere.  Where exactly I don’t know, but it’s going somewhere interesting.
Holland v Costa Rica
Penalty shootouts are very rare during a normal football season.  I was overjoyed and overrun with emotions as I got to shoot more than enough extra time matches to last me until the next world cup.  I basically shot 2 extra matches when combining all the extra time.  Honestly, WTF.  There are many ways to shoot penalties and the most interesting bit is at the end.  Because, you know, someone wins and someone loses.  I decided to blur this one as the orange was strong enough to show the jubilation against the disappointed Costa Ricans sitting still and miserable.
Baseball in Curacao
If you must know, I’m typing all this with my newly born daughter stretched over each of my wrists as she dreams of Ronaldo and some Hollywood actor who’s hot for being hot.  No, she’s never going to have a boyfriend or a girlfriend. New father obsessions aside, my annual trip to the baseball nations in the Caribbean took me to Curacao last year.  It was fun.  It always is.  And very educational.  And hot.  Will keep it rolling in 2015 as well.  This year? Somewhere I’ve been dying to go for a long time…
Sassuolo v Milan
Lights lights lights.  Someone once told me that the general rule of thumb for photography is to shoot into the light and not away from it.  I agree.  Backlit lights are always beautiful.  I also think Japanese football is going down the drain.   This image and others on this top 10 are good examples of images that will not be used in most publications. But they will get you noticed.  Why?  Because they are different.   It’s a bit of a catch 22.  If you want to break into this business, you have to shoot in a horrendously boring fashion.  But then you will not get noticed because you and the other 1 pillion other sports photographers have shot the exact same image.  My advice?  Always be different.  Even if it won’t get you that first job, it will give you a better chance of landing a much much better job that is not your first job.  So maybe a second or a third one.
Manchester City v Barcelona
The dark side of Messi. If I ever become the official photographer of said wee man, I would like to shoot him as a villain.  I think he has more villainous quality than a superhero one.  Yes, that’s a compliment because my favourite Star Wars character is Darth Vader.  Here I played with the light again and underexposed it to the point that you can’t see his face anymore.  Dark Messi.
Arsenal v Spurs
Details.  The more details you can capture in a scene, the more it will draw you into the image.  The smallest of details, when captured interestingly, will forever be more interesting than a goal scoring scene.  Trust me.  Here, I saw a bird and I wanted the bird.  But not just the bird, but a bird with someone in the background.  Remember, you always need at least 2 interesting things in your image for it to be actually interesting.
Somewhere in Rio
One of my favourite images from the world cup in Brazil.  I think my goal from this world cup was to capture the everyday football life of a Brazilian.  And I believe this one did the job.  My only regret is that I didn’t get to shoot enough everyday stuff in Brazil.  There were matches I shot which I can now safely admit that it wasn’t worth my time, but they had to be shot because I was there to shoot matches.  Sigh.  For future world cups, I might shoot less matches and concentrate more on the everyday football people.  Good god I miss Brazil.
I think I didn’t quite master it.  I like the image here, but it feels like it’s a work in progress.  I went to Brazil with about 15 rolls of Aerochrome and I only shot 8 of them. Not good.  I should have shot more.  But for some reason I didn’t.  Part of me wanted to play it safe and part of me thought I needed to conserve the film for future use in the tournament.  If I was only shooting film in Brazil, I wouldn’t have had this problem, but when you mix 2 mediums, you tend to favor
one over the other.
That’s it.  It’s definitely more than 10, but hey, it’s 2015.  I have no idea what the meant, but here’s to all the BLFS people for their continued support and further advancement in your sports photography skills.

The World Cup Review: What, When, and How

It’s been a while. I really had to take a break from BLFS activities as it was nearly impossible to shoot that laughably small football tournament in Brazil whilst being a good host to the BLFS nation. So forgive me. Por favor.  And this is a long one so I suggest you make some tea or coffee before digging in.

I thought I would talk about my experience as a professional freelance photographer shooting the world cup. Not the ones who work for an agency or a newspaper. Basically a backpacker’s guide to shooting the world cup. Beleza.

First of all, I was there to shoot as many matches as possible. I estimated 21 and fell 1 short and ended up with 20. Why? I got killed by the fog in Curitiba which grounded my plane until the match in Belo Horizonte started.

Basically you live and die depending on your flight. As I have experienced in Curitiba, if you are planning on shooting all 14 group stage matches in the first 2 weeks of the world cup, you will inevitably miss a match or two. Don’t sweat it. These matches are nowhere near as crucial as the matches in the latter stages, which is the tournament. Why? Because those are the ones that really count. And those are the ones you will see the agony of going home and the joy of sticking around for another match. Those are the ones with penalty shoot outs of which I have shot 6 of them. I think that’s a world cup record.

If you got the time and not much money, take the bus. They are far more reliable than the airplane, but obviously take more time. Had I known prior to arriving in Brazil that buses between Sao Paulo, Rio, and Belo Horizonte can be had as low as 70 Reais (bit more than 20 EUR), I would have saved a lot of money. Another advantage of buses over flights are that you don’t have to goto the airport. Most airports are far and sometimes in another city. Make sure you understand how long it will take to get to the city from the airport. Case in point: Congonhas airport is NOT in Sao Paulo. Just like Tokyo Disneyland is NOT in Tokyo. Google maps is your friend. Do your research. Oh that’s hurting my ears…

Taxis. If you want to get to a world cup stadium, you need to take one, but you also need to walk. As with South Africa, there was a perimeter blockade on all the stadiums in Brazil. That means you have to walk, sometimes more than 3km. With your gear. So no fatties and slobs and dudes with bad knees need not apply unless you are working for Getty. Then you get a private bus from the airport that takes you directly to the stadium. With a cup of tea while you’re at it.

One other way to get to the stadium is to get on the bus from one of the FIFA media hotels. You do not need to be staying in one to reap the benefit of this wonderful bus that takes you directly in front of the media centre, but it will be best to stay close to one. Make sure you know the bus schedule as some of them only go once every 60 minutes instead of the more normal every 30 minutes.

I’m also going to include the lodging part of it. If you don’t have the money to stay at hotels, you can stay in hostels. I don’t recommend it because you have expensive gear with you. Without your gear, you cannot shoot. If you cannot shoot, what the fuck are you doing at the world cup?. What I did was to register and contact people via If you are lucky, you get to stay at someone’s house. For free. But if you use this service, please be courteous. This is not a free hotel service. You will not be alone, but you will be with the people who are kind enough to let you use their space. Bring a gift. Offer to take out the garbage. Dance your country’s traditional dance to the samba. Appreciate their hospitality.

The massive advantage of a service like Couchsurfing is that you will get to stay with a local. Locals who know a place or two about the city you will be staying. This brings me to…

No, not at the stadiums because that’s reserved for Getty photographers. I’m talking about shooting places where you have no access to, such as the favela. I for one promised some people that I won’t be going there because A) it’s stupid B) it’s just dumb C) it’s not safe. But I do things whenever I feel like it. So I went. But not before taking every possible precautions. You need to find someone who is inside the said community. They know some people, went to school with them, supplies drugs for them. Whatever. Because the difference between you ending up in a ditch, robbed of your gear (once again, no gear no shooting) and you getting shots most people will die for, is the connection these people have with the dangerous parts of the city. Even so, be aware. Don’t flaunt your gear. When you’re not shooting, put it in a bag. Not a photo bag, but a normal bag where you can take your camera in and out quickly. Don’t take too much gear either. Keep it simple. Body and 2 lenses. Also dress like you don’t have much money. Don’t dress like a hobo or don’t smell like one. But dress like you could need a shave and a haircut.

You are in another country where your fucking language is not the one they use. Tough. Learn it. It will be the difference between you getting a great shot on a local futsal court versus them ignoring your request to shoot the sole of their feet. Doesn’t matter if your Portuguese is not perfect. If there is a will, there will be conversation. They will appreciate you more if you see that you are trying. Language is not about getting it right. It’s how much you want the other person to understand what you want. Keep things simple. Use your hands. Your legs. Whatever. Get your point across. You make your luck and this will be one of the most important elements when you are shooting off the beaten track.

Bring as much as you can. You are not going to go home for one month and daddy and mommy aren’t going to be sending your 70-200 f2.8 in the mail. But you mustn’t forget the biggest advantage of a tournament this size. Gear rental. Yes, N and C will lend you gear. You want that 600 f4? Sure. 1DX? Absolutely. But be aware that they will lend you one body and one lens per match. Maybe they will throw in a teleconverter if you smell good Needless to say, it’s not a be all end all service and therefore you should bring your own gear as well.

And if you are Japanese, they will take really really really good care of you. I know this because I am one. And they LOVE you more than your significant others can ever love you. I have no idea why there is such a love affair between the N and C and Japanese photographers. but take advantage of it. Another reason to learn Japanese besides wanting to watch anime and read manga. Case in point: I got to trade in my 2 x 32GB XQD card for a 2 x 64GB XQD card. Bless them.

But remember, you will only get to rent it for the match and you’ll have to give it back at the end of that match. Subsequently if the match is a significant one, it will bring in more photographers than the norm, (in my case anything involving Brazil). Then severe gear shortage. Also expect not to get a D4s, but a D4 or a D3s if you don’t queue. Or nothing at all. The rule of thumb is to use the N and C services only in emergency. But feel free to get your gear cleaned and checked. It’s also free. And so are their rain covers.

You are not going home for a month. Bring two physical backups. Sleep with them. Don’t let them out of your sight. But try not to coddle them too much. They need discipline.

This really depends. This time the most important client was myself. I kept all my good stuff because you know, I’m making a book ( But this is an anomaly. In most cases, you will have couple of clients you need to tend to. You will need to be aware what they want. Action? Fans? Beautiful fans? More beautiful fans? More beautiful fans with less clothes? What format? What size? Captions or no captions? Before the match? At half time? After the match? As most of my clients are magazines, I didn’t have to send them like the Getty guys do(and I really sympathise with their plight. They work like dogs out there), but I had some hard deadlines, some of them 30 minutes after the match. Remember that you don’t like penalty shootouts. Because they will significantly reduce your time to meet your deadline.

Media ticketing
This is the crux of the world cup. Stupid amount of time and energy are spent on media ticketing. First, if you manage to convince FIFA that you are important enough to them, you will get an accreditation. That is step 1. Next you need to apply for a media ticket for the individual matches. You do that through the FIFA media portal. Then they will send you an email telling you if your request has been accepted or rejected. You will also be told which priority group you will belong to for the this match. Unless you’ve been a bad boy or a girl, you will get into all the matches EXCEPT for the final. More on that later.

Before we go any further, let’s talk about the priority groups. You belong to priority group 1 if you belong to a media of one of the two countries playing that match. If it is Uruguay v Greece and you are a Greek photographer (you’ve got nice long shiny hair), you will be in priority group 1. Group 2 is all about the host media. Yes, that’s Brazil to you and me. Doesn’t matter if you can use a camera, you will still get a chance to pick ahead of people who know what bulb or teleconverter is. Priority group 3 belongs to countries that are involved in the world cup. Even if you are Japanese and you suck at football, you will still be in this group. Group 4 are for the true losers, countries not involved in the world cup. Therefore if you are Zlatan, you will be in group 4 shaking your head left in right in utter disgust.

Once you have been accepted, you will goto the stadium. You will need to goto the photographers’ ticketing desk and receive a number in your priority group. Around 4 hours before kickoff, they will start calling your number. Priority Group1 number 1, Priority Group1 number 2, Priority Group1 number 3, and so forth. Once your number has been called up you get to select your seat on the pitch. You will be shown a map of the stadium and you can sit wherever you want as long as no one else is sitting there. This goes on until group 1 is done. Then off to group 2 and so on.

I apologise if this portion of the post is coming across as boring as boring can be. I said it was important. I never said it was exciting.

You will be stuck in your seat for 90 minutes and further if it goes to extra time and penalties. So you need to really think about 1) When things will happen 2) What you want to shoot 3) How you want to shoot. When, is predicting when they will score. If you think Uruguay will score because Suares is concentrating more on football than biting someone then you might want to sit where Uruguay will be attacking in the 1st half. If he bites someone in the 2nd half closer to a Greek goal, you’re out of luck. But, let’s say you want to shoot the Greek attackers tending to their beautiful locks. Then you will sit on the Greek attacking side in the first half and pray that Suares doesn’t bite you in the 2nd half.

The best chance of capturing the celebrations after the goal and general good action shots is the position next to the goal. If you want the players to be moving east west whilst attacking the goal, you should sit on the side of the pitch. If Neymar (Jr) had a healthy back, you will also want to be on the side of the pitch and not next to the goal. And that is another component you want to consider when selecting your seat. The celebrations after the goal. Neymar (Jr) is notorious for thanking the man up top right next to the touchline. So if you think he will score and if you want to shoot him celebrating you have to go on the side. You’ll be fucked if he doesn’t score, but you don’t know this until he doesn’t score. :)

The Final
Basically if you don’t belong to the media of the two countries that are playing (Germany and Argentina), if you don’t belong to the media of the host country (Brazil), if you don’t belong to a major news agency (AFP, Reuters, AP, etc… Getty is the official photo agency so they are in no matter what), you are fucked. Some of my Japanese colleagues were wait listed and eventually got onto the pitch, but the same could not be said for me in South Africa. 4 years ago I ended up shooting from the tribune and when you shoot from there, you stay there. Even when for the cup presentation you stay there. The only thing to be said here is that hope you were born into a country that plays good football. Therefore if you’re English, you’ll never shoot on the pitch.

Well that was long. I think I covered everything and everything else.
“But where are the photos Ryu? Why aren’t you sharing them with us? Where are they, you fucking bastard!”

Well this bastard will not be showing the majority of the photos this time around for free because I’m a horrible person who wants to sell my book. It’s Please consider buying one. For a taster please goto Ryu’s flickr page.

Obrigado for reading this atrociously long post. Hope this will spawn multiple freelance photographers who will one day get rejected by FIFA. I’m going to go play with my cats now.


Ryu: Curacao, it’s more than a drink



I’m on my way to Hannover to check out this CEBIT thing with my wife. I won’t get into the specifics of why I’m going to CEBIT or why my wife is annoying me whilst I write this post, but let’s just say that life is good when you get to go and checkout the latest gadgets and geek out for a day. Last year, my partner (sorry Matt, I’ve been unfaithful) and I went to Dominican Republic (DR) to cover baseball there. It was a successful trip as DR won World Baseball Classic and we got enough publications to be interested in our story.

Fast forward to December 2013. I reconvened with my partner in Japan (he’s a real Japanese, unlike myself) and we discussed where to go next. Since Wladmir Balentien broke Sadaharu Oh’s single season home run record and Andruw Jones contributed to the Rakuten Eagle’s championship run, Curacao was hot. I had no idea where it was, but that was where we were heading next. Tickets were booked, interviews were scheduled, shorts and sandals were packed and we arrived on the Caribbean island only to find out that it was carnival week on the island. Long story short, it was an uphill battle to schedule shoots and interviews because people wanted to party and not work. Which is a bit weird because it seemed that everyday life was a party there. Jjust so you are aware and no hard feelings towards me on a Caribbean island in February, I spent a total of 30 minutes on the beach. Therefore the other 10050 minutes were spent doing what I came there to do: shoot baseball.

In the latest podcast which should be dropping (I’m in with the kids) soon, I mentioned that I had to come up with fresh perspective on shooting baseball. The reality is that the after DR, I felt like I have left it all on the field. Needless to say, I was nervous. What if I couldn’t come up with any other way to shoot this sport? If so, would anyone be interested in buying these photos? Would a massive failure here equate to me losing all my clients? Is it over for me as a sports photographer? I kid you not. My doomsday scenario was in full mother fucking effect.

My concern became a nightmare as I stood on a baseball field in Curacao with sweat running down my spine. My mind was racing. What am I supposed to do? What can I do? Then I told myself, “Go. Shoot. Because there’s nothing else you can do.” And I did. At first it felt awkward. After that passed, it felt even more awkward. It only dawned on me that this was not the time to force the issue. Unlike a match, I had time here. Even though I had the carnival eating away at my time on the island, I knew I had time. If I fuck it up today, I still got tomorrow. So I relaxed a tiny bit. Enough for the game to come to me. Then my photos became better. Not on the first day, but from the next day and so forth. I had to just let go of myself a bit and observe. To be slightly calmer than usual. At the end of the trip, I had photos that I was relatively happy with. Not happy happy, because that never happens with me and my photos. Ever.

What did I learn in Curacao? That there is another way to approach sports photography besides my usual way of full panic mode and racing at 194km/h (that’s how fast we are moving now on the train). Although I will not change the way I approach the way I shoot sports, I now know that it’s okay to let some air into the chaos in my brain if it is needed. To wait for the moment to come to me rather than to chase after it like a sailor on the dock after a whore.

Anyway, crisis averted until Cuba in 2015. :)




























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Big Lens Fast Shutter is funded solely from the pockets of Ryu Voelkel and Matt Cohen. If you think the information we give you about sports photography is making you a better sports photographer and as a result a well balanced human being, please show us your appreciation by clicking on the “Donate” button and send some of your hard earned dollars/euros/Brixton pounds our way. People who donate will be mentioned on our next show unless you want to remain anonymous. Thank you for supporting us and may the force of sports photography be with you, always.
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BLFS 2013 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 59,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 22 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Therefore it would be great if we can have 365 sold out performances for 2014.

Just saying. :)


Click here to see the complete report.

Ryu: Top 10 because it’s better than Sports Illustrated

My wife is cleaning the fish tank as I write this and I really need to finish my top 10 of 2013 before she’s done.

Happy new year everyone. Just wanted to thank you for your fantabulous support for BLFS last year. It was great. We are thinking about some cool shit for 2014, so hopefully we can all ride the BLFS bus together into the sunset. Oh wait. That sounds like we’re going to end it. No, no. We will ride together to next year and beyond. That sounds marginally better. Anyway, here’s my top 10 and not top 11 like I had last year. Of course, in no particular order.

World Table Tennis Championship
My first time shooting ping pong and it was fun. And long. The reason I like this picture is that I was able to show how high she was throwing the ball. This wouldn’t have worked if I was shooting it horizontally as it would diminished the effect of the height of the ball. In any case, the sport itself is slightly boring as it is dominated by Asians who don’t know how to celebrate. Or even crack a smile. So serious.

Ai Miyazato (Japan) during Table Tennis World Championship 2013 15/5/13




















Spain v Brazil
For a lot of people who follow my work and for those who like football, this seems to be the consensus favourite of 2013. This was when Neymar went into the stands to after the medal and trophy ceremony and got mobbed by the fans. I like it because it shows the craziness of football and I got it almost exactly how I wanted it. As you may have already guessed, I had my camera above my head with my hand fully extended to get this shot. Bit of a crap shoot as I’m not looking through the viewfinder. But over the years, I have perfected the no-look shot so I basically know where my lens is pointing without looking. Seriously, I do. If I had a another go at this shot, I’d aim it a bit lower to get rid of the roof of the stadium on the upper left corner. Hopefully I’ll be in Brazil this summer to to try it again. :)

Neymar (10, Brazil) and fans during Spain v BrazilConfederations Cup 2013 30/6/13

World Swimming Championship: Diving
Also another first in my life. I shot the entire competition from beginning until the end. About 2 weeks of water sports. Oh that sounds nasty. The only time I got to see some sun was when we had the daily 6 hours break between the morning and afternoon sessions and diving. I tried to underexpose everything in diving just so I can get the light to fall onto parts of the body to create an interesting look. I sort of did that here as her face is completely dark and the rest of the body is sort of properly exposed. I also wanted to have the sky and nothing else as the background. This discipline is the most fun out of all the water stuff as the others can only be shot from the ground. Unless you have underwater housing, but that’s another story.

Women's 3 metre springboard during World Aquatic Swimming Championship FINA 2013 Barcelona 26/7/13




















World Swimming Championship: Swimming
Towards the end of my stay in Barcelona, I got bored. So, I started to experiment like a college co-ed. I was really into this under exposing stuff and this time I wanted the background to be completely black. I managed to do it, but the rest was quite underexposed as well. Mr. photoshop came to my rescue and helped me lighten things up a bit, but to be honest I find the colour to be a bit unnatural. Unfortunately this is what you have to live with sports photography as you can’t put fill lights to compensate for underexposing certain parts of the photo. But I’m content with the result. If I get a chance again this year, I might try to make it better since this is the type of action that happens almost all the time during a swim meet.

Men's 50m freestyle preliminaries during World Aquatic Swimming Championship FINA 2013 Barcelona 3/8/13

Hertha Berlin v Hamburg
I think it was my first match of the season and the only reason I went is because there is a Japanese guy playing for Hertha. I thought I could sell some of his photos to a Japanese publication. I didn’t, but I got this picture. It took me a long time, about 1/3 of the 2nd half to get it. It took this long because I was waiting for him to look “right” and everything to be aligned. I eventually did and I like the window effect at the top.  Honestly, without it, it will just be a goal keeper with his hands on his hip. Boring.

Rene Adler (15, Hamburg) during Bundesliga 2013 Hertha Berlin v Hamburg 24/8/13

Evian Championship
That’s right. You get to have infinite amount of Evian water at this event because they make (or source) the water there. If you like Evian, you’ll be in heaven. It was at a hole where you can go below the level where the golfers were so you can really get down low and get a super low angle shot. I was waiting for this particular golfer because she was wearing white and I wanted the white to blend in with the clouds. I did. And I’m okay with that.

Tee shot 16th hole final round Evian Championship 2013 15/9/13

Arsenal v Borussia Dortmund
Lest you forget I shoot football most of the time. This was one of those matches that blends in with the rest of the season with the exception of this photo. I like it because the daintiness of Giroud’s feet and the faces of both players are conveniently covered. Everything fits in well in the compositionally and order is restored.

Arsenal v Borussia Dortmund 2013 Champions League

Golden Spin
Probably the last time I will ever shoot Kim Yuna, my favourite figure skater ever. Without her, I would not have had the will to keep on shooting figure skating. I got hooked when I saw her perform in Paris and since then I’ve been shooting figure skating. My regret is that I never shot her to perfection so this one is a bit of a sentimental pick. Not that I hate this photo, but like always, I’m okay with it. This was shot during the press conference after her free performance. Bet you didn’t know that. :)

Golden Spin Zagreb 2013 Kim Yuna after Free Performance 7/12/13

Viktoria Plzen v CSKA Moscow
Another Champions League match and another monkey chat fucking piece of shit assholes. Honestly, I have no idea why UEFA doesn’t ban these fuckers. It’s 21st century and you shouldn’t have monkey chants. Fuck them. But I like this shot. Also waited a bit until things were lined up the way I wanted before I got the shot. Trying to shoot disgusting people beautifully. That’s the job of a sports photographer.


Inter v Milan
10. Last but not least, the Milan derby from last month. Smoke and fog are for some reason rampant in this part of Italy and they create a look that I saw from the previous derby a season ago. For some reason I forgot to take the shot or didn’t really even cross my mind to do so. Once again, I wanted emphasise the minimal amount of lights coming from the flood lights. The red from the electric advertisement board was a lucky accident. Someone won the match, but I don’t remember (Inter did).

Serie A Inter v Milan 22/12/13

There you have it. Most of these shots came to me when I was bored and that says a lot about sports and my attention span. But I firmly do believe my best work is done when I allow myself time to get creative. You will hear from Matt and I about the importance of aesthetic in sports photography when you listen to our next podcast. We do not want you to become one of those people who think the great moment compensates for a shitty picture. It doesn’t. Well, it does if you’re Sports Illustrated.

Let’s make sports photography beautiful (again) in 2014.


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Big Lens Fast Shutter is funded solely from the pockets of Ryu Voelkel and Matt Cohen. If you think the information we give you about sports photography is making you a better sports photographer and as a result a well balanced human being, please show us your appreciation by clicking on the “Donate” button and send some of your hard earned dollars/euros/Brixton pounds our way. People who donate will be mentioned on our next show unless you want to remain anonymous. Thank you for supporting us and may the force of sports photography be with you, always.
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