Sports photography, like sport itself, is a fast-paced game. The game Hannah Peters plays is getting the shot and getting it out first, and it's what she does on a daily basis. "After the Olympics 100 metres final, we had pictures out after 14 or 15 seconds; it's crazy. Photographs go straight from the camera to an editor and bang – they're out. It's really competitive and high pressure. It's all about speed."
As one of the few female full-time sports photographers in New Zealand, Hannah works with Getty Images and is based in Auckland. She has travelled to Beijing, Athens, Sochi, London and Vancouver to cover the Olympics and Paralympics, as well as shooting at home. As part of our Women in Photography series, Hannah tells us about her career and early beginnings.
"I was never an athlete or anything but I've always been into sport, followed sport and loved sport. I'm really passionate about sport, photography and getting the shot; the buzz for me is being at sporting events and you've just got one split second to nail something. It's adrenaline, it's exciting."
Hannah's photography career began when she was a self-described "geeky 17 year old". When she went to meet the boss of a sports agency – in her school uniform, no less – he dismissed her school projects with a wave of his hand and told her to go out for the weekend and shoot sport. "Shoot anything you can find," he said. So she did.
"I had a camera with a very small lens, nothing major, and luckily for me there was a marathon on. So I stood on the road and photographed whoever ran past me. On Monday I brought him the film; I later found out that he had also told four or five other people to do that and I was the only one who came back. I think that was why I got the job. I worked filing a lot of transparencies, looking through thousands of photos daily, and that was how I learned. I just got chucked in the deep end." After a few years with that agency, Hannah moved to freelancing and then to Getty, where she has been ever since.
Rugby – and particularly New Zealand national rugby union team the All Blacks – loom large in Hannah's working life. "We [Getty] are the official photographers for the All Blacks, so that means we do a lot of training [sessions] mid-week. We are learning their backline moves as they are learning them, so you know a little bit of what they are going to do during a match. The All Blacks are superstars, but they are really good to deal with. I do a lot of portraits of them every year and we do all their behind-the-scenes stuff. They're all very professional and it's a really slick operation."
There are few sports that Hannah hasn't covered, and she has a particular enthusiasm for photographing the Paralympics. "I was sent to Athens with the New Zealand team, so I worked with them and we built up a relationship. Then I went to Beijing with them and then Vancouver, Sochi and London. I've got to know the athletes very well; they're just amazing, and you can get the most incredible pictures – you can just see pictures everywhere you look.
"The Paralympics is low key in comparison to the Olympics, which makes for easier working conditions as a photographer. The Paralympians want to be photographed; they appreciate you being there and they genuinely want the media coverage, so it's a nice vibe."
The experience of covering a sports event can vary hugely from being solo to working as part of a large team. "If I'm at a game by myself I'll be running the sidelines and I have to anticipate all the time where I've got to place myself – that team's on attack, so I've got to get ahead of them, running back and forth for 80 minutes. It's also thinking about different angles: do I want to go up high or do I want to change things around a bit? But if you're working on a team you have a set role and we work together. It's all about good communication and always knowing where everyone is."
"The Olympics are just the ultimate. With Getty you're working with a massive team – something like 45 photographers – and I love that whole buzz. A huge part of my job is filing as I go; we have live editors all over the world and we send photographs to them remotely from our cameras. We tag and voice tag while we're shooting; you've got to know your subject so you can caption. On the voice tag I'll often say 'crop vertical' or 'cut out the guy on the right to focus on the main shot'."
In order for Hannah to be flexible in the shots she can capture at events, she packs three Canon EOS-1D X Mark II bodies fitted with a variety of lenses – her most commonly used sports lenses being the Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM and the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM. "The Canon EOS-1D X Mark II has made such a huge difference [to my work], especially when faced with a dark stadium or low light situation. It has allowed me to push the ISO high without losing any quality, which has meant a much higher success rate of usable pictures from an event.
"I also love the Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM for portraits. It's fast and sharp and can turn an average situation into something special."
Hannah doesn't often consider the 'female' factor in her job, despite the rarity of women in sports photography. "I don't think it should come into it, what sex you are. I think at the beginning, like anyone, you have to earn respect through your work. I'm as competitive as the man next to me; we're all going for the same thing.
"New Zealand is quite laid back. We all know each other here, it's the same people at every game and it's not hostile. When I go to an international event, there are more women there and I do think, 'Oh yay, I'm not the only one'. So, I do notice it, but it's not a thing I think about."
Recently, however, Hannah had her first baby, and inevitably this meant she had to spend some time away from the sports field. "Having a child was quite a big decision for my husband and me, meaning I missed the Rio Olympics. I took nine months off, and that's a massive period of time in my industry. I went through the whole doubt list: 'Am I going to pick it up again? When I come back, am I going to be the same? Is someone else going to take my spot while I'm away?' I found it quite hard, getting my confidence back up, and also juggling the work-life balance. There are no real guidelines, because there aren't many female sports photographers in the industry, so I don't have much to go on.
"However, my boss is really understanding. He says, 'There will always be another Olympics,' and he's right. The thing is, I realised that in this day and age having a baby is not the end of your career. The key is to have support, and you just make it work."
There will be no stopping Hannah Peters. Watch out for her running those sidelines in Tokyo in 2020.