It's day four of "Inside the Football Media" week at Bleacher Report, and Thursday's subject is Richard Heathcote, who plies his trade as a sports photographer with Getty Images.
Bleacher Report: At what point did you realise photography was something you wanted to pursue?
Richard Heathcote: It was about halfway through secondary school. My dad did it as a hobby and I used to borrow his camera. We used rolls of basic, cheap black and white film back then—processing the film ourselves, using a dark room we built at home.
BR: Was it always clear you wanted to take your talent and photograph sport?
RH: I didn't play loads of sport as a kid, but I got into it more at University. I did four years learning my craft—two years in Watford, two in Reading. I'm a Watford fan, so I used to watch them all the time. After a while, I shot some games, and it turned out I had an eye for it.
BR: How much equipment does it take to shoot a typical Premier League match on a Saturday afternoon?
RH: I've got a lot of camera gear, but you have a core of three or four camera bodies and five or six lenses. They'll be one or two extra pieces you bring, depending on the ground. At Chelsea, you have to sit down the side of the pitch, for example, which makes for a different perspective. Some grounds don't allow you to use remote cameras (more on that to follow), while others are fine with it.
BR: What time do you usually get started?
RH: Generally, we arrive three hours before kick-off. We're looking for nice preview images to get the day going. At Southampton, there's a tunnel with lots of fan artwork that works well. Villa Park is a lovely old stadium that gives you lots of nice architectural shots. Because I have so much gear, I nearly always travel by car. You don't want to be lugging that stuff around on public transport.
BR: You mentioned remote cameras before. What are they exactly?
RH: At a normal ground, you're sitting between the 18-yard box and the corner flag. You'll have a couple of cameras with you there, but I also like to put a wide angle camera behind the goal, looking through the net. That way you catch anything close. I trigger mine with a foot pedal. Others have a radio controller to take the picture. One I particularly remember was when Robinho missed a chance for Manchester City and rolled into the back of the net.
BR: Are you given strict instructions, in terms of what to shoot and focus on at every game?
RH: Some news and wire agencies tell their photographers what to do, but we're very lucky. We're good at what we do and we benefit from a certain amount of artistic license. We're in constant contact with editors, but we usually know the stories anyway. A couple of days before the game, I start flicking through websites, picking up on what's interesting.
BR: How do the pictures you take get from your camera to the websites and newspapers we see them in?
RH: When I first started, in the mid-1990s, everyone was still shooting film. The films would get processed, the pictures selected and scanned and then transmitted back to the office in London.
It's essentially the same process now, but it takes about a hundredth of the time involved. We've been shooting digital since 1998 and we have wireless transmitters on the cameras. I don't really use my laptop, because the images go straight to our editors in the London office.
BR: What's the best part of the job?
RH: I'm a true football fan and I've had a couple of great moments shooting Watford. In 1999, when we beat Bolton in the play-off final was fantastic. Then in 2006, when we beat Leeds at Cardiff to reach the Premier League. At the end of the day, you'll find a lot of guys in this job are sports fans. The amount of banter going between each other is about the teams we support. It's all about giving each other a ribbing.
And then there are the times you see a team playing fantastic football. When the football's really good, you can do your job and still enjoy it.
BR: Is there a downside?
RH: This job is great. I'd never do anything else and love it to bits, but getting your head around the travelling and the time away is the one thing people don't really take into account.
To read the rest of Bleacher Report's "Inside the Football Media" series, click on the links below.