2015 11 - Sports Photography

06th November 2015
Retford & District Photographic Society - Press Release - Joy Allison
5th November 2015
Images by Steve Bond

Sporting Action

Unusually our last two speakers covered topics requiring similar photographic skills. Gary Bailey spoke about action photography in relation to motor sport while freelance photographer Steve Bond has a diverse portfolio which supports his work on cricket, football and rugby.

Their common theme was the importance of taking pictures with impact and standing out by being different. This comes from knowing the game and reading what is liable to happen. Lucky shots are the result of a lot of work, preparation, planning and awareness combined with great familiarity with the camera and ability to change settings quickly. ‘Practice makes perfect’ might be better expressed in photography terms as ‘practice makes permanent’. Becoming very familiar with good techniques and camera functions enable you to follow the action, but repeatedly getting it wrong will train in bad habits.

An early entrant in the digital market, Gary spent a fortune on what he described as an ‘appalling’ camera. Today’s technology has eliminated the long delay from pressing the button to the clonk of the shutter – 3.5 seconds in Gary’s case. To successfully photograph action then every frame had to count as high speed shooting was a distant dream. Gary credits this apprenticeship with training him to work to get things right first time.

Both men know the shot they are looking for, while being prepared for the unexpected. Both commented on waterproofing both cameraman and kit. Steve particularly laments the lack of waterproofing for a laptop as he is continuously downloading his images and annotating them. Prime lenses are good if you can predict the action point closely. While zoom lenses may not be quite as good across their whole range, they allow very quick recomposition and their versatility may make them much better. Remote triggers may help to place a camera where a person could not be and a polarising filter can enable the shot to show a driver’s eyes through a windscreen by cutting out glare.

All action photography is designed to tell a story and the focussing is critical to this. Whether their target market is the competitors buying their action images, a sponsor, a club or the press, there will be requirements to meet. First and foremost what is supposed to be sharp must be sharp, but properly executed the choice of what to include in the background is what makes or breaks the story. Steve told how he may work for a sponsor on a commission where including their branding, but not competitors’, is vital, while for other markets branding will not be accepted at all. We learned that umbrellas – a common sight on cricket grounds - can ruin an otherwise saleable shot if they carry logos.

Gary works with a predicted point of action where he his story will unfold - a corner, a chicane or a wide track view including stands and background. He will pre-focus on the point where he aims to shoot and use back button focussing to set up for a shot and then just take it when the moment comes.

Steve faces totally different issues on a pitch, regardless of the sport. The action may be on the ball or off it and it is impossible to predict where something newsworthy will occur. He cannot make every frame count as the best shots are unknown until they happen. He will capture every ball bowled at a cricket match, but very few will show the shots the press want to see - the tumbling wickets, amazing catch or celebrations. Brilliant shot captured, he then has to be the first to get it into the public arena to have a chance of selling it.

Fast shutter speeds produce sharp images and both men shared the optimal speeds for their sports. Thought of as a slow game, cricket shots demand very high speeds to get a sharp image of the ball. Football and rugby are played in very bad weather where the camera struggles. Cricket, especially overseas, can take place in brilliant sunshine yet good images of white clothing are essential. Both situations can create a real challenge.

The solutions both photographers use come from knowing the image they want to capture and working out how to achieve it. As so many other speakers have said, a low viewpoint often works well, giving a different perspective. Steve also likes a slightly raised viewpoint which enables him to set cricketers against the green of the pitch rather than the confusing colours around the ground. One day and floodlit cricket bring different challenges with their coloured strips and different lighting.

The key rule of cropping is that if something doesn’t add to the story, it takes away and should be removed if possible - in camera ideally and if not later by cropping. As Gary pointed out, the background can be 80% of the image, yet it seldom receives that amount of the planning.

Steve uses specialist agents to place his work in the market and track the use of his images. They will be offering his images to the press within minutes of an incident or key action at a match as he continuously shoots, downloads and sends images which have had minimal work after capture.

During his talk Steve also gave an insight into the life of a freelance photographer, taking shots off pitch of the crowd, individuals, venues and shots which might be used by publishers as stock in addition to weekday work in totally different genres to complement his weekend sports. He showed some stunning wildlife shots and even showed how he had made a pork pie look glamorous in a food shoot. He seems destined to return with more of this side of his portfolio.