Andrew Stenning on 17 years of Mirror photography

When a missile flies over your head and it's close enough for you to read what's written on it you realise it's time to keep your head down, says veteran Daily Mirror photographer Andrew Stenning.

This year's British Press Awards photographer of the year, Stenning says that of the many missions he's been on in the 17 years he's worked for the Mirror, his time spent just after 9/11 in Afghanistan with the Northern Alliance had the greatest impact.

"It was a hell of achievement just to get there. There weren't many journalists where we were, and it took two weeks to get there. It was a fantastic experience – it was like travelling back in time.

"We landed in a mud field off a Russian freight plane. There were people on a horse and cart, there was no electricity, no running water and kids were playing by tanks."

Stenning began his career in 1979 as a staff photographer for the Hull Daily Mail and worked freelance for eight years before joining the Mirror in 1990.

Stenning says the Mirror is in his blood, and that while being a freelance may mean higher financial gains, being a staffer means he knows what the paper is after.

"I hope I'm in tune with Mirror readers. I think it's nice to know your paper and what they want – whereas freelances wear a different cap for every job. There's a clear difference between The Guardian's take on a photo and say, The Sun or the Mirror."

Stenning was named sports photographer and photographer of the year at the 1992 Kodak Awards and photographer of the year at the Press Gazette British Press Awards in March this year.

"It's about how the photograph is used and how important it was – it's not just a nice arty-farty picture that's been used because it looks quite attractive," he says.

Instinct, judgement and sometimes good acting skills are key traits for a press photographer, says Stenning. "You have to think on your feet and use your wit," he says. When particular things are going against you, it's all part of the experience. Sometimes it can be your lucky day."

Ian Brady on Saddle-worth Moor 1986

"The police had returned to the scene of Brady's and Hindley's murders searching for the remains of Keith Bennett. The press were kept nearly three miles away and it was impossible to see what was going on. I drove round to the other side of the moor and walked back about eight miles hoping to sneak up. I got lucky, and got this shot on a 300mm lens with a doubler making it a 600mm. The image was still very small on the negative and I had to project the picture on the wall to get a decent print. It made my career – it was my first real scoop."

Ice cool Sven

"I left the football to the sports specialists and concentrated on the crowd and the bench during the 2002 World Cup. Sven stayed cool as Owen scored the second goal against Denmark, while the rest of the bench went wild."

Kodak sports photographer and photographer of the year 1992 – Out for the Count

"Chris Eubank knocked out John Jarvis and posed in the background at a Manchester fight in 1992. It was only the second boxing match I'd covered – I had to borrow a wide-angle lens on the advice of Mirror sports snapper Albert Cooper. One of my flashes broke too, but luck was on my side since I found in the bottom of my bag a roll of fast Kodak film which helped give this picture a lot of atmosphere."

Man praying on Stars and Stripes

"The man in question was our translator in Afghanistan, Mohammed Dost. Some readers complained that this was a set-up picture, but it definitely was not. He would walk off several times a day with a stars and stripes towel under his arm. When he told me it was to go and pray, I was intrigued as to his choice of prayer mat. ‘It can be any material, it must be clean,' said Dost politely, seemingly oblivious to the controversy this image might arouse."

Ian Huntley in prison

"This is a real news picture of a guy you never thought you'd see. They're trying to sneak him out of the back and it was a hard job to get him. I wasn't the only one to get him – there were about five other photographers at the hospital."

Afghan soldiers

"After 9/11, the world's attention moved to Afghanistan, where it appeared those responsible for the attacks were sponsored by the Taliban, which ruled most of the country apart from an area of the Pansjir Valley run by a mix of different factions known as the Northern Alliance. The Northern Alliance troops were kept busy with several ‘manoeuvres' like this one at Jabal Saraj in the Pansjir Valley. About 7,000 Afghans marched about a bit and shot at the hills like a scene from a Carry-on film. Stunning valley though. The Mirror used this across two pages."

Gordon Brown and Tony Blair

"They were trying desperately not to be photographed together at the conference and Brown took a sneaky look at him on the podium – I was waiting for that. He's looking evil eyes at Blair, which is just what we wanted."

Posh celebrating Beckham's goal in the World Cup 2006

"If Beckham scored I knew it would be a great shot because she'd celebrate, so I didn't actually see Beckham score. I wasn't doing the sport, I was doing the news side of the game. To get those sorts of pictures you have to ignore what is going on around you and concentrate."

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