World Cup Photography: Interview with Ammar Hassan
Have you ever seen cameras panning over photographers during a World Cup and wondered, “How did they get that job? What lens are they shooting?” Well, Fstoppers, I have all the answers for you. I had the honor to talk to Ammar Hassanwho has photographed not one but four World Cup championships, and he’s happy to tell us about what it was like to photograph the world’s most watched sporting event.
Hassan is a highly respected photographer with Associated Press based in Beirut, Lebanon. He covered everything from sporting events like the Olympics, to document work, earned him a finalist nomination for the 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 the feeling of World Cup photography.
It is the most important sporting event in the world. More than 25 million people watched the FIFA World Cup 2022. Because I am a football lover and a photographer with related press, it means a lot to me and to my company. The World Cup in Qatar is different because all the stadiums are very close to each other. The main challenge for the first two weeks that we faced (as AP photographers) was that we had to cover the games every day. Any sports photographer who has photographed the World Cup or the Olympics knows that events are killer, especially in the early stages. The later the matches, the less demanding and more time to rest.
I’ve covered four World Cups and three Olympics for the AP, and I can say it’s always been a great mission many photographers want to cover.
2. How were you chosen to photograph the event?
I was selected, along with many other photographers, by our Director of Photography at AP.
3. What cameras and lenses do you use most often and why did you choose them?
All AP staff photographers use sony a1. The main lenses for sports coverage are 400mm, 70-200mmand wide-angle lens, plus a remote camera behind the goal.
All photographers have four cameras and four lenses.
4. What was your biggest challenge in FIFA photography?
As always, to do your job well and not miss a thing. It was difficult, because we needed to be 100% focused.
5. Tell us about any limitations you face and how you work with them. Can you move around to take pictures or are you limited to one area?
Football is different from other games. Every photographer and journalist has a number of seats, and you cannot change seats or move at all during the game. Sure, before the game I could move around and look for pictures of the fans, but some areas were closed to the media.
6. What’s your favorite image from the series and why?
For the first time, we had access to a new photo location during the World Cup: the catwalk. I was selected along with three other colleagues to cover some of the matches since. Its catwalk is located at the top of the stadium and only trained photographers have access and are allowed to work there. It’s a new challenge and new angle. One of my favorite photos is of Argentina’s Lionel Messi winking at his fans at the end of Croatia’s semi-final against Croatia at Lusail Stadium.
7. What kind of work do you have to do on the images in post-production, if any?
No. Why so? Because now it’s all about speed, speed, speed. We have to send pictures quickly. I have to shoot one match and edit another, so every single match photographer has an editor who edits their photos remotely. My job as a photographer is to take and send my photos through the camera to my editor, who will edit and send the photos to the wire.
8. Shooting sports events of this scale can last for hours and days of physical fatigue. Tell us about the need to cover such a major event.
I was selected from many talented photographers at AP to cover one of the most important sporting events. My way to survive long hours and physically taxing days is easy. I always work out to stay fit, not only for sports events but even for normal daily news programs. In any event, I must always focus and do my job well, so that at the end of the day, I will feel satisfied and forget the fatigue. The most important thing is also when I have time to have fun and discover new things as we travel to new places. There is always something beautiful outside to see.
9. Shooting for AP, What is your usage right to the pictures you took during the event?
All images are copyright of AP.
10. If you had some advice for young sports photographers eager to take on such a once-in-a-lifetime mission, what would it be?
It’s a good story, so be prepared, understand the game, ask, do your best and learn from your mistakes. If this is your first time covering football, try to practice before the event starts, and you will discover many new things. This will allow you time to learn and correct your mistakes. It’s a football match after all, so have fun.
11. Any other closing thoughts for our readers?
Photography takes a bit of luck in my opinion, so don’t give up if you’re having a bad day. Keep trying and learning. In the end, you will achieve your goal.
I really enjoyed reading Hassan’s answer. I was most surprised that all the photographers used the same camera (go ahead, Sony users and give it to us in the comments!) I was also surprised that AP photographers were tasked with controlling four cameras! When I shoot sports, I always use two (the Canon EOS R5 and 5D Mark IV). This allows me to have one with a zoom lens and one with a wide angle, but there are four! I hope he has a good chiropractor. Thank you Mr. Hassan for taking the time to share these interesting insights with us.