By David Holmes
– Official Club Photographer of Woking FC –
So you sit there leaning on the fence pitchside, snap a few pictures of the game and put them on the website. Not bad for getting into every game free and having the best seat in the house. Well, yes, and no.
The most important part of the Club Photographer’s job is, indeed, getting action shots of the games. While there’s an element of point and shoot about this, it certainly isn’t easy. Have a go during a game with a camera phone or whatever you’ve got and see! Ideally you need to fill the frame, the subject has to be in focus, it mustn’t be too bright or dark, it’s better if the ball is in the picture – there’s quite a lot to get right!
So how do you get a decent action shot? Well, there is an element of skill involved, but equipment is very important too. Photography is more about lenses than cameras – you need to be able to zoom in to the other side, and even the other end, of the pitch, plus you need the lens to take in enough light to capture a worthwhile image – a huge issue with taking pictures in fading light and under floodlights.
Without getting technical, when you press the button you need to let in as much light as possible (or the picture will be too dark), but for a very short period of time – typically 1/320th of a second under floodlights (or the player’s movement will blur the picture). For this there’s no escaping the need for expensive gear, though perfectly good pictures can be obtained in good sunlight with most set-ups.
What is expensive – well a zoom that is capable of covering both ends of the pitch from somewhere near the half-way line at night is about £1,500, and that’s just the lens! Longer ones that will do end-to-end can cost £4,000. Digital SLR cameras are much, much cheaper (and far better) nowadays and more or less any could be used with a decent lens.
More than Just a Football Match
As I type this, I’ve just got home from taking a set of photographs of the walls of the concourse under the main stand for the Club, who wants to market this space – a far cry from dramatic, more glamorous action shots. There’s lots more of this type of work than you may realise. I’ve done shots of advertising boards, banners on the floodlights, the stands, items of stock in the club shop, plus a multitude of people and things around the Club as well as the matchday ‘stuff’ which, in itself, goes much further than the game. Seldom does a home game go by without a presentation of some sort, a mascot who has photos with his favourite player and with the referees and captains at the toss, a kids’ team as guests or taking penalties, special guests in the Boardroom and, of course, the pictures from the Sponsors’ Lounge of the Man of the Match and the guests there.
Sets of photos from around the ground itself (shots of individuals/groups in the crowd, plus others there for a purpose – physios and first aiders, other photographers, ballboys, anything and anyone really) have proved surprisingly popular over the years, so I try to do these reasonably often too. Then I have to edit and process all the photos. I’m often asked how many I take during a game. Well, a standard home league match will result in about 250 shots (I delete a lot as I go during a game), while a ‘big’ game – play-offs, Trophy – could easily be 400-500. Average time for all the ‘post-production’ work is probably two hours per set, which is clearly quite time-consuming.
Becoming Club Photographer
How did I get to be Club Photographer? Well I decided to take some pictures purely for my own amusement 10 or 11 years ago, initially with just a compact camera. I graduated to my first DSLR for the 2003-4 season. I offered pics to the fanzine website Cardsweb and they began using them. I then asked the club if they wanted to use anything from away games in the matchday programme as my estimable predecessor, Tony Charters, concentrated on home matches. Again they were accepted and the club began to accredit me at away games. Even then, I didn’t sit pitchside as I still felt I was primarily there as a supporter.
As time went on I filled in for Tony, who was always kind, helpful and encouraging, at the odd home game and when, after the Trophy Final at West Ham (for which I was grateful to the club for accrediting both of us so I could go pitchside), he decided to call it a day, I fairly seamlessly stepped into his shoes. And here I still am, a supporter with a camera much more than a photographer.
There are spin-offs, which are great. I supply the Surrey Advertiser and the Woking News and Mail with photos from every match and am lucky enough to do 6-8 games a season for the Non-League Paper. It’s the best thing of all for a ‘snapper’ to know that a lot of people are going to see your work and in this respect I’m a lot luckier than many of my peers at other clubs. I hope to continue for a long while yet. It would be very hard to give up that ‘best seat in the house’!
David Holmes is the official photographer of Woking Football Club, who currently play in the Blue Square Conference South.