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

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.

Judd Trump looks dejected during the first roundsteven paston keep
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.

Mark Selby in action during the quarter finalsteven paston keep
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