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January 2010

A few years ago Irish sports photographer Lorraine O'Sullivan took what she thought was just another post-match picture at a football fixture between the Republic of Ireland and Holland. As John McDermott discovers, like Lorraine O'Sullivan's impressive portfolio, it was anything but innocuous.

The venue was Landsdowne Road stadium in Dublin after the Ireland v Holland football match in September 2001. Lorraine O'Sullivan admits that she had something other than football on her mind that night - getting to the village of Slane, about 40km north of the capital, for a U2 concert. She raced back to the central Dublin office of her agency, Inpho, to drop off her film and then sped off to see Bono and the boys.

Little did Lorraine know that the picture she had just taken of a handshake between Ireland's team captain Roy Keane and manager Mick McCarthy would become a symbol of their fractured relationship nine months later as Ireland headed to Asia for the 2002 FIFA World Cup. Keane and McCarthy went on to have a very public falling out during a pre-tournament training camp, on the island of Saipan, and the volatile and outspoken Keane walked out on the team just prior to the world's biggest football competition.

“I really wasn't that aware of the picture,” she recalls. “All that was on my mind that night was getting to Slane. In hindsight you look at the picture and you'd say 'oh my God, those two can't stand each other'. If I had a pound for every time that picture's been mentioned, or used, I'd be retired by now. But if Saipan hadn't happened would anyone have ever looked at that image again?”

© Inpho/Lorraine O'Sullivan

Lorraine O'Sullivan's iconic image of former Republic of Ireland football captain Roy Keane (left, shirtless) reluctantly shaking hands with his former international manager Mick McCarthy (right).

Remarkably, for all its significance and success, the Keane/McCarthy picture has never won any kind of award. Lorraine, however, has won quite a few, including First Prize for Sports in the Press Photographers Association of Ireland Pictures of the Year competition in 2004 and runner-up prizes in 1998 and 2001. She was also short-listed twice in each category in 2008 for Sports, Features and the Arts.

Originally from Limerick, in the west of the Irish Republic, Lorraine did a communications degree at college in Dublin. “I was more interested in getting into television, the sports end of things,” she explains. “In my course we had to dabble a bit in everything - TV, radio and photography - and in my first year I just got a taste for the photography.”

© Inpho/Lorraine O'Sullivan

Each year Lorraine O'Sullivan shoots all nine days of the Tour of Ireland cycling race, mainly shooting from the back of a motorbike. This shot is from the FBD Milk Ras in Buncrana, Donegal. Shot using the EF15mm f/2.8 Fisheye lens at 1/500sec at f/5.6, ISO 400, it shows race leader Chris Newton, of the Great Britain team, leading the peleton up the Glengesh pass.

Lorraine adds: “As I learned more about television I realised that if you had an idea, by the time 10 other people had their input it wasn't your idea anymore. With photography you go out with your camera on your own and come back to the darkroom - if it's rubbish it's your fault and if it's brilliant it was what you had done.” As for why she chose to specialise in sports she explains: “I loved playing all sports growing up, but I was never good enough to make a living out of it. Whereas, at least if I got behind a camera, I'd still get to all the matches!”

Lorraine was fortunate to do work experience while at college and, during summers, at Inpho, one of Ireland's leading sports photo agencies, which was founded in 1988 by Billy Stickland, the long-time Allsport photographer in Dublin. When she graduated Stickland offered her a job and it's the only place she has ever worked.

She reveals: “I graduated in 1991 on a Friday and reported for work on the Monday. It was the bottom of the ladder, and I do mean the bottom. I was the office 'gopher', delivering things, archiving, making tea and picking up the dry cleaning. It was up to me to go with the photographers on my days off and help them out if I wanted to get experience. But Billy was very good about letting me use the equipment; the long lenses and such.” Lorraine worked hard, and eventually was entrusted to shoot small jobs on her own, and has never looked back since.

© Inpho/Lorraine O'Sullivan

Originally taken for a feature on the Irish sport of hurling this shows a sliotar (hurling ball) being held by a player before the start of a game. Shot on the EOS-1N at 1/250sec at f/4, ISO 400.

When she started at Inpho the agency had recently made the switch from Nikon to Canon and Lorraine has always been a Canon shooter: “Canon had made a huge leap forward with the EOS system and you couldn't ignore it. It was three or four giant steps ahead of whatever else was out there, particularly for sports.”

Aside from its autofocus capability, Lorraine appreciates the Canon cameras' superior resistance to the elements. When asked what it's like to take sports photographs in Ireland her first response was quick and to the point: “It's wet. Quite wet. I've been to events where other shooters' gear packed up in the rain, something that's fortunately never happened to us. Of course, whatever brand of camera you use, you've got to be sensible. You don't leave your camera sitting in a puddle to see how long it will work. We also use very good rain covers, though I find black bin bags work well too!”

Lorraine O'Sullivan's portfolio reflects Ireland's unique sporting culture, with its traditional Gaelic games, football and hurling, as well as the usual mix of soccer, rugby, cycling, horse racing and Olympic sports. Her personal favorites are hurling and cycling. “I think someone who is used to shooting soccer, or American football, can come in and shoot a Gaelic football match and do reasonably well at it quickly,” she says. “Hurling is an entirely different story. The action is about a hundred times faster and the speed of it can be quite disconcerting for people who are new to shooting it.”

The size of the playing field is another problem. Gaelic games are played on fields that are at least 135 yards long and 80 yards wide so long lenses are even more important than in a sport like soccer or rugby. Lorraine explains: “If you're at Croke Park in Dublin for the All-Ireland Hurling Final,” referring to Ireland's biggest event in its largest stadium, “you'll find a 400mm lens very limiting. Scores can easily be taken from the halfway line and much of the action tends to be further away than in football. So, I normally use an EF600mm f/4L IS USM lens for hurling. Gaelic football action will come in closer to you if you're sitting at the end line, and the pace is a bit slower, so there I'm fine with the EF400mm f/2.8L IS USM, and I can add the EF1.4x extender when necessary.”

© Inpho/Lorraine O'Sullivan

Shane Duffy, Monaghan goalkeeper, gets a boot in the face from Stephen MacDonald of Armagh. This image was nominated for an award at the 2006 Press Photographers Association of Ireland (PPAI) Awards in the Sports Action category.

The Tour of Ireland cycling race is an event Lorraine eagerly looks forward to. “It's a different route every year all around Ireland and I love it. Though sometimes it's not so lovely being on the back of a motorbike in the rain. It's nine days long and a couple of years ago it rained all day, every day and our clothes never really dried out!”

When shooting the race from a motorbike Lorraine works with two zoom lenses - the EF16-35mm f/2.8L USM and the EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM. She also brings along the EF15mm f/2.8 Fisheye lens: “I wouldn't use it every day, but you can get some lovely scenery with it out around the Ring of Kerry and the Arran Islands." And she offers this tip to anyone thinking of shooting a race from a motorbike: “You really need to have a good driver, someone that you trust. I've got a good guy I've been working with for several years, who was a rider, and he knows just how much space I need and just where to put me.”

© Inpho/Lorraine O'Sullivan

Action from the All Ireland Football quarter final between Cork and Sligo in 2007. Sligo's Michael McNamara tackles Anthony Lynch of Cork. Shot on the EOS-1D Mark II with the EF600mm f/4L IS USM lens at 1/500sec at f/5.6, ISO rated at 400.

The highlight of Lorraine's career thus far has unquestionably been covering the 2008 Beijing Olympics. She says: “It was fantastic; absolutely brilliant in every respect. Exactly one year later I was sitting behind the goal at a League of Ireland soccer match between Sporting Fingal and Athlone Town. It was pouring with rain, there were about 200 people there and the game, well, it was really crap. It was one of those moments where you say to yourself: 'A year ago I was shooting Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt in Beijing! Where did it all go wrong?'”

Surprisingly, Lorraine's photography role models only include one photographer known for shooting sports - Eamonn McCabe. “He was shooting for The Guardian and was at the top of his game, always producing eye-catching images of even the most ordinary subjects. Salgado's work, especially the series he did on the gold miners in Brazil, for the book, Workers, was just absolutely stunning. And I like Don McCullin's work. After he stopped shooting conflicts he did some fabulous work in India. It was beautiful, and completely different, yet you could see how all the conflict work he'd done in places like Northern Ireland and Africa fed into it.”

© Inpho/Lorraine O'Sullivan

Llanelli v Munster Heineken Cup rugby action from late 2007. Awful weather conditions during the game make it hard work for both teams. Shot on the EOS-1D Mark II with the EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM lens at 1/400sec at f/2.8, ISO rated at 1600.

Lorraine is clearly content with her life as a sports specialist: “Sports photography is the 'sweet shop' of photography; it really is. You can take fantastic pictures, but your life isn't ever really threatened. It's not emotionally draining and you're not going to have somebody showing up at your door in 10 years time and putting a gun to your head. When I look at the amazing work that is done by people who've gone to places like Bosnia and Rwanda, I don't think I'd be able to do that sort of work.”

Lorraine O'Sullivan is focused on the future, but she does have one unfulfilled ambition for her most well-known image: “I've thought about getting the two of them to sign a print, just for me to keep at home. That would be something I'd like to have. But I'd be quite nervous about approaching Roy Keane. He's quite scary, to be honest. Maybe this has something to do with why I decided not to do war photography or anything that would require me to be brave.”


Lorraine O'Sullivan's equipment:

EOS-1D Mark II

EF15mm f/2.8 Fisheye
EF16-35mm f/2.8L USM
EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM
EF400mm f/2.8L IS USM
EF500mm f/4.5L USM
EF600mm f/4L IS USM
EF1.4x extender

Speedlite 580EX
Speedlite Transmitter ST-E2
Polaris lightmeter
Duct tape
Set of small screwdrivers
Apple laptop computer
Sandisk card reader
Waterproof leggings, coat, boots and hat
Hand warmers
Large bin bags

Biography: Lorraine O'Sullivan

Lorraine O'Sullivan

Lorraine O’Sullivan has been working for Inpho, the Irish sports photography agency, since 1991. She won First Prize for Sports in the Press Photographers Association of Ireland Pictures of the Year competition in 2004 and runner-up prizes in 1998 and 2001. Her favourite sports to photograph are cycling and hurling.