The Questionnaire: Karina Hoskyns

Karina Hoskyns is a former international fencer who has become a leading sports photographer, and has a highly commended accolade from the SJA Sports Journalism Awards to show for it.

Here, she takes a quick break between England v Pakistan cricket Tests to answer the SJA Website Questionnaire, explains her admiration for Seve Ballesteros and Leon Mason, and how tough it can be for a woman to break into the business, but also how there have been a lot of colleagues who have helped her along the way.

How did you get into the business?

I first became interested in sports photography while competing in fencing competitions around the world and I started taking pictures of the other competitors for a French fencing magazine.

Later, while living in Paris, I studied at the société Francaise de Photographie and started working as photographer for the French and international fencing federations.

On returning to England I had the good fortune to work for Phil Sheldon on the European Golf Tour for four years, which gave me invaluable experience working for one of the best golf photographers around.

I then became freelance, and have photographed at all Olympic Games since 1988, as well as many other major sports tournaments, including World Cups, British & US Opens and World Championships in various sports.

Last season I joined up with Mike Haberfield to form Sportsview. We specialise in rugby and cricket with work consistently used by all the national newspapers.

What was your first sports journalism assignment?

My first major assignment was being sent by the international fencing federation to cover the Seoul Olympics. I was still competing at that time and had to make a choice between becoming a full-time professional photographer or carrying on fencing competitively. I had mixed feelings, but it was an unforgettable experience and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

What has been your most memorable assignment during your career?

Both the Sydney and Athens Olympics were incredible, and the first Open Championship golf I covered for Phil also holds great memories.

I suppose when it comes down to it it’s the success of the pictures that counts, and last season’s Six Nations rugby, particularly the England v Wales game, was memorable for that reason.

But I think the best of all was the first golf tournament abroad that Phil sent me to cover on my own, the Tour Qualifying School in Montpellier. I spent the week rushing round the golf course, then on the last day got up at 5am for reasons best known to myself, went on to the practice ground to see what was happening and managed to get a picture of the players silhouetted against the most incredible sunrise – still my best picture to date.

What is the latest task you have been working on?

At the moment I’m spending most days doing cricket. The days are pretty long and it can get fairly tiring in the heatwave we’ve been having, but I enjoy it very much. It’ll be a bit of a shock to be back in the cold and rain again once the rugby season starts!

How difficult has it been working in sports journalism as a woman?

There are advantages and disadvantages. I have met some prejudice in some quarters, although nothing recently. When I first started working for Phil I got to know Eileen Langsley, who had a lot of experience as one of the first women sports photographers, and she was kind enough to offer me advice and support, for which I was grateful.

Most of the time I don’t feel too different to my male colleagues, but obviously there are differences. Sometimes it can work in your favour, for example stewards tend to be more helpful when it comes to car park spaces or access to photo positions. On the other hand I do find it physically very hard carrying around the heavy lenses (I struggle with my 400mm f/2.8 but it’s a great lens so I put up with it weighing a ton!).

I also used to find myself stuck on practice grounds on the first couple of days at golf tournaments doing the head shots, as Phil thought the players would be less likely to refuse the request coming from a girl.

Which colleagues or managers have been most influential or helpful in your career, and how?

The person who had the most influence on me was Phil Sheldon. When I came back to live in England he offered me the opportunity to work for him, which was a great learning experience and a huge privilege. He provided me with the best possible start to becoming a full-time professional sports photographer and was a pleasure to work for.

Name your greatest sporting hero, and why.

Seve Ballesteros – he managed to combine genius with being a great entertainer and often made the impossible seem easy.

What changes in the business during your career have you most welcomed?

I waited for ages until finally taking the plunge and going from film to digital, as I didn’t want to sacrifice the quality of film. However, when I did change over, it revolutionised my way of working and made everything so much easier I wondered why I didn’t do it earlier.

…and what changes in the business do you really dislike?

As some sports get more popular it can make our lives harder as there are more restrictions on the way photographers can work. Some problems in particular, like photo positions and access to grounds, can be sorted out – but photographers in particular do seem to suffer.

Which sports journalist’s work do you look for first (and why)?

I’ve admired Leo Mason’s work ever since I was a child wanting to be a sports photographer when I grew up.

Also Patrick Eagar and David Ashdown, as they always manage to not only capture the moment, but come up with something a little bit different to everyone else.

James Bond: Sean Connery or Roger Moore?

Sean Connery

For details of how to become an SJA member, like Karina, click here.