When I first thought about conducting another interview with a sports photographer, I not only wanted someone with the ability to shoot eye catching images but also to pick the brains of someone with real ambition to achieve great things with his work. Still in his 20’s, Simon Roe was a perfect candidate. He already has a wealth of experience behind him, including many published photos in the national press. Although Simon covers more and more high profile football matches, he still tests himself in a variety of different sports… usually nailing them each and every time. And what’s more… he doesn’t use any post production whatsoever… ensuring he gets it right, in camera, every time. A true pro.
Enjoy our interview with Simon, accompanied by some of his personal favourite pictures. More of Simon’s work can be seen on his website, www.simonroephotography.co.uk
When did your interest in photography begin, and how did you learn your craft?
Back in my school when I was around fourteen, my family and I used to spend a Sunday at Brands Hatch watching which ever event may be on; mostly the British Touring Car Championship or any classic event where I’d be able to see an E-Type Jaguar (my dream car). I always used to love the idea of capturing an important moment in time to remember for eternity. My father bought me a basic compact digital camera but it wasn’t fast enough for me, so my grandfather gave me his old canon AE-1 (a Canon boy was born from that moment). Soon after, I invested some birthday money into a digital SLR and fell in love from there.
I then mentioned my interest in football photography to a work colleague one day. He told me about his local club Dorking FC and that I should come down. The Chairman Jack Collins invited me to do some pictures one Saturday against Colliers Wood United. From there, I started to follow Dorking. Soon after, I visited Merstham FC where they then offered me to visit as many times as I like. So I did and from there I spent three years as their club photographer and watched them climb into the Ryman League South.
You photograph many different sports. Which gives you the most satisfaction and what would you say is the most challenging (and why)?
The most satisfying is easily Football. It’s a sport I love playing and watching socially. After spending years looking at pro’s photographs I wished I could do the same. Now I enjoy every second of snapping football. Each new sport is a challenge when I first cover them but after about half an hour you start to get the hang of it. I have to say the most challenging sport I’ve had to shoot is Lacrosse. I always make an effort to research a new sport before I photograph it, but that all went out the window with Lacrosse! The ball moves so quickly, by the time I’d realised where there ball had gone it had disappeared again. Table tennis is also quite a challenge as again, the ball moves so quickly, trying to get it into a frame is a challenge in itself.
What kit do you typically use when photographing sport?
Standard kit for me when shooting sport always the combination of a prime lens, be it the 300mm f/2.8 IS or the 400mm f/2.8 IS for action in the midfield or the other end of the field, along with the 70-200mm f/2.8 IS for closer action… mainly in goalmouths or players celebrating in front of me (when I get lucky!).
At this time of year I like to use my fisheye lens for celebrations at cup finals and close up team photos with their trophies.
Something I am already planning on working on next season is more shots of grounds and the surroundings so I will need to be packing my wide angle lens a lot more.
You’ve climbed your way up through the leagues and now often cover many Football League fixtures. Is there a pressure to ensure you get the right shot delivered within a tight deadline? What other challenges do you face?
There is a certain element of pressure to get the right shot but at the same time it is very much pot luck. When a key moment happens, for example a goal, then the quicker it goes up online the more hope of usage from it. Although there is no real pressure to get it up online quickly it is only a demand which I put upon myself and I’m sure a lot of others do at that level. I also like to keep the images up to date as I shoot and thus not have so much to do at both half time and full time. After my first few league games I found it was not just important to get the key moments but also ensuring that you get at least one decent action image of each player, as I have found most media outlets will use these for future articles.
I certainly feel that the biggest challenge is the other agencies that are regularly at games such as Action Images, Getty and PA. Media outlets will often use them before anyone else regardless if you have a better image or not. Sometimes you could be sitting right next to them, get the same shot, but 9/10 times they will get their image used first.
Is it a competitive world, photographing league matches? Do you see it as a dog-eat-dog world or do you make good friends and associates whilst shooting?
I have met a few photographers now and have built a rapport which is nice for when you bump into them at different grounds and you have someone to talk to. However, there are a large amount of “The Big Boys” who don’t want to talk to you and even when you just walk past, give that nod of the head and say hello, they just grunt back without a smile… it does make you feel a bit unsettled but the way I look at it is that if they feel you are there taking something away from them then that’s their problem – it really doesn’t bother me and never has. I always tell myself I’m there to watch a game of football and enjoy it.
You have an extensive online portfolio. How do you protect your images from being taken?
This is a huge topic these days with social media a key part in many people’s lives, and even youngsters know the basics of a computer including how to use the “Printscreen” button. I place a simple watermark through the centre of my photos – not to bold so it does not distract from the photo itself, but still has my name associated. I also use a small piece of HTML coding in my galleries which means that no one can “right click” and save the pictures to their computer.
However, if people do screenshot my images and use them for Facebook and Twitter profile pictures, there is an upside as this creates free advertising for me… people see my name across the image which leads them back to my website where they may make a purchase.
I know you’re not a fan of post-processing, preferring to keep the image as shot. Can you explain why that is the case?
Very simply photography is an art and everyone has their own interpretation of how they see it. Mine is that I love to capture that moment and keep it as pure as possible. I like to keep editing down to a minimum so preferably get it camera perfect first time. When photographing matches, particularly the Football League, there isn’t much time for editing. Maybe just quick crop and brighten slightly if needed, then it’s being FTP’d straight away.
To you, is it a hobby or a profession?
Definitely a hobby, but a hobby which needs to be treated as a business these days. I have to ensure that every game I cover now I can either cover my costs or make a profit. With the price of petrol continuing to rise, I have this year kept my journeys to a short distance where I have no assured payment coming from games. I think the day it becomes a profession I may just not enjoy it as much… but until that day comes, I’ll never know!
Who has been your favourite team to cover over the years?
Merstham FC will always have a place in my heart for giving me so many opportunities whilst being their club photographer, and their team of 2007/08 probably one of the best all round squads I have watched in many years – Great goalscorers such as Kevin Lock and Kwebena Agyei… technically brilliant players such as Michael Morgan and the Hill Brothers… Joe and Rob plus many others. It culminated in a treble winning season where they had a run through to the quarter finals of the FA Vase and came so near to reaching the semi-finals. To this day when I watch Merstham, there are always players in their team that light up the game. They’re such a great club with great people behind the scenes. I always enjoy a trip to the Moatside (their home).
If you had to pick one sporting occasion in the world to photo, what would it be and why?
Le Mans 24 Hours. My favourite sporting event! Having been there twice it’s a great experience and I took many photos in my early photography years, but can only dream of what I could produce if I went there with the knowledge and experience I hold today. Over 24 hours of so many different angles… on track… in the pits… fans in the stands and so many more. It’s a dream which I one day hope to fulfil.
What’s your all-time favourite photograph that you’ve taken and describe why?
My favourite photo of all time is surprisingly not for photographic reasons but more because it holds a special moment. It features Rachel “Shorty” Lee (number 7 – see below), a fantastic talent who now plays for Leeds United Ladies. Rachel approached me during her time at University wondering if I could sponsor her while she was playing at Sheffield Wednesday. I have continued to support and sponsor her ever since. I am truly proud to have made such a great friend in her and am very proud of her achievements, representing her country whilst playing in China in the World University Games and now more importantly, a qualified teacher in the north of England.
The photo was taken at Bramall Lane, home of Sheffield United during the 2010 BUCS Women’s Championship final. Shorty ran the ball into the corner and somehow fought her way out making it to the edge of the 18 yard box and with her left foot, pings a magnificent shot straight into the top corner. It was the opening goal of the night and I have to say the only time a tear has come to my eye in a football game. I was so proud to see Shorty score such a screamer, but managed to keep myself composed enough to capture her celebrations. Unfortunately they were cut short after Northumbria scrapped out a 2-1 victory.
What does the future hold for Simon Roe?
Plenty of hard work and lots of good opportunities are to come for me. I want to keep working hard on my work covering the Football League. I’ll be covering Reading vs Liverpool in a few weeks, which will be my first Premier League match! I really look forward to doing more next year. I will however continue to keep covering non-league football. After all, without that I would not be where I am today and the passion and excitement that you get from a non-league game is by far better than inside any football league ground.
Simon’s excellent sports photography can be seen on his website, here.
More We Are SO Photo interviews can be read here.