Rugby World Cup 2023™: sports photographers of tomorrow

Canon and AFP join forces to cultivate a new generation of talented sports photographers by championing photojournalism's rising stars.
A Japanese and a Chilean player compete for the ball in a photo taken at Rugby World Cup 2023 on a Canon EOS R3 by Karen Haibara.

Photographer Karen Haibara, who captured this shot of her national team, Japan, playing Chile at Rugby World Cup 2023™, was one of 20 budding photojournalists invited to pair up with professional sports photographers in a groundbreaking project designed to nurture upcoming talent. Taken on a Canon EOS R3 with a Canon RF 400mm F2.8L IS USM lens at 1/1600 sec, f/3.5 and ISO 125. © Karen Haibara/AFP

Global sporting events are a chance for photographers at the top of their game to showcase their craft, but they also provide an opportunity to equip the next generation of photojournalists with the confidence and skills they need to succeed.

In a bid to encourage young talent, and also to promote diversity and inclusivity, Canon and Agence France-Presse (AFP) teamed up ahead of Rugby World Cup 2023™ to match AFP professionals with 20 budding photojournalists. The mentees, most of whom were under 30, were not only able to learn from the pros but also had the opportunity to try out the latest Canon kit, including the Canon EOS R3 and in some cases RF lenses.

For many of the mentees this was their first opportunity to photograph such a major sports event, and was an introduction to the rigorous standards of AFP photography. “These are things that you cannot learn in a classroom or at university”, says Eric Baradat, deputy news director in charge of Photo, Graphics, Documentation and Data at AFP. “I was totally mesmerised by the result. And in a field dominated by men, it was good to give the opportunity to young, aspiring women photographers to prove themselves, and they did extremely well.”

Representing the 20 nations in the tournament, the mentees were first challenged to complete a 'home' project, capturing the essence of rugby and the significance of the tournament in their respective countries. From the grassroots enthusiasm of New Zealand's schoolchildren to the poignant depiction of the sport uniting inmates in a Uruguayan prison, the range of photo essays was as unique and insightful as the creators behind them.

The second phase of the programme saw all the photojournalists attend the Rugby World Cup 2023™ tournament in France, where, with the guidance of their AFP mentors, the mentees captured their national teams in action. Here, five mentees and their mentors share their experiences.

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Two elderly men, part of a senior rugby team in Japan, wearing white caps perform push-ups on a grassy field. Taken on a Canon EOS R3 with a Canon RF 15-35mm F2.8L IS USM lens by Karen Haibara.

Home project: "This shot shows members of the senior rugby team doing push-ups," explains Karen Haibara who, after heeding her mentor Yuichi Yamazaki's advice, moved closer to her subjects rather than relying solely on a telephoto zoom. "The club is open to men over 70, and they gather every Wednesday to practise." Taken on a Canon EOS R3 with a Canon RF 15-35mm F2.8L IS USM lens at 15mm, 1/640 sec, f/3.2 and ISO 100. © Karen Haibara/AFP

Two Chilean players take on two Japanese players in a photo taken at Rugby World Cup 2023 on a Canon EOS R3 by Karen Haibara.

Match day (Japan vs Chile): "It was difficult to take pictures that matched the fast movements of the players," says Karen. "By observing not only the movement of the player with the ball, but also the movements of other players, and predicting to some extent which player was likely to have the ball next, I was able to take stable shots." Taken on a Canon EOS R3 with a Canon RF 400mm F2.8L IS USM lens at 1/1600 sec, f/3.5 and ISO 125. © Karen Haibara/AFP

Karen Haibara

Home project: "Japan is famous for its high life expectancy but young people like me don't really know how the elderly enjoy their lives," says Karen, explaining why she chose to document a senior rugby team. "My mentor encouraged me to move closer to the action rather than photographing from the sidelines. This allowed me to convey so much more."

Match day (Japan vs Chile): "I met many Japanese people at the game and they were all so excited, so I did my best to take pictures that conveyed their optimism, as well as the match itself. I used the Canon EOS R3 with the Canon RF 400mm F2.8L IS USM and Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8L IS USM lenses, and loved how nimble the AF was and how sharp the images turned out. In sports such as rugby, where the ball is thrown or kicked, the player holding the ball changes instantly, so having AF that can adjust to that speed is great."

A headshot of Karen Haibara against a blue sky.

Karen Haibara, 26

Born in Chōshi and raised in Tokyo, Japan, Karen is a formally trained photographer who counts photographing members of Finland's indigenous population and shooting at the Tokyo Paralympics among her top photojournalistic endeavours. Her future plans include photographing threatened cultures.

Country representing at RWC: Japan

Social media: @_karenhaibara_

Mentor feedback – Yuichi Yamazaki: "Karen was able to improve her storytelling by thinking about the various scenes, and shooting them in an order that made the photo essay more interesting and multifaceted. I also encouraged her to move physically instead of only using the zoom, and to try to look for different angles."

The Jabulani Tech team captain avoids a tackle during a match at Marist Brothers Linmeyer, Johannesburg, in a photo taken on a Canon EOS R3 by Siyamazi Khathola.

Home project: Sonwabo Buso, captain of Jabulani Tech rugby team, avoids a tackle during a match. Siyamazi Khathola chose the high school rugby club for his home project because he wanted to share their story with the world. "The majority of schoolchildren in Soweto are into football, but Jabulani Tech is the exception," he explains. "It's refreshing to see that the school is dedicated to keeping rugby alive." Taken on a Canon EOS R3 with a Canon Mount Adapter EF-EOS R and a Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at 227mm, 1/640 sec, f/5 and ISO 160. © Siyamazi Khathola/AFP

A Romanian player tackles a South African player as their teammates race towards the action in a photo taken at Rugby World Cup 2023 on a Canon EOS R3 by Siyamazi Khathola.

Match day (South Africa vs Romania): "I'm sure I've watched all the documentaries about prominent sports photographers who get to cover such huge events, so being pitch-side with some of my role models was a surreal experience," reveals Siyamazi. "Being at the media centre alongside world-renowned sports photographers and them willingly sharing their tips and tricks before the match has to be one of the highlights of my photography career." Taken on a Canon EOS R3 with a Canon Mount Adapter EF-EOS R and a Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III USM lens at 1/1000 sec, f/2.8 and ISO 1000. © Siyamazi Khathola/AFP

Siyamazi Khathola

Home project: Focusing on Soweto's Jabulani Tech rugby team – a rare find in a football-dominated township – Siyamazi, initially unfamiliar with rugby, formed a bond with the team as they helped him to understand the game's rules. "You should've seen me running around aimlessly until I got schooled by one of the players," he laughs. "I made sure to ask a lot of questions, which helped in building a rapport with the entire team. The majority of the players come from very poor backgrounds and were raised by single mothers. That resonated with me, because my story is similar. We became very close."

Match day (South Africa vs Romania): "The atmosphere was electric; what with over 45,000 supporters cheering and singing. I stood there in awe as I looked around the stadium, soaking in every emotion, while saying a small prayer of gratitude. I shot some candid moments of fans as I walked to my seat with the Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III USM lens. Before this I was using the Canon EOS 50D, so the transition to the Canon EOS R3 was something else. That thing is a beast, and made the experience very easy. The Eye Detection AF feature helped greatly with tracking players, because sports photography is about following the action and not missing the defining moments. The wide aperture of the EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III USM lens helped with isolating the players and getting that beautiful creamy blurred background. The Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8L IS USM lens came through for me when I needed to capture fan reactions and celebrations. The whole experience is something I'll treasure for the rest of my life."

A headshot of Siyamazi Khathola wearing a purple jacket and white cap, a backpack on his back, and holding a Canon camera over his shoulder.

Siyamazi Khathola, 32

Representing the four-time world champions South Africa, Siyamazi Khathola, born, raised and based in Johannesburg, is a self-taught shooter who broke into the industry under the mentorship of sports photographer Thabang Lepule. Siyamazi has experience in multiple styles but his ambition is to become a pitch-side photographer at more international sporting events.

Country representing at RWC: South Africa

Social media: @siyamazi_k / @seeya_fota

Mentor feedback – Marco Longari: "Siyamazi is very talented. To begin with, he needed structure and direction, but he is truly a hardworking photographer. He will have to face a certain number of challenges going forward, but he must not lose track of his goals and apply all he's learnt during the programme."

The hands of the members of a Samoan school's rugby team hold a white rugby ball up in the air, photographed against out-of-focus palm trees. Taken on a Canon EOS R3 with a Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8L IS USM lens by Manaui Precious Naumalila Ash-Faulalo.

Home project: "I chose Itu-o-Tane College because I wanted the world to see that rugby in Samoa is not at its peak, and that students here are trying their best," says Manaui Precious Naumalila Ash-Faulalo. "I was intrigued after learning about the dedication of these students to both rugby and their academic studies. Witnessing the fervour with which the schoolboys pursued their love of rugby – despite not knowing much about the rules – inspired me." Taken on a Canon EOS R3 with a Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8L IS USM lens at 115mm, 1/4000 sec, f/2.8 and ISO 25,600. © Manaui Precious Naumalila Ash-Faulalo/AFP

Two Samoan players lift up a teammate to catch a ball as two Chilean players look on, in a photo taken at Rugby World Cup 2023 on a Canon EOS R3 by Manaui Precious Naumalila Ash-Faulalo.

Match day (Samoa vs Chile): "The atmosphere in the crowd and meeting pro photographers from AFP will be memories that stay with me forever," says Manaui. "The fact that I was in a stadium with tens of thousands of people, having watched my country beat Chile in their first rugby pool match, was incredible!" Taken on a Canon EOS R3 with a Canon Mount Adapter EF-EOS R and a Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III USM lens at 1/12800 sec, f/2.8 and ISO 3200. © Manaui Precious Naumalila Ash-Faulalo/AFP

Manaui Precious Naumalila Ash-Faulalo

Home project: Despite the lack of an official coach, Itu-o-Tane College – a co-ed school nestled in the village of Avao – is making an impact with its girls' team reigning as national champions and the boys dominating in both 7-a-side and 15-a-side. "Rugby is still a developing sport in Samoa," explains Manaui. "The school's principal is the coach and it was his idea to introduce a girls' team." Two of the boys have since been selected for the U20 men's national team.

Match day (Samoa vs Chile): "Surreal doesn't even begin to describe the feeling. As a girl from the small island of Samoa, I never imagined myself in France, among the best of the best. But there I was, living the dream. Being a rugby enthusiast, I had a basic understanding of the rules, but witnessing the game at the most professional level was so exciting. Despite only having one camera, I quickly learned when it was best to switch lenses. For most of the game, I used the Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III USM, but when there was a throw-in at the 10, I would swap to the Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8L IS USM lens. The most valuable lesson I learned from my mentor was to be patient and take my time with the shots, but the whole experience helped me grow both personally and professionally."

A headshot of Manaui Precious Naumalila Ash-Faulalo smiling at the camera with a yellow flower tucked behind her right ear.

Manaui Precious Naumalila Ash-Faulalo, 22

Manaui grew up in New Zealand, as well as Samoa, where she currently resides. It was here she discovered her passion for photography while studying journalism, and today she works for the Samoa Observer. Her ultimate career goal is to document Samoan life and showcase it on a global platform.

Country representing at RWC: Samoa

Social media: @manauif

Mentor feedback – Saeed Khan: "Manaui possesses the talent to become a skilled sports photographer. Sports photography is the fusion of art and science, so anyone aspiring to be a good sports photographer needs to understand both aspects, but she was a quick learner and an attentive observer. Throughout this project, I witnessed substantial growth in her photography and her approach to her subject. The journey of improvement and professionalism continues as she eagerly anticipates more challenges."

In the shower area, a rugby player wearing a red jersey and with a streak of red in his dark hair pulls an orange rope to warm up his neck before a game. Taken on a Canon EOS R3 with a Canon RF 24-70mm F2.8L IS USM lens by Valentine Chapuis.

Home project: "After lunch, the Saint-Sulpice players rest – some play cards, others prefer to isolate themselves for a quick nap or listen to music," explains Valentine Chapuis. "Then everyone heads to the locker rooms for the last warm-ups, the last massages, before entering the field. Here, hooker Fano Soulage warms up his neck. He chose a secluded and quiet place: the showers! With his eyes closed, he is in his bubble, a few minutes before the start of the match." Taken on a Canon EOS R3 with a Canon RF 24-70mm F2.8L IS USM lens at 24mm, 1/320 sec, f/2.8 and ISO 500. © Valentine Chapuis/AFP

Two French players race for the ball as their Uruguayan opponents look on in a photo taken at Rugby World Cup 2023 on a Canon EOS R3 by Valentine Chapuis.

Match day (France vs Uruguay): "Talk as much as possible with professionals, and practise a lot," says Valentine, when asked for her advice for aspiring photojournalists. "Watch what others are doing – whether they are photographers working for competing agencies or newspapers, or those from the same company. Show humility because the path is infinite in this area." Taken on a Canon EOS R3 with a Canon RF 400mm F2.8L IS USM lens at 1/2000 sec, f/3.2 and ISO 2500. © Valentine Chapuis/AFP

Valentine Chapuis

Home project: Filled with numerous ideas, Valentine eventually settled on photographing Saint-Sulpice, a small amateur rugby club that had ranked high in its league despite its limited budget. "I wanted to share the excitement around this club – there was so much to tell about the players, volunteers, supporters, friends and family," she enthuses. "My mentor made me realise it's OK to use flash outdoors to take portraits – something I hadn't tried before."

Match day (France vs Uruguay): "A Rugby World Cup match in France, where the French team is playing? The atmosphere was always going to be good! The stands were full and the audience was so excited. I felt a lot of gratitude for having the chance to cover the host nation. I had a lot of fun taking photos using my two Canon EOS R3 cameras. One was mounted with a Canon RF 400mm F2.8L IS USM lens and the other with a Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8L IS USM lens. My mentor encouraged me to free myself from taking 'easy' photos by shooting with an original touch. The whole experience helped me to gain confidence, and inspired me to give the best of myself. Progress is my paramount goal."

A headshot of Valentine Chapuis wearing a black sweater, a pendant and glasses.

Valentine Chapuis, 32

Representing France, Valentine is a self-taught photographer from Vesoul, now based in Toulouse. Passionate about journalism for as long as she can remember, Valentine started working for a local newspaper in 2015 and says her approach to shooting has since become more creative. Valentine's ambition is to join AFP as a staff photographer.

Country representing at RWC: France

Social media: @valentinechapuisphoto

Mentor feedbackLionel Bonaventure: "Valentine no longer needs my advice, she is a talented photographer. The main thing I noticed during the programme was how quickly and effectively Valentine swapped from her old camera to the EOS R3. It's not always easy to change cameras and acquire the dexterity to be quick during an assignment, but she was great."

Members of the mixed-ability rugby team Pumpas XV and their coach appear to perform some warm-up exercises. One member appears to shout as he's surrounded by the others. Taken on a Canon EOS R6 by Tomás Francisco Cuesta.

Home project: "The Pumpas XV is a mixed-ability rugby team," says Tomás Francisco Cuesta. "What makes the story special for me is that in many ways, the players are given a place where they really belong and get to be the 'main characters'. Getting to work with the players was one of the best things about the project. My mentor, Juan Mabromata's experience in sports photography has been an invaluable asset for me." Taken on a Canon EOS R6 with a Canon Mount Adapter EF-EOS R and a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens at 24mm, 1/1250 sec, f/5.6 and ISO 400. © Tomás Francisco Cuesta/AFP

An Argentinian player grabs his English opponent by the knees as teammates from both sides rush towards the ball in a photo taken at Rugby World Cup 2023 on a Canon EOS R3 by Tomás Francisco Cuesta

Match day (Argentina vs England): "I think in sports photography, to be truly good one has to know the sport they are photographing," advises Tomás, keen to share his insights with other up and coming photojournalists. "This is something I need to improve myself, but what I realise from my mentor and other great sports photographers is that it gives them a great advantage." Taken on a Canon EOS R3 with a Canon RF 400mm F2.8L IS USM lens at 1/1600 sec, f/2.8 and ISO 1600. © Tomás Francisco Cuesta/AFP

Tomás Francisco Cuesta

Home project: Tomás turned his lens towards the Pumpas XV, a mixed-ability rugby team from Buenos Aires. "Before being in the team, the players were said to be totally different people," claims Tomás, who says he was drawn to the transformative impact being in the team had had on its players. "Their families told me that having that space had given them a whole new purpose."

Match day (Argentina vs England): "In sports photography, to be truly good, one has to know the sport they are photographing, but my mentor Juan Mabromata had such great understanding that he basically knew what was going to happen before it happened, which was a huge advantage. I learned so much from him. The speed of the Canon EOS R3 both in focusing and shooting was something I hadn't experienced before, which helps a lot in sports photography. I teamed it with the Canon RF 400mm F2.8L IS USM lens which was so light compared to the older models, and helps when you're shooting for long periods of time. Juan suggested I use the 400mm lens to fill the frame with the players' upper bodies, and then switch to my second camera, the Canon EOS R6, attached to a Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8L IS USM lens, to create variety. He also taught me to always shoot many photos after the one you want, just in case."

A headshot of Tomás Francisco Cuesta wearing a brown t-shirt, photographed against a grey background.

Tomás Francisco Cuesta, 26

Born and raised in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Tomás' talent was nurtured from a young age by his photographer mother. Among his career highlights is an honourable mention from World Press Photo for his work capturing the nation's celebrations after Argentina won the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Looking to the future, Tomás dreams of photographing the next football World Cup.

Country representing at RWC: Argentina

Social media: @tomifcuesta

Mentor feedbackJuan Mabromata: "I have collaborated with Tomás in the past, and definitely want him on my team. My advice to him is to continue absorbing knowledge from whoever he chooses to guide him, and to keep asking questions."

See the other 15 mentees' photos from their home projects in the gallery below.

Natalie Denton

Canon was an official sponsor of Rugby World Cup 2023™, which took place in France from 8 September to 28 October 2023. 

TM © Rugby World Cup Limited 2023. All rights reserved.

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