You get some cracking shots of the fans / club members and players. How do you go about taking these pictures and how do you make people feel relaxed in front of your lens?
If you turn up at a non-League ground with a camera, particularly a small club, then people will inevitably engage you in conversation. I always try to arrive at a ground a couple of hours before kick-off which gives me an opportunity to talk to club officials and volunteers about ‘their’ club and generally build up a rapport with them. Therefore it’s all about making them feel relaxed and being able to talk to them on equal terms rather than as a photographer and his subject.
A good prior knowledge of their club and non-League football in general certainly helps. For more spontaneous photographs I think you simply need to have the cheek to go up to someone and ask to take their picture – I’m normally quite shy but put me behind a camera and I become a lot bolder! If something in particular has drawn you to that person such as a nice scarf or hat, it helps to mention it and why you want to take their portrait.
Surprisingly very few people refuse to be photographed and I think secretly quite enjoy the attention. Indeed, during a match, spectators sometimes ask me to take their photograph!
What’s the worst thing that’s happened to you when doing a shoot? How did you handle it?
At Ashford United earlier this season I was behind the goal and some of the home fans behind me was really getting worked up at some of the decisions weren’t going their way. I therefore turned my camera on them and one chap in particular didn’t like it at all, and almost tried to take my camera from me.
Fortunately I was able to calmly talk to him, explain that I was promoting his club, and defuse the situation. It was all heat of the moment stuff really. The pictures were really good but out of courtesy to him I didn’t publish them. Thinking back I’m surprised it hasn’t happened more often!
Take us through a typical day in the life of David when on an assignment?
It’s not very exciting really. A few days beforehand I will have contacted the home club I want to visit, explained what I want to do, and asked their permission which is nearly always granted (one of the beauties of non-League football). This also provides me with a contact for when I arrive which is much better than just turning up unannounced.
As mentioned previously I’ll aim to arrive a couple of hours before kick-off. I usually take around 350 images and once I get home I’ll download the images onto an external hard drive and spend the next 2-3 days working through them all. I am quite ruthless and reject quite a lot: only choosing one from a sequence of images for example. I’ll also research the history of the home club and its ground to accompany the finished Photo Diary, so also draw upon a library of reference books at home.
What do you feel is the most challenging thing about photographing sport?
For me it’s not so much the speed of the action as with experience you get used to that, as I have found with sports such as speedway and tennis, as well as football. With horse racing it’s better if the horses are coming towards you but equally as with many sports you get quite adept at ‘panning’ after a while.
I found rugby quite tricky and American Football is particularly difficult as of course the Offense tries to disguise where the ball is going! The main problem I find, particularly in the winter months with non-League football, is that the light is so variable and constantly changing.
Therefore I often set the shutter speed as fast as possible if shooting action, and rely on auto ISO, making slight adjustments to the speed depending on the light.
Do you follow a set routine or do things on the fly?
I am largely quite ‘instinctive’ with regards how things progress on the pitch and often guess wrongly when trying to decide who is most likely to score! However, I like to work my way around a ground in order to encompass as many different viewpoints as possible and will often have a wander around looking for possible vantage points before kick-off.
I also like to get a mixture of pitchside action, and also shoot from within the crowd. This is the big advantage of non-League football and the access it allows; it would be impossible at the Premier or Football League game!
If someone said ‘how can I be the next David Bauckham?’ what would you say?
They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, don’t they? I don’t think there is anything wrong with being inspired by others but equally I think it’s really important to try to develop your own style that is uniquely yours and identifiable.
My style has just evolved, mainly due to me being aware of my own technical limitations as well of those of the kit I have been using at the time, but I suppose ultimately it’s about practice and taking a lot of photographs!
If you had to pick five of your favourite photographs, what would they be and why?
I think that generally, photographers are the worst judges of their own photographs. However, I think it’s fair to say that my personal favourites would be those that focus on people rather than sporting action.
Many of my ‘best’ images are due to being in the right place at the right time, and having the presence of mind to capture that image. I guess that is down to luck in some degree, but also experience and therefore it is those images that are often the most pleasing: when it all comes together.
If you could choose one sporting event to photograph, what would it be and why?
I’ve often said I’d love to photograph a World Cup qualifier between two of the minnows in the FIFA rankings, preferably in South East Asia or an Oceania tie at somewhere like the Solomon Islands. Inevitably though I’d be focusing on the spectators and the setting rather than the action!
What happens when you run out of football grounds to photograph? Where then?
I’m certainly beginning to run out of ‘new’ grounds to photograph in the South East of England, especially those that I find interesting to photograph, and am therefore being forced to look further afield which is obviously costly and more time-consuming. I guess ultimately I may have to move house although my wife may have other ideas!
Author – Stuart Tree