The MCC Cricket Photograph of the Year and why I'll never win it.
At last! The cricket season is just starting and the life is adopting its proper order. One of the early season activities that has interested me over the last few years is the MCC Wisden Cricket Photo of the Year and the winner has just been announced. The quality of those shots is superb, the winning shot is eye wateringly good. The award was discussed in the latest Lord’s podcast which also included a discussion of cricket photography with Patrick Eagar, who is one of my cricket photography heroes and also Lawrence Booth who is the Wisden editor and cricket writer for the Mail. Booth, Wisden and of course Lord's are all on twitter (so am I).
There was an interesting discussion about people's first day at Lord's, mine was the 1981 Ashes test, which I think was Botham's last outing as captain. The England openers were Boycott and Gooch; the latter was rather more entertaining to watch and even got out in a more interesting manner, being caught on the rebound in the slips. The interview with Neil Dexter discussed the 2013 campaign for Middlesex. He said the side believe in their ability to win the championship and the good news for Middlesex members is that they plan to take the T20 more seriously. Booth identified the Middlesex side's ability to gather batting points as an issue and right enough, that's been something we have agonised over for some years now.
I’ve submitted work to the Cricket Photo of the Year, but have never been selected, but that’s no great surprise. Most of the time around cricket I’m either umpiring or coaching or watching the game, so although I take a camera, the photos are a lower priority than enjoying the game and that really shows in the results. I certainly don’t shoot cricket commercially and I’m not media accredited there, so none of my photos taken at Lord’s are available for license. Apparently, some press photographers have seen the big white lens in the pavilion concourse and have complained, because they don’t get the chance to shoot from there.
It goes without saying that the best cricket makes for the best photos and that means test cricket. I’ve been fortunate enough to see some wonderful test matches and to come away with some fairly pleasing shots. Patrick Eagar’s advice to non commercial photographers was to be aware of the background and not to have too much distraction going on there. To be honest, that’s something I can struggle with at times, I tend to use a relatively slow (300/4) lens and put an adaptor on it, so I can be working a depth of field that is quite unhelpful when there’s a cluttered background. Yes, I could use a 400/2.8, but that’s nowhere near as hand hold-able as my lightweight kit. So I make do and at Lord's I think in terms of the background being part of the experience. shooting at the local club, it's relatively easy to chose a clean background or set up something that suites the nature of the cricket.
One Day Internationals and floodlit games can be pretty spectacular and the bright colours help. The great thing with those games is that you can get some really nice late afternoon sunshine that lights up the play beautifully and later a floodlit Lord’s is pretty special.
High end cameras are not always needed, this was taken
The bread and butter of watching cricket is County Championship matches. I’ve been watching Middlesex for about twenty years and the atmosphere at a county game couldn’t be more different to an international. I couldn’t give you an exact figure, but crowds can be a few hundred up to a few thousand.
I’ve found the big thing is to keep looking for the interesting stuff that goes on, not just the bat and ball stuff in the middle, but all the interesting bits that you see by keeping your eyes open.
Once in a while, I’ll take my camera down to Maidenhead and Bray, my local side and I do concentrate on the photography there.
So, I’m always impressed by the MCC Wisden cricket photos and I know that my chances of having a photo in those displays are slim. I also admire the work of the lucky few who take cricket photos for a living and I’m always challenged by the thought that although I can get “the shot” with polo and equestrian sport, could I deliver the same quality of results with cricket? As it is, I can always duck into the pavilion when I want to get warm or have a coffee, and the people who photograph cricket for a living are outside working.