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Rucks, mauls and megapixels!

Rucks, mauls and megapixels!

© Eddie Keogh/Reuters

September 2015

The rigours of the Rugby World Cup produce iconic sporting moments to savour. As award-winning sports photographer Eddie Keogh tells CPN writer Mark Alexander, capturing the image that encapsulates that drama requires luck, teamwork, and a hefty dose of concentration...

Eddie Keogh is well-used to the fast pace of World Cup rugby. He has, after all, covered five of them during his career, regularly capturing the triumph and despair of the world’s top rugby teams in cruel and euphoric detail. This year’s epic clash will be no different. Sitting on the sidelines, focused on the action, Eddie will be ready to capture the images of the unfolding action, assuming that luck is on his side.

© Eddie Keogh/Reuters

Eddie’s standard rugby kitbag. Three EOS-1D X DSLRs along with Speedlite 580 EX II flash, EF24-70mm f/2.8L II USM, EF35mm f/1.4L USM, EF400mm f/2.8L IS II USM, EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM and EF14mm f/2.8L II USM lenses. PocketWizard radio triggers and an EF1.4x II Extender completes the gear. Blue tape is Eddie's way of spotting his camera on the ground when he puts it down to use another body. It also helps prevent it from getting picked up accidentally by another photographer!

“Like most sports, there is a lot of luck involved,” he says. “When the luck comes your way, the skill is grabbing it, every time. Not everyone grabs the luck when it comes their way. They might miss it; they might not be concentrating or not understand the significance of it. If you don’t understand the story of the game, then you’re going to be unlucky.”

The Oxfordshire, UK-based photographer has amassed his fair share of good fortune over his 30-year career and admits that concentration is one of the most important factors in his field. “You never know when that moment is about to happen; but when it does, it’s the story of the whole day,” he explains. “It’s all very well enjoying a trip to Paris to photograph the rugby, but if you miss that one split second then your journey may have been wasted.”

This year’s Rugby World Cup will be played at venues across England and Wales, so while foreign travel won’t be an issue, the pressure to get the shot will. “You get used to that,” he admits. “All you can do is the best you can do. It is impossible to get everything all of the time. There is no photographer on earth who gets everything.”

Preparation is everything

In the run-up to the opening World Cup match at Twickenham, between England and Fiji, Keogh is in full preparatory mode. At this stage, he says he spends much of his spare time researching the key players who will eventually decide the six-week long tournament. He also pays special attention to the teams that are less familiar to him and identifies the personalities in each that could clinch the winning try or court the most controversy. As he explains, knowing the story behind the game is vital to getting the shot.

Another key element in his winning formula is what he keeps in his kitbag. “It is similar to what I have at a football match,” explains Keogh. “There will be an EF400mm f/2.8L IS II USM, an EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM and I’ll keep an EF24-70mm f/2.8L II USM by my side just in case they celebrate right in front of me. I’ll also have an EF14mm f/2.8L II USM in the bag to take any wide shots of the stadium. They are all fantastic lenses.”

A mainstay for many professional sports photographers, the EF400mm f/2.8L IS II USM is a high-performance super-telephoto lens featuring a four-stop Image Stabilizer with three modes. With ghosting and flaring cut to a minimum, the crisp, clear images produced by the lens become particularly evident when it is paired with the 18.1MP full-frame EOS-1D X.

© Eddie Keogh/Reuters

France's Nicolas Mas punches England's Dylan Hartley during their international rugby union match in Paris November 16, 2013. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X with an EF400mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens; the exposure was 1/1250sec at f/3.2, ISO 3200.

Keogh uses three of these workhorses during a match-day shoot, which often starts with a team meeting. “As Reuters is one of the top agencies, we’re allowed to bring in as many photographers as we need, which is nice,” says Keogh. “Before the game we’ll have a chat about any breaking stories or any players we want to concentrate on. We might also discuss who might be coming to the game. If it’s an England game, possibly Prince Harry will come, maybe even Prince William. So we’ll discuss which photographer will forget about the action for the first 20 minutes and concentrate on them instead.”

The next step is finding your seat and prepping for the action. “Colour temperature is a very important part of the job,” he says. “Depending on the day, one of the first things I do is change the settings at the back of the camera if the match is floodlit or if it’s a very grey day. I’ll play about with the colour temperature to get the best results by taking test shots and looking at the results. The editors appreciate that.”

Following the national anthems and any tribal war dances that may follow, Keogh readies himself for the resounding crunch of the first ruck and the inevitable ebb and flow of a game played out in gruelling battles of brawn and muscle, interspersed with moments of pure genius. Throughout, Keogh remains glued to the back of his EOS-1D X in anticipation of the instant when 80 minutes of sporting endeavour is encapsulated in a candid moment of relief, agony or sheer joy.

Workflow and workarounds

Tethered to pitch-side cables hard-wired to the internet and ultimately to Reuters’ ftp server, Keogh sends through his timely images only when the players draw breath. “I won’t send every picture during a game because I might shoot 700 frames and a lot of that is irrelevant,” he says. “So if I shoot a series of 15 frames of a tackle or an incident, I will pick out the best two frames and send them individually. That’s the beauty of the EOS-1D X; you can select specific images where the player’s eyes are open or you can see a better expression.”

He continues: “Equally, you don’t want to be working at the back of the camera when you should be looking through the viewfinder, so there is no need to delete files for example. The only time I take my eye away from the viewfinder is when there is a stop in play or when I am sending a couple of frames.”

© Eddie Keogh/Reuters

Scotland v England Six Nations match, February 8, 2014. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X with an EF400mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens; the exposure was 1/1000sec at f/2.8, ISO 3200.

During the last football World Cup, Keogh says all his images were automatically sent to his editors because the data communications were so reliable and quick. “As soon as I shot it, the frame was sent,” he recalls. For rugby’s showcase tournament, the plan is to send around 50 of his best images during the course of each match.

While this approach differs between rugby and football, there is more common ground between the sports than you might think. “There is not that much difference between how I photograph football and how I shoot rugby,” he says, discussing his photographic style. “In football you have goals while in rugby you have tries. More often than not, they are the big stories of the game. In rugby you have kickers, like Jonny Wilkinson, who kicks the conversions and penalty kicks so they have more chance of being the story as a centre forward would be in football. Rugby and football are very similar, and quite different to tennis and golf where you can move around. In football and rugby, you sit down and wait for the action to come to you.”

He continues: “You can run up and down the sidelines to follow the action if you want, but because I work with Reuters, we’ll have a photographer at either end so there will be no need to do that. If you’re by yourself you might have to, but you could still miss things because these guys run pretty fast.”

All angles covered

The number of Reuters’ photographers Eddie works with depends on the significance of the game. A clash between two lower-seed teams could find him covering the game by himself, while at the other end of the scale – at the final for example – he could be one of four shooters looking to get that elusive shot.

This team approach enables Reuters to cover all the angles, but it can have its down side, as he recalls at the 2003 World Cup final between England and Australia when Jonny Wilkinson kicked a drop goal in the dying seconds of extra time.

“At the end of the game, my job was to watch the England manager Clive Woodward, so I never even saw Jonny kick the ball. It was a bit of a blow. It was the key moment of that World Cup, but that’s the way it works sometimes.”

Eddie concludes: “When you’re in a team, one of the things you discuss before the start of the game is who will concentrate on the action and who will concentrate on the manager during the final moments. That’s the beauty of a team working together; you get the whole story. Everything gets covered.”

Eddie Keogh’s Rugby World Cup kitbag

3x EOS-1D X

EF14mm f/2.8L II USM
EF24-70mm f/2.8L II USM
EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM
EF400mm f/2.8L IS II USM
EF1.4x III Extender
EF2x III Extender

WFT-E6 Wireless File Transmitter

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Biographie: Eddie Keogh

Eddie Keogh

Eddie Keogh is a freelance photographer who shoots sports and sports features for Reuters and has also shot for commercial clients including Rolex, O2, Rolls Royce and Barclays. He worked as a sports photographer for UK national newspapers from 1986 to 2005 and covered his first Olympic Games in Los Angeles, USA, at the age of 21. He has photographed eight FIFA football World Cup Finals and in 2006 won the Barclays Premier League Football Photographer of the Year Award. In 2009 and 2010 Eddie won the Sports Journalists Association (SJA) Sports News Picture of the Year award and was named UK Picture Editors Sports Photographer of the Year in 2010. He won the SJA Sports Picture Portfolio award in 2012 and became a Canon Explorer in May 2013.


England v Wales Six Nations match at Twickenham, London, England, March 9, 2014. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X with an EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM lens at 243mm; the exposure was 1/1000sec at f/4, ISO 800.