Pete Dovgan – photographer extraordinaire
By ALEC SMART
Wolf Alice at Laneway Festival 2018. Photo: Peter Dovgan
Peter Dovgan is a Sydney photographer, based in the inner-city. When he’s not in the photo pit at music concerts, he’s frequently covering major sporting events around the world, a quiet achiever among the documentary crew on the sidelines.
If you enjoy live music and major sporting tournaments, chances are you’ve seen one of Pete Dovgan’s images online or in print. Pete’s one of those talented image-makers with an uncanny ability to take iconic photos. Chuck him into a challenging situation – rainy festivals, dimly-lit venues, crowded dancefloors, fast-moving subjects - the odds are he’ll emerge with stunning images.
World no.1 women's tennis champion, Ashleigh Barty, competes in the
Australian Open tournament in Melbourne, 2020. Photo: Peter Dovgan
How old was he when he started taking photos, and at what stage in his development did he realise it was a viable career option?
“Photography was a passion of my father,” he revealed, “so you could say it’s always been around me. I got my first camera for Xmas when I was 12. It was a Kodak Instamatic and it was heaps of fun! He encouraged us to play with his camera collection and let me take his Canon T70 when I went backpacking around the world. It was a great camera to cut my teeth on.
“Several decades later, I was looking for a creative outlet outside of work and purchased my first digital camera, which was a Canon 1000D. It was a good camera but I quickly realised I needed better equipment to shoot live music. From there I bought a Canon 5D and lots of lenses. I kept shooting live music, met professional photographers and they recommended me for paid events. It was at that point I realised a career change wasn’t far away.”
Roger Federer, Australian Open, Melbourne, Jan 2020. Photo: Peter Dovgan
Was live music one of the first forms of documentary photography he pursued?
“Yes, absolutely!” he declared. “My first love has always been the alternative live music scene both here and overseas. Living in London, I got to see lots of bands and put the T70 to good use. I would just take photos from the crowd. My most memorable gigs would be The Cramps at the Hammersmith Odeon, The Cocteau Twins at the Town and Country Club and The Fleshtones in New York.”
When did he first start shooting live concerts?
“Back in 2011 when I purchased my Canon 1000D, I would sneak it into festivals like Laneway Festival and All Tomorrow’s Parties,” he recalled. “I quickly became addicted and my friends would often tell me I should do it for a living. I started researching how to get photo passes to gigs and came across blogs with lots of tips and tricks.
“I used my festival images to approach publications and got my first opportunity with Faster Louder and the AU Review. They published my images and I kinda built my CV from there. It was amazing to get access to the photo pits and before I knew it I had access to all the major festivals, Big Day Out, Soundwave, Byron Bay Bluesfest and Splendour In The Grass, plus major artists from around the world and my favourite local bands.
Paul McCartney, Sydney 2017. Photo: Peter Dovgan
What are some of the most memorable concerts he has covered?
“Oh that’s a hard one, it’s like choosing your favourite record, which is almost impossible!” he said. “I’ve been really lucky in being able to photograph some of my all-time favourite bands and rock and roll icons. Shooting Paul McCartney in Sydney 2017 was amazing, brought back a lot of childhood memories. Iggy Pop at Bluesfest 2019; Johnny Marr at Splendour in The Grass 2015; Radiohead at the Sydney Entertainment Centre 2012; and my current favourite band Wolf Alice at Laneway Festival 2018.
“But the gig that really stands out for me was shooting Foals at the Enmore Theatre 2013. Usually the rule is: first 3 songs and then you leave the pit, but instead they let us shoot the last four songs. I got to watch the whole gig but it was obvious something was going to happen at the end of the concert. Sure enough, the lead singer Yannis jumped into the crowd and went to the lounge upstairs, climbed onto the balcony and dived back into the crowd. Incredible, and I got the shot!”
Foals at Enmore Theatre 2013 - singer Yannis leaps into the crowd. Photo: Peter Dovgan
How did he get into sport photography?
“Long story short, through contacts from my old career in advertising I scored a photo pass to the Arsenal v Sydney FC game in 2017,” he revealed. “I’m a huge Arsenal fan and felt like the luckiest guy in Sydney. I also scored a photo pass for the Liverpool v Sydney FC game and used the photos to approach European photo agencies as I knew I had no chance to crack the local Australian photo agencies without any sports photo experience.
“Working as a Sydney-based stringer for them, I quickly started getting access to premier events like the Commonwealth Games, Rugby League World Cup, Ashes cricket and FIFA World Cup qualifiers. I think it helps that I’m also a massive sports fan, so it wasn’t hard for me to connect passion to career.”
What are some of the most memorable sporting events he has covered?
“Hard to choose,” he considered, “but I would say the FIFA World Cup in Russia in 2018 was definitely a highlight. I travelled to eight cities over six weeks culminating in the World Cup final in Moscow. I was shooting for an English agency at the time, so as their team progressed to the semi-final, I followed them, also shooting Socceroos in all their group matches.
French centre Paul Pogba celebrates after France won the 2018 FIFA soccer world cup. Photo: Peter Dovgan
“Working alongside the best sports photographers in the world was humbling. Then I went to the Olympics in Tokyo in 2021. Even though it looked like it would never happen, I couldn’t believe I got there in the end.
“Professionally, it was a completely different environment for me - lots of different sports to cover with all the COVID restrictions. It was by far my career highlight to date. Also I’m a big tennis fan and covering the Australian Open in 2020 was amazing.”
What equipment does he use when shooting sports? Does he need several cameras to avoid changing lenses?
“I use Canon equipment and always carry three bodies, but mostly use two. My main body is 1DX Mk3 back up 1DX Mk2 and lenses 400mm prime and the trusty 70-200mm.
“A monopod is a must for use of the 400mm. For cricket I borrow from Canon 600mm and use extenders. At major sporting events like Olympics, FIFA World Cup and Australian Tennis Open the big camera manufacturer’s like Canon, Nikon and Sony set up shop on site so we can borrow the latest in camera gear to try out and they supply support for any camera issues.”
Womens Beach Volleyball, Aust-v-USA, Tokyo Olympics 2020. Photo: Peter Dovgan
In which direction does he see his photography career heading?
“Right now I’m doing everything I want to do in my career. I’ve got my eye on the World Cup in Qatar later this year. I’m really looking forward to shooting the Australian World Cup qualifiers and I’ll be applying to shoot the Paris Olympics in 2024.
“In between, I’ll continue to shoot live music as Sydney emerges from COVID and also focus on my corporate event work.”
Live music albums: https://www.flickr.com/photos/petedov/albums
Iggy Pop, Bluesfest 2019. Photo: Peter Dovgan