SPORTS & ACTION

The story behind the standout images of Rugby World Cup 2021

Sports photographer Fiona Goodall has spent three decades capturing the drama of the game. Here she shares her techniques and the kit she relies on for her world-class pictures.
Three Welsh players tackle an Australian player at Rugby World Cup New Zealand 2021. Taken by Fiona Goodall with a Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4x lens.

With a background in photojournalism and news, New Zealand photographer Fiona Goodall now works freelance shooting a variety of sports, predominantly rugby, and brings a storytelling approach to her work. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark III with a Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4x lens at 400mm, 1/1600 sec, f/4 and ISO400. © Fiona Goodall/Getty Images

"There's so much rugby in New Zealand; if you are shooting sport, you're shooting rugby," says Fiona Goodall. Over the years, the freelance photographer has amassed a stunning portfolio of striking shots which often feature a rugby ball in the frame. In 2022, she brought her storytelling style to the delayed Rugby World Cup 2021 in her homeland, covering the event for Getty Images.

"The best part is capturing the emotion," she says. "That's the key. That's everyone's goal. The action is one thing, but the emotion around it, whether good or bad, is what I enjoy photographing."

With a career spanning three decades, the talented and versatile photographer has covered everything: from royal visits and the America's Cup in the sport of sailing, to the devastation of the 2011 Christchurch earthquake and the widespread impact of Covid-19. But sport, and in particular rugby, has been evident throughout.

After 15 years' shooting for one of New Zealand's largest media companies, Fiona branched out on her own and she hasn't looked back. More than a decade later, she can offer some sage advice to those thinking of making a similar leap. "While it was a fairly scary transition, I felt I had enough of a reputation that it was going to be OK," she says. "But you've got to be a certain type of person; you've got to trust yourself that there's more work coming and not panic when there's a bit of a lull."

As well as the excitement of the game, Fiona enjoys the challenge of shooting in whatever conditions she finds, whether that's low light or poor weather. "I enjoy being out in the elements and challenging myself to be prepared for every situation," she says. "You've got pouring rain, howling wind – it just doesn't matter what's thrown at you, you can figure out a way to get the job done." Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark III with a Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM lens at 123mm, 1/1600 sec, f/4 and ISO400. © Fiona Goodall/Getty Images

Scottish and New Zealand rugby players compete in a line-out, with a player from each team being hoisted into the air. Taken by Fiona Goodall with a Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4x lens.

Fiona says the Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4x became her go-to lens because of its versatility. With extendable super-telephoto performance, it provides up to 4-stops of image stabilisation (IS) which reduces camera shake for maximum sharpness. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark III with a Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4x lens at 400mm, 1/4000 sec, f/4 and ISO320. © Fiona Goodall/Getty Images

Making the most of a versatile lens

The world of freelancing isn't for the faint-hearted, and Fiona had to be shrewd when putting together her kitbag. "As a freelancer, you don't have an arsenal of big glass in your cupboard; you just have what you can afford at the time," she says. "So you have to weigh up how much of what you do requires a big lens."

Fiona, who shoots on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark III, went in with the objective of making the Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4x her number one lens, and it made quite an impression. "I had a range of lenses when I was in newspapers, but I found the EF 200-400mm to be really versatile, especially for news and sport," she says. "I thought: 'If I'm going to buy one lens, this is the one to go for because of its versatility'."

Although she has subsequently added a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens – which she deploys in news settings – to her collection, her trusted Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4x lens proved its worth once again at Rugby World Cup 2021. "I use it for its ability to capture the action at different phases," she says. "So, I can be at the 400mm end of the lens range and capture something up the pitch, then bring it in to follow the action and then onto the celebration. I rely on it as my World Cup lens because it gives me options."

Canon's RF lenses for its EOS R System cameras offer even greater reach and performance, thanks to advanced optical technology and design. The RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1L IS USM offers a similar level of versatility, combining an impressive 5-stops of optical IS, Dual Nano USM motors for fast, smooth and near silent AF, and Super UD and UD lens elements for sharp, shake-free action and sports stills. You can boost the reach of the lens even further by pairing it with either an RF 1.4x or RF 2x Extender.

To complete her setup, Fiona has a Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM lens to capture players' celebrations up close. For those shooting on the mirrorless EOS R System, the RF equivalent, the RF 70-200mm F2.8L IS USM, is even smaller and lighter than its EF counterpart. Packed with technical innovations, it boasts improved focusing performance, 5-stops of IS and an additional IS mode for capturing subjects that move unpredictably, which makes it ideal for shooting indoor sports.

Fiona also uses her Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM lens for pre-match corporate and signage shots. For wide angles that are sharp and highly detailed, the Canon RF 15-35mm F2.8L IS USM lens also excels. Indeed, with a dynamic field of view and 5-stops of IS, it's easy to push the creative envelope to grab a unique view with this lens.

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France's Maelle Filopon consoles her teammate Gaelle Hermet as English players watch on at Rugby World Cup 2021. Taken by Fiona Goodall with a Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4x lens.

The Canon EOS-1D X Mark III is equipped with intelligent AF which uses deep learning algorithms to recognise all kinds of situations, and can even track faces behind helmets. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark III with a Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4x lens at 400mm, 1/800 sec, f/4 and ISO3200. © Fiona Goodall/Getty Images

A corner side shot of the Northland Events Centre at dusk, with the in-goal area and visitor stands visible in the distance at Rugby World Cup 2021. Taken by Fiona Goodall with a Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM lens.

Fiona also carries the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM lens with her which she predominantly uses for corporate and signage shots. The lens is also ideal for low light conditions as it features a large f/2.8 aperture, which allows you to make the most of available light. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark III with a Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM lens at 16mm, 1/1600 sec, f/4 and ISO3200. © Fiona Goodall/Getty Images

Varying the shots from a single position

However, when Fiona finds herself assigned to a single position, which often happens at top-tier sporting events, it's her super adaptable Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4x that comes into its own. Rather than racing up and down the touchline anticipating where the action might take place, during Rugby World Cup 2021, Fiona and the five-strong Getty team were allocated fixed spots. Fiona's position was often behind an advertising board, on a bench adjacent to the corner flag.

"The Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4x lens has enough range to capture everything from the build-up to the try," she explains. "I prefer to stick on the action and get it really tight. For Rugby World Cup, we're generally positioned behind the goal line on a spot where we don't move. In that situation, you just have to shoot what's coming to you."

As an alternative, the lightweight super-telephoto Canon RF 800mm F5.6L IS USM lens delivers 4.5-stops of IS and has an impressive f/5.6 maximum aperture, which gives a unique combination of reach and stability that is ideal for capturing all the action from across the field of play.

United States' Jennine Detiveaux makes a break to score a try against Japan at Rugby World Cup 2021. Taken by Fiona Goodall with a Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4x lens.

Of all the pitfalls that could beset a sports photographer, missing a crucial incident surely would be most galling. Admittedly, sometimes the action just doesn't go your way, so it is important to take the shot when you can. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark III with a Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4x lens at 400mm, 1/800 sec, f/4 and ISO640. © Fiona Goodall/Getty Images

The United States team tussles with Japan during a scrum at Rugby World Cup New Zealand 2021. Taken by Fiona Goodall with a Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4x lens.

"There's less pressure when you're part of a team, and you're in a fixed position," explains Fiona. "The team will get what is required because that's how it works. But when you're running and roving, it is difficult because you're up and down, up and down, up and down. It is a lot and you don't get everything, you can't get everything." Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark III with a Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4x lens at 300mm, 1/1000 sec, f/4 and ISO800. © Fiona Goodall/Getty Images

Using your instincts to take the shot

With just seconds to capture the shot and no second chances, you have to always be ready as a sports photographer. Knowing your camera and its capabilities, Fiona says, helps you to react instinctively. "It's almost like second nature once you know a camera well," she says. "You adjust your settings without even thinking about it, but you know the changes to your aperture and shutter speed are going to get what you need."

Fiona has used the Canon EOS-1D X throughout her career and now shoots on an EOS-1D X Mark III. She says her accumulated knowledge helps her address the other downside of shooting rugby – the weather. "You know Canon, so you know it's robust and it can handle the conditions. It can handle the temperature changes and the damp," she elaborates. "It can handle everything. So you know that whatever's going to get thrown at you, the camera is going to handle it."

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With years of experience in the field, Fiona has a few wise words for those following in her footsteps. "Get there early, a couple of hours before the game," she advises. "That's definitely a bonus because you can familiarise yourself with the ground, the stadium and the people running it. Make sure you've got everything sorted in your head and that your gear is working. Getting prepared is one of the key things."

Fiona also insists that knowledge of the game can aid in photography. If you don't know the sport well enough, it helps to learn more about it from those who possess the knowledge. "When I shoot something I've never shot before and I literally have no idea about the game, talking to somebody who knows everything about it can have a massive impact," she says.

Laure Sansus of France is tackled by an England player at Rugby World Cup 2021. Taken by Fiona Goodall with a Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4x lens.

Laure Sansus of France is tackled by an England player in an incident that brought her Rugby World Cup 2021 to a premature end. To capture significant moments such as this, Fiona relies on her Canon EOS-1D X Mark III. "It's great. It does everything you need. There are times when the built-in Wi-Fi is incredible, especially when you have an editor. It's just a workhorse. It's solid and dependable." Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark III with a Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4x lens at 325mm, 1/800 sec, f/4 and ISO3200. © Fiona Goodall/Getty Images

Players celebrate the try scored by Joanah Ngan-Woo of New Zealand who screams with joy while being surrounded by their Australian opponents at Rugby World Cup 2021. Taken by Fiona Goodall with a Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4x lens.

Sport tends to be emotional, especially at the international stage where the stakes are high. As a sports photographer, it is essential to keep your finger on the trigger so that you don't miss crucial moments of joy, sadness and anger. In this shot, New Zealand players celebrate the try scored by Joanah Ngan-Woo against Australia. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark III with a Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4x lens at 266mm, 1/800 sec, f/4 and ISO4000. © Fiona Goodall/Getty Images

Documenting agony and ecstasy

Opportunities to capture moments of unreserved joy or earth-shattering dejection increase as a tournament reaches its concluding stages. However, Fiona says her most significant shot at Rugby World Cup 2021 was taken during the earlier group matches when one of France's top players, scrum-half Laure Sansus, suffered a painful injury that ruled her out for the rest of the tournament. She captured a series of images as Laure was tackled to the ground and her knee was caught underneath the tackle. "Capturing the agony of that moment wasn't necessarily a good thing, but it was pivotal in France's campaign," she recalls.

As with any sport, emotions run high and moments of celebration and joy become all the more special. Fiona captured one such moment during the game between Australia and New Zealand, where the hosts celebrated a try scored by Joanah Ngan-Woo, surrounded by their rivals in yellow. She managed to capture both ecstasy and agony in one frame.

The support enjoyed by the teams during the tournament – and players' reaction to it – has been a particular source of optimism for Fiona. "The women are humble and appreciate the support of the country and the fans. They're more open and freer with the joy of the game," she says.

• Canon is an official sponsor of Rugby World Cup 2021, taking place in New Zealand from 8 October to 12 November 2022. Getty Images sports photographer Fiona Goodall is an official photographer at the event.

• TM © Rugby World Cup Limited 2021. All rights reserved.

Kirjutanud Mark Alexander


Fiona Goodall's kitbag

The key kit pros use to take their photographs

Camera

Canon EOS-1D X Mark III

The ultimate powerhouse with superb low-light performance, deep learning AF and 5.5K RAW video. "I've upgraded over the years as new cameras have come out, but the EOS-1D X Mark III is just great. It does everything that you need, and it's solid and dependable," says Fiona.

EF Lenses

Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4x

A professional-grade 200-400mm f/4 lens with a built-in 1.4x extender that boosts focal lengths to 280-560mm. "I used it for the America's Cup, and it was excellent, because you've got this huge yacht foiling straight at you, so you can't be fumbling around. And it was light enough to handhold, bobbing around out on the ocean," says Fiona.

Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM

A fast-aperture telephoto zoom lens that is a favourite with photographers in virtually every genre. "I have my EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM on another body next to me. I use it when the celebration comes right at me or when the action comes up close," says Fiona.

Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM

A professional-quality standard zoom that offers outstanding image quality and a fast f/2.8 aperture throughout its zoom range. "I use it a lot, but mostly outside of sports for news and events, and things where you just need that something in the middle," says Fiona.

Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM

A premium quality ultra-wide angle zoom lens, with a constant f/2.8 maximum aperture. "I go to my EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM to get up close. I think you get a better sense of the connection and the emotion with people if you're right in there," says Fiona.

RF Lenses

Canon RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1L IS USM

Bring distant scenes closer and give your subject a front row seat thanks to brilliant 100-500mm pulling power and outstanding versatility from a zoom that delivers detail, clarity and an exceptional telephoto performance.

Canon RF 15-35mm F2.8L IS USM

Canon's fastest ultra-wide-angle zoom and part of a trinity of essential pro lenses, boasting a Nano USM motor, 5-stops of image stabilisation plus 3 Aspherical and 2 UD elements for stunning sharpness.

Canon RF 400mm F2.8L IS USM

A high-performance super-telephoto lens with class-leading portability, performance and image quality. Ideal for sports, action and wildlife photography, when you need to keep your distance.

Canon RF 800mm F5.6L IS USM

Fill the frame with faraway detail thanks to this stunning 800mm super-telephoto lens. Designed for EOS R System cameras, this lens is made for wildlife and sports photographers seeking uncompromised performance in all conditions.

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