Andrei Golovanov and Sergei Kivrin

A black and white image of a person riding a flyboard on a reservoir, with spray from the water flying all around.

Canon Ambassador Andrei Golovanov, who works in partnership with fellow Russian photographer Sergei Kivrin, captured this atmospheric black and white image of a competitor riding a flyboard during a motorboat championship on the Pirogov Reservoir in Russia. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark II (now succeeded by the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III) with a Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM lens at 70mm, 1/2500 sec, f/5.6 and ISO200. © Andrei Golovanov

Canon Ambassadors and Russian sports photographers Andrei Golovanov and Sergei Kivrin are a great example of why two heads are better than one.

Their collaborative imagery has adorned the pages of almost all of Russia's daily newspapers and sports magazines, plus international titles such as Newsweek, Cosmopolitan, the Los Angeles Times and The New York Times for more than 30 years.

However, it wasn't sports photography that first piqued Sergei's interest; the son of the famous Soviet photographer Vladislav Kivrin wanted to be a photojournalist. "At the end of the eighties dramatic events took place in our country, and genres such as sport were not interesting against that backdrop. People fought for their lives, not for gold medals," Sergei explains. His eventual frustration with the authorities led him to try a new genre. "I began to shoot sports, because during those Soviet times it was the only area where you could show the truth. Other types of photography were basically just propaganda."

In 1986, Sergei was working for Soviet Union magazine, a photo journal in the Picture Post mould. The work of Andrei Golovanov, a young photographer working on the Soviet Sport newspaper, caught Sergei's eye and he suggested the editor take him on. "Since then, we've always worked together," he explains. The dissolution of the Soviet Union brought many things to an end, including Soviet Union magazine, but it didn't break the pair's working alliance. Facing unemployment, Andrei and Sergei decided to establish their own informal agency where they agreed to halve the fees for all their work, and to always use both their surnames on picture credits.

It's a partnership that has served them well; the premier sports photographers have documented many of the most memorable moments in wrestling, volleyball, swimming, hockey, tennis and shooting over the past three decades, and are ever-present at all the world's major sporting events.

Canon Ambassadors Andrei Golovanov and Sergei Kivrin.
Location: Russia

Specialist areas: Sports, reportage

Favourite kit:
Canon EOS-1D X Mark II
Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM
Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III USM
Russian figure skater Evgenia Medvedeva holds an ice skate to the side of her head as she looks straight at the camera.

Andrei shot this memorable portrait of Russian figure skater and two-time world champion Evgenia Medvedeva in Moscow, Russia in 2019. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark II with a Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM lens at 168mm, 1/250 sec, f/9 and ISO100. © Andrei Golovanov

"It seems to me that such cooperation only has advantages," Sergei suggests. "Firstly, we always have two points of view of an event. Secondly, if one of us misses something, the other is always there as insurance. Thirdly, we never have to pass on assignments, even if one of us is sick. Finally, this arrangement is especially beneficial at large events, where you can capture more than one sport at the same time."

As well as appearing in a host of publications, the duo regularly collaborates with news agencies such as Associated Press and Reuters. Their images have also reaped a host of sports photography awards across the world.

Two women in matching pink and black bathing suits splash in unison during a swimming showcase.

This vibrant image was photographed during a showcase of world-class athletes in Moscow, Russia. Taken on a Canon EOS R6 with a Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM lens at 142mm, 1/2000 sec, f/2.8 and ISO3200. © Andrei Golovanov

When asked what makes their images unique, Sergei explains that they try to make sports reportage aesthetically attractive. "We don't just 'catch' a moment. We pay particular attention to the light, the background, the emotion of the athlete, the beauty of their form, and the dynamics of the sport." Andrei adds: "We know the sport thoroughly and take only the beautiful and unexpected."

Andrei and Sergei are now passing their skills on to the next generation, using their relationship with Canon and the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) to provide masterclasses for sports photographers all over Russia.

What pre-shoot routine should a sports photographer follow?

"You need to know the time of the competition and get to the venue early. Check the internet for up-to-the-minute sports news and if it's a team sport, find out who is playing," says Andrei. "Then head to the venue and reserve your place."

How do you know which is the best place to reserve?

"We have shot sports for a long time, so know instinctively, but if we turn up and see something unusual about the place – how it is lit, the colour of the floor, etc – then we will move," says Andrei.

What type of images work best in sports?

"I've never been interested in capturing goals, or fixing moments," Sergei says. "Human behaviour in extreme conditions, the geometry of the game, the beauty of the body – that's what attracts me. Furthermore, a sports photo is only interesting when the photographer is able to convey his/her attitude to what is happening."

Does the type of sport make a difference to how you shoot?

"I like to shoot where there is struggle, excitement, emotions," says Sergei. "Photographing a local team can be just as interesting as a national championship match. The same can be said about photographing chess. Such a calm sport, but how many emotions are there? How many interesting characters?"

What settings do you typically use?

"Mostly I use shutter priority mode, but if the lighting is complex, or if there's a lot of white and black in the frame, I'll switch to manual mode. I use cross-type rather than single focusing points unless it is snowing or raining," explains Andrei.

One thing I know

Sergei Kivrin

"If you're just starting out, take a look at the type of images famous sports photographers are taking, and try repeating them. Once you've got that down, find a style of your own, something that makes you stand out."

Andrei Golovanov

"You need to fully understand the sport that you want to photograph. You must know the rules, finer details, and who the stars in the teams are. Do as much research as you can and watch it on television to discover the best shooting angles and understand the movement of the sport."

Andrei and Sergei's kitbag

The key kit that the pros use to take their photographs

Andrei and Sergei's kitbag containing Canon cameras, lenses and accessories.



Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III USM

The successor to the Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens that Sergei and Andrei favour. "We use this when we're positioned far from the action, typically in sports such as football, alpine skiing or swimming," explain Andrei and Sergei.

Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS II USM

Compact, manoeuvrable and lightweight, the successor to the Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM delivers outstanding optical performance. "This lens is great for shooting sports such as basketball, volleyball or tennis, where everything happens quite close," Andrei and Sergei say.

Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L IS II USM

Offering outstanding image quality and a fast f/2.8 aperture throughout its zoom range, this lens is the perfect companion to any full-frame EOS camera. "We use this lens for images such as general shots of the stadium, or for the radio-controlled camera we have behind the goal," the pair say.

Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM

A compact and lightweight fixed aperture, ultra wide-angle zoom lens, ideal for professionals and enthusiasts. "This lens is necessary for when we are in the midst of events and action is happening all around us," say Sergei and Andrei.

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