Q&A: Fiona Goodall on shooting the Women’s Rugby World Cup

Highly respected in her native New Zealand for her more than 20-year career as one of the nation’s leading photojournalists, Fiona Goodall also happens to be a dab hand at sports photography.

Fresh from capturing the 2022 Women’s Rugby World Cup in Auckland, we sat down for a quick-fire Q&A with the now freelance photographer working for Getty images to find out what it takes to capture world class sporting shots on the grandest of stages.

Canon EOS-1D X Mark III, EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM lens @ 140mm. 1/1000s @ f4, ISO 2000. Image: Fiona Goodall via Getty.

Australian Photography: You’ve worked as a photojournalist for many years. How does this influence your sports photography?

Fiona Goodall: As a photojournalist, you often have to capture the news as it unfolds in front of you. I try and take my news experience into my sports photography.

I’ve been a photojournalist for 27 years, so I always look for the news in sports. When I’m photographing a match, I’m looking for anything that will make the headlines tomorrow.

Canon EOS-1D X Mark III, EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM lens @ 85mm.  1/1600s @ f4, ISO 2000.
Canon EOS-1D X Mark III, EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM lens @ 85mm. 1/1600s @ f4, ISO 2000. Image: Fiona Goodall via Getty.

The goal is to make sure those pivotal moments in a game are captured. The images that tell the story of the match and how it is played out regardless of the result. It could be a particular tackle, a spectacular athletic try, an important referee decision or a clash between players.

AP: What do you look for in a successful sports photo?

FG: A good sports photo captures the energy and emotion of a specific moment.

It’s the moment of contact between players that brings a sports photograph to life. The look on their faces, the emotion, strength and effort that will make the shot stand out.

Canon EOS-1D X Mark III, EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM LENS @ 400mm.  1/1600s @ f4, ISO 3200.
Canon EOS-1D X Mark III, EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM LENS @ 400mm. 1/1600s @ f4, ISO 3200. Image: Fiona Goodall via Getty.

A successful sports photograph needs a clean background, so it doesn’t distract from the story.

When you’re photographing a televised competition, getting a photo with a clean background can be challenging.

You have to find angles that separate the players from the clutter—shooting from a lower angle, sitting on the ground helps or from high in the stand.

Canon EOS-1D X Mark III, EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM lens @ 400mm.  1/1000s @ f4, ISO 4000.
Canon EOS-1D X Mark III, EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM lens @ 400mm. 1/1000s @ f4, ISO 4000. Image: Fiona Goodall via Getty.

AP: What are some of the challenges that come with capturing events like the World Cup?

FG: With major sporting competitions, there’s usually a team of photographers working in different areas to ensure every angle is covered and no action is missed. I was part of a fantastic team of Getty Images photographers capturing the action at this year’s Women’s Rugby World Cup.

If you’re not working as part of a team, one of the main challenges of photographing sporting events is that you can’t be everywhere at once. In any game, there are moments happening at both ends of the field, but only one of you.

Canon EOS-1D X Mark III, EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM lens @ 400mm.  1/1600s @ f4, ISO 3200.
Canon EOS-1D X Mark III, EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM lens @ 400mm. 1/1600s @ f4, ISO 3200. Image: Fiona Goodall via Getty.

The other challenge is the game might not go your way, literally. If one team is more dominant, and they’re attacking the opposite end of the field, and you can’t roam, you might end up spending a whole first half of the game with very few shots. Hopefully, you have better luck in the second half and can make up for it.

AP: Can you briefly share your gear setup?

FG: My Canon setup at the WRWC included:

  • 2x 1DX Mark III
  • 1x 1DX MarkII
  • 1x 200-400mm f/4L with a built-in converter
  • 1x 70-200mm f/2.8 Mark III lens
  • 1x 24-70mm f/2.8 Mark III lens
  • 1x 16-35 f/2.8 Mark III lens
  • 1x 50mm f/1.4 USM lens
  • 1x 80mm f/1.2 USM lens
  • 1x Speedlite EL-1 Flash

AP: Can you explain your workflow at an event like the World Cup? How are images shot, edited and finally shared?

FG: At the Women’s Rugby World Cup, we started out by setting up the inbuilt Wi-Fi in the cameras. The majority of my photos were shot with the 200-400mm f/4L, while the 70-200mm f/2.8 Mark III lens was used for crowd and close action shots.

Canon EOS-1D X Mark III, EF16-35mm f/2.8L III USM lens @ 35mm.  1/1250s @ f4, ISO 4000.
Canon EOS-1D X Mark III, EF16-35mm f/2.8L III USM lens @ 35mm. 1/1250s @ f4, ISO 4000. Image: Fiona Goodall via Getty.

Throughout the game, I continuously added voice tags to a chosen selection of shots, and sent them (via an FTP in the camera) to a Dropbox folder. The editors at Getty Images in Australia then edited a selection of those images through the company’s own software to crop, correct and caption before publishing them on the Getty Images website.

AP: How do you create images that are different from other photographers with the same access as you?

FG: I think a good knowledge of the sport and the players can help create different images.

For example, you might see a player like Ruby Tui or Portia Woodman from the Black Ferns get the ball, and you’ll know they are going to attack the line or step the opposition and it will be dynamic. Often it’s about setting yourself up on the side of the field where those impact players are hopefully going to run at you at some stage of the match.

Canon EOS-1D X Mark III, EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM lens @ 400mm.  1/1000s @ f4, ISO 4000.
Canon EOS-1D X Mark III, EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM lens @ 400mm. 1/1000s @ f4, ISO 4000. Image: Fiona Goodall via Getty.

AP: What’s your most memorable image you’ve captured so far?

FG: My most recent memorable image is one from the final of the Rugby World Cup. When Stacey Fluhler of the Black Ferns ran in and touched the ball down to score a try late in the game, it looked relatively ordinary. But thankfully, I stayed in the motion and after she set the ball down she flew horizontally through the air with the biggest smile on her face.

Canon EOS-1D X Mark III, EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM lens @ 400mm.  1/1250s @ f4, ISO 4000.
Canon EOS-1D X Mark III, EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM lens @ 400mm. 1/1250s @ f4, ISO 4000. Image: Fiona Goodall via Getty.

It summed up the game and the tournament for me. The Black Ferns played with so much joy in the game, in each other, in the massive support the country has given them and the Rugby World Cup.

AP: What’s your advice for people who want to take better sports images?

FG: Be well-prepared for game day.

This means understanding the sport you’re photographing. It’s important to have a strong grasp of the rules and the dynamics of the sport to be able to anticipate what the next move might be or what the options are.

Canon EOS-1D X Mark III, EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM lens @ 400mm.  1/1000s @ f4, ISO 4000.
Canon EOS-1D X Mark III, EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM lens @ 400mm. 1/1000s @ f4, ISO 4000. Image: Fiona Goodall via Getty.

It’s also great to know if a player is set to break a record, or if it’s their final game before retirement, or if they just returned to the field from an injury. These are newsworthy moments that are good to be ready for.

As a sports photographer, you also need to study the location before game day. Take a thorough look at the place where the competition is going to take place to identify the best angles.

Canon EOS-1D X Mark III, EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM lens @ 400mm.  1/1250s @ f4, ISO 4000.
Canon EOS-1D X Mark III, EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM lens @ 400mm. 1/1250s @ f4, ISO 4000. Image: Fiona Goodall via Getty.

It’s also crucial that your gear is up to the task during the game season. Canon Professional Services repaired my lenses and returned them to me at the Women’s Rugby World Cup in Eden Park. I was also offered the chance to use any of the Canon lenses I would need to capture iconic moments.

On game day, arrive a few hours early to set up your gear and workstation, and to get into the right mindset before the game starts. Once the game kicks off, it’s almost nonstop action.

You can see more of Fiona’s work at fionagoodallphoto.photoshelter.com.