The latest version of the camera Alexander has used for years.
Ever-present at all the world’s major sporting events, and a staff sports photographer at Getty Images, the internationally-celebrated German photographer and Canon Ambassador Alexander Hassenstein has an enviable reputation for always getting the killer shot.
Born in 1971 in former East Germany, Alexander was captivated by photography from a young age, after having borrowed his father’s camera to take shots of his friends playing football.
“I remember these pictures very well because I had no technical experience with cameras [at the time]. Those old cameras were all manual, nothing was automatic. My dad gave me the camera – and I took all the pictures with a long exposure!”
Alexander received his first camera of his own for his 14th birthday, allowing him to immerse himself entirely in the world of sports photography. “I was always fascinated with this kind of photography. It was never a job for me. I love it. I never say I'm doing my job. I'm doing my passion.”
Growing up in a small town, Alexander’s enthusiasm for sports photography was fed by the pictures in the newspapers and magazines he consumed. He believes that living far from any of the larger stadiums actually worked in his favour, as shooting sport at more of a grassroots scale helped him to develop as a photographer.
“There was no big football stadium and that was good. It's hard to get into the big stadiums [as a photographer]. On the little football field, with no media or without any special passes for entrance, you can get in. My experience started on little football fields,” he explains.
After finishing high school in 1987, Alexander studied at a photography school in Potsdam, before moving to Berlin to work as a staff photographer for the daily sports newspaper Deutsches Sportecho in 1990.
“When I was 18 years old, the Wall came down and I moved to Berlin maybe three weeks later. It was the perfect time for me, everything felt possible during this time. I moved from my little village where I was born to the big city. In 1990 it felt like it was the centre of the world."
A year later, he started working for Bongarts Sportphotography, where he stayed until 2004 when he joined Getty Images. For Alexander, the ethos of working as a staff photographer for the agency is much like the sports he covers: competitive, yet full of camaraderie.
“I'm a staff photographer. I'm proud to be a staff photographer in a team. This is very important for me. It's like sports, sometimes you're the front runner. Sometimes you're at the back, but to work with a team, this is the best for me. And we have a nice team with Getty."
Since first covering the Winter Olympics in 1992 in Albertville, Alexander has gone on to cover an impressive number of high-profile sporting events, including a further 13 Olympic Games, five World Cups and 12 Athletics World Championships. However, despite this, he still enjoys covering smaller events. “Again, this is really not just a job for me. I love being part of this life, covering sport everywhere on the globe, whether that’s the Champions League Final or Olympic Final, or the local competitions. Sports have so much power; sport is life.”
Alexander has worked with a broad range of clients, producing images for publications including ESPN Magazine, Der Spiegel, Sports Illustrated, Stern, L'Équipe and Focus. He has also created advertising work for companies such as BMW, Allianz, Nike, Adidas, Deutsche Telekom, Puma, Mercedes Benz and more.
As well as being a veteran sports photographer, Alexander is an experienced shooter of portraits. His subjects have included renowned sportspeople such as Lionel Messi and Usain Bolt, world leaders such as Pope Francis and Vladimir Putin, and celebrities such as Miranda Kerr and Bruce Willis.
For Alexander, working with such big names is always a thrill. “It’s always a big point in my life to have the privilege to talk to them. I always try to keep that in mind. But I always try to be friendly, because we’re working together,” he says.
What can professional photographers who are new to the business often overlook?
"You have to know your equipment. Understand your camera. The camera supports you, nothing more. You have to take the pictures. If you're not familiar with your camera, with your system, with the lenses, with everything, you cannot focus on the pictures, then you're stuck with the technical challenges."
Your portraits have a very distinct aesthetic. Tell us how you achieve that.
"As a sports photographer, you are 90% on a ‘passive mode’. So, in this moment, I imagine a picture. I think, 'If this guy can look at me with that same poker face, or this reaction...' I keep it in my mind, and ask them later on for a studio session."
You've taken some photos of some pretty big names in the past. What does it take to work successfully with celebrities?
"We are all human, you know? A lot of them are really happy to have a little chat, to talk a little bit. Just be real, be yourself. That is why I'm always happy with the face-to-face with these guys in good times and in bad times too, because it’s like sport; today you are the hero, and maybe on the next day, you'll be the biggest loser."
The key kit that the pros use to take their photographs
The latest version of the camera Alexander has used for years.
A versatile fisheye zoom lens offering a choice of full frame or circular image.
The complete range of ultra wide-angle focal lengths in a single high-quality zoom lens. Perfect for shooting landscapes, architecture and interiors.
A fast, ultra wide-angle zoom lens offering excellent optical performance throughout the zoom range. An ideal lens for low-light photography.
A professional-quality standard zoom that offers outstanding image quality and a fast f/2.8 aperture throughout its zoom range.
A favourite lens with professional photographers: fast, flexible and built for any assignment.
Portable and affordable, this is an all-purpose wide-angle lens for full frame cameras, and a high-quality, compact standard lens on DSLRs with APS-C sized sensors.
A fast-aperture super-telephoto lens that delivers a professional performance – ideal for sports, news and wildlife photography.
A super lightweight 600mm f/4 lens, perfect for professional wildlife, sports and news photographers.