Ryu: The World Cup What When 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 Couchsurfing.com. 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 (www.ryuxrio.com). 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 www.ryuxrio.com. 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.









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3 thoughts on “Ryu: The World Cup What When How

  1. good to have you back here ryu. and I’m very excited about getting your book! send it as soon as possibel, work hard, because I paid for it ;-).

    It was a nice blog post, but I do have several questions… How did you manage to get access to the pitch at the final as you aren’t Brazilian, you aren’t German or Argentine (maybe it was enough to live in Berlin ?), you aren’t shooting for AP, Getty etc as long as I know…

    How do I convince the FIFA that they should grant me a media ticket?

    How many clients were you shooting for?

    How do you travel with so much of gear? especially airplane is not so easy as you don’t want to check in your stuff, right?

  2. Michael,

    1. Access to the pitch.
    I got my accreditation through FIFA directly rather than going through DFB. Which country you end up on your accreditation is NOT which passport you have. Rather, it’s where you live. I have a colleague who’s through and through Japanese, but his accreditation is Spain. Because he lives there.

    2. Accreditation
    You have to start going to a lot of FIFA events. Not only qualifying matches, but friendly ones. And events like Ballon d’or. And Under 19 world cup and so forth. It’s not a fun thing to do at all.

    3. Clients I shot for
    Couple of magazines. I have no idea how many of them will be used, but hey, I’ve got my book so it’s okay.

    4. Travelling with gear
    I forgot to talk about that one. There are some perks to be an accredited media during the world cup. In 2006, you got to ride all the train you want in Germany for FREE. Same didn’t happen in 2010, but this time in 2014 you get to jump queues at the airport. Since Brazilian airports are the most chaotic airports I’ve ever seen, being able to jump the queue so you can get on with your business was crucial. The other perk and I don’t find this to be a perk per se is that they didn’t say anything about how much your gear weighed. Take as much as you want EXCEPT for the monopod. Heard stories that some of the photographers had to check in their monopod at certain airports in Brazil.

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