When Yan Huckendubler moved from France to Canada, the first thing he did was get involved with the local hockey club. Over 30 years later, Huckendubler has worn many volunteer hats and is unanimously dubbed Canada’s ‘king’ of field hockey photography.
Upon arriving in Canada, Huckendubler volunteered at domestic competitions. It wasn’t long before he shifted into the area of media and communications. As an I.T. professional, Huckendubler loaned his skill set to the hockey community. He contributed to the Field Hockey Canada website and started to provide coverage — and photos — from international events.
“At that point, everyone was really happy to see the scores of the matches and any pictures we could provide. But then people wanted to see more,” he said. “There was never any budget to pay for photos. And I didn’t really know how to take a decent action-shot. So, I just thought, ‘we should take our own photos.’ I bought a half-decent camera and did my best.”
After getting a few tournaments under his belt, including the 1998 World Cup in the Netherlands, Huckendubler started to focus on the photography itself. It wasn’t long before he became one of the most trusted hockey-photographers in Canada — and the world. Reflecting on his career as a volunteer photographer, Huckendubler said the community involvement is somewhat addictive. He loves the magic of an international competition and he’s still blown away by the events he’s been able to attend.
“When I started going to the first few tournaments, I thought it was fun. But now 20 years later, I’ve been to all of these events around the world. I could not have imagined being where I am now,” he said, noting that the more important the event, the more energized he feels as a photographer. “You are on the ground; everybody is cheering and clapping. It’s exciting. Being there, you are a part of the action. You feel pushed to take a good picture. You feel some pressure.”
Huckendubler notes the 2019 women’s and men’s Olympic Qualifiers as major highlights along with the 2016 Olympics, the 2018 World Cup in India and the 2014 and 2018 Commonwealth Games. His photo-capture of women’s national team player, Hannah Haughn at the 2011 Pan American Games in Guadalajara is one of his all-time favourite photos.
“The feelings expressed by players, whether joy or despair, are as much a part of the coverage of the sporting event as the action shots,” he said, referring to the Haughn photo. “It looks like she is about to take off with joy.”
Yan Huckendubler has been taking photos at major international tournaments since the 1998 World Championships
Huckendubler said that he also takes pride in capturing community volunteers, umpires and coaches in his shots. For him the game is all-encompassing and it’s not always about just what’s happening on the field. Next on the agenda for Huckendubler is the Tokyo Olympic Games, taking place July 24 – August 8, 2021. He has secured a photographer’s accreditation and will be pitch-side during the hockey competition. He expects this iteration of the Olympic Games to be different than any prior event, but he remains enthusiastic to witness the world’s best in action.
“It’s usually a big festival. There’s always celebration and partying,” he said, reflecting on his experience in Rio, London and Sydney. “Obviously this will be very different. But I’m expecting the hockey to be at the top level. The games will be amazing and I’m excited to capture the sport on this stage.”
Like many parents, Blair Shier was introduced to the hockey community by watching his daughters’ games. Like many parents, he brought a camera along to capture some of the moments. Unlike many side-line parents, Shier’s photos were very good…and getting better.
Shier’s daughter, Kri, is a University of Toronto hockey alum and former indoor national team player who grew up playing in the Vancouver area. She is a community volunteer as well, sitting on the Field Hockey Canada board of directors as a player rep. Her father would attend games and take photos, slowly accruing the skill and equipment to become a full-on volunteer photographer in the hockey community. Reflecting on his journey, Blair said it was a gradual shift as he followed his daughter’s career.
“It all happened naturally. The venues started to get better, the competition got better, so I figured the photography needed to get better to keep up with it,” he said.
Shier has both indoor and outdoor hockey photo experience, often splitting duty as a parent-fan and volunteer photographer. It was the 2014 Pan American Indoor Championship leading to the 2015 Indoor World Cup where he took that next step and registered as a tournament photographer.
Sports photography has long been a passion for Shier. He remembers as a kid, leafing through Sports Illustrated magazines and feeling inspired by the emotion that a photo can illicit. As far as actual professional training, Shier is self-taught.
“I’ve always loved sports photography. I even tried it with film back in the day, which was a lot more challenging,” he said. “I just try to keep improving, upping my game and staying up with the most recent technology,” he said.
Shier volunteers his photography skills for Field Hockey BC and Field Hockey Canada among other local clubs in his area. He knows the struggle of small organizations and their ability, or lack thereof, to pay photographers. He said he’s happy to help promote the sport in Canada.
“I’m able to work with people who love what they do, they aren’t in it for the money and these photos are helping good people do good things in sport,” he said. “If my photos and my skills can help grow the game and support the game, I’m happy to do that. Of course, it’s always great to get my photos published as well,” he notes.
Blair Shier got his start as a side-of-the-field parent photographer. He now shoots provincial, national and international hockey.
Being local to Rutledge Field, Shier notes the 2019 Men’s National Team qualifier against Ireland as one of his favourite photo accomplishments.
“It’s special to get to shoot that calibre of hockey. These are players at the top of the game,” he said. “Anytime you get into the championship environment, it’s amazing.”
Because Shier lives in Vancouver, he has regular access to the Women’s and Men’s National Teams. Shier makes special note of how — in contrast to a major event — interesting it is to shoot teams in their training environment.
“I also love going out to shoot the teams at eight in the morning in the solitary environment. You get to see the work that goes into it before they put it all on show at the tournaments,” he said.
Thank you to Blair, Yan and other photographers for contributing to the growth and promotion of field hockey in Canada. We look forward to seeing your amazing photos as hockey safely returns over the coming year.