For Chad Gibson, capturing football culture has meant being present at some magic moments. [Courtesy of Olympus]

SKAAAY. All eyes on the golden woman of Australian Football Sam Kerr.

It was 2011 and after more than 13 years playing football at the professional level, Chad Gibson had fallen out of love with a game he’d been playing his entire life. Happily, his loss of affection was only temporary. ‘After a year sabbatical, I fell back in love with the game like never before. I wanted to show people how I saw football.’ So, he founded Local FC, an online publication devoted to his beloved sport.

His partner (and future wife) was then completing her Masters in design and it was she who urged him to pick up a camera. ‘I kind of hid my creative side when I played and at the time football culture was not a thing like today. No one was capturing the game the way I saw it and telling the stories I saw within football; the emotional and authentic side. I wanted to change the game. And LOCALFC made its debut.’

Make Em Say Uhhhh. Congo player warming up before match. I am lying on the pitch capturing this image.

Asked to describe himself as a photographer, Chad says ‘I aspire for my work to be authentic, real and timeless – descriptors that don’t often fit with contemporary sports media.’ As he puts it, ‘I have lived football culture my whole life, I was born into the game. That knowledge and lifelong dedication to football impacts not only the intimacy with which I shoot the game itself, but the way I shoot the players, the trust they have in me, the emotions I want to convey in the photographs – I understand them and in some ways I tell my stories through their stories.’

Strapped. Players from Congo strap each other’s ankles in Syd African Cup.

These days, along with running Local FC, Chad is an Olympus Visionary. Some years ago he says, ‘I had been reading up on mirrorless cameras and was really attracted to the size and weight of the Olympus – but didn’t want to lose on quality. I trialled the camera and was so impressed. The quality was perfect for my fast speed and low light shooting. On top of that it meant travelling and shooting became a lot easier. No more sore back. It was a pleasure to carry around my camera. I also do a lot of videography work, so to also have a camera that could transition between video and photography seamlessly – without any compromise on quality for either – was a huge bonus.’

Chad’s go-to combo is his Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II paired with an M.Zuiko Digital ED 25mm f/1.2 PRO lens. ‘It allows me to be on the move and capture moments. I love the f/1.2 for my interview and portraiture work when I want a lens that is not intimidating for the subject. They forget it’s there and they come across real and raw.’

The discreet and unobtrusive Olympus system doesn’t get in the way of his work with media-conscious players. ‘I have been on the other side and used to protect myself like they do,’ he says. ‘There’s always a risk that people who are too used to cameras will be a bit rigid or staged, projecting a persona or a message that they think needs to be conveyed. It can be hard to get past that, so usually I interrupt the shoot with a relaxed interview, then start shooting again once they’ve let their guard down.’

Naturally, when it comes to capturing the action on the pitch, Chad needs his longer focal lenses. ‘The Olympus M.Zuiko PRO range is amazing and really allows me to mix up my range when shooting. For games, it’s a mixture of the M-ZUIKO ED 40-150mm PRO f/2.8 and the M-ZUIKO ED 300mm PRO f/4.0. The 40-150mm is my standard game lens. I am shooting a lot with the 300mm as it allows me to get up close and create my signature portraiture style match shots.’

The Last Dance. Tim Cahill at 12:05am finally reaches the change room after his final Socceroos match.

The in-tight, intimate perspective is emblematic of Chad’s work. Capturing football culture has also meant being present at some magic moments, one of which was when he documented Tim Cahill’s last game. ‘I have known Tim pretty much my whole life and have worked with him for the last five years. He trusts me completely and allows me to capture moments you don’t see. For his final Socceroos game I spent time with him during the day, but after the game I followed him on his lap of honour. He signed every autograph and took every photo with the fans. By the time he got back to the change room it was just Tim, me and the Socceroos Media Manager at 12:05 AM. It was probably my favourite shoot of the year and really captures what photography means to me. The moment he took his Socceroos jersey off for the last time and the reality started to sink in. That photograph is why I do what I do.’