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The journey to photographing a World Cup final

Four years ago: the top of the stands. Today: pitchside.

Pitchside view of Groupama Stadium with a mini-banana.
Nikita Taparia

This was my view on July 5th, 2015, when the USWNT won the World Cup in Canada. It was after a Reign-Portland 2014 game that I knew I had to buy tickets to the World Cup. I could not miss out on an opportunity to experience a final to the biggest event when it was a few hours away from me. I brought my camera for fun and just used the default automatic settings.

My view of the World Cup Final 2015.
Nikita Taparia

A few days ago, I got the email confirming my credentials for the 2019 World Cup final in France. We often talk about four year journeys for players as they make a World Cup roster. I started reflecting on my own four year journey and the important people involved.

After the World Cup in 2015, I started using Reign games at Memorial Stadium as my training ground. I would bring my basic camera to each game early, sit front row, and just take pictures. If you know anything about Memorial stadium, you know the lighting is terrible and my camera was definitely not equipped to photograph sports in low light. But that never really stopped me. In fact, it just forced me to get creative and artistic.

Celebration photos from the stands are the best.
Nikita Taparia

Two years later, I got an unexpected message from Ann Odong, asking me to photograph the Matildas for Tournament of Nations. It was my first pitchside experience and I had never been more nervous. The moment the games were over, I knew I had to do it again. I could never go back to being just a fan in the stands. I was absolutely addicted.

Pitchside at Centurylink stadium in Seattle, 2017.
Nikita Taparia

That’s when I decided to send cold emails because sometimes you have to make your own luck. The subject of my email to Alex Ratcliff: “NWSL/USWNT photographer hoping to add a new perspective to the women’s game.” He was the first person to emphasize off the pitch moments for me, something I pride myself in now. With his help, I got to photograph the Thorns v Pride 2017 semifinal among many other games. I always say Memorial Stadium is where I unleashed my creativity and Providence Park is where I learned to paint soccer renaissance paintings and capture atmosphere.

The day I learned the beauty of a soccer renaissance painting.
Nikita Taparia

And while I regard the NWSL semifinal as my best game of that year, I think the biggest moment of 2017 was returning to BC Place, home of the 2015 World Cup final, as a photographer. I remember saying ‘I started from the top and now I’m here’ because it seemed unreal that I could be back in the place where it all began.

BC Place, pitchside, 2017.
Nikita Taparia

As luck would have it, that’s where I met Katelyn Best, and nearly a month later, I joined Stumptown Footy as a photographer. At this point, my work is now scattered across many of the NWSL SB Nation blogs. However, last year, just when I thought it could not get better, I was given the opportunity to showcase my pitchside creativity for a few NWSL games (thank you Jacqueline Purdy and Meg Linehan). I think it was after the championship game, I knew I had to apply for World Cup credentials.

I know there was some luck involved, but as I have always believed: luck is just when preparation meets opportunity. Every single NWSL game trained me for this moment. Four years ago, I could barely operate a camera properly. Two years ago, I could not believe I got to photograph a game pitchside. Today, I get to photograph a World Cup final.