Photographer’s Q&A – Claus Andersen
Based in London, Ontario, photographer Claus Andersen is one of the few Canadian photographers who shoots sports almost exclusively. He’s been covering both pro sports and international sporting events for almost 40 years: NHL, NBA, CFL, PGA, LPGA, Olympics, World Track and Field Championships, Commonwealth Games, Pan-Am Games, harness racing, London Knights team photographer and more.
His interest in sports, especially track and field, may have started when he competed as a runner in high school track competitions. But his interest in photography started much earlier.
Canadian Phylicia George knocks down a hurdle in a 100m hurdles heat at the 20th Commonwealth Games at Hampden Park in Glasgow, Scotland, July 31, 2014. This became her last hurdle race of the season. Photo: Claus Andersen
What were your first steps in the photo industry?
I can’t remember ever being not interested in photography. My mom always had a good camera and was taking photos before our family came to Canada in 1957. I was 3-1/2 years old when we arrived from Denmark. I got the photo bug from her and eventually got my own cameras in my early teens. Pentax Spotmatics were what I initially had.
After high school, I went to Fanshawe College (in London) in the mid-70s. It was a three-year photography program at the time and, in the third year, you could major in your choice of work. I specialized in sports photography. I chose Canon cameras initially (but can’t remember why) and stuck with them ever since.
While in college, I started shooting track and field events at Western University and submitted black-and-white photos to a magazine called “Sport London” (long since gone). It was a good start as I spent late hours in the darkroom printing images that I had photographed at various sports events and then I raced the prints to the magazine on deadline night. I usually got there at 2:00 AM.
From there, I started doing track assignments for Athletics Ontario and it just continued on. Getting started involved lots of knocking on doors, sending letters, etc. Many of the other students gave up but I was determined even though it was hugely challenging. And it still is!
Jamaican sprinter Jason Livermore at the 20th Commonwealth Games at Hampden Park in Glasgow, Scotland, July 27, 2014. Photo: Claus Andersen
How did you get to where you are now?
Knocking on doors, word of mouth and having my work speak for itself. I do a lot of contract work for numerous clients, some of whom I’ve had for most of my career.
• I worked in the harness racing business for 16 years and still do a bit. But with the government squeeze on it, a year ago our magazine, “The Canadian Sportsman”, closed after publishing for 143 years. It was the longest running Canadian magazine of any kind.
• I’ve also worked all of my career shooting track and field for Athletics Canada. I’ve done lots of work over the years for the US track team and for track clients such as Nike and Mondo Track & Field (the company that makes athletic tracks).
• I’ve been involved in numerous Olympic books.
• I shoot for Getty Images and cover a variety of things including hockey, basketball, CFL football, etc., pretty much anything that comes up.
• I’ve been to 10 Olympic Games and 14 World Track and Field Championships. Next year, in Beijing, will be my 15th World Track Championship. I’ve done every one since they started in 1983 in Helsinki, Finland.
My first Olympics was supposed to be Moscow 1980 but at the last minute, Canada and a few other countries, boycotted the Games. It was a major disappointment as everything was set to go. At the time, I thought I would never get another chance to go to the Olympics.
• I’ve covered numerous Pan-Am Games and Commonwealth Games, the most recent being this past summer in Glasgow.
• I’ve done lots of golf for clients such as the PGA Tour and ScoreGolf magazine. I’m closing in on my 200th PGA event.
I’m not the best self-promoter but it seems to have worked out okay as people in the industry know who I am and what kind of work I do. I periodically send out PDF slide shows, brochures etc.
Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt celebrates after winning the 100m at the London Olympics, August 5, 2012. Photo: Claus Andersen
You’re one of the few freelance photographers in the country who focuses almost entirely on sports (no pun intended). This means travelling with a lot of long lenses and other gear. What advice do you have for photographers who need to travel with a lot of gear?
I had a couple of custom-made flight cases done up a number of years ago. They’re very solid in construction but unfortunately, now with new weight restrictions, they’re also quite heavy.
I try to keep each case under the allowable 50-lbs. since airlines really sock it to you for the extra weight. I typically pack my long lenses (600mm, 400mm and 300mm) in one case which has custom foam inserts to hold the lenses very tightly. This just gets under the weight limit. The other case holds all the necessary shorter stuff like smaller lenses, monopods, clamps, Pocket Wizards, etc.
Photo: Claus Andersen
Any other gear I need gets packed amongst my clothing. I carry my camera bodies and laptop in one carry-on bag.
Extra fees are impossible to avoid and you’re best to check with your airline to see what’s allowed since every airline is different. There are several companies that make new lightweight travel cases and that might be a personal preference. But they have to be tough enough to handle all the banging around that may occur by the baggage handlers.
When travelling, I make sure I have all equipment noted on Canada Customs Y38 “green cards” which show that you bought your equipment here in Canada (or at least you owned it before you left Canada). I’ve never had to get a carnet although sometimes I’ve been told I need one. But for some reason, this is all over the map.
The biggest concern is that you can prove where you purchased your gear and that you’re not transporting for re-sale. I’ve gone to customs offices at the airport ahead of time to do this and to make sure all documentation has been completed. Don’t leave this to the last minute!
Canadians Khamica Bingham (L) and Phylicia George in the 4x100m relay at the 20th Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland, August 1, 2014. Photo: Claus Andersen
Do you still light arenas or are cameras now so good at high ISOs that this is a thing of the past? Do you use net cams when shooting hockey?
For the most part, I still use strobes for hockey as typically Getty relies on that type of quality for its images. That being said, not all the time but in most cases, for junior hockey I have my own set of lights in a couple of rinks because, although the new cameras are better at high ISO, they’re still no match for shooting at 100 ISO on lights!
Rarely do I use net cams and again only in junior hockey for the most part. Net cams are available through a distributor in Long Island, New York, which is operated by Getty director of hockey Bruce Bennett. A secondary body with a good 15mm lens is required to get a wide enough view in a net cam. Obviously, extra Pocket Wizards are required to trigger it. But it’s not something that you’re allowed to do very often because each team has a per season limit as to how many times a net cam can be implemented.
Many new photographers think sports photography is glamorous because you get to sit front row and be close to the celebrity athletes. What advice do you have for those wanting to pursue sports photography?
I’m not sure if there is any good advice for getting into sports photography. It’s completely different today than when I started in mid-70s. The advent of digital cameras has brought an even greater number of people into the photo business. In the “old” days when shooting film and manual cameras, there were far fewer great, original images, therefore you could make more money. It was low supply and high demand.
In the old days, a photographer might have just one (original) frame of a great image to send to one client at a time, so immediately it was worth more. But today, with digital photography, you’ve got unlimited perfect copies of an image to send to numerous clients. There’s no more scarcity. Plus, the overall huge supply of images available today has lowered the value of a great image since there are so many other great images out there, (not a day goes by when I don’t look at work of others and say, “wow, I wish I had shot that”).
It’s tough to say that getting into sports photography would be a great move. You really have to love it. For me, this has always been the case.
I would hardly call the job glamorous though, at least from my perspective. I’ve never really understood why some guys think that it’s a glamorous job or that they are somewhat of a celebrity because they sit front row and often get close to the athletes. We might be shooting an athlete who is a celebrity but sometimes even that is debatable. I don’t ever think of a sports photographer as being a celebrity but I’ve seen cases where some photographers think they are.
Jamaican sprinters (L-R) Jason Livermore (3rd place), Rasheed Dwyer (1st place) and Warren Weir (2nd pace) celebrate after the 200m at the 20th Commonwealth Games at Hampden Park in Glasgow, Scotland, July 31, 2014. Photo: Claus Andersen
What’s your favourite sport to cover?
I’ve always been a track and field guy and have been since the very beginning. Summer Olympics and World Track and Field Championships have always been my favourites because of the colour, emotion and drama in these big events. Unlike some other sports, track athletes are not covered in helmets or other protective gear so you can really see the athlete.
For me, there is more allure in big track events since they don’t happen that often. Each day at one of these big track events, you had best get a good image as it’s not going to happen again tomorrow. Contrast this with many other sports that can play several games each week throughout the year. While you might not get the same shot each day, you’ll always have the chance to shoot something almost on a daily basis.
I also love shooting PGA golf as I have done close to 200 PGA events over the years.
Tiger Woods at the Presidents Cup in Montreal, Quebec, September 28, 2007. Photo: Claus Andersen
What was your best and worst assignments so far?
I’m not sure if I have a best and worst. I loved covering all the summer Olympic games over the past 35 years as well as every outdoor World Track and Field Championship since they started in 1983. All the exotic places around the world I’ve been to have added to the allure and excitement.
There certainly are some tough sports to cover but that might also come from not knowing those sports too well. I would say cricket and outdoor lacrosse are hard more because of my lack of knowledge than anything else. But I think a good photo can be had in any sport if the photographer has a love for it!
What was your biggest photo mistake?
I think “biggest mistake” is subjective. We all do things all the time that we later wish we could have done differently.
I remember being at the L.A. Olympics, in 1984, when world champion Mary Decker and world junior champion Zola Budd ran into each other in the women’s 3,000m final. It was 30 years and 8 weeks ago.
I was initially in the spot where the collision would later happened but I decided to move for the final lap. Only one photographer stayed in that position and he got the now famous shot of Mary Decker which made him a lot of money because he was the only one to get it. His picture won the World Press Photo award for sports.
I’ll always remember the photographer who got the iconic shot as David Burnett. He’ll always remember me as the guy who left that spot. His images ran everywhere because there was no supply other than his pictures, and the high demand made him lots of money.
Jamaican sprinter Kemar Bailey-Cole (C) in the 100m at the 20th Commonwealth Games at Hampden Park in Glasgow, Scotland, July 28, 2014. Photo: Claus Andersen
What’s the best piece of advice anyone ever gave you about being a photographer?
I’m not sure I got a lot of advice. I remember someone said that if you really love it then never give up. There are lots of lean times in this business but if you love it then that’s a big part of the battle.
It is, like I said earlier, a much different industry than when I started. Everyone seems to be a photographer now and, in many cases, people don’t respect it as a profession like they used to. But maybe that’s just the way it is. Who knows where it will be in 50 or 100 years.
Everything is so immediate now. There isn’t the same stock put on quality as there is on how quick can I see something. I’m not saying that it’s right or wrong, that’s just the way it is now.
Added July 2017: Toronto Star interview with Claus.