Let me introduce myself. I have been the Chief Sports Photographer of The Sun Newspaper in London, England for the last 29 years. It’s my job to fill the sports pages of the UK’s best selling newspaper, with over 1.6 million papers sold daily and with over 45 million unique viewers to our digital platforms.
12 months ago I covered my sixth Olympic games, on this occasion in Brazil, where I followed some top British athletes in their quest for gold at the games, getting up close to them in training and getting great access to them before going to the games.
I also covered my 10th European soccer championships in France, my 35th Wimbledon All England Championships, my 35th English Football Season, England’s summer cricket campaign, and many professional boxing bouts working in conjunction with some top fighters.
It’s been a busy few years in the game!
I have been honoured to have won three major industry awards for my work, including The Sports Journalism award for my picture of a double handed save by England’s Joe Hart voted the best football picture of the season. I also won two awards from our National Football Association for the same picture and for a goal celebration by Daniel Sturridge against Wales. Plaudits like these make you strive harder to keep trying to get those images we all remember.
I started the campaign by photographing our Olympians.
First was Adam Peaty, our gold medallist in the games. I wanted to photograph Adam in the pool using strobe lighting. I shot with a Canon 1DX Mark II and 400mm f/2.8 lens using two Elinchrom D-lite RX strobes with a fast syncing connection and two soft boxes and two assistants hanging over the pool lighting Adam. I powered the lights with a Godox power pack and took no more than 5 attempts before I knew I had my shot.
Next came Matthew Hudson-Smith, a British track and field sprinter who specializes in the 400 metres. We photographed him in the National Indoor Arena, again using two fast syncing Elinchrom D-lite RX strobes. This time I shot with a Canon 1DX Mark II and a 300mm f/2.8 lens on a tripod. We used a beauty dish to the front with a grid on it, as well as a soft box in front, and a grid with a blue gel on it behind, just to change the colours.
My third assignment was well out of my comfort zone. I had to photograph Claudia Fragapane, who is an artistic gymnast. This was a challenge, knowing nothing about this sport. She was wonderful to photograph! She showed me the most dangerous move that she did, so all I had to do was try and light it. I used three fast syncing Elinchrom D-lite RX strobes and shot with a Canon 1DX Mark II and 85mm f/1.2. We used a beauty dish to the front with a grid on it again, we also used two grids to the front and rear.
The result was nice but it needed something else. I used a Topaz star burst filter in post production and it made the image pop. She was pleased with the image and that was good enough for me.
Next, it was down to the National Sailing Centre in Plymouth where I photographed gold medallist sailor Giles Scott. I did not have a clue about sailing, but he was great. He allowed me to bolt on Canon 600EX-RT flash guns and sealed them with house hold kitchen film because of the salt water. These were fired with an infrared transmitter. I shot the image with a Canon 1DX Mark II and a 24mm-70mm lens. The strobe light made the image pop beautifully.
When we finally got to Rio for the Olympics, it was full on chasing Brits winning medals. The city handled the games well, but the distances between the events put lots of stress and strain on photographers getting from A to B for events, not to mention the crime aspect. You had to be vigilant 24 hours a day to protect your equipment and your personal belongings. I luckily had nothing stolen, but knew of people having things stolen.
My favourite image from the games was of Mo Farah, who won the Men’s 5000m Final. He did his thing very easily and won the race, but the image came after the race. He had finished his lap of honour, and from behind a stand came running out and jumped in mid air with a union jack flag behind him. I was using a Canon 1DX Mark II with a 300mm lens. This image was corner to corner in the view finder. Many photographers cut fingers or cut off the top of his head, but luckily for me I got the frame.
The English Domestic football season was dominated by Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United. Chelsea had a new manager, Antonio Conte, who came in and won the Premier League in his first season. The night they clinched the Premiership, the players were celebrating with him. They grabbed the manager and started to throw him in the air. Luckily for me I was positioned perfectly! They threw him up and threw a banner that said “The Champions.” This was taken on a Canon 1DX Mark II with a 500mm f/4 lens.
Manchester United won the League Cup at Wembley Stadium. The game was won in the dying minutes of the final half with a winning goal by Zlatan Ibrahimovic. I took an amazing image on a remote camera positioned behind the goal with a Canon 1DX and 24mm f/1.4 with Pocket Wizard. My paper loves these pictures because of the angle its taken from.
People who know me well know that I love to photograph boxing, the fights as well as the previews building up to the fight. One fight in particular was Anthony Joshua vs Wladimir Klitschko. The fight was set to take place at Wembley Stadium in front of 90,000 people. The build up in the UK was massive. Luckily for me, I had access to Joshua before the fight. This is where all the KelbyOne videos I’ve watched paid off.
I turned a nice image of Joshua into an amazing front cover of the pull out for my paper. It was taken on a Canon 5Ds with a 85mm f/1.2 and three Elinchrom D-lite RX strobes using soft boxes with grids.
The highlight of the summer sports for me is the Wimbledon All-England Tennis Championships. 14 days of sunshine, great working facilities, great pictures and a great place to have the privilege of working. You have to have your wits about you all the time.
It’s not just tennis, you have to watch for celebrities arriving and enjoying the tennis, members of the Royal Family having a day out, including HRH The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. You must not point a long lens at the Royal Box during play, which is one of the rules of Wimbledon that is observed by the press pack.
This year there were celebrities like Eddie Redmayne, Bradley Cooper, and singer and actress Grace Jones. The women’s championship was won by Garbine Muguruza and the men’s was won again by Roger Federer.
I am one of the lucky ones who are allowed on the court for the trophy presentation, but there are certain rules that have to be observed. No shorts, only trousers and a shirt must be worn to take the pictures, and definitely no monopods allowed on the grass. All cameras have to be hand held.
I use two Canon 1DX Mark II bodies and one Canon 1DX at Wimbledon that are cabled to the internet for direct picture transmission to our photo editors in the media centre. I use 500mm, 300mm, and 70-200mm lenses for celebrities and tennis action pictures.
Another summer sport for us Brits is cricket. There are three forms of the game: 20/20, which is fast a furious a bit like baseball, then there is 50 over cricket and the last is a five day test match between England and South Africa which I had to cover. Basically you have to be there for a 9:30 photo briefing to pick your working position for the day. You watch every ball bowled from 11am till 1pm, then 1:40pm till 4:40pm, then from 4pm till the official close of play at 6pm. Luckily the BBC provides great radio commentary, so this helps when the play gets slow. This can go on for four days without a result, or if you get lucky you can get a result inside three or four days. Days four and five turned out to be big moments in the game.
Ben Stokes, English bowler, bowled Faf Du Plessis of South Africa on the fifth day England spin bowler to a hat trick and bowled out the last three South African batters for no runs, and then was mobbed by his England teammates after he secured victory in the match.
My final two pictures of the year I want to talk about are from the IAAF World Athletics Championship most recently held in the London Stadium, which was formerly The Olympic stadium for 2012 games. First night action, especially for the British fans, was Mo Farah competing in the 10,000m. The anticipation of the crowd was electric and the noise was so loud. 25 laps of the track in the last event, Mo was being pushed about. He had a spike put into his leg, elbows, the usual thing. On the last lap he went for the front and took the lead. The roar of the crowd was nothing that I have experienced since 2012. He came hammering towards us, and for me it was go small with a 300mm lens or stay strong and go with the 500mm.
Mo knew he had the victory on the line. Arms went out wide and the eyes popped! What a great picture on the first night.
My final image was on the Saturday night of Usain Bolt’s last ever race in the 100m against his rival Justin Gatlin. The British media had hyped this race up over Gatlin’s past with drugs. The race was terrible for me. Bolt was in lane four, Gatlin in lane nine. Anyway, on your marks, set, go, the only thing you can do is keep an eye on the track and the giant video screen, 60 yards out is decision time. I go on Bolt.
He comes across the line in third, not a frame on Gatlin. Then, by luck, Gatlin looks to the video screen and sees he has won. Bolt comes to him and holds his hands out, Gatlin then goes down and bows to the greatest sprinter in history. What a picture perfect positioning for me! An incredible two days for me to finish a calendar year in sports photography.