Behind the Creative: Irina Filenko

Rafael Molina Harno

September 5, 2023

thumbnail behind the lens irina

Irina is one of the club photographers for Sacramento Republic FC of the USL, as well as Academica SC, an up and coming soccer club based out of Turlock, California.

A wild journey to sports photography

In her very candid words, her journey as a sports photographer was a ‘complete accident’. Irina was at a wedding when a friend who was shooting it came over, and told her he needed to go see about a girl. Love called. But destiny awaited for Irina. Handing over the camera with all the settings needed, her friend gave her a task-list to shoot. It was love at first sight. For Irina and photography obviously (her friend remains single). Taking her own initiative, she played around with the camera, not expecting much. A few days later, her friend got back to her with a flurry of compliments. The journey had begun.

What started as landscape, veered into wedding photography, and finally a chance connection to Sac Republic. Some good friends of hers were getting married on the field before a game and asked Irina for some shots. As she was leaving, a photographer bumped into her and tried to convince her to shoot the game, showing her the techniques and settings needed to shoot sports. He was convinced, despite the ever humble Irina’s uncertainty. One thing lead to another and she eventually shot her first game when Liverpool Under-21s came to town to take on Sac Republic. She continued on her self-taught route, shooting more and more matches, and taking each one as a deep learning experience. Incredibly, in this day and age, Irina still rejects learning from YouTube or online, stayed true to learning from her mistakes. Learn by doing. ScorePlay can relate to that.

After a while, players took notice, and she started providing them with the shots they wanted, and they provided her with the limelight she needed on Instagram. Eventually, the Creative Director for Sac Republic approached her to freelance for them. Incredibly at that point, Irina had never shot for money, and was surprised at even being asked her rate. She had always done it for the love of the game.


Irina shoots many different sports, although predominantly soccer, she also does American football. On a typical day, for either Sacramento Republic or Academica, she’ll arrive a few hours before kick-off to get the arrival shots. She’ll gather the shot-list and get as much done before kick-off that’s needed, for partners and sponsors. Finally, she’ll shoot the warm-ups and the dressing room before the game.

At half-time, she’ll continue along the shot-list for her deliverables and send her shots through ScorePlay’s Live mode to the social team. After games, she’ll do a round of editing, and send the photos through.

Ops, tips and favourites

Since her first camera, Irina has stayed loyal to Canon. She uses three different bodies, the 1DX MKII, R3 and R6 MKII, with several different lenses, the 300mm f/2.8, 70-200mm f/2.8, as well as for creative shots a 15mm, that provides a wide angle and distortion.

Her tips for a young photographer starting out? Pretty simple.

  1. “Learn your settings, the basics and then start exploring. No time to mess around during a game so know your camera like the back of your hand.”
  2. “Don’t compare yourself to others and don’t copy someone else’s style. It has to come from you.”
  3. “Get out of your comfort zone. The more you shoot, the better you’ll get.
  4. “Know your sport. Know the players, and you’ll be able to know how they move, what they’re likely to do, and pre-empt a shot.”

Her favourite thing to shoot is a celebration because of the raw emotion behind the moment. Especially from the bench and the coach, so that she sometimes turns her back on a goal being scored because she wants to capture the moment the bench see the ball going in. Then, action shots. The split second that a player makes contact with a ball is incredibly difficult to capture, but perfectly encapsulates sports photography. Finally, young fans. For Irina it is super important to showcase the community aspect of supporting a club, and then openness to all so capturing young fans in the stands comes in at number three.

Top 5 photographs

"Huge accomplishment to shoot at the Rose Bowl for the first time."
"Nothing like players interacting with young fans."
"‘Why not us?’ Emotional image, in the moment Sacramento Republic realised it was possible to win the US Open Cup. Nothing beats that feeling, coming through the whole team after a victory against Phoenix Rising."
"Chicarito in his element celebrating the winning goal against San Jose Earthquakes: giving it back to the ultras who had brought clown tifos mocking LA teams."
"Action meets precision, to be able to capture the shot as the Academica player touches the ball."


As a photographer, Irina has made good use of ScorePlay so we’ll just leave this quote here:

“ScorePlay is amazing, you guys are amazing. I’ve told so many people about ScorePlay, because it makes everything so easy for content teams, and club and freelance photographers to collaborate. Time saving and life saving, so you don’t miss the perfect shots and moments.”

Follow all of Irina's content here.

Photo credit: Irina Filenko
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