Magazine Article


Capturing the World Cup 2006
What It Took to Ace This World-Class Event

World Cup Photo
John Mcdermott

World Cup Photo
John Mcdermott

World Cup Photo
John Mcdermott

World Cup Photo
John Mcdermott

World Cup Photo
John Mcdermott

Although I’ve photographed every FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) World Cup since 1982—six in all, usually for Newsweek—the 2006 World Cup in Germany was a new experience for me because it was the first World Cup I shot digitally. My transition to digital didn’t begin until the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, when Canon introduced the EOS 1D Mark II. The camera’s quality convinced me I could finally shoot digital for most things.

My Assignment

My principal client this time was a German weekly news magazine, Focus. I met the director of photography, Rüdiger Schrader, in Spain in 1982, during our first World Cup. Now both a friend and a client with very high expectations, he asked me to help cover Germany’s biggest sporting event since 1974, the last time it hosted the World Cup.

I also had to provide images for two commemorative books—one in Japan, one in Germany—as well as images for worldwide syndication through a UK agency, Popperfoto. For the books, images would be provided on DVD after the event. Popperfoto had an onsite editor who chose images and copied them to CDs every few days.

But Focus needed images from each night’s match available first thing the next morning for story conferences at the magazine’s Munich headquarters.


Since Athens, I have resolved various workflow issues, including whether to shoot RAW or JPEG, how to achieve optimum exposure and white balance, and other digital questions. I am a big believer in shooting RAW whenever possible, especially on commercial assignments. But the sheer volume of images to be edited in Germany, typically six to eight 2GB cards during a game, made that an unrealistic option. JPEG it had to be.

I used Canon’s Digital Photo Professional imaging software with its Picture Styles function to fine tune JPEGs for color, contrast, saturation, and sharpening so the images came out of the camera looking extremely good. I used the Standard mode then bumped up saturation and sharpening one notch from the default settings to achieve a slightly richer, sharper look. After shooting transparencies for years, I am obsessive about correct exposure and that paid off. My files didn’t need much correction.

The auto white balance feature on the 1D Mark II is excellent, but when I shot at night or indoors—most of the time, as it turned out—I used an ExpoDisc to get a custom white balance. In several stadiums, the jumbo video screens would throw off the auto white balance, but the ExpoDisc helped me avoid that problem. At halftime and after the match, I downloaded my cards to my PowerBook and a small LaCie 80GB backup drive with a SanDisk Imagemate USB 2.0 reader, and opened the files in Photo Mechanic for naming, editing, and captioning. If I needed toning or color correction, I did it in Photoshop CS2. I tend to shoot very tight after years of shooting transparency film, so I leave any cropping to the magazine’s editors. Images were then emailed or sent by FTP to the Focus picture desk in Munich.


Covering a World Cup is physically demanding. National teams from 32 countries participate in the month-long tournament. Some photographers follow their country’s team, shooting a game every three or four days, or stay in one city or region of the host country. Most, however, try to cover a game every day and work all over the country, so logistics and planning are essential.

You want to travel with the right amount of equipment to do the job. Not too little and not too much given that you’ll be schlepping it all on and off trains and airplanes and into stadiums with long walks from the bus or parking lot, lots of stairs to climb and security at least as stringent as that at any airport. (See gear box) Generally, you arrive at the stadium at least three hours before kickoff to get your match ticket and choose your seat assignment, according to a priority list issued by FIFA. With about 300 photographers at a game, this takes time.

Ninety minutes before kickoff, we were on our way to the playing field to set up. I usually try to get a position close to the corner flag opposite the team benches, either along the sideline or the goal line, 25 to 35 yards from the goal, to minimize switching back and forth between long and short lenses.

Unlike American football, there is no moving around during play. Once you’re in your seat, you have to stay there until halftime or the final whistle.

Other Considerations

A few other thoughts occur to me:

• My wife is from Cologne, Germany, so family ties plus the city’s central location made it a logical choice as a base from which to come and go for a month. I would cover a game in Frankfurt or Dortmund and be back home at a reasonable hour. Sometimes I would stay overnight after a game in a hotel, usually for just a few hours, or sleep on the train on the way to the next city.

• Digital does have one major drawback: the amount of time we now have to devote to the computer after we finish shooting. Editing, preparing, and transmitting files can add hours to the work day. In Germany, a lot of games didn’t end until well after 11pm, so leaving the stadium press center at 1 or 2 in the morning was not uncommon. I didn’t leave the press center in Berlin after the Final until 4:00 a.m.!

One of the great things about covering a World Cup used to be having the chance to get to know colleagues from all over the world, usually over a drink or a meal, after you handed your film off to a courier. Those days, unfortunately, are gone due to the amount of time we now spend at the computer doing post-production. Clients, once accustomed to waiting hours, if not days, for film to arrive on an international flight and then be processed, now expect images on their computer monitors within minutes of the end of a match.

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