Howzat!!

I’ve only ever photographed cricket once before, many years ago, using black and white film with a 35mm SLR and I think the longest lens I had then went up to 200mm. I remember devving up the film and running off 8 x 10 inch prints in my bedroom which I had converted into a makeshift darkroom, with the enlarger perched on a chest of drawers, the window covered in black card and a bin bag taped to the frame and a seed tray from a garden centre containing smaller trays of dev, stop and fix ready to drop the prints in stood next to me.

After they left the fix I dropped them in a bucket of cold water and when this was full of prints I would carry it to the bathroom and put them in the bath with the tap running to wash them before drying them off by hanging them from lines of string using clothes pegs – it was all very high tech! So I was looking forward to shooting cricket again last week, only this time armed with a couple of Nikon D2x, a selection of top-end lenses including a 500mm f4 which you can pick up for the price of a family car! I borrowed it.

The match was between Durham and Sussex at the Riverside Ground in Chester-le-Street in County Durham, England and was a 4 day affair as part of the LV County Championship.

Now I have to admit from the start that a big cricket fan I am not, some of the terms are a bit confusing and lets face it, it is a bit boring! But I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to shoot a sport that I don’t get to photograph very often. The weather was perfect and the crowds weren’t huge but it was on a Thursday that I went so not surprising.

The first thing I try and do when I turn up to cover something I am not familiar with, especially sport, is to have a look around the ground. Looking for places to go to give me the best view of the sport, looking for what can be one of the most important factors in shooting sports – a clean background.

I had a quick look at some cricket photos on the internet the night before to provide some inspiration and possible ideas and most of the ones I had a chance to look at were straight action shots – bowler’s bowling and the batsman, well, batting. Don’t take this to mean I viewed some of them with any less respect for this fact. Getting good action like some of the ones I saw still takes great skill needing perfect timing, a good position, patience (cricket is a long game!), good light etc etc. But I wanted to explore a little if I could and try and get something a little different as well.

Knowing the game was due to run all day and knowing that the weather forecast was looking good I decided on a position to start from, aware of the sun’s position, I had decided to move from position to position as the sun tracked across the sky, trying to keep it directly out of my lens. (Although, shooting straight into the sun can give great effects so don’t rule it out).

With Durham opting to bat first and Sussex fielding I took a wander around the ground hoping to get some wide shots to show the venue, it is quite impressive, especially with Lumley Castle perched on higher ground behind the stadium. Considering the day before play had been called off because most of the pitch was under water from recent rain the ground staff had done a great job in getting it ready for play.

I always find with the sports photography I have done it takes a while to get ‘warmed up’ to get your eye in and to get your timing up to speed but then you start to see shots or potential shots as they happen, you get to anticipate what will happen, how a bowler, in this case above, does his follow through and if you watch it enough you know when he is at his most animated. I have to say as well that the majority of these are single shots, in other words, I didn’t have the camera on ‘continuous high’ and hose the players down. I feel it helps improve your timing, there is a shutter lag with digital, albeit very small these days and with the ball travelling at around 90 miles an hour or so it is very easy to miss, and I did, plenty, so you have to concentrate and understand the game and its’ nuances. This will only come with time.

I always try and get something a little different if I can, to use composition to good effect and try and see the smaller details which can make strong pictures. I had seen the empty red seats in one of the stands at the very start and really wanted to get a shot like that below, at f4 my background blurred out just enough to carry it off, but I would like to see it thrown out further.

As the day went on I continued to move position, to shoot from higher to try and lose the advertising hoardings and fill the back with the grass to simplify the composition. Cricket is very repetitive, the bowler tends to have a very similar ‘action’ as he bowls, soon you can observe how others react as he takes his run up to the wicket, the batsman not at wicket will move tentatively forward, the fielders will all close in slightly. What I found helpful was keeping one particular player in my lens for a while, whether it was a batsman or bowler or fielder and follow them for a while to try and capture a shot if they had hit a six, bowled someone out, or caught them out!

Again keeping an eye out for the small details, I had noticed that after each over, the helmets were lined up behind the stumps and I thought it would make an interesting composition.

I really like this shot below, I can’t claim it is a high drama action shot – it isn’t, but I like the subtle effect, the expectation that something is going to happen. Again, using simple composition and a ‘clean’ background brings attention to the players.

And then, after all that waiting….

Howzat!!!

On the whole it was a good day, some shots worked but some didn’t, some were close to being winners and some were miles off the mark. Luck plays a part without a doubt, but an awareness of composition, of timing, of light, knowledge of the game (limited in my case), imagination and patience all play a part. I’m not sure when I will get the chance to shoot cricket again but hopefully next time I will apply what I picked up this time and get even better shots.

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