Molly Darlington

Two footballers battle it out during an English Premier League match at Birmingham's Villa Park in 2019.

While freelancing for Reuters' multimedia sports agency, Action Images, Canon Ambassador Molly Darlington covers English Premier League matches. "The composition of this action image, with the players crossing in the centre, is one of my favourites," says Molly. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark II (now succeeded by the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III) with a Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens (now succeeded by the Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III USM) at 1/1600 sec, f/2.8 and ISO1000. © Action Images via Reuters/Molly Darlington

Canon Ambassador Molly Darlington has had a dream start to her career as a professional sports photographer. Immediately after graduating from university, she was offered a job as a freelance photographer by Reuters' multimedia sports agency, Action Images, and is now regularly shooting Premier League and Championship football.

Sport has been a part of Molly's life since her childhood in Cheshire, England, where she is still based. "I've been watching football since I was young, and growing up I often played football or cricket in the park with my twin brother – we've always been very sporty," she says. "Football's my main interest and when you love the sport you're photographing it adds to the enjoyment."

Molly started shooting sport in 2015, while still at sixth form college, after seeing an advert for someone to photograph matches played by her local football team, 1874 Northwich FC. Soon after, she bought her first DSLR, a Canon EOS 1200D, and continued doing this unpaid work while studying photography at Manchester Metropolitan University.

While at university, she began shooting for three agencies: MatchDay Images, AMA Sports Photo and LAT Images. By the time she left university, she already had four years' experience of photographing sport, including football, rugby and Formula E motor racing.

Canon Ambassador and sports photographer Molly Darlington.

Location: Cheshire, England
Specialist areas: Sports
Favourite kit:
Canon EOS-1D X Mark II
Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM
A captivating red sky above Nottingham Forest's City Ground in Nottingham, England.

Molly aims to capture a range of images during a match, including wider scenes such as this evening shot of Nottingham Forest's City Ground. "Just after half time this incredible sky appeared," says Molly. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark II with a Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM lens (now succeeded by the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM) at 33mm, 1/1600 sec, f/2.8 and ISO2000. © Action Images via Reuters/Molly Darlington

Soon after graduating with a first-class honours degree in 2019, Molly covered the FIFA Women's World Cup for AMA Sports Photo. She was then approached by Reuters/Action Images and offered a contract to work for the agency. Since then, she has mainly photographed English Premier League and Championship matches. She also sometimes covers non-sport news stories.

Sports photography is still a male-dominated genre, although the situation is gradually changing. "I can go to a match and be the only woman there, or there may be four or five; it just depends on the game," she says. "I used to feel intimidated going into press rooms, just because I didn't know anyone. But as I started to get to know people it got easier, and now I'll happily walk in."

A Burnley FC fan holding a small dog has his face painted in claret and blue checks by his daughter ahead of a televised match during lockdown.

Burnley FC fan John Withington has his face painted by his daughter before watching the match on TV during the Covid-19 lockdown in 2020. "John would usually attend every game with his head painted, so he decided to continue the ritual for watching the match at home," Molly says. She used a Canon Speedlite 600EX-RT (now succeeded by the Canon Speedlite 600EX II-RT) to bounce light off the ceiling for extra illumination. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark II with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/4L IS USM lens at 35mm, 1/100 sec, f/4 and ISO800. © Action Images via Reuters/Molly Darlington

As with any sports action photography, great football images come from the photographer closely observing events and anticipating what's going to happen. "You always need to be aware of what's going on around you, and where the ball is going next," Molly continues.

"You can also get an idea of the way the game's heading by listening to the crowd. If I'm editing on my laptop and hear the crowd reacting, I know I have to pick my cameras up quickly."

For Molly, the highlight of her career so far has been working at the Women's World Cup. "I hadn't experienced a major tournament before and I had so much fun," she says. "I enjoy shooting women's football and the whole thing was on a much bigger scale than I expected. To see stadiums like the Parc des Princes in Paris full of fans was really nice. It was an important event for women's football."

How do you prepare for a match?
"The night before a game, I put everything on charge, including my laptop, my batteries and Wi-Fi box. In the morning I pack my bags and check I've got everything. I'll also find out which of the teams playing is on top at the moment, which players are in the news and whether either of the managers are on a losing streak."

Have any other sports photographers inspired you?
"A lot of photographers have inspired me, but from starting out I have always thought Cath Ivill's work is incredible – she used to be a nurse, then started learning photography halfway through her career and now shoots sport for Getty Images. I look up to her a lot."

Is social media an important way for young photographers to get known?
"Yes, I definitely think social media plays an important part in getting yourself out there. I know that a lot of photographers in the industry keep an eye on social media for new talent coming through, so it's good to keep posting your best pictures. Even following people might lead to someone clicking on your profile and looking at your work."

What makes a great sports photograph?
"The starting point to any great sports photo is a good background. Capturing players' or fans' emotion is also important. If a picture has those elements and is also taken at a moment when something significant happened, it's going to be memorable."

One thing I know

Molly Darlington

"My advice for people who want to be a professional sports photographer is to keep taking photos of whatever sport you can find. If you want to shoot football, show what you can do by taking pictures at lower league or non-league matches. If you want professional guidance, there are plenty of people out there who will look at your pictures and send feedback. You just have to build your portfolio and make it as strong as you can. Luck will come your way if you've got what it takes."



Molly Darlington's kitbag

The key kit that the pros use to take their photographs

Molly Darlington's kitbag containing Canon cameras, lenses and accessories.


Canon EOS-1D X Mark III

The successor to the camera Molly favours is the ultimate creative toolkit, with superb low-light performance, deep learning AF and 5.5K RAW video. "I started using an EOS-1D X Mark II at the end of 2018, and it's a great camera. I always have two with me during a match. It's great for shooting action, and the high ISO performance also really helps. The robust build and weather-sealing are important for shooting outside," says Molly.


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

The latest version of the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM lens that Molly uses is a premium quality ultra-wide angle zoom lens, with a constant f/2.8 maximum aperture. Molly says: "I use this lens for general views of a stadium, either inside or outside, and I sometimes use it on my remote camera behind a goal. I like it because if you're at a game and go to the top of the stands, it can give you really nice photo of a packed-out stadium."

Canon EF 24-70mm f/4L IS USM

A versatile 24-70mm f/4 L-series lens with macro mode for up to 0.7x magnification. "I would use this lens for shooting match previews, such as fans in the street. I also sometimes use it if I'm sat quite close to the pitch and a goal celebration comes a bit too close for my longer lenses," says Molly.

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

A favourite lens with professional photographers: fast, flexible and built for any assignment. Molly says: "When I'm shooting a football match anywhere from just outside the penalty area to the corners, I'll use the 70-200mm. The zoom range gives me flexibility to capture goals and celebrations happening in front of me."

Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III USM

The successor to the lens Molly favours is a fast-aperture super-telephoto lens that delivers a professional performance – ideal for sports, news and wildlife photography. "This is my favourite lens and the one I use for action as well as shots of people watching a game, including managers and fans in the crowd," says Molly.



"This works very well with my Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens."


"I always have this with me for editing and sending my images."

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