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|| News Item: Posted 2015-07-22

Traveling through Canada covering the Women’s World Cup
‘My travels took me to Winnipeg, Vancouver, Edmonton, Ottawa, Montreal and back to Vancouver. I learned when I was in Montreal that five years of my life studying French did not help!’

By Michael Chow

Photo by Michael Chow-USA TODAY Sports

Photo by Michael Chow-USA TODAY Sports

United States forward Abby Wambach shakes hands with a fan after beating Japan 5-2 in the 2015 Women's World Cup at BC Place Stadium.
I’ve played the sport, I coach the sport, but living in Phoenix, I don’t have many opportunities to shoot soccer. So when USA TODAY Sports Images asked me to help with their Women’s World Cup coverage, my eyes lit up. I’d carry out the water bottles if that’s what it took to get on the pitch!

I’ve shot many sports that have a ball and a whistle in my career so making the images was not my biggest concern. I was more worried about what kind of gear to bring. How do I pack for a month of traveling through Canada? Not just one city, multiple cities; checking in, checking out, packing and unpacking, making sure I boarded early to get the overhead space and not bringing so much that I needed a Sherpa.

I turned to Mark Rebillas who covered the Men’s World Cup in Brazil last summer and asked his advice about lenses. A lot of photographers are using the Canon 200-400mm zoom with the built in 1.4 converter for just about everything these days. That lens has a lot of latitude but I’ve never used it and I didn’t want to experiment. I needed to be able to reach down to the other goal so I settled for a 600mm f/4 as my long lens and a 70-200mm with a 1.4 converter as my short “storytelling” lens.

I’ve also watched enough soccer to know that sometimes players like to run to the corners and celebrate after a goal (so happens to be where the photographers are at!) and had a third body with a 24-70mm just in case. I also used a fourth body as a remote behind the goal with a 16-35 (set near 20mm most of the time). That’s a crap load of bodies and glass to haul around the Great White North for a month! How am I going to do this?

My biggest fear anytime I travel is lost luggage. So I always hand-carried my gear because without it, I can’t do my job. I carried almost all of my bodies and lenses in a Think Tank Photo roller except for two lenses. I stuffed my 70-200mm in a backpack and took my chances with one of the two 16-35mm lenses I brought and put it between clothes in my checked bag that also had my remotes and fanny pack.

I was just at 50-pounds for my checked luggage, sometimes over depending on the scale. But I learned that being nice and smiling goes a long way and I never had to re-pack or was charged an overweight fee.

Photo by Michael Chow-USA TODAY Sports

Photo by Michael Chow-USA TODAY Sports

Krista McMahan, 17 from St. Louis, MO, wears contact lenses while watching the United States play against Japan during the final of the 2015 Women's World Cup at BC Place Stadium.
I learned that FIFA likes to control EVERYTHING! You first need to apply for a credential months in advance. But that barely gets you in the parking lot. For every game, you need to apply for a ticket and then get in line the day of the game to get a seat. That’s the tricky part. I learned early that I did not like sitting in the middle of photographers because if something happened near the goal, photographers all leaned out in front of me.

So after the first games in Winnipeg, I started choosing the end seats where I couldn’t get blocked. And since I was using a 70-200mm with a TC1.4, the closer to the goal I was, the better my short lens pictures looked.

My assignment was to follow the U.S. team. We had photographers in the six host cities so wherever the U.S. played, I would be the second photographer. My travels took me to Winnipeg, Vancouver, Edmonton, Ottawa, and Montreal and back to Vancouver. I learned when I was in Montreal that five years of my life studying French did not help!

I’m still baffled why photographer’s bags were never checked at any of the venues, including Vancouver where Vice-President Joe Biden was attending the final. Not even that cursory bag tag! They added 42 more photographer seats for the final, which squeezed everyone in even tighter.

Though I was in Group One (agencies) for seat selection, I made sure I was at the stadium six hours before kickoff. I did not want to be squeezed in!

Before the game, I joked with the other USATSI photographer, Anne-Marie Sorvin, that I’ve only had three goals scored on my end the whole tournament! So if she sat opposite of me, all the goals would be scored on her end.

After 15 minutes, four goals were scored-all on her end! I laughed. If I ever grow up, I want to be like Carli Lloyd and score a goal from half field in a World Cup! Unbelievable.

I met a lot of very nice volunteers and chatted with many photographers. The people in Canada are a lot more chilled and laid back. Covering the World Cup was a privilege.

Michael Chow is a staff photographer with The Arizona Republic. You can see samples of his work on his Sports Shooter member page:

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