Q&A: Freelance sports photographer Danish Ravi
Although we've often spoken to 'official' sporting photographers about the challenges of capturing professional sport, the pathway for many enthusiastic sports shooters is to start out first by freelancing.
Fresh from capturing the Women's World Cup, we spoke to Sydney photographer Danish Ravi about how he overcame the odds to capture world class shots at one of the biggest sporting events of 2023.
Australian Photography: What do you look for in a successful sports photo?
A good sports shot captures a scene that conveys a tale or stirs up feelings. It should tell the story of the event or give the spectator a sense of being a part of the action. The best sports images frequently show the athletes' feelings, such as willpower, excitement, disappointment, or even suffering.
It can be effective to record eye contact, body language, and facial expressions. I think a distinct viewpoint is a crucial component. An exciting moment in play should also be captured in a fantastic sports photograph. To record a pivotal play, a dramatic movement, or an athlete's peak performance, calls for exact timing.
AP: What are some of the challenges that come with capturing events like the World Cup?
The competition in the media is the first and biggest obstacle for me as obtaining FIFA approval for media accreditation is difficult.
Many media from all over the world attended the World Cup, and I had a lot of formidable [photographic] agencies to contend with!
As a freelancer it is very difficult to get accreditation for major events like the World Cup, so I approached press agency Zuma Press ahead of the tournament to see if they were interested in me shooting the event as a contractor.
Unfortunately for most freelance photographers, priorities are given to agency photographers so they can choose their ideal locations on the pitch. For everyone else, you're assigned a location and have to stay in that area.
Time constraints are the second challenge. There are frequently strict deadlines for photographers covering the World Cup for news organisations or publications to provide photos for publication. Quick photo editing and transmission are needed.
Last but not least, World Cup matches might occur at different times of the day, and the weather can change quickly. As a photographer, you must be able to adjust to a variety of lighting situations, such as direct sunlight, cloudy sky, or synthetic stadium lighting.
AP: Can you briefly share your gear setup?
I used Nikon Z9 mirrorless, Nikon DSLR D6, and Nikon D5 camera bodies. Six lenses were also used: AF 14-24mm, AF 24-70mm, AF 70-200mm, AF 300mm, 400mm 2.8 and an 500mm F4. In addition, I also used an SB910 speed light, a card reader, and I also have a backup in case the first one breaks for whatever reason.
Most of my images were captured with my D5 because it is my own camera, and I unfortunately only had limited time with the Z9 (it was a loan unit from Nikon).
Finally, I carry plenty of additional camera batteries, memory cards, lens cleaning kits, and a raincoat, along with a laptop and monopod.
AP: Can you explain your workflow at an event like the World Cup? How are images shot, edited, and finally shared?
Certainly! Before the event, I ensure that all my camera gear, lenses, and accessories are in working order and have sufficient battery life and memory card capacity.
I often come two hours early to prepare for the match. In order to predict critical events and storylines, I did some research to familiarise myself with the teams, players, and event schedule.
Once the game begins, I continuously capture images by tracking the action, focusing on key players, and anticipating crucial moments like goals, saves, and celebrations. I immediately edited my photographs in Photoshop after selecting my finest shots, then I sent them to photo agencies.
To reach a global audience, images are frequently posted on news websites, in print publications, or on social media platforms.
Due to the fast-paced nature of sporting events like the World Cup and the frequent presence of tight delivery dates for images, this workflow helps ensure accuracy, speed, and adaptability.
AP: How do you create images that are different from other photographers with the same access as you?
There are limited shots for the Women's World Cup due to the pitch zones being fixed by FIFA. As a photographer, you are not permitted to move around until the game is over, and as such you have relatively few opportunities to use your creativity when compared to other sporting events.
One thing I do is attempt to envision the story I want to tell with my photographs before the event. I pay close attention to how the lights and shadows interact in the stadium or other space. Images can be breathtaking and one-of-a-kind when lighting is used creatively, particularly during dawn or dusk events.
I planned my shot at noon to take advantage of the dramatic contrast between light and shade in the sky, and I thought about photographing from a tribune's height.
I also seek out unique and candid moments. I look for moments of emotion, surprise, or unusual occurrences that others might miss.
As an example, I tried to get a diving shot of the Colombian goalkeeper. The final image has both the player's intense concentration, as well as being a great action moment.
AP: What’s your most memorable image you’ve captured so far?
Since this was my first experience photographing the FIFA World Cup, I don't have any special memories of any particular shot. All the images are memorable to me!
AP: What’s your advice for people who want to take better sports images?
Examine the work of seasoned sports photographers to gain inspiration and discover fresh methods and concepts. Attend regional sporting events, practice frequently, and progressively expand your portfolio.
In sports photography, experience is one of the best teachers.
Keep in mind that developing your sports photography talents requires patience and commitment.
As a photographer, keep improving your skills, learning from your mistakes, and developing your personal aesthetic.
There are going to be so many obstacles coming your way. You should stay firm and keep on going; never give up.