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.”

General view of the trophy before the finalsteven paston keep
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.”

Mark Selby celebrates winning the finalsteven paston keep
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

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