In conversation: when sports met wildlife

Martin Bissig joins fellow sports photographer Eddie Keogh and wildlife specialists' Lucia Griggi and Maxime Aliaga to discuss similarities in the way they work and how Canon's EOS R System is helping them to push boundaries within their chosen genres.
A mountain biker performs a jumps on a stone statue built in the shape of a large hand, which is rising out of dusty and sparse terrain.

Sports photographer and videographer Martin Bissig travels the world capturing breathtaking outdoor action in extreme environments. Martin switched to Canon's EOS R System as soon as the EOS R was released and has since made the move to the Canon EOS R5. "For me, it's out of the question to bring big lenses and big gear on these expeditions. Because all the gear that I'm travelling with, I need to carry it myself," he says. Taken on a Canon EOS R with a Canon EF 11-24mm f/4L USM lens and a Canon Mount Adapter EF-EOS R at 11mm, 1/800 sec, f/5.6 and ISO100. © Martin Bissig

While the subject matter might be very different – a football player speeding down the wing rather than a bird of prey swooping in to land – there are undoubted similarities between the worlds of sports and wildlife photography. Both require an element of planning, but also the ability to react instantly in unpredictable situations.

To look at how the genres overlap, Swiss Canon Ambassador and action sports photographer and videographer Martin Bissig recently took on the role of guest editor/host on Canon's podcast Shutter Stories, interviewing three fellow Canon Ambassadors from the worlds of sport and wildlife. He spoke to Maxime Aliaga, a French wildlife photographer who travels the world helping organisations working in nature conservation; Eddie Keogh, a British sports photographer with more than 30 years' experience shooting a range of action-packed events; and Lucia Griggi, a British-Italian wildlife and travel photographer who started out shooting surfers but now specialises in polar regions, including underwater and aerial photography.

All four pros shoot on Canon's EOS R System. Maxime and Martin have upgraded from a Canon EOS R to a Canon EOS R5, Lucia has recently returned from her first shoot with the Canon EOS R3 in Alaska, while Eddie also uses an EOS R3.

Here they discuss the skills required in both genres, what it takes to get that killer shot, and how the EOS R System is changing the way they take photos.

Hear the full conversation in this episode of Canon's Shutter Stories podcast:

A deer looks into the camera, its nose centre frame, with the sea and an island in the background.

Whether photographing wildlife such as this Javan rusa deer or a major sporting event, our four pros agree that the secret to a winning shot lies in knowing your subject matter. "The first day, I'm just trying to understand my ecosystem, the animals, how they move, where they go. After that, I can start to get some nice shots," explains wildlife photographer Maxime Aliaga. Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM lens and a Canon Mount Adapter EF-EOS R at 16mm, 1/500 sec, f/8 and ISO4000. © Maxime Aliaga

Two boxers are captured in the ring, one landing a blow against the other's face.

"I need to work really quickly when covering sports for the agency," says Eddie Keogh. "As soon as the pictures are taken, I choose the best frames and send them. Through the viewfinder I can magnify the image and get a really clear view to decide on the best frame and and make sure it's sharp." Taken on a Canon EOS R3 with a Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8L IS USM lens at 70mm, 1/2500 sec, f/3.2 and ISO2500. © Eddie Keogh/Getty Images

Martin: Let's start by talking about what it is we all think makes a killer shot. For me, a great picture needs to tell the story of an expedition. That's why I love wide-angle shots that include the athletes in their environment.

Lucia: A killer shot is that exact moment when everything aligns. When the weather is perfect, and lit exactly as you want it to be.

Eddie: Yeah, it's when everything comes together – composition, the peak of the action, obviously it must be sharp and maybe include some big emotion. But the most important thing is that the viewer just says 'wow'. You can't always explain why a picture does that, but sometimes you just look at it and think 'wow, that is a great picture'.

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Maxime: I would say the 'wow' effect too – a picture that drives emotion. As a wildlife photographer, I want to raise awareness, so I really love it when the picture provokes interest or curiosity.

Three bears attempt to catch a leaping fish from the top of a waterfall.

Lucia Griggi used the EOS R3 for the first time to photograph bears at Brooks Falls in Alaska, having previously worked with both the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III and the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV. "I had to learn on the spot and just go for it," she says. "It completely gave me what I needed." Taken on a Canon EOS R3 with a Canon RF 400mm F2.8L IS USM lens at 1/2000 sec, f/6.3 and ISO800. © Lucia Griggi

Three bears attempt to catch a leaping fish from the top of a waterfall.

"When I'm travelling to foreign places, I try to capture everything that's around mountain biking as well. For me, it's really important that the magazines do not only get mountain biking shots, but also the side shots. So, that's really important – not to focus too much on the action itself. But also to see the bigger picture," says Martin. Taken on a Canon EOS R with a Canon RF 24-105mm F4L IS USM lens at 80mm, 1/800 sec, f/4 and ISO100. © Martin Bissig

Martin : A lot of my action shoots aren't planned and I love to take things very spontaneously. Would you agree, Eddie?

Eddie: There's many variables to look at, even before the game starts, but the beauty of sports and wildlife is that you never know what's coming. I think that's one of the things we love about the job.

Martin: Can you plan shoots when working with animals, Maxime and Lucia?

Maxime: I try to plan a good location at the right time to have the best chance of meeting the animals, but when it comes to taking the picture, it's all about luck.

Lucia: In my early days, I used to thrive off being in the right place at the right time, but transitioning from action sports and surfing into wildlife expeditions and travel has proven that planning is such an integral part of getting the shot.

A close up of a chipmunk eating a salmon, the forest background blurred behind it.

Lucia wasn't expecting to capture this shot of a chipmunk in Alaska. "It was an example of a spontaneous moment," she explains. "This tiny little chipmunk was just feeding away on this salmon that one of the bears had tossed away. It enabled us to get this shot, which I hadn't intended to go out and get." Taken on a Canon EOS R3 with a Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS USM lens (now succeeded by the Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM) and a Canon Mount Adapter EF-EOS R at 1/1600 sec, f/4 and ISO1250. © Lucia Griggi

A hockey player in red has taken the ball from a hockey player in white, who has been thrown in the air and upside down by the tackle.

"Most of my work is immediate," says Eddie. "It's all happening very fast." Here, he captures Jacob Draper of Wales upending Devohn Noronha Teixeira of Canada during an international men's hockey match. Taken on a Canon EOS R3 with a Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III USM lens and a Canon Mount Adapter EF-EOS R at 1/3200 sec, f/3.5 and ISO500. © Eddie Keogh/Getty Images

Martin: Lucia, do you see any overlaps or learnings that you've carried across from sports photography into wildlife photography?

Lucia: Having a deep understanding of wildlife is essential, and it's the same with surfing. Understanding and predicting the manoeuvres of the surfers, how they're going to position themselves in the wave, and how they're going to move when they do that. It's the same as understanding wildlife – every tiny little movement of a bear, studying it and knowing when it's going to jump for the salmon, when it's going to charge and how it's going to position itself.

Martin: So shooting a bear or a surfer, it's not much of a difference when it comes to planning?

Lucia: Not really, I'd just rather have a surfer coming towards me than a bear charging me! The shooting style is very similar in that you've got a subject fast approaching that can sometimes be erratic. It's a game-changer now we've got the
focus tracking and the eye detection. If I could relive surfing again with the EOS R3, instead of my older setup, I would feel more lucky than I did back then.

Eddie: I've just done a tennis tournament with the EOS R3 and the face recognition is out of this world.

A Komodo dragon is captured close up, centre frame, with a body of water in the background.

Maxime used the remote function on the Canon Camera Connect App to take this image of a Komodo dragon, the largest lizard in the world. "I can take pictures now that I couldn't take a few years ago," says Maxime. "There are so many places that I want to go back to with the EOS R5, because I know I can do better work." Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon RF 14-35mm F4L IS USM lens at 23mm, 1/200 sec, f/16 and ISO500. © Maxime Aliaga

Martin: I'm interested to hear why everyone made the move to mirrorless. For me, it was mainly to do with the size and weight.

Lucia: I took the EOS R3 and the RF 400mm F2.8L IS USM [to Alaska], so that was quite daunting to test the camera on such a high-budget shoot. I had waders on, it was uncomfortable, the adrenaline was going, the next corner you're eye level with a grizzly – you can't travel heavy. Face tracking is an absolute game changer. I would have missed probably 40-50% of the shots if I hadn't had the EOS R3's face-tracking capabilities. And the ergonomics – I loved how light it was.

Maxime: When Canon released the EOS R, I knew that was the future. I like to see the picture in the viewfinder because I work a lot with under and overexposure when I'm in the forest. It's the same with the EOS R5 but even better – I feel like the camera is just a part of myself. I don't have to see where I have to push, what I have to do. I trust this camera so much.

Eddie: Seeing the exposure through the viewfinder. When you're working fast, and [the players] are running from shade into sunlight, it's just so cool to be able to change the exposure as you're following them. You can see exactly what you're getting. The frame rate really helps because when someone scores a goal, instead of getting two frames, I'm now getting at least three, sometimes four. The ISO is just crazy now, as well. I mean people never need to worry about ISO anymore.

A video still of a person skiing at speed down a steep slope directly towards the camera.

Martin: As sport and wildlife photographers, I assume that your favourite lenses are very long. What do you love to use the most?

Lucia: My go-to lens would have been the Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS USM, but now I can safely say it's the Canon RF 400mm F2.8L IS USM. The focal length works for me.

Eddie: My favourites would probably be the Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III USM and the EF 200mm f/2L IS USM, which just give you a beautiful image when you use the lenses wide open, and lovely background bokeh.

Maxime: I really love working with the Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS III USM and the Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III USM because the quality is just crazy. But if I had to keep only one lens, it would be the Canon RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1 L IS USM. It's a very sharp lens and very good quality. It gives me versatility.

Martin: It's not always easy to have a career in photography. What inspires you to get out of bed and grab your camera? [For me], I just love to go out and take pictures. It's a combination of my passions: sports, photography and travel. Being able to make a living following your passions, that's the biggest gift and that's what drives me every single day.

Eddie: I still love doing what I do. I still love pictures. There's nothing better than looking in the viewfinder and seeing a beautiful image.

Maxime: I know the animals' behaviour, how they live. I become a bit like a hunter – I track the animal, and think like an animal, so it's something a bit primal. Then it's all about sharing, raising awareness and showing the beauty of nature.

Lucia: If I didn't have photography, I wouldn't really have a purpose. For me, it's a way of giving back. As a wildlife photographer specialising in some of our most fragile ecosystems, it's sort of a witness statement. My way of educating others who may not have been as fortunate to have visited these really remote places.

As Martin, Lucia, Maxime and Eddie's conversation shows, no matter what genre of photography or filmmaking you work in, being able to dedicate yourself to capturing your passion in creative ways is a real gift.

Andrea Ball

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