Pro sports photographers put many demands on camera gear in their quest to capture the best possible action shots. They shoot everything from close-ups of vital split-second moments to wider scenes encapsulating the whole atmosphere of an event. Kitbags have to cover every option and include the fastest telephoto primes and wide-angle lenses, as well as other essentials such as flashguns and wireless transmitters.
Taking place in Japan from 20 September to 2 November, Rugby World Cup 2019™ is one of the great international sporting events, and many of the world's top sports photographers will be taking a full arsenal of kit there to cover it. Getty Images sports photographers are among those preparing to cover the tournament. All have their own individual styles of shooting and will be approaching the event in different ways.
"I'm always trying to work different angles, keep backgrounds clean and show emotion where I can," says Getty Images sports photographer Hannah Peters. Meanwhile, her colleague Mark Kolbe aims to "tell the story around the event and show the personalities of the people I'm covering". Because most of his work is high-intensity sports coverage, though, he says his main goal is to "capture peak action imagery".
Fellow Getty Images sports photographer Cameron Spencer tries to capture unique angles using various camera techniques. "I am quite pedantic about shooting really clean images that have a creative feel and are often simple in their composition," he says. "I also love capturing moments that convey emotion, whether that's jubilation after winning a match or scoring a try, or dejection when things don't work out."
But what gear do these three experienced sports photographers rely on to capture those special shots? Here, they each reveal the one piece of kit they couldn't do without at this year's Rugby World Cup.
Mark Kolbe has been a full-time sports photographer with Getty Images in Sydney, Australia, for more than 10 years. In that time he has covered many international sporting events, including two summer Olympics, two FIFA World Cups, and Rugby World Cup 2011.
"The Canon EOS-1D X Mark II is my choice of camera because it's an outstanding piece of equipment for sports photography," says Mark. "The focus and tracking speed are exceptional, performing better than any other camera I have ever used. When you drop focus, or need to refocus, it's super quick and holds on to the subject. It's ideal for high-speed sports such as rugby, because it tracks superbly, even with so many moving bodies coming in and out of the frame.
"A good sports photographer is rewarded with sharp, crisp imagery in light conditions we would have struggled to work in even 10 years ago. The ability of the sensor to capture detail in low light is mind-blowing. The 14fps also gives you that little bit more bang for your buck, especially in those big moments. In the fast-moving world of sports photography, having those extra frames allows you to freeze that split-second of peak action.
"I was a big fan of the EOS-1D X and its performance, so when I upgraded to the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II I wasn't expecting a great deal more. However, the added frame rate was really nice, and the better focus tracking was a huge bonus. Also, the increased range for low-light performance was very noticeable in the quality of sports photography shot at night. The imagery shot at night from the same locations and stadiums on the EOS-1D X Mark II is noticeably better in quality.
"The Canon EOS-1D X Mark II has definitely enabled me to take shots I wouldn't have been able to get otherwise, especially in low light. I've had to shoot early-round Football Federation Australia Cup matches in some very dark suburban grounds. Previously it would have been impossible to shoot action at a shutter speed fast enough to freeze it, but the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II allows me to capture sharp and well-exposed images."
Based in Auckland, New Zealand, Hannah Peters specialises in winter sports, Paralympic sports and multisport competitions. She has been a full-time photographer for Getty Images since 2010. She has photographed major events including the summer Olympics, the Commonwealth Games and Rugby World Cup.
Hannah says: "The Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens (now succeeded by the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM) is my essential piece of equipment because I love the versatility of the lens and always feel confident I won't miss a moment when I've got it in my kitbag. I've been using the Mark II version of this lens for eight years. The main improvement I noticed on the previous version of this lens was the improved focusing in low light.
"For me, its most outstanding feature is the focus at the widest apertures, f/2.8 and f/3.2. The speed of focusing is also really good, especially when I need to react fast during a rugby match, for example when a try is being scored.
"I mainly use the lens at apertures between f/2.8 and f/5.6. The ability to shoot at f/2.8 is very important in my work. It definitely helps to make a difficult situation that much better, by being able to blow the background out of focus.
"The 70-200mm is always on my second body over my shoulder during games, ready to go for try pictures, lineouts or national anthems – any situation where I need to show something a bit wider. It's also good for portraits of players and other shots where I need a bit of versatility in the zoom."
Cameron Spencer, based in Sydney, Australia, has been a Getty Images staff photographer since 2004. He has covered six Olympic Games (summer and winter), four Commonwealth Games, three Rugby World Cups and the FIFA World Cups in South Africa and Brazil.
"Rugby was the first sport I ever photographed," says Cameron. "I shot my school rugby matches on occasion and then matches at my local rugby club when I was starting out professionally. My lens of choice has always been a 400mm. It is the right focal length to capture action on the field – unless it's a try in the corner, when I will switch to a shorter lens on a second camera body. Shooting at f/2.8 helps separate the subject from the background, creating greater impact and a cleaner image.
"The most obvious feature of the Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III USM lens is the weight difference compared to the previous generations: it's significantly lighter. I always use a monopod when shooting with the EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III USM. However, for short jobs, such as a press conference, I can now comfortably hand-hold the lens.
"Focusing is lightning fast and it tracks very well, even in low light. One thing I have noticed is that if I have to significantly crop into an image, it appears to hold up better with the Mark III.
"Shooting at f/2.8 is critical for almost all night matches and indoor events, regardless of the stadium or arena lighting, in order to have a quality image and a fast shutter speed to freeze the action.
"I will use the EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III USM for most of my match action throughout Rugby World Cup, as well as any training sessions I attend. I have shot a lot of rugby over the years and know my preferred distances for capturing the plays as they unfold on the field. Any longer focal length would mean shooting at f/4 for a larger aperture, and I think the quality then suffers. So for photographing rugby, shooting at f/2.8 – f/3.5, nothing beats this lens."