The most important part of being a sports photographer is being a sports fan. Being someone who is always thrilled by a goal or a wicket or a try, in awe of sportsmen at the top of their game. To be able to capture sports and the stories that live within in it, you need to be someone who loves the inherent drama of sport.
I grew up in the UK, and spent my entire childhood (and adult life for that matter) obsessing over sports, especially football. That grounding has set me up perfectly for the life of a sports photographer.
I first covered a football match in 2006, a low level semi-pro UK football game. I caught the bug that afternoon, and decided there and then that I wanted to keep going and perhaps one day cover a Premier League game, or a World Cup.
In January 2009, after a few years building my experience and destroying my savings, I covered my first Premier League match…West Ham United v Manchester United (my boyhood club). From then on I continued covering the EPL, then Champions League football, and finally Euro2012 in Poland and Ukraine. I’d reached exactly where I’d hoped to get to, the very top level of European and World football. And then I decided to move to the United Arab Emirates.
UAE Pro League
The UAE is not a country that comes to mind when you speak about great footballing nations, in fact I expect most people reading this couldn’t name a single Emirati team or player, or even knew there was a professional league here. But there is, and I love it.
The Pro League consists of 14 clubs spread over the seven Emirates which make up the UAE. There are big teams and small teams, champions and losers, rivalries, derbies, stars, local heroes, expensive foreign imports, eccentric managers..everything you’d want from a league. But when I first came here I was far from sure that I would be able to cover the sport in the same way I had in the UK…I had no passion for the league, I knew none of the characters, and the standard of football is obviously vastly inferior.
I soon realised I had no reason to worry. In fact I soon learnt that covering Al Nasr v Al Ahli at Al Maktoum Stadium gave me the same thrill as Chelsea v Arsenal at Stamford Bridge.
From a photographers perspective the action on the pitch is completely the same. You’re still spending your time patiently waiting for a moment. A goal, the celebration, the red card, the manager completely losing his head. I still use all the same equipment (2 Canon EOS 1D bodies, 70-200mm and 400mm lenses are the essentials for top level football, and many other sports, photography), sit myself in the same positions, edit and select pictures in the same manner, and have the same results as I did in the UK.
The joy of moving here and covering this new and constantly growing league is getting used to everything that surrounds it. Hearing calls to prayer drifting into the stadiums from nearby mosques, fans chanting in Arabic to the tune of ‘We Will Rock You’, players kneeling to pray when they score a goal, witnessing Arab fans passing out on airport benches while following their team across the Gulf region, oddly translated banners in English directed towards players (“Ricardo Quaresma = Mustang = Harry Potter”…I still haven’t worked that one out).
All these little things and many others have added together to create a unique little corner of world football which I now call my own, and have the pleasure of shooting every week between September and May.
This is a guest post by Jake Badger. Jake is a British photographer based in the UAE. He worked as a pro sports photographer for 6 years in the English Premier League and Champions League across Europe. He also covered Euro 2012 in Poland and Ukraine, and London 2012 this past summer, before moving onto Dubai.