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Toronto Wolfpack vs Barrow Raiders

Followers of this blog will know that for the past few weeks I have been taking pictures of the Toronto Wolfpack rugby league team’s matches at Lamport Stadium. Playing in the English third tier of professional rugby league, mainly against semi-pro teams it has to be said, the Wolfpack have stormed their way through the division and on Saturday they were playing Barrow Raiders. A win, and they would be promoted.

Of course, I was ready to go along and take my usual place behind the posts, in the beer garden, and get what shots I could. Then early in the week I got an email from a sports photography company based in the UK, Touchline Pics run by Steven Gaunt. Could I help him out with some pictures against Barrow? I didn’t hesitate and after sorting out arrangements with Touchline and the Wolfpack, I found myself pitchside on Saturday afternoon, and not only pitchside, but on the pitch itself at various times.

Now, I’ve taken thousands of pictures in my time and some of them might even have been good. But on Saturday morning, putting my kit together (who am I kidding, I had it put together by the previous Wednesday!) I felt as nervous as I did when taking my exams at university. It was a strange feeling of tension but just wanting the morning to be over so I could get out there and shoot.

Toronto Wolfpack vs Barrow Raiders

Technical info time. I have always shot those matches with my Sigma 70-200 f2.8 on a D7100, but this time I also took along my Sigma 150-500 which I normally use for birds, on my Nikon D610 for the bigger buffer. The Sigma is slow to focus but I figured I could pre-focus and wait for the action to come to me, and at f8 & 400mm it’s a sharp as a pin. And I don’t have a 500mm prime lens. I used automatic ISO on both cameras as they both provide great, noise-free images up to 3200, and set my shutter speed to 1/1000. I also took a 24-60 f2.8 for post-match action – I knew that if the Wolfpack won there would be a trophy presentation after the game.

Toronto Wolfpack vs Barrow Raiders

So to the game. My assignment was to capture as many of the Barrow players on the attack as possible. To me, as well as great action shots, that meant trying to get clear faces. I believe that one of the most fascinating things about sports photography is not necessarily the physical actions of the players, although that is incredibly important. It’s the emotion that sport brings out, the effort and strain that you can see of the faces of those playing the game. If you can capture the facial expression at that time of impact, then you’re halfway to a great picture. You’re communicating to the person who looks at your picture that these great athletic feats are not coming for free, the players are human and sometimes it hurts to do what they do. Focus on the action, track the players, know how the game tends to flow, and shoot.

Toronto Wolfpack vs Barrow Raiders

The Wolfpack won the game and then to the celebrations and trophy presentation. I have to say that I did miss one of the shots that my contact asked for, the team hoisting the trophy in front of the league sponsor’s advertising board, as I was switching from the 24-60mm to the 150-500mm at the time. I realised later that’d I’d been thinking more like a fan at that point than a photographer on assignment, but even so, of the 2 shots I got from that instant, one was picked up by the Wolfpack and the other has found it’s way onto the Rugby League Express magazine back in the UK. Several other shots were published in a northern English newspaper with their match report. So not bad for a first-timer, if I do say so myself.

Toronto Wolfpack vs Barrow Raiders

My first assignment, and certainly not my last. What a blast.

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There are some times when, to feel fully creative, one needs to just let go of the norms, open your mind to the great possibilities that are out there and break out into something new. I’ve been reading a lot of work by the Canadian photographer David Duchemin recently, both his blogs and some of his published work, such as the The Vision Driven Photographer. David encourages you to open your mind, to try to reach for the creativity that all of us have to some degree or other. While I don’t feel that I am, or ever could be, the world’s most creative photographer, I do believe that with the technology available to us, everyone’s creativity today can be enhanced to levels that would have been almost impossible only a few years ago.

Whether the audience who sees my work are appreciative or not is a different story. The difficulty with impressionist photography, or Photographic Jazz as I’m thinking of calling it – maybe I could copyright that term? – is that it is, by definition, outside what is considered ‘normal’ photography. It will not win any prizes in the local camera clubs, that’s pretty much a nailed-on certainty, but it is an expression of art, of creativity, and – possibly very luckily – I don’t depend on it to earn my living. But when an idea comes I get a knotted feeling of anticipation in my stomach, I need to plan, to make notes, to think about where I’m going and what I need to do, to visualise what the finished picture could look like.

Heart Lake
Multiple exposure – Wind on Heart Lake

Recently I bought a new Fuji X-E2s mirrorless camera. I love the quality of my DSLRs, don’t get me wrong, and I’ve no plans to trade them in just yet, but the light weight of the Fuji plus the quality of the images from the APS-C sensor frees me to carry this camera everywhere and to have complete confidence that the images are going to be first rate. One of the techniques that had been on my mind for some time is the photo montage, a series of pictures of the same object from slightly different viewpoints, blended together to make a new composite.

With the Fuji in my bag I was able to take it to work so I could take the necessary shots during my lunch hour. No huge weekend plans to be made, no disruption to family life, just a quick trip across the road at lunch, take the shots and then back to the office. So much easier than having to cart the DSLR around. That’s why I’m going to love mirrorless; not just because it’s light, not just because of the image quality but because it frees me to just take pictures, it opens up opportunities to encourage and build that creativity.

Toronto schoolbus
Composite – 700 University Avenue, Toronto

Marilyn Towers
The ‘Marilyn’ towers, Mississauga

Queens Park
Bowl of Light, Queen’s Park, Toronto

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