Capturing Women's Football on Film with Raiyan Rafiq and Harriet Duffy


For many years football (or soccer) has been a popular sport with women. In the early 20th Century it even surpassed the men’s game in the UK, until a ban by the FA in 1921 which lasted until 1970. Since then the women’s game has continued to garner attention, growing its fan-base every year.

Raiyan Rafiq and Harriet Duffy are two friends who, despite cheering for rival teams, spend their time documenting and capturing the beautiful game on film. Whether they’re in the stands soaking up the emotional atmosphere of a thrilling game, or using analogue gear pitch-side to carefully snap the players in action, they showcase women’s football in a unique and personal light. The last two years have been exciting for English fans, with the 2022 Euros, which England won, as well as making it to the Women’s World Cup final, and both Raiyan and Harriet were able to document this important time for the sport. Today we talk to both of them and find out about their journeys photographing Women’s football on film.

Photos above by Harriet Duffy, Photos below by Raiyan Rafiq

Greetings Raiyan and Harriet! Can you introduce yourselves and tell us how you started analogue photography?

Raiyan: Hi, I am Raiyan Rafiq, part-time wannabe Gloria Allred, full-time photographer, and football fan. I got into analogue photography towards the end of 2016 with disposable cameras. You know when the Fujifilm one-time cameras were about only £10.

Harriet: I’m Harriet, a recent graduate who happened to get a bit of recognition for shooting women’s football on film! I got into analogue photography about 10 years ago after stumbling across my parents' old Olympus Trip in the attic. Being able to buy rolls of Agfa Vista for £1 back then I just got out and shot as much as possible.

To get it out of the way – which football teams do you support and why?

R: Arsenal, all the way. Sadly, it’s the age-old cliché, ‘I fell in love with the way they play football.’ Then fell more and more in love with the club when I found out how much respect they had for the women’s game even when no one was watching.

H: I’m a long-time suffering Spurs fan having followed the club from childhood after being influenced by my dad. That first walk into White Hart Lane got me hooked and I've been a season ticket holder since 2015.

Players from Arsenal W.F.C. & Tottenham Hotspur F.C. Women

What’s your go-to gear for shooting football? (Camera, Film, Lens, etc.!)

R: I am a Canon girl, sometimes hanging out with an Olympus. An Olympus Mju was my first film camera but now, I have switched back to an old Canon SLR because of the creative freedom it allows and the wide variety of lenses available

H: Pitch-side I'll use a Canon AL-1 x 50mm lens or a Canon EOS 300, whereas if I'm in the stands I'll use an Olympus Mju (often have trouble taking cameras with lenses into the grounds as a fan so the point-and-shoot is a must!). Film-wise I'll mix it up a bit, going from Ilford HP5 400 to Lomography Color Negative 800 to Kodak Ultramax 400. Nowadays choice in film often depends on what sort of deals I can find as prices have started to limit how much I shoot.

What made you guys start covering women’s football?

R: I just love football – played it quite a bit and if things had gone differently, maybe I would have pursued it as a career, you know “if I hadn’t done my knee.” In all seriousness, I grew up in a country where women’s sports are not given the same level of respect. When I moved to the UK, I saw glimpses of progress and at the same time, I felt very disconnected with Men’s football because of how much it became about the show rather than the game or the fans. With women’s football, I fell in love with the game again.

H: I played football growing up so naturally I got into watching it (when you could find a broadcast, now it's MUCH better) and seeing as I loved watching football and shooting film I just decided to combine the two initially with the idea that I was documenting my mates doing something we loved. Turns out there was an audience for this so I made it my mission to cover the Women’s Euros in England during July 2022 on film and it couldn't have gone better (England winning on home turf, dreamlike stuff!)

Photos by Harriet Duffy and Raiyan Rafiq

Can you talk about your experience following the Women’s World Cup?

R: This one is an emotional topic. I had a last-minute wake-up call and sacrificed going to Australia for the ‘greater good’ of my future. But the vibes here were immaculate. I managed to watch most of the matches in watch parties or in large groups, one or two in Boxpark. I won’t lie, I cried a lot. I think I cried every match day. It was beautifully moving, and I only had one wish – to see Asian and African teams do well and wow, they did so so well. I wanted it to be a wake-up call for all the associations who were neglecting their teams. So far, some have made massive shifts while others haven’t changed anything.

H: Due to costs I stayed at home for this one, it would’ve been incredible to be there but the finances just didn't work out. Saying that, there's nothing quite like sitting in an English beer garden with an inclusive community all cheering on one team. Every match was a full-day event and man were the hangovers bad!

What have been some challenges for both of you when shooting these events on film?

R: For big tournaments, it can be quite challenging to get good spots if you are not shooting for a media agency. Usually, the spots are reserved for them so you have to go almost 3-4 hours early. There’s also the fact that the general security and restrictions are a lot tighter, so you have to find a way with them.

H: When I shot the Euros on film, it was primarily from a fan point of view as access is often limited by FIFA or UEFA. This meant I had to be wary of stewards questioning my equipment and the purpose of shooting. A positive mind you is that I'm now a pro at hiding cameras.

Photos by Raiyan Rafiq

Can you tell us about your experience shooting football games pitchside using film?

R: Shooting the game itself is quite tough. If it’s an evening match, then you end up with a handful of blurry photos. Not all matches are played in big stadiums, so the lighting is very questionable. The best photos come out usually towards the end of the season or at the start.

H: Last season I shot the Barclays Women’s Super League for Analog Football and was situated pitchside for all the games I attended. There’s nothing quite like the perspective you get here and it’s a massive eye-opener to the speed of the game. I’ll be sat around a load of photographers with their digital cameras holding the shutter down for
consecutive shots and then there’s me, measuring the light and changing rolls as fast as I can so I don't miss anything. It gave me a much bigger appreciation of that saying “every shot counts” as I limit myself to three rolls per game (due to costs) meaning I need to figure out how many shots I have left untill half or full time. It’s exhausting but brilliant.

Barclays Women’s Super League by Harriet Duffy

Tell us about some of your best and worst moments when capturing the beautiful game.

R: Last year I forgot to pack a rain cover for my camera, and I did not realize that the gear I had was not water-resistant. The next thing I knew, it just stopped functioning. I know it was stupid of me. I guess, when you have a good shot at a subject, you leave behind your rationality. But more than the camera, I was more worried about what I would tell the people I was covering for. Luckily, they are class and were more than understanding.

H: Following England through to the Euros final in 2022 will probably always be the highlight of my career. It’s hard to explain the atmosphere of that tournament but traveling around England all July and infiltrating different nation’s supporter groups with my point-and-shoot is a memory that I’ll look back on forever. It also gave me one of the worst moments when a heatwave affected the Royal Mail post service and I’d had to send off rolls of film to be developed. For two weeks I’d thought I’d lost over 50 images from the first six games of the tournament. I could’ve married that Wetransfer email I eventually got!

The atmosphere in games is one of the best things about football. How do you both try to capture or showcase it with your photos?

R: I love the emotional aspect of sports in general and football is my language of love. I think I appreciate it even more now because, for most of my childhood, that love was garnered through reading books about football, wanting to know everything about it, devouring every documentary, and watching every game on the telly. And I always felt moved by the rational foolishness we devote to our team. So, I try to go as a fan if the opportunity presents itself. When you are amongst the fans, you have a chance to be closest to all the reactions and the actions.

Photos by Raiyan Rafiq

H: Honestly I think you’ve just got to be in it to get the best shot. If you try and force the atmosphere then you’ll be left with something that feels a bit empty and inauthentic. The best images I’ve captured are ones that are just happenstance, relying solely on the game to produce unforgettable moments.

Despite technological advances, why do you still want to shoot football on film?

R: Personally I believe that no matter how fancy and all that a digital photo looks, or how great the editing is, a nice film photo feels pure. It’s also that you don’t sit and pluck through everything, you capture what you get, and you wait around to find out how it turned out. Some can be great while even the blurry ones have some workable characters. I do love a blurry celebration photo.

H: Learning about the process of developing and scanning images rather than just downloading off of a memory card reinforces my love of film. And with the limit of either 24/36 shots per roll, the knowledge that you can’t really waste any frames makes me fully focus on what I want an image to convey.

How has women’s football changed in the past year?

R: With the game growing, it’s become quite difficult to cover as a freelancer or without a big agency backing you. Don’t get me wrong, I am all for the game growing, that’s all I have dreamt of since I was a child but what makes women’s football so beautiful is that it has had people working because they are genuinely passionate about it, not just for their own influence. It feels like that is shifting and it would be a lie if I did not admit that it scares me that we are pushing the game towards the same product as the men's. It is different. Genuine fans do not want the same product, what we do want is the same level of respect.

Photos above by Harriet Duffy, Photos below by Raiyan Rafiq

H: It’s changed drastically in the last year alone! I feel like women’s football is ever-evolving as the audience and investments grow each month. I remember going to an England game in 2008 at the ground where Aston Villa women now play weekly and the audience for a domestic league game now triples what I saw back then for that international match.

What do you foresee for women's football in the coming years?

R: I know for sure that the game will soon become commercially profitable but also commercially driven. That is business and at the end of the day, elite sports are businesses. I think we can expect more games at bigger stadiums with frequent sell-outs. It’s only a matter of time before the first big million-pound transfer happens too. Having said all of that, I will reiterate the same thing again, I just hope we do not squeeze the air out of the game by turning it into something where the game itself and the fans are an afterthought.

Photos above by Harriet Duffy, Photos below by Raiyan Rafiq

H: I think the next few years will see a bit of experimenting from Football Associations in their attempt to engage younger audiences. And, at the end of the day we have the men's game to learn from so hopefully we’ll be able to take the best of what that offers and avoid the worst of it. Time will tell.

Can you each pick one memorable or favorite photo and tell us about it?

R: I usually say that a photo I took during the Euros of England’s captain, Leah Williamson is my favorite, but the very simple photo of the attendance at the Emirates Stadium last summer is also one of my favorites. That was the first time we sold out Emirates and it was the Champions League semi-final against Wolfsburg. A year later, Arsenal has now sold it out twice and the attendance has been amazing.

Photos by Harriet Duffy and Raiyan Rafiq

H: My favorite image is the one of my best friend losing her mind as England scored in the EUR final at a sold-out Wembley stadium. You can’t fabricate the euphoria seen in it and it was such a surprise when I got the film developed as I was also celebrating madly when I took it. No idea how it was in focus with my flailing arms! Capturing such a historic moment on film and just the pure happiness that it radiates makes that shot my all-time favorite.

We thank Raiyan and Harriet for their wonderful photos! Be sure to keep up with Raiyan Rafiq and Harriet Duffy on their respective Instagram accounts to see more of their work. Got any experience shooting the beautiful game on film? Comment your experience down below!

written by rocket_fries0036 on 2024-04-17 #gear #culture #people #sports #football #england #europe #uk #fans #united-kingdom #arsenal #pitch #lomography-color-negative-800 #tottenham #cn-800


  1. hervinsyah
    hervinsyah ·

    Great article ⚽️ hope I could read the article about Diego Maradona hand of God film negative or some past and historical moment in football that captured by the analogue camera such as Eric Cantona kungfu kick to crystal palace supporter negative or maybe slide film

  2. sanichiban
    sanichiban ·

    I know some of the people in those photos, the Emirates ones. Great to see them here of all places

  3. rocket_fries0036
    rocket_fries0036 ·

    @sanichiban the world is truly so small!

  4. rocket_fries0036
    rocket_fries0036 ·

    @hervinsyah oh that would be cool!! would love to see unseen BTS photos of my favorite teams

  5. sanichiban
    sanichiban ·

    @rocket_fries0036 Yes absolutely

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