Mud, Wind, Rain and Cars

Photographer Steven Paston braved the wilds of Wales for the Rally of Great Britain.

“I found myself deep in the Welsh forest, with no phone signal or sat nav, just me and the countryside for company. That and the sound of rally cars’ engines roaring past at speeds of around 100 mph, just metres from where I stood. I was back at the Rally of Great Britain.”

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Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila of Finland during Dyfi Stage. Photo Steven Paston
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Martin Prokop and Jan Tomanek of Czech Republic during Dyfi Stage. Photo Steven Paston

“Some of my colleagues would say I’m in the wrong profession, and should be a rally driver – not  due to my skills behind the wheel but for lack of them!  Standing so close to the cars as the drivers go full throttle, positioning their car to make tight corners, is amazing to watch especially when it’s wet and slippery as it was that weekend.”

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Sebastien Ogier (R) and Julien Ingrassia of France Volkswagen Motorsport celebrate winning the Rally of Great Britain and the FIA World Rally Championship. Photo Steven Paston
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Sebastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia of France Volkswagen Motorsport celebrate with the trophy after winning the FIA World Rally Championship. Photo Steven Paston

“This was the third year I’ve covered the event for Action Images, and even now I’m still getting my head around it. It consists of four days travelling around the northern part of Wales. Covering individual stages is I guess similar to covering the Tour de France in cycling, where you have to pick a location and wait for the riders to come past. The media get privileged parking access, so in theory we can park up, walk a few hundred metres to part of the stage, shoot the drivers as they come past, and then jump in the car to get to the next stage. In reality this is often not possible. When we receive our accreditation we are also given a guide to all the stages, how to get there, where the so-called best photo opportunities are, and other useful info.”

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Sebastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia of France during the Clocaenog Main stage. Photo Steven Paston

 

“There are several stages taking place each day and each stage is driven twice, so if I plan it I can cover one stage in the early morning, then jump in the car, drive back to main road, if possible send a few images once I can pick up 3G or 4G signal, and then drive on to the next stage in time for the afternoon session. The best way to get decent coverage is all in the planning, I try to work out which stage is going to provide the best results, then chose another stage for the second run in order to get a different shot in the afternoon.”

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A general view shot using a slow shutter speed, during the Alwen stage. Photo Steven Paston

“As you can imagine, Wales in November is wet and cold, and for one of the stages I was standing on a bank about a metre or so from where the drivers go past. Norwegian driver Andreas Mikkelsen came through and clipped the corner, throwing up a load of mud, dirt and small stones straight into me, covering half my body and face as well as my cameras with it. I did raise a few laughs from some fellow photographers who were standing next to me, and a dozen fans nearby, but hey this is rallying! You know at some point you are going to get dirty, some people would pay money to be covered in mud at a spa treatment!”

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Andreas Mikkelsen and Ola Floene of Norway during Dyfi Stage. Photo Steven Paston

“Unlike some other motorsports events, fans can walk onto the course, especially in remote areas where the lack of stewards means they can get really close to the action. The thing that impresses me most about the fans is their dedication to watching and supporting the sport. They wake up around 5am to drive an hour and a half or more to their chosen stage, walk a few miles to find a good spot, sit in the cold and wet just to see their favorite drivers pass in a blink on an eye. Then they will sit and wait patiently for several hours in the same conditions before the second run in the afternoon.”

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A general view of spectators walking though the Alwen stage. Photo Steven Paston
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General view of spectators watching during Dyfi Stage. Photo Steven Paston
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General view of spectators watching at Dyfnant stage. Photo Steven Paston

“I tried to vary my coverage this year, with a set of tight full frame shots of the main RC1 cars, wider landscape views to illustrate the Welsh countryside, plus a bit of slow shutter speed panning and some general views of the spectators. Myself and two other photographers walked for over 90 minutes to find a particular photo spot, but on arrival decided to climb up a 45 degree incline where we found an even better position that showed the rolling hills, late afternoon sunshine, and when the top drivers came past, we had a helicopter buzzing just 20 to 30 metres away. This made a really nice shot and it was worth all of the effort that went into it.”

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Thierry Neuville and Nicolas Gilsoul of Belgium during Dyfi Stage. Photo Steven Paston

“Rallying, unlike motorsports on a fixed circuit, means you only get one chance to capture the shot, and there is a chance that you are at the wrong stage and miss ‘the’ editorial picture of that day.”

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Former England Cricketer Graeme Swann after completing Clocaenog Main stage. Photo Steven Paston

“There is now a growing trend for celebrity drivers at the rally, last year former Olympic skeleton gold medallist Amy Williams took part, this year we had glamour model and wife of Mark Cavendish Peta Todd, along with former England cricketer Graeme Swann. Maybe next year I should enter one of the lower categories and take part, I’m just not sure anybody would be crazy enough to be my co-driver!”

Mud, Wind, Rain and Cars

Fog Days

Photographer Steven Paston regales us with tales from his latest overseas trip.

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General view if Celtic goal keeps going out to warm up as the stadium is covered in fog. Photo Steven Paston

“My latest European adventure saw me travel to Romania, this time to cover FC Astra v Celtic in the Europa League. As I have mentioned in previous blogs, I really enjoy visiting places that I would not normal travel to. However, this trip began with a 4am wake-up call, and a very cold drive to Gatwick airport!”

Here is link to a short video I made of my trip with my GoPro camera Bucharest 24hrs

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Celtic Manager Ronny Deila looks at the pitch as the stadium is covered in fog. Photo Steven Paston

“There are some advantages to taking early flights though, including a lack of traffic on the drive to the airport, and much shorter security queues waiting for hand luggage to be x-rayed. Every now and again on these trips my bags are selected for a secondary inspection, usually because they contain a 1DX, 400mm, laptop and a whole host of cables, hard drives, portable USB, and camera batteries! The main reason for this is that I don’t fully trust any airline not to lose my hold baggage en route…”

“On this trip I flew into Bucharest and collected my hire car as the game was taking place around 60 miles away to in Giurgiu, close to the border with Bulgaria. Luckily for me I was given a new mark 7 Volkswagen Golf to drive, which is exactly the same as the car I drive back home, so I didn’t have a repeat of an issue I have a few years ago, when I ended up calling a colleague back home to find out how to put the car into  reverse!”

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Referee Serhiy Boiko (far R) and is assistance looks at the weather condition before the game. Photo Steven Paston

“Finally after getting though Bucharest’s version of rush hour traffic I had a simple drive down south. On arrival at the stadium in Giurgiu the weather had closed in, there was a thick cloud of fog covering the entire pitch. Having collected my accreditation I headed down to pitch side to capture a few early pictures, just on the off chance that the match was postponed. You couldn’t see from one end of the pitch to the other, but the referee was happy and the game went ahead. In conditions like these you already know that the chances of shooting great action photos are fairly remote, however I tried to make the most of the opportunity to shoot something a little bit different.”

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Football – FC Astra v Celtic – UEFA Europa League Group Stage Matchday Four Group D – Stadionul Marin Anastasovici, Giurgiu, Romania – 6/11/14 Celtic’s Leigh Griffiths has a shot at goal Mandatory Credit: Action Images / Steven Paston Livepic EDITORIAL USE ONLY.

“With the stadium wi-fi quite patchy, I resorted to using 3G on my dongle, and fortunately this enabled me to send directly from the back of the camera for Celtic’s goal, and for the disallowed goal that followed. Throughout the match Celtic’s travelling supporters provided a great backdrop with singing, chanting and even climbing up the wire fences.”

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Travelling Celtic fans before the game. Photo Steven Paston

“With the match ending 1-1, it was time to pack up and drive back to my hotel in Bucharest, and it seemed as though the weather was following me. The whole return journey was made in thick fog, and I could only see about a car length in front of me at any given time. There were varying levels of street lighting, large pot holes and bends that came out of nowhere, but I managed to get back in one piece, including the car which may surprise some of my colleagues!”

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A general view of a fan before the game. Photo Steven Paston

“My next trip takes me to Germany for Vfl Wolfsburg v Everton, so I will need to watch my speed on the Autobahn!”

Fog Days

A Partizan Welcome

Photographer Steven Paston took a midweek trip to Serbia for some Thursday night Europa League action.

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Riot police after the math. Photo Steven Paston

“It’s Europa League week and I’ve been assigned to cover FK Partizan v Tottenham Hotspur, which is taking place in Belgrade, Serbia. One of the joys of my job is that I get to travel to a lot of places that I wouldn’t normally visit. Last year I had a number of trips including Moscow (twice within 5 weeks!), allowing me to explore the Moscow metro system which has always fascinated me with its unique architectural design.”

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A general view of the Metro in Moscow. Photo: Steven Paston

“I also travelled to cover FC Sheriff in Tiraspol, Transnistria, which is a self-proclaimed independent state that is not recognized by any UN member state (except for Russia), and has a tricky relationship with its neighboring countries of Moldova and Ukraine. Finally I visited Tromso in Norway, which sits inside the Arctic Circle. During the winter months the daytime is extremely short, and when I arrived around midday, the sun had already set for the day! Both of the last two games were to cover Tottenham Hotspur in Europa League fixtures.”

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General view of Alfheim Stadion, Tromso, Norway. Photo steven paston

“One of the things that particularly appeals to me in these far-flung locations compared to the more travelled cities in Central Europe is the real sense of adventure. I enjoy the challenge of working out how to get about from the airport to the hotel, finding my way to the stadium and then figuring out how to even get inside when faced with a substantial language barrier.”

“To get to Belgrade required two flights, and by the time I arrived it was it was midnight. In the past I have been ripped off heavily in taxi fares travelling to and from the airport, Moscow in particular springs to mind. However on this trip it was fine, I chose to use the official taxi agents and thankfully got to my hotel for a reasonable price for a change. This kind of thing always helps to put me at ease when visiting a new place for the first time.”

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General view of Tottenham Hotspurs during training in Belgade. Photo Steven Paston

“As Tottenham Hotspur is one of our contract clubs, part of the package we provide on these trips is the press conference and training session the day before the match. One good thing about that from a personal perspective is that all it takes place in the evening, giving me a chance to explore the city during the day, and on match day I have almost another full day for more sight-seeing. On some other recent trips I have checked into my hotel, headed straight to the stadium to shoot the match, and then flown back to the UK in the early hours of the morning.”

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Tottenham Hotspurs manager Mauricio Pochettino talks during the press conference. Photo Steven paston

 

“Another bonus of covering the pre match build up is that I have already collected my accreditation from the press officer at the training session, so on match day I know exactly where I’m going. On other trips I have found it challenging trying to explain to foreign stewards that I need to collect my accreditation when neither of us speaks the same language!”

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General view of Tottenham Hotspurs players warming up. Photo Steven Paston

“Having set up pitch side, amongst the things I like to prepare is a team sheet, and to make sure that I can connect to the internet, either using the stadium wifi or my own mifi. In this case neither was working, and I was under pressure to deliver images for the club, as well as for the live feed. It’s a double edged sword going to these far-flung locations, that a lack of signal can stop you in your tracks, in spite of ever-advancing technology. I have the ability to send directly from the back of my cameras using a wifi transmitter without even opening my laptop, or at stadiums such as Wembley I can plug my Canon 1DX into an ethernet cable and file images back to the office even quicker.”

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Tottenham Hotspurs Harry Kane in action. Photo Steven Paston

“For this game my mifi was only finding 2G signal, very occasionally 3G. Back in the UK I regularly use 4G, so I called the office to let them know that I was having issues sending but I managed to get a small selection out during the first half.  At half time I managed to connect to the stadium wifi which enabled me to catch up a bit so going into the second half I was up to date. It’s a shame that during the course of the whole game there was not much action to send at all, a disappointment not just for me, but also for the 150-odd fans that had travelled over to support the team.”

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The travelling contingent of Tottenham Hotspurs fans. Photo Steven Paston
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General view of Partizan Belgrade ulras beneath the score broad. Photo Steven Paston

“In the UK, most football clubs don’t have a section of fans that we would openly call “ultras”, but on mainland Europe it is much more common. Partizan’s ultras occupy an entire stand behind one of the goals, singing, shouting, waving huge banners, not to mention the loud bang of firecrackers exploding just behind the photography position all throughout the game! On a side note the local photographers work slightly differently, casually smoking cigarettes at pitch side during the game whilst working.”

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Tottenham Hotspurs Andros Townsend and Partiza Vladimir Volkov in action. Photo Steven Paston

“Serbia has a reputation as a country that is not very open to varied ethnicity, with several England U21 players being racially abused in Serbia a couple of years ago, including Tottenham’s Danny Rose, who didn’t travel for this match. The Partizan ultras displayed a banner which was seemingly directed at the Tottenham fans, which the club reported to UEFA following the match.”

 

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Partizan Belgrade fans display a controversial banner. Photo Steven paston

“Overall it’s been a good couple of days, cheap taxi prices, good food, nice weather and an interesting city to explore. As part of my sight-seeing I captured the results of the bombing by NATO in 1999, such as the Ministry of Defense building, which for the past 15 years has been left as testament to the city’s recent history.”

Ministry of defense building in Belgrade damaged during the 1999 NATO
Ministry of defense building in Belgrade damaged during the 1999 NATO. Photo Steven Paston

“Now all I need to do is keep my passport safe, as I’m sure to be jetting off somewhere in couple of weeks’ time!”

A Partizan Welcome

Rough Diamond

Photographer Steven Paston made a lengthy trip to Glasgow to cover Diamond League athletics.

“Time to drop the pole and pick up the camera; summer can officially start, it’s the athletics season! I’ve been involved in athletics since the age of 11 and, without making myself feel too old, I’ve competed for my local athletics club – Herne Hill Harriers in Tooting Bec – for 22 years now.”

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General view of runners casting a shadow on the track during the Mens 5000 meters. Photo steven paston

 

“In all that time I’ve tried almost every single event, but people are always surprised when I tell them that the event I specialise in is the pole vault, considering the technical and gymnastic nature of the event, oh, and the fact that I tower at a height of just 5ft 4in.”

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Poland Pawel Wojciechowski in action during Mens Pole Vault. Photo steven paston

“I have covered all of the major athletics events in the UK, both indoor and outdoor, over the past 6 or 7 years. One of my personal highlights was back in 2005 at Crystal Palace, when I photographed Russian pole vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva as she broke her own world record and became the first woman to clear the five metre mark. On that night the former men’s world record holder, Sergey Bubka, was in the crowd and afterwards he made the cheque presentation to Isinbayeva, a scenario he was familiar with from his career when he broke the world record again and again.”

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Athletics – Norwich Union London Grand Prix – Crystal Palace – London – 22/7/05 Yelena Isinbayeva of Russia making a new world record to become the first woman to break the 5 metre mark Mandatory Credit: Action Images / Steven Paston

 

“This year one of the Diamond League events was in Glasgow, so living in South London I was faced with a 415 mile / 7 hour drive to Scotland. As part of Action Images’ coverage I shoot the press conferences and photo opportunities in the days leading up to the events. These are generally a mixture of staged shots set up by the organisers, and chances to take individual athletes aside to shoot one on one portraits.”

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Athletics – Sainsburyís Indoor Grand Prix Preview – Crowne Plaza Hotel, Holliday St, Birmingham – 14/2/14 Shelly Ann Fraser Pryce of Jamaica poses ahead of the Sainsburyís Indoor Grand Prix Mandatory Credit: Action Images / Steven Paston Livepic EDITORIAL USE ONLY.

 

Scotland Eilidh Child pose after the press conference steven paston keep
Scotland Eilidh Child pose after the press conference steven paston keep

 

“With my colleague Pete Cziborra driving up to Glasgow the day before the event, there would be two of us covering the Friday night and Saturday afternoon sessions, with Pete shooting head on and myself infield. This was my first chance to see Hampden Park before the Commonwealth Games, so it was important for me to work out logistics, such as the security measures entering the stadium, how far the photographer’s room is, what the head on position will look like and where general view can be taken during the Games.”

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General view of the Mens 5000 meters at Hampden Park. Photo steven paston

“Diamond League events usually attract a host of big name athletes, and Glasgow was no different, with a line up including Yohan Blake, David Rudisha, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, David Weir, Blanka Vlasic, and more. When the field is this competitive you know you will get a high level of performances.”

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Great Britain’s David Weir in action during the Mens T53-54 1500 meters steven paston keep

 

“Shooting from the infield position requires a certain level of time keeping, and a general awareness of what is happening around you. There are times where I need to shoot one round of a field event, then run to the other side of the infield to cover another field event, all the while keeping an eye on which track events are taking place at the same time, before heading back to the first field event.”

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Great Britain Jonathan Peacock and USA Richard Browne in action during the men T34 100 meters steven paston keep

 

“It is well worth it in the end as you able to be a little more creative with the images that you shoot, whereas the head-on track images tend to be typical editorial winners and losers crossing the line, but on the flip side these get wider coverage in the newspapers.”

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CRO Blanka Vlasic in action during the Women High Jump steven paston keep

 

“One of the main stories of the meeting was Jamaica’s Yohan Blake racing in the men’s 100 metres, the final race on Friday, alongside a few British athletes. The focus was always set to be on Blake who, on paper, should win comfortably. However, at around 50 metres into the race, Blake pulled up with a hamstring injury so I continued to focus on him for his reaction, ignoring the finishers crossing the line. I didn’t have a clue who had won, but I knew the news story would be Blake’s injury, especially with the Commonwealth Games just a over a week away.”

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Jamaica’s Yohan Blake falls during the men’s 100 metres. Photo: Pete Cziborra

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Jamaica Yohan Blake lays injured during the Mens 100 meters final steven paston keep

 

“So with the Diamond League ticked off, I head back down to London, with the Anniversary Games at Horse Guards Parade in my schedule, a completely different kind of event, with just a handful of events on show. After that it’s another long drive back to Glasgow for the Games, and if I can’t compete in the pole vault myself, I will do the next best thing and stand right next to them with my camera in hand instead.”

 

 

Rough Diamond

Sir Lanka at the home of cricket

Photographer Steven Paston provides some insight into covering a cricket test match.

“I have just spent the past week virtually camped out at Lord’s for England’s First Test against Sri Lanka. Cricket is not one of my favourite sports to cover, as I don’t completely understand of all the rules and tactics involved. However Lord’s is one of the nicer venues to shoot at so I am happy to go along and try to shoot a nice set of pictures.”

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Cricket – England v Sri Lanka – Investec Test Series First Test – LordÕs – 12/6/14 General view of a spectator during play Mandatory Credit: Action Images / Steven Paston  EDITORIAL USE ONLY.

“The first two days involve ‘nets’ session with both squads, these can be quite dull as the sessions last around three hours for each team, and consists of the warm up, throwing and catching drills, and a batting session in the nets. Trying to shoot good pictures can be difficult especially when the players go into the nets, as you can’t see their faces clearly and they tend to be some distance away, requiring you to shoot on a long lens. There is also the issue of keeping the images fresh, and saving something for the second day so that you don’t end up with an identical set of pictures two days running.”

 

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Cricket – England v Sri Lanka – Investec Test Series First Test – LordÕs – 13/6/14 England’s Matt Prior looks dejected as he is caught by Sri Lanka’s Kaushal Silva (C) off the bowling of Shaminda Eranga Mandatory Credit: Action Images / Steven Paston Livepic EDITORIAL USE ONLY.

“One of the positives of shooting nets is that I know I will be back here for the next week so I bring most of my photography equipment with me on the first day, and store it in a locker in the media centre. This means I don’t have to carry my tripod, 600mm lens, seat, and the rest of my gear every day on the rush hour tube. All I need is my laptop and a small bag. This must be what it feels like to be a journalist!”

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Cricket – England v Sri Lanka – Investec Test Series First Test – LordÕs – 16/6/14 General view of spectators during play Mandatory Credit: Action Images / Steven Paston Livepic EDITORIAL USE ONLY.

“On day one of the Test match itself, and an early start with ‘roll call’ at 9.30am to decide where we would like to sit. I chose to shoot towards the pavilion end, but I soon began to regret my choice due to the weather. It was one of the hottest days of the year and I got sunburnt quite badly on my knees and arms, much to the amusement of some fellow photographers who gave me a bit of stick about spending too much time shooting indoor sports like darts and snooker! I was rewarded at the end of the day as England’s Joe Root celebrated making his century by running towards our end, and I was doubly pleased as I had a remote camera positioned up high which captured a nice clean image too.”

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Cricket – England v Sri Lanka – Investec Test Series First Test – LordÕs – 12/6/14 England’s Joe Root celebrates reaching his century Mandatory Credit: Action Images / Steven Paston Livepic EDITORIAL USE ONLY.
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Cricket – England v Sri Lanka – Investec Test Series First Test – LordÕs – 12/6/14 England’s Joe Root celebrates reaching his century Mandatory Credit: Action Images / Steven Paston Livepic EDITORIAL USE ONLY.

“After learning my lesson in the sun, I chose to sit at the opposite end the next day. This also turned out to be good choice as Joe Root went on to make a double century and this time he celebrated back towards the dressing room. This picture was published at full page in The Sun newspaper the following day.”

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Cricket – England v Sri Lanka – Investec Test Series First Test – LordÕs – 13/6/14 England’s Joe Root celebrates making his double century Mandatory Credit: Action Images / Steven Paston Livepic EDITORIAL USE ONLY.

“On the third day I went for a position on the other side of the pavilion, beneath the Sri Lanka dressing room. This proved to be another good choice as Sri Lanka’s Kumar Sangakkara made his first ever century at Lord’s. For a player of that quality it made a nice moment as he celebrated with his teammate Mahela Jayawardene straight towards me.”

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Cricket – England v Sri Lanka – Investec Test Series First Test – LordÕs – 14/6/14 Sri Lanka’s Kumar Sangakkara celebrates his century with Mahela Jayawardene Mandatory Credit: Action Images / Steven Paston Livepic EDITORIAL USE ONLY.

“Don’t ask me how but the first Test seemed to be all about century celebrations. On the fourth day I captured Sri Lanka’s Angelo Mathews at my end, and then a couple of hours later England’s Gary Ballance reached his maiden century in just his second Test for England. This made for a great picture, and again I had a remote camera positioned high up in the stands providing a wide angle showing the crowd cheering him on.”

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Cricket – England v Sri Lanka – Investec Test Series First Test – LordÕs – 15/6/14 England’s Gary Ballance celebrates making his maiden century in Test match Mandatory Credit: Action Images / Steven Paston Livepic EDITORIAL USE ONLY.
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Cricket – England v Sri Lanka – Investec Test Series First Test – Lord’s – 15/6/14 England’s Gary Ballance celebrates making his maiden century in Test match Mandatory Credit: Action Images / Steven Paston Livepic EDITORIAL USE ONLY.

“One thing I particularly like about Lord’s as a venue is the some of the off pitch elements which make nice pictures. I always look out for interesting shots of the architecture of the stadium, the MCC members in their regulation red and gold blazers, and any celebrities watching in the stands. On day four former England batsman Kevin Pietersen sat in a box alongside journalist Pier Morgan, and considering how KP was dropped from the England team after the last Ashes series, there was a good chance that this would get picked up by the newspapers the following day.”

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Cricket – England v Sri Lanka – Investec Test Series First Test – LordÕs – 13/6/14 General view of MCC Members before the start of play Mandatory Credit: Action Images / Steven Paston Livepic EDITORIAL USE ONLY.

“At the start of the Test it was blue skies, boiling hot and the stadium was packed. By the fifth day it was cold, overcast, windy and half empty. Not what you expect (or hope for) in June but this is the UK summer after all!”

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Cricket – England v Sri Lanka – Investec Test Series First Test – Lord’s – 16/6/14 England’s Chris Jordan celebrates after bowling out Sri Lanka’s Prasanna Jayawardene (not pictured) lbw Mandatory Credit: Action Images / Steven Paston Livepic EDITORIAL USE ONLY.

“After five days, and with Sri Lanka batting, it looked like the tourists were set to claim a draw but England had other ideas. With excellent bowling from James Anderson, Chris Jordan and Stuart Broad it looked like there could be an England win on the cards. I managed to shoot some good wicket pictures, and not being an expert on cricket I relied heavily on CricInfo to help me caption my images.”

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Cricket – England v Sri Lanka – Investec Test Series First Test – LordÕs – 16/6/14 England’s Stuart Broad celebrates bowling out Sri Lanka’s Nuwan Pradeep (not in picture) only for the decision to be overturned Mandatory Credit: Action Images / Steven Paston Livepic EDITORIAL USE ONLY.

“Another reason I’ve never particularly liked Test cricket is the slow and defensive style of play, but with England running out of overs and needing just two more wickets to win, it was getting interesting. Even with the half full Monday crowd the atmosphere was building. As Broad claimed another wicket, time was running out, and with just two balls remaining he thought he had bowled Nuwan Pradeep, only for the umpire to overturn the decision. The final ball was bowled and it was all over. After five days of play the result was a draw. If the teams had played like that last 40 minutes over the whole match I might get into Test cricket, but then I guess it wouldn’t be Test cricket.”

Sir Lanka at the home of cricket

Happy Gilmore

Steven Paston tells of a new sports photography experience he had recently.

 

“It’s not very often working for Action Images that I shoot a sport that I have never covered before, but I can now tick golf off my list.”

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A silhouette of Northern Ireland Rory McIlory during the second round. Photo steven paston

 

“A few weeks ago I was called up as a late replacement for the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth for the final two days, working as part of a team with my Action Images colleagues Paul Harding and Peter Cziborra. They have both shot plenty of golf in the past so were able to share some great advice on how to get around the course, and how close we can get to the players when they are playing.”

“This past week I was assigned to shoot the Irish Open golf championship in Cork. With the recent unsettled weather I packed all of my waterproofs along with my camera equipment, and took a short flight from Heathrow airport to Cork. I collected my hire car and checked into my hotel, before a short 15 minute drive to the Fota Island golf course, where I collected my accreditation and dropped off my camera gear.”

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Northern Ireland’s Darren Clarke contemplates his next shot during the first round. Photo steven paston

 

“With an early wake-up call, I was up at 6am and out on the course by about 7am. Rory McIlroy was teeing off at 7.50am, so the next few hours would be spent following him and any other high profile players. All my years of covering darts and snooker have paid off, as in golf you are not allowed to take pictures until the player has struck the ball!”

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A steward holds up a ‘No Camera’s sign. Photo steven paston

“Before the tournament started, I downloaded a gps tracking app on my iPhone, and over the course of four days I walked approximately 30 miles, all the more tiring as I was always carrying my cameras, a 400mm, 70-200mm and short lenses.”

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Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlory looks dejected during the first round. Photo steven paston

 

“One of my main observations is that when you are following the big name players like Rory McIlroy or Graeme McDowell, the number of spectators builds up as the day goes on. You start to feel like you are in the tv show ‘Walking Dead’ being followed by a herd of ‘walkers’!”

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Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell narrowly misses a Birdie on the 13th hole during the third round. Photo steven paston

 

“As I mentioned earlier I had packed all of my weather proof gear but went unused as we had dry weather and sunshine much to the delight of the local photographers. They joked with me that they were happy that my colleague, who regularly covers golf, was not there as it has been very wet when he has attended in the past!”

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General view of a family of Swans and their cygnet during the third round. Photo steven paston

 

“The final day, Sunday, was a more straightforward day. I decided to follow young up-and-coming English player Matthew Fitzpatrick, who I had already shot during the past three rounds. Once I had shot him on the 18th hole, I went back to the 1st tee and managed to capture the leading group teeing off. This was a good time to transmit some early images to the office, and my plan for the rest of the day was to pick a hole and wait there for the top 10 or so groups to pass through, enabling me to shoot a few frames of each player, just in case they launched a late challenge.”

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England\s Matthew Fitzpatrick plays a shot from within the tress on the 18th hole during the third round. Photo steven paston

 

“Once the leaders, Finland’s Mikko Ilonen and England’s Matthew Baldwin, came through I followed them all the way to the 18th hole. I was following the leader board on the European Tour app on my iPhone so I knew that no one else could still win.”

General view of the Irish Open trophy steven paston keep
General view of the Irish Open trophy. Photo steven paston

 

“My pic of Ilonen putting on the green didn’t really work, and I was a little concerned as trophy presentations can be pretty boring, lots of men in suits posing, a bit like all the group shots at a wedding. Finally we had Mikko Ilonen alone with the trophy, when Getty photographer Ross Kinnaird asked him to lie down on the table with the trophy, which he thankfully did! This made a really fun trophy pic rather than the standard ‘man holds trophy’.”

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Finland’s Mikko Ilonen celebrates after wining the Irish Open trophy steven paston keep

 

“After four days of golf I’m happy with what I shot, especially as I had never covered a golf tournament from start to finish before. Now I have to find another sport I’ve never covered to cross off my list!”

Happy Gilmore

Back at the Crucible

Photographer Steven Paston spent three weeks in Sheffield covering the World Snooker Championship.

“It’s time to step back inside and not see daylight for 17 days, which can mean only one thing. It’s the World Snooker Championship at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield. This is my third visit in the past three years, in what has become an annual event in my calendar no doubt which some of my fellow photographers are very happy about!”

Ronnie O'Sullivan in action during the second roundsteven paston keep
Ronnie O’Sullivan in action during the second round. Photos Steven Paston

”The ‘Worlds’ are the pinnacle of the snooker season, and where players dream of lifting the trophy and claiming the title. It holds a similar prestige to winning the football World Cup, a gold medal at the Olympic Games, or the green jacket at the Masters.”

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General view of the trophy before the final. Photo steven paston

”I wrote a previous blog about shooting the Masters at Alexandra Palace in January, which gave an idea of how I approach covering snooker, so I’ll not bore you by repeating myself. There is a difference with the World Championship though, in that we are further away from the action than at other snooker events, in a semi-sound proof booth, meaning a much higher angle to shoot from. There are pros and cons to this working position, the disadvantages are that we still get blocked by television cameras moving around the table, and having to shoot through a perspex window sometimes results in soft images or autofocus not reacting fast enough. The main problem is a lack of eye contact with the players when they line up a shot.”

Dominic Dale in action during the second roundsteven paston keep
Dominic Dale contemplates his next shot during the second round. Photo steven paston

“The main advantage at The Crucible is that photographers are able to shoot with less restrictions. At other events, you are not allowed to shoot until the cue ball has been hit, but here it is possible due to the distance away from play. So when players get the rest out, or try a high angle shot we can capture those images. This makes for a better range of images which makes a difference when you are on assignment for such a long period of time. One of the other advantages is that you can visit or leave a frame while it’s going on, as long as you remain silent there is usually not an issue.”

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General view of a spectators asleep during the second round. Photo steven paston

”The saying ‘it’s a marathon and not a sprint’ is the name of the game at the Crucible, especially as I am here for the full duration. For me it’s about pacing yourself, there is no point shooting every conceivable image and angle in the first few days, whether it is the back stage walk on, from the official booth, or shooting from the top looking down.”

Ronnie O'Sullivan during the finalsteven paston keep
Ronnie O’Sullivan during the final. Photo steven paston

”As I’ve covered many snooker tournaments over the years, I have got to know the press officers and the tournament directors very well, and as in previous years I’ve been lucky enough to gain access to the roof catwalk which is normally restricted. Up there I mounted some remote cameras in a sound proof blimp (which reduces the noise of the camera shutter), which I can then trigger with a pocket wizard from down in the photographer’s booth, and get two different images. A good example happened during this year’s tournament, as Australian Neil Robertson set a record of 100 century breaks in a season at The Crucible, so I was able to capture two very different images of the same moment. My remote shot was used by the Daily Mail online and it nice to see my hard work and planning pay off.”

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Neil Robertson celebrates reaching a record 100th century of the season during the quarter finals. Photo steven paston
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Neil Robertson celebrates reaching a record 100th century of the season durng the quarter finals. Photo steven paston

 

”The first round of the tournament is always the hardest part as there are 32 players, playing 16 games, the best of 19 frames, spread over two sessions. Some players play two sessions in a day whilst others are spread over two days. The ability to try and make pictures when you are faced with two men holding cues, a table and minimal options to move around, can get dull. There is great camaraderie in the press room with photographers, written press, radio journalists, press officers and the MC Rob Walker all taking part in the banter that enables us to get through the tournament. Some of the best times are in there while the snooker is taking place whilst we are editing and sending images out.”

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General view of new BBC Sport studio (Left) at the Crucible after Ronnie O’Sullivan complaining about noise during the semi finals. Photo steven paston

“By the time we get down to the single table setup for the semi finals, you know it’s nearly done and soon we we’ll see daylight again! The semi finals take two and a half days to complete, in which they each play four sessions and the matches are now the best of 33 frames. Normally at this stage of the tournament photographers have two photo booths to work from, giving views from both the left and right of the table. This year the BBC decided they wanted to have their studio based inside the Crucible which resulted in one of the photography booths being removed, meaning we were all crammed into a single booth. Ironically during the first session of the semi finals Ronnie O’Sullivan complained that there was noise coming from the new BBC studio! This prompted Chairman of the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association Barry Hearn to hold a press conference later that day, explaining that BBC Sport had gone off air and switched over to the red button at crucial moments during the matches.”

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Mark Selby celebrates winning the final. Photo steven paston

”Finally the final was upon us, Ronnie O’Sullivan would play Mark Selby in a match split into four sessions across two days and the best of 35 frames. Ronnie took an early lead of 10-5 on the first day and there was a possibility that the match could finish during the second day’s afternoon session, however Mark Selby fought back to level and take the lead. The reaction in the press room was ‘What time is this going to finish now?’ “

Mark Selby celebrates winning the finalsteven paston keep
Mark Selby celebrates winning the final. Photo steven paston

“Selby took the lead and only needed one frame to win. At this point there were 10 photographers crammed into a booth around 2 x 3 metres, boiling hot with no air conditioning, all hoping that O’Sullivan does not stage a fight back. Will we be blocked by television, or by spectators rising to their feet for the celebration? Fortunately Mark Selby celebrated victory right where we wanted him to be. This sparked a rush to escape from the photo booth and get down to floor level for the trophy presentation. Having covered many snooker tournaments I knew the best place to position myself and managed to get a spot front and centre, just as Mark Selby celebrated with his wife Vikki and the trophy, and as the confetti fell around us.”

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Mark Selby celebrates with his wife Vikki and the trophy after victory in the final. Photo steven paston

”Then it was time to edit my cards from both main cameras and my remote in the catwalk for the following day’s newspapers and online. Once that was done I just had to pack up all of my gear and leave the Crucible after midnight for the last time this year. Now the countdown begins for the start of the 2015 Championship!”

Back at the Crucible

Premier League Darts

Photographer Steven Paston covered the preview and play offs of the Premier League Darts this week.

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Gary Anderson, Phil Taylor, Michael van Gerwen and Raymond van Barneveld poses with Premier League trophy Photo steven paston

“I find myself back covering darts again, with the conclusion of the PDC Premier League Darts season. Over the course of sixteen weeks, ten of the game’s top players compete with each other on Thursday nights at venues up and down the country. During this year’s competition, although I haven’t covered every event, I have travelled as far afield as Exeter, Cardiff and Brighton in pursuit of stars such as Phil Taylor, Michael van Gerwen, and Raymond van Barneveld. I do have to leave some darts for my colleagues to shoot!”

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General view of Raymond van Barneveld and Michael van Gerwen during the final steven paston

“The previous week’s match in Brighton determined which of the top four players in the the league table would go through to the play-offs at London’s O2 Arena. The day before the the play-offs, the PDC invited the media to attend the launch with Michael van Gerwen, Raymond van Barneveld, Phil Taylor and Gary Anderson all available for interviews and pictures with the tournament’s trophy.”

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A fan displays a banner wishing Manchester City player Yaya Toura a happy birthday during the play offs. Photo steven paston

 

“I’ve attended events like these before, and they can be a good opportunity to get a set of one on one portraits with the players with and without the trophy. The location for the launch was the head offices of title sponsors Betway in Camden, London. Whilst I didn’t have much room to set up my equipment, I did find a nice couch that I thought could help the players to relax during the shoot. We added a dartboard to the wall behind, and with the trophy on the table I was ready to start.”

Phil Taylor poses with Premier League trophy steven paston keep
Phil Taylor poses with Premier League trophy steven paston keep

“On speaking to the PDC’s press officer Dave Allen, I discovered that I was the only photographer attending the launch so I had a lot more time to plan and shoot each player, which is not usually the case. Whilst wandering the offices I found a neon sign against a wall with the words ‘Everything is possible’ which was ideal for the players to pose under whilst holding the trophy, making for another nice preview image.”

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Raymond van Barneveld celebrates with Premier League trophy. Photo steven paston

“The following day I headed to the O2 Arena, where the crowd attendance exceeded 10,000 people. If you had said that darts would prove that popular ten or fifteen years ago people would have thought you were crazy! It just goes to prove what a great job PDC Chairman Barry Hearn has done, and the contribution that Sky Sports’ coverage has made to the game over the years.”

Raymond van Barneveld celebrates wining Premier League   steven paston keep
Raymond van Barneveld celebrates wining Premier League. Photo steven paston

“In the first match Michael van Gerwen had edged out Gary Anderson 8-7 to book his place in the final, whilst in the other semi final Raymond van Barneveld played long-time rival Phil Taylor. Taylor took an early 3-0 lead but on the 4th leg missed three attempts at double 16, which enabled van Barneveld to fight his way back against 16-time world champion Taylor. From that point he started to win legs against throw, eventually taking the lead and winning the match.”

Mark Selby with his wife Vikki watches steven paston keep
Mark Selby with his wife Vikki watches. Photo steven paston

“Whilst at the darts you never know who is in the crowd, and in VIP area for the play-offs were injured Tottenham Hotspur player Andros Townsend, who sadly will be missing out on this summer’s World Cup with England, and snooker World Champion Mark Selby along with his wife Vikki.”

Raymond van Barneveld celebrates wining Premier League   steven paston keep
Raymond van Barneveld celebrates victory over Micheal van Gerwen in the final Photo steven paston

“The final was an all-Dutch affair as Raymond van Barneveld took on Michael van Gerwen. ‘MVG’ narrowly missed out on a 9 darter in the opening leg, at which point I started to think ‘What a match this could turn out to be’. After a short break in play and photographing some general views of the arena, I headed back to my photo position next to the stage, waiting patiently for one of the players to edge into the lead. In the end van Barneveld powered his way through and ended his nine year drought to lift the Premier League trophy, a huge achievement given that he only entered the competition as a wildcard pick.”

Raymond van Barneveld poses with Premier League trophy steven paston keep
Raymond van Barneveld poses with Premier League trophy. Photo steven paston

“At this point I was particularly happy about the preview shoot the day before, where I shot a lovely picture of Raymond van Barneveld lifting the trophy above his head beneath the neon lettering.”

Premier League Darts

Snooker Loopy

Last week photographer Steven Paston faced another week of shooting a so-called pub game in a darkened room…

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Ronnie O’Sullivan celebrates winning with the trophy with his daughter Lily and son Ronnie junior steven paston

 

“With the darts final at Alexandra Palace still fresh in my mind I found myself back here after just 11 days away. I’m still taking the same route by car, parking in the same place and working in the same venue, but this time it’s for the Masters snooker. Unlike the darts where I’m here for 16 days, this tournament lasts just 8 days, with the top 16 players invited, and only two matches per day. This makes it a lot easier to manage, the key difference being that these matches can last anything from 60 minutes up to more than 6 hours.

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Snooker – The 12BET.com World Open – SECC, Glasgow, Scotland – 20/9/10 Ronnie O’Sullivan on his way to score his 10th televised maximum break of 147 during his 3rd round match Mandatory Credit: Action Images / Steven Paston

My snooker photography career started back in 2010 when I covered the Masters at Wembley for the first time. Since then I’ve covered the event three times from start to finish, the UK Championships in York twice, the World Seniors Championship (for players over 45) twice, the Players Tour Championship Grand Finals in Belfast, the World Open in Glasgow and finally the big one – the World Snooker Championship at the Crucible Theatre – twice. This year I will be back in Sheffield again for the full 17 days, so I have accepted my role as Action Images’ Mr Snooker, which some of my fellow photographers are probably very happy about!

I would like to say I’ve grown up watching the game as kid but when I was younger my only snooker memories are of watching Big Break on BBC One during the 1990’s. Since covering the sport as a photographer it has gradually grown on me, and I’ve been lucky enough to watch some great players including Ronnie O’Sullivan and more recently Judd Trump. With Ronnie I sometimes sit there wondering how he finds some of the shots he plays, whilst Trump is still very young and his tactical game is improving all the time.

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Judd Trump looks dejected during the first round. PhotoSteven Paston

Back to Ally Pally, and the secret of keeping going for eight days, and in principal it’s the same as the darts. Key shots that I look out for are action shots of the players at the table, the reactions of the inactive players sitting down, general views of the arena during play, the ‘two shot’ where both players are side by side looking at the table, giving more context to the match, and finally people in the crowd, including family members, sportsmen, celebrities and occasionally people who have fallen asleep during play!

Ronnie woods and Jimmy White watch during the first roundsteven paston keep
Ronnie woods and Jimmy White watch during the first round steven paston

On the third day of the Masters, 10 minutes before Shaun Murphy and Ding Junhui were due to open the afternoon session, there was a power cut in the local area, which delayed the start of play for well over an hour. Due to health and safety regulations members of the public had to leave the venue, but BBC cameraman Jim Cemlyn Jones provided a ‘Cliff Richard’ moment, grabbing his guitar and singing one of his own songs to entertain the crowd. Not something you see every day in snooker but it just goes to show there is often more to people than meets the eye!

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General view of the arena as a power cut to building has delayed the start of the first round. Photo Steven Paston

 

When shooting at the Masters you are only sitting two to three metres away from the table, and you need to make sure you only take images after the players have hit the cue ball. Unlike the darts where there are thousands of fans singing, cheering and making a racket, at snooker there are about 1,500 fans sitting in near silence barring the odd cough, the occasional burst of laughter whilst listening to the commentators on their earpieces, and some polite applause in between shots. Some of my fellow photographers would say that the only place quieter is Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium!

General view of Ronnie O'Sullivan during the final steven paston keep
General view of Ronnie O’Sullivan during the final. Photo Steven Paston

For photographers this atmosphere can be frustrating as there are often opportunities to shoot players trying a high-angled cue shot, or a dejected player sat in his chair or standing beside the crowd, but you can’t because the noise the camera makes could put the players off. Another downside to being so close to the action is that if a frame appears likely to last over 40 minutes you can’t get up and head to the press room to transmit images whenever you want. Due to the photo position the photographers also get blocked by the TV cameras which are moving around, which reduces the chances of capturing key action shots or celebrations.

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Ronnie O’Sullivan talks during press conference after winning the first round.  Steven Paston

The photo position does have some benefits though, as you are so close to the action you can really appreciate the skill that the top players have. Their judgment in knowing how much pace to play on the cue ball, positioning for their follow-up shot, and making life difficult for their opponent (especially playing a ‘snooker’) is really impressive. There is also a good level of banter between the players and with the referees, with Ronnie O’Sullivan being one of my favourites. I remember seeing him make a 147 break at Glasgow in 2010, my first live one, and Ronnie just had a swagger about him like he does it all the time. He is also the most interesting player for the press as he has strong opinions and isn’t afraid to voice them.

General view of Ronnie O'Sullivan during the quarter finalsteven paston keep
General view of Ronnie O’Sullivan during the quarter final. Photo Steven Paston

This week he was the best player, making only a few errors in the first round, with his best performance in the quarter finals against Ricky Walden. Ronnie won the match 6-0 in just 58 minutes, far quicker than many frames that I have sat through. To witness a match finish in that time, rather than in the standard 4-6 hours, was pretty amazing.

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Mark Selby in action during the quarter final. Photo Steven Paston

 

The final was spread across two sessions, but with Ronnie on form there was a chance it could be over quite quickly. His opponent was the no.1 ranked player and defending champion, Mark Selby. Both players were cheered on heartily by the crowd as they walked on, and both appeared wearing a traditional white shirt which is great for photographers as it reflects light back into their faces, balancing the green caste from the table. In the second session both players switched to black shirts, which made capturing good images more challenging. As he had in the quarter final, O’Sullivan took a lead of 7-1 into the second session, only needing three more frames to claim the title. For the media an early finish is preferred because it eliminates a mad rush to transmit images in order to make deadlines for the national newspapers, you can take more time and select a wider range of images. The final result was a 10-4 victory for Ronnie, and having shot many finals over the years I knew that the ideal position for the trophy presentation was at the front of the bottom end of the table, providing a clear shot of the winner and trophy, along with the green of the table to give the shot some context. My favourite image from the trophy presentation is of Ronnie is enjoying the moment with his children.

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Ronnie O’Sullivan celebrates winning daughter Lily and son Ronnie junior. Photo Steven Paston

 

So another tournament is over and my 22-day residence at Ally Pally ends for another year. Now the countdown begins to Sheffield for the World Snooker Championship at the Crucible…”

 

Snooker Loopy