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The power of her camera lens

Shooting major events around the globe, photographer Hannah Peters has captured some unforgettable moments in New Zealand sport.

There’s a good chance you’ve seen Hannah Peters’ image of the moment Serena Williams became an ASB Classic tennis champion in January.

The black and white monochrome photograph features Williams with her arms raised, head pointing to the sky and an uproar of emotion as she celebrates her victory. It symbolises elation, the tough grind and a woman on a mission - captivating the viewer.

Sports photographer Peters says Williams’ raw emotion makes the tennis legend one of her favourite athletes to shoot (along with Paralympian Sophie Pascoe and All Black Ardie Savea).

As we may see the image for its face value, Peters sees the story behind it - one of the greatest sportswomen of all time winning her first tournament since the birth of her daughter.

The image is also a reminder of that particular time when Peters had one shot at getting the photo.

“There were a lot of outside variables that I had to get past to make sure that picture happened like that,” the Auckland-based photographer says. “There was a shadow coming across the court. There was a lot going on in that moment, but I didn’t expect her to put her arms up like that.”

Hannah Peters on the job at the 2011 Rugby World Cup. Photo: Getty Images.

Peters is used to trying to get ahead of the play, and says it really is about being in the right place at the right time.

“It’s quite nerve-wracking and quite stressful,” the 36-year-old says of her job. “There are so many things that can happen. A referee might stand in front of you and you can’t really do anything about that. So that’s why it’s really rewarding when it does come all together.”

From the Olympics and Paralympics, to a basketball court on the streets of Hong Kong, Peters has seen – and captured - many amazing sights.

She’s carved up an incredible career, seeing different moments and angles to people and places, and it’s something she’s done most of her life.

Peters grew up following rugby religiously and was interested in tennis and hockey. But she also loved photography. She would play around with her Dad’s camera taking photos of her cat and anything she could find around home.

Her fascination grew when she received her first Canon film camera from her parents and took up photography as a subject at St Cuthbert's College. This was at a time when the darkroom was still used to develop film, and digital cameras were just being introduced.

It was here Peters acquired the initial skills and knowledge that continue to serve her today. She still thinks back to her teenage years and the possibility she may have never entered her career had she not been given the opportunity at school.

At 17, and just one day out of high school, Peters started her first job at PhotoSport. She learned on the job, filing and editing other people’s work and taking photos on  weekends. She then freelanced for three years and eventually joined Getty Images, where she’s worked for the last decade.

Sophie Pascoe in the 100m breaststroke SB9 heat at the London 2012 Paralympics. Photo: Hannah Peters/Getty Images

Her journey is different to many, but that's what makes it so special, she admits. She relishes the unknown and adapting to whatever task she's presented with.

“When I started, I didn’t really think [age] was an issue. I just kind of got on with it,” Peters says. “You just do what you can do and as long as you’re passionate and put the effort in and shoot time and time again, it doesn’t really matter what age you are.”

It’s this confidence and her persistence to work hard at her craft that’s seen her cover some of the most celebrated moments in New Zealand sport.

Her first major sporting event was the 2004 Athens Paralympics: “The Paralympics and Olympics are the hardest you’ll ever work, but definitely the most rewarding.”

She was there four years later to capture the moment Para swimmer Pascoe burst onto the world stage at the Beijing Paralympics.

She still remembers her first big photoshoot – taking the All Blacks’ headshots with rugby greats Richie McCaw and Dan Carter. “I was feeling very nervous. There’s a lot going through your mind in terms of technical stuff with the camera and lighting,” she says.

But even when she’s at large-scale events or taking photos of some of the most successful athletes, Peters is confident knowing that she is always prepared. She keeps up-to-date with the latest news to make sure she is aware of certain angles she has to cover.

Wheel Black Maia Amai-Marshall in a portrait session in 2015. Photo: Hannah Peters/Getty Images

For games and training sessions in particular, she is continuously thinking about the change in light in her environment and what point of view she's going for. She also has to adapt to the movements of her subjects to catch the action when it happens.

“You've got to have that news sense as well as ‘Okay what do I want out of this game in terms of pictures and where am I gonna go? Am I going to be running the sidelines? Am I going to be static?’,” Peters says.

Even after all Peters has experienced and achieved, she is most proud of being a mum to her three-year-old son, Jossi.

He’s the reason she’s so dedicated to what she does, she says, and why she’s focused on finding a work-life balance. When she’s travelling, her husband Harley, a cameraman for Newshub, is always there to support her and their son, making it a lot easier.

Peters draws inspiration from many photographers, including Australian Adam Pretty, who also works for Getty. He pays close attention to detail and uses innovative ways to portray situations and people.

Her own creativity comes from looking at other people’s pictures and being influenced by art and architecture.

The Black Ferns perform the haka at Eden Park in 2019. Photo Hannah Peters/Getty Images

In the future, Peters would love to cover the NBA finals or a main event boxing fight in Las Vegas. Right now, she’s preparing for the Tokyo Olympics, now postponed to sometime next year. 

Her major goal after having Jossi in 2016 was to get back to another Olympic Games. After her first, in London in 2012, she was mesmerised and couldn’t wait to go back.

As she continues to take it one snapshot at a time, she’s always finding ways to challenge herself and improve her work. She’s thankful to be able to do what she loves every day.

Peters’ advice for aspiring photographers is that anyone can do it and making mistakes is all a part of the process.

“I’m still learning by making mistakes, so if you get chucked in the deep end and make a mistake, you won’t do it again. Keep building your portfolio by going to club rugby games or any kind of sports that you can get into,” she says.

“If you’ve got a good eye, the cream rises to the top; you’ll get there eventually.”

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