The state of football off the pitch in Russia has notably grabbed headlines. An opinion splitting setting where the World Cup lands in 2018, we sat down with Russian photographer Nikita Popov to get here unique perspective as she captures the energy and emotions that flourish on the pitch with a powerful black and white finish.

What's it like to photograph the Russian Premier League, how would you describe the experience?

"This is a good experience though to be honest, I have not shoot any other leagues in other countries. I've only shot in Russia in the Premier League and the second division. I think, in recent years, ours has become more stable and competitive as leagues go. Maybe the stronger teams did not get better but there are almost no weak teams - there's now a lot of strong sides. So it's competitive. For me though, I try to study everything in detail - to wipe away most of the games."

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The culture of the fans is something that will come under the microscope as we near the World Cup in 2018. Can you give us your perspective on the support you see?

"In cities, the approach of the World Cup is not yet felt. Even in Moscow and St. Petersburg, there's still a lot of work to be done. It almost feels like the calm before the storm. I hope, soon there will be a change for the better to create an absolutely positive other mood. This summer the first guests to the confederation cup will come to us so it will be an interesting experience and one I would like to shoot. I have not even been at such events so it would be a great opportunity."

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You have a unique line of sight on the game, what moments have really stood out for you when shooting?

"I follow the reactions, the emotions. I have almost no pictures of the game itself where the ball is in shot. Almost everything is a person experiencing some kind of emotion. It's all about the moments for me. Before games, I always roughly understand who and how I want to take pictures of. I try to watch the game more selectively and study the player as a person, with the hope of understanding how they feel at that moment."

What's it like to thrive off the energy on the pitch and in the stadium and work that into your shots?

"The energy of the stadium and the smell of the field are my favourites. They are the most native feelings of energy around and for me when I'm at the pitch I have a smile. I just enjoy this time, the game. Especially at big games. There's just a mass of energy and in the process you completely forget about yourself." 

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Your black and white work certainly captures emotion, how would you describe your style?

"I try to go to the fact that it was psychological in the way I have learnt my style. I want to make accurate portraits of people, just to open their souls. Hopefully with that, the shots I capture touch the heart of the viewer. I try to hide and watch the eyes, wait for the decisive moment. I'm lucky to be around a lot of people who take pictures much deeper and stronger than I have. So I'm doing all I can but still learning softly."

How did you get into football photography and where would you like it to lead too?

"Incidentally, as it usually happens. I went to football as an ordinary fan, then my parents gave me a camera and I sometimes took it with me to the stadium. It was 7-8 years ago. There were several different stages, sometimes I did not take a camera for a long time. But last year I decided to start everything again, started to shoot as much as possible. I want to shoot personally. I have several close people who play in Premier League. I shoot them and I give them the pictures. For me, this is the best."

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What's the feeling like in Russia with 2018 looming? How excited is the place for the World Cup?

"Honestly, I do not think about it at all. I think about today. This weekend I have two good matches - I'm getting ready for them. Nothing else matters. I do not even think for a couple of weeks ahead. I walk slowly, step by step."

Despite that, what are your expectations? Do you plan to get stuck into the tournament and shoot as much as you can?

"The time of the tournament will come - it will be magical. But for now it is necessary to study, to be perfected. Take pictures deeper."

You can see more work from Nikita Popov here.