PHOTOGRAPHING POLO – SOME TIPS!
THE SECOND IN A SERIES OF INTERVIEWS WITH WORLD FAMOUS PHOTOGRAPHER, NEIL EGERTON
First of all, Neil, why did you decide to make polo photography a bit of a specialty:
My first experience of polo was many, many years ago. It was mid-week in July and I was driving through Midhurst, Sussex and I saw a sign saying ‘Polo Today’. For some reason – perhaps it was just instinct – that sign was like a ‘red rag to a bull’, and I immediately followed the signposting to what I found to be the lawns at Cowdry Park polo ground, where they were playing a game in the Gold Cup, the British Open. I was immediately transfixed with the speed and skill of the horses and players and was pretty much hooked, there and then!
One of the things that make your pictures so appealing are the horses. What is it about these majestic animals that draw you to them?
I have always had a love of horses, absolutely everything about them. They are such noble and beautiful animals. It is a well-known saying, but never a truer word has been said, that ‘when you look into a horse’s eyes you are looking into their soul’ – treat horses well and they will open their hearts to you.
A polo field is so big. How do you ensure that you are in the midst of the most dramatic action? Have there been times that you have felt that you missed out on some of the drama?
I tend to position myself behind one of the goals, usually with the sun behind me. That way I will (hopefully) get some of the action, unless it is all being played down the other end. If that is the case, I will move and adapt the settings on my camera accordingly.
Have I missed out on the drama? Of course, many times, but it is such a fast-moving sport that invariably something will happen close to you pretty much every couple of minutes, so I stay focused on what I am shooting, not what I am missing.
How do you choose your spot? A spot where you think you will get the most dramatic shot of the day.
I always get to the ground early, while the ponies are getting prepped in the pony lines. For me, ‘behind the scenes’ photos almost always offer the opportunity for artistic shots and I am a great believer in appreciating the full team.
Once the action is going on the field, I like to work with the sun behind me. Light lifts the definition of the ponies and gets under the players’ helmets so you can see their faces.
During chukka change-overs, I tend to photograph in the pony lines or capture players jumping from pony to pony. One of my favourite types of image is when the ponies are getting showered down, with the sun behind them. That way you get all the water drops shining in the light
Isn’t it dangerous to be so close to the horses galloping towards you?
Yes, it’s a very dangerous sport! You must never get in the way. I work about 20 metres back from the goal line but horses still come charging by. The thing is not to move. A horse and player do not want to charge into you - they will do everything they can to ride past. That said, I have had a few ‘hairy’ moments, when they have come a bit too close for comfort …. within inches!
"Yes, it’s a very dangerous sport! You must never get in the way. I work about 20 metres back from the goal line but horses still come charging by."
Do you shoot with a monopod or do you prefer shooting with a hand-held camera?
For the action I use a heavy-duty monopod as my lens and camera weigh 11 kilos, so I could not hand-hold it. I have a second camera with a shorter zoom for working around the pony lines.
Could you tell us more about the equipment you carry in your kit for a regular day out on the field
For the main action on the field I use a 400mm 2.8 lens with a 1.4 converter and a pro Canon camera. I also use two other pro Canon cameras, plus a selection of other lens: 16-35mm, 28-80mm, 50mm and 70-200mm.
What is your regular camera setting?
For the action on the field, I set the shutter speed around 1500th of a second and aperture 5.6.
Can you give us a few dos and don'ts for photography enthusiasts who are just starting off?
My strategy for shooting polo is to work hard at it: understand the game; go to the exercise tracks in the morning light; get to know as many people as possible, be it players, grooms, etc, even if it’s just a nod or a wave. Most polo people are very welcoming and will bend over backwards to help you, so if you, as a photographer, make the effort, they will reciprocate.
But … and I cannot stress this enough, don’t get in the way or interfere! Working around one let alone numerous horses, each of whom cost a small fortune, can be risky to life and limb, whether on the field or in the pony lines. As with every sport, a polo photographer must never be a nuisance and always appreciate that a polo pony is a finely tuned athlete that has only the one goal…. And that is not to perform for a photographer!