Steer for the deep waters only

Robert Day's thoughts on his photography, his writing and his business

Catching up: Sports Day

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It’s been a while since I’ve added any new posts, partly because a lot has been happening to me. So hopefully, over the next few weeks, I’ll try to catch up and post a bit more often.

In one way, things remain the same. I’m still at Stratec in Burton-on-Trent; my four-week contract is now running into its fifth month, and I’m beginning to get used to Burton and find my way around a bit. (I wonder whatever became of Stuart, the lad from Burton who started work on the same day as me at the old DHSS Derby Victoria Street ILO?) But outside of the Day Job, there’s quite a bit to report. So let’s roll back the clock about six weeks and talk about the UK Corporate Games.

Now, this is the sort of event that I never anticipated myself covering; and yet, it’s exactly the sort of event that I would expect to cover if I really did want to think of myself as a professional photographer. But my involvement came about in the traditional way, through a contact of a contact. One of my old union cronies has a daughter who has set up a photographic agency, Dollymix Media. Their business model is that they aim to handle work for charities and other non-profit causes, and do it with a bit more clout to try to avoid the scenario of a multi-million pound charity with a large permanent staff and a CEO earning hundreds of thousands trying to browbeat creatives into giving their work away for nothing “because we’re a Good Cause”. Anyway, my contact knew my work from the PCS days, and so when Dollymix got the contract to cover the UKCG when they came to Coventry, she put my name forward to her daughter as being someone who could be interested in taking part.

The deal was that all the pictures would be sold on a ‘commission only’ basis. Now, whilst that’s better than “you’ll get good exposure and some great shots for your portfolio”, it’s not normally a deal I’d go for. But this seemed a bit different: it was for an old friend, it was close to home, and there would be the chance to get on the ground in some interesting locations. Plus I would make money from any of my shots that were sold, and there was the chance to do some networking as well. So I thought to myself, “Why not?”

The games themselves started on the Friday, and as that’s a working day for me, I wasn’t going to take the hit on loss of earnings. So I turned up on the Saturday morning at the temporary Dollymix HQ in one of the campus buildings on the Warwick University site. My first assignment was to cover Saturday’s tennis, at a sports centre about five minutes away by car. The morning was hotting up considerably, and I was one of the first people on site, with the organisers still getting themselves sorted out and a few contestants warming up. Immediately, i spotted a bit of a problem. The indoor courts were all liberally draped with netting to prevent stray balls passing between courts, or flying astray and possibly injuring spectators. That meant that for the most part, I would have to work from outside, shooting through the nets. I was able to get onto courts during breaks in play, but that almost put me too close to the action; the outdoor courts were similar.

Getting too close to the action might not seem to be too much of a problem, except for one thing. It’s only when you see amateurs – even good ones – playing tennis that you realise how difficult the game actually is and how easy the world-class professionals we see on our televisions make it look. At the sort of level I was seeing, a rally might only last for two or three exchanges before a ball went out of bounds or a shot was missed and play stopped. That makes trying to follow the action difficult, because it inevitably means that you are focusing on a player and anticipating some action that suddenly doesn’t materialise. It also means that, as a consequence, you end up with a lot of pictures of people serving….

I had to break off late morning to get back to base, to have my pictures uploaded, and then to get over to the Ricoh Arena on the other side of Coventry, because I had been put down to cover a distinctly non-Olympic sport  – poker! The casino attached to the Arena was the venue, and that meant that to get in, even as an official photographer, I had to join. Membership is, fortunately, free, but it must count as one of the oddest perks ever from a job…

The poker was a rather different challenge; very low light levels, so the ISO had to be cranked way up; and working with a long lens to keep unobtrusively in the background whilst getting in for those intimate pictures – expressions of concentration, elation or downfall, or hands, toying with chips or deftly dealing out cards. Definitely a departure from my usual subjects and really rather fun – though the format, ten tables of up to eleven players each, played as a knock-out, meant that I was on my feet for a considerable time, and that was only day one! The tournament – played for points, you’ll be pleased to know – went into a second day when the field had been whittled down to twenty players on two tables. The organisers were pleased to ask me to come back for the second day, which took a little organising to swop photographers, but we were all quite flexible…

On getting back to base, we were asked if we wanted to go into the city centre to cover the Grand Parade of the Games. I declined – I’d had quite enough running around, thank you – and so I and one other photographer were on hand when a call came in for some publicity shots for one of the Games’ sponsors. Johnsons’ Coaches, who were providing all the transport for competitors, were about to load up to take everyone down into the city for the parade, and they wanted some shots of people boarding buses. Was I interested? Guess. So now I’m an  Official Bus Photographer on top of everything else!

Day Two, then, was going to be more poker, but in the morning, I and another photographer were down to cover table tennis and netball, both at another sports centre venue close to the university. The table tennis was a very different proposition to the “big” tennis; for a start-off, it was easier to get around the tables; and it turned out that the calibre of the players was very much higher. Many of the players had been on national teams in the past and were quite agile for blokes of A Certain Age and a degree of athleticism that wasn’t  always obvious.

The other photographer hadn’t come entirely prepared for the weather conditions (in terms of baking hot sun), and as she was also finding the table tennis very fascinating as a subject to shoot, I offered to go and cove the netball. This was quite interesting and colourful; but soon I had to make the trip back to HQ to download and then get across Coventry for the poker final.

All in all, it was a fun weekend, if hard work. I did manage some architectural shots around the Warwick University campus at a time when there were comparatively few people around, which was good; and I met up with a number of other photographers, and it was nice to do that. As an Official Photographer, it was interesting to have the ‘access all areas’ pass, and the compulsory high-vis jerkin made it that I was hardly challenged anywhere (though i was stopped on my way into the casino on day two and asked to open my bag. Showing off the gear, I commented to the security officer that the contents were probably worth more than I could possibly win on the premises, given my luck…). However, although Dollymix was the official photographic agency, a couple of the participating companies did send their own photographers, though how “professional” they were is open to doubt. One company’s guy was very much a gear junkie, and kept asking everyone about their cameras, their lenses and their settings; but another blustered into the last hour of the poker and rather threw his weight around, officiously setting up shots and being rather obtrusive. He also blanked me a bit, but I made a point of engaging him in conversation, smiling a lot and offering contact details for any of the shots he didn’t get. (My guru in such things once said, “Smile and be nice to everyone you meet. You’ll drive ’em nuts.” Words of wisdom from Snoopy, there…) “Oh, but there were fifteen of you to cover all the events – I had to do it all myself” this company photographer moaned, and I caught the faint whiff of burning martyrs. As I said, these guys had the gear, but quite how much of a professional each of them was could certainly be debated.

The usual plan is for UKCG to engage local photographers to cover the games, but this year was the first time that they’d had a team covering the event instead of one or two shooters. Also, with separating shooting from image manipulation and organisation, Dollymix were able to have pictures up on the website within an hour or so of the end of any given event. Next year’s UK Corporate Games are to be held in the organisation’s British base, Liverpool, and there has been some talk of Dollymix bidding for the coverage rights again, if the organisers are willing to stump up expenses (not all the photographers were entirely local). I for one would be up for it again…

Note: photographs shown here are for illustrative purposes only. Some may be the subject of corporate packages and are not for sale. All sales enquiries on any of these pictures must be directed in the first instance to Dollymix Media:

http://www.dollymix-media.co.uk/portfolios/uk-corporate-games/#!prettyPhoto

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Written by robertday154

August 9, 2013 at 11:58 pm

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