Have you ever seen the camera pan across the photographers during the World Cup and wondered: "How did they get that job? What is that lens they're shooting with?" Well, Fstoppers, I have all the answers for you. I had the privilege to chat with Ammar Hassan, who covered not one, but four World Cup championships, and he was gracious to tell us all about what it's like to photograph the world's most watched sporting event.
Hassan is a highly respected photographer with the Assoicated Press based in Beirut, Lebanon. He has covered everything from sporting events such as the Olympics, to documentary work, which led him to receive a finalist nomination for a Pulitzer Prize.
From his headquarters in Lebanon, he shared these answers about his experience covering the World Cup.
1. Tell Us a Little Bit About What It Was Like to Photograph the World Cup.
It is the most important sport event worldwide. More than 25 million people watched the 2022 FIFA World Cup. As I am a football lover and a photographer with the Associated Press, it means a lot for me and for my company to cover it. The Qatar World Cup was different because all the stadiums were very close to each other. The main challenge during the first two weeks that we had (as AP photographers) was that we had to cover matches per day. Any sport photographers who has covered the World cup or the Olympics knows that those events are killer, especially at the beginning. The later the matches are less demanding, and there is more rest time.
I have covered four FIFA World Cups and three Olympics for the Associated Press, and I can say it’s always a great assignment that many photographers wish to cover.
2. How Were You Selected to Photograph the Event?
I was selected, along with many more photographers, by our Director of Photography at AP.
3. What Camera and Lenses Did You Use the Most Frequently and Why Did You Choose Those?
All AP staff photographers using the Sony a1. The main lenses for the sport coverage are 400mm, 70-200mm, and wide angle lens, plus one remote camera behind the goal net.
All the photographers had four cameras and four lenses.
4. What Was Your Biggest Challenge Photographing FIFA?
As always, to do my job well and miss nothing. It is hard, as we need to be focused 100%.
5. Tell Us About Any Limitations You Had and How You Worked With Them. Could You Move Around to Photograph, or Were You Restricted to an Area?
Soccer is different than other games. Each photographer and journalist has a seat number and you cannot change your seat or move during the game at all. Before the match, for sure, I can move and look for fan pictures, but some areas are closed to media.
6. Which Image of Yours Are You Most Fond of From the Series and Why?
For the first time, we had access to a new photography position during the World Cup: the catwalk. I was selected with three other colleagues to cover some matches from there. The catwalk it is located on the top of the stadium, and only trained photographers have access and are allowed to work there. It was a new challenge and new photography angle. One of my favorite pictures is Argentina's Lionel Messi winking at his fans at the end of the semifinal match between against Croatia at the Lusail Stadium.
7. What Kind of Work Do You Have To Do on the Images in Post-production, if Any?
Nothing. Why is that? Because it is now all about speed, speed, speed. We must be quick on delivering photos. I must shoot a match and edit another, so every photographer shooting a match has an editor editing their picture remotely. My job as a photographer is to shoot and send my pictures through the camera to my editor, and they will edit and send the pictures to the wire.
8. Shooting Sporting Events of This Breadth Can Involve Long Hours and Physically Taxing Days. Tell Us About the Demands of Covering Such an Extensive Event.
I was selected from many talented photographers in AP to cover one of the most important sport events. My way to survive from the long hours and physically taxing days was very easy. I always work out to be fit, not only for the sport events, but even for normal daily coverage. During any event, I must be always focused and do my job well, so at the end of the day, I will feel satisfied and forget the fatigue. The most important is also when I have time to have fun and explore something new as we are traveling to new places. There is always something beautiful outside to see.
9. Shooting for AP, What Are Your Usage Rights for the Images You Captured During the Event?
All images are copyrighted by AP.
10. If You Had Some Words of Advice for Younger Sports Photographers Aspiring To Such a Once-in-A-lifetime Assignment, What Would It Be?
It’s a beautiful story, so be prepared, understand the game, ask, do your best, and learn from your mistakes. If it's first time covering soccer, try to practice before the event starts, and you will discover many new things. This will allow you time to learn and to fix your mistakes. In the end, it's a soccer match, so have fun.
11. Any Other Closing Thoughts for Our Readers?
In my opinion, photography needs some luck, so don’t give up if you have one bad day. Keep trying and learn. In the end, you will reach your goal.
I really enjoyed reading Hassan's answers. I was most surprised by the fact that all photographers use the same camera (go ahead, Sony users, and give it to us in the comments!) I was also astounded that the AP photographers are tasked with manning four cameras! When I shoot sports, I always use two (the Canon EOS R5 and the 5D Mark IV). This allows me to have one with a zoom lens, and one with a wide angle, but four! I hope he has a good chiropractor. Thank you, Mr. Hassan, for taking time to share these fascinating insights with us.
Thank you very much Michelle for sharing with us another one of your publications.
Thanks for reading !
AP has been partnering with Sony for a couple of years now. Good to see they're still at it.
I was wondering if there was some sort of arrangement there or if that was an internal decision based on their preference. Thank you for sharing that!