World Cup Soccer: Life on the Road with UF Photojournalism Alum Adrian Dennis

Two Russian football fans wearing national dress pose with Dennis in the fan fest zone in Sochi during the Russia vs. Uruguay match.

When the final whistle is blown to end the FIFA World Cup soccer tournament Sunday, July 15, photojournalist Adrian Dennis, BA ’94, will have spent 34 days away from his native England. As senior photographer in the London office of Agence France-Presse (AFP), Dennis will have shot thousands of frames during World Cup matches in Russia, bringing his award-winning expertise to publications and soccer fans worldwide.

What is life like on the road for this globe-trotting 49-year-old UF Alumnus of Distinction whose first published photographs appeared in the Independent Florida Alligator in the late 1980s? Through a series of edited questions and answers, Dennis explains.

Q: What cities have you visited to photograph matches?
 A: Unlike previous World Cups I’ve covered, this year I spent most of my time in one place. I’ve been one of three AFP photographers based in Sochi, the most southerly and hottest venue for the World Cup. I spent four weeks melting beside the Black Sea in the same city which hosted the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Q: Tell me about the specific gear you are using.
A: I use Canon equipment. I have travelled here with four EOS 1-DX MKII cameras and an array of lenses including: 16mm-35mm/f4, 24mm-70mm/f2.8, 70mm-200mm/f2.8 and a 400mm/f2.8. I also have a flash and all the usual extras like monopod, plates, ball heads and Pocket Wizards for remote cameras. Plus I have a laptop.

Adrian Dennis (left) edits images in camera and transmits to editors on the fly. (photo by Odd Andersen/AFP)

Q: How many frames do you shoot in a typical soccer match?
A: Depending on how good the game is and your position in the stadium, I will shoot anywhere from 2,000 to 3,000 photos per match plus the remote (unmanned) cameras which can have hundreds of frames on them, usually of nothing.

Q: How is the editing done?
A: All the games are shot “tag and send.” AFP has cabled (internet connected) all of our pre-assigned positions around the football pitch. During the match our cameras are connected to the internet via FTP settings. When I shoot a decent or relevant picture, I send the picture directly from the camera into the AFP server which takes fractions of a second. An editor outside Russia is then able to caption and validate the photo to our clients around the world within minutes.

Q: What is the worst part about being away from your home for so long?
A: Being away on assignment is not quite so glamourous as it once used to be. In reality, I miss my family. I have three kids (although I’m not so sure they miss me). Whilst away, I have missed my son’s birthday, and a wedding anniversary yet again! Also, one of my neighbors died suddenly, which is all a bit sad finding out that kind of news from afar. I also miss the usual routine in my life: going to the gym, playing football, and would you believe this? — eating out every day, three times a day for a month, isn’t as brilliant as it sounds. The typical Russian breakfast of boiled chicken, cabbage and cauliflower isn’t exactly mouth-watering. If only Sonny’s BBQ was here!

Q: What about photographing so many games? Does it get repetitive?
A: By the time I leave Russia I will have covered only eight games. Some of my freelance colleagues have covered 20+ games and travelled thousands of miles. I had a similar schedule to that at the last World Cup in Brazil where I only covered games and took more than 20 flights around the country. Neither scenario is ideal in my opinion! It’s “feast or famine.” I wouldn’t say it gets boring, but let’s just say I haven’t actually shot a picture I’m happy with up to this point.

Q: How did you feel about England doing well but not making the finals?
A: The England team has been one of the stories of this World Cup. Unfortunately for me, I haven’t photographed any of their games. It would have been incredible to have seen them in the final considering the one and only time they won the World Cup (1966) was before I was born.

In Moscow, Dennis waits for the final game to be played on July 15, 2018. (photo by Odd Andersen/AFP)

Q: What do you do during down time between matches?
A: We work nearly every day if only for a couple of hours. In between photographing training sessions, I spend my time running or looking at my navel. The TV in my room in Sochi didn’t work and I read a car magazine I brought with me from cover to cover. Go on, ask me a question about the fuel efficiency of a VW Passat….

Q: Have you been in the same hotel for 30+ days, or what?
 A: In Sochi we stayed in the former Winter Olympic media village housing complex. This has now been converted into a holiday camp for middle-class Russian families. It consists of 18 identical buildings, each five stories tall. It was ring-fenced and you needed to enter via a turnstile. When arriving or departing you needed to show the security personnel there wasn’t anything — or indeed any “body” — in the trunk of the car. And did I mention the TV didn’t work?

Q: Do you have any advice for those studying journalism at the University of Florida today, like you did more than 25 years ago?
 A: Yes. Enjoy your time in Weimer Hall and Gainesville. I still consider my time there as some of the best days of my life! Go Gators.

Adrian Dennis has been on the staff of Agence France-Presse since 2000. He covers a variety of assignments in the United Kingdom and around the world with an emphasis on sports photography. While studying at the University of Florida, he worked for The Gainesville Sun, The St. Petersburg Times and The Eugene Register-Guard in Oregon. He was named Sports Photographer of the Year in 2012 and 2014 by England’s Sports Journalists Association. Dennis is a UF College of Journalism and Communications Alumni of Distinction winner. The award has been given to only 152 alumni from 31,000 graduates of the College since its inception in 1970.