On Monday 26th August (a public holiday here in the UK) Neil Graham from NeilGrahamPhotography.com and I took the families to watch some Polo at the Guards Polo Club at Coworth Park in Ascot, just a few miles from where we both live.
Of course, as far as the wives were concerned this was a pleasant day out with the children with a picnic and a chance to enjoy the sun. For Neil and I though we were going for the photo opportunities, of course. :)
It was a blistering hot day on Monday - there wasn't a cloud in the sky. Whilst that was nice for families and spectators, it did present us with another challenge when it came to actually photographing the matches that were being played as the light was so harsh. The harsh light creates very dark shadows and can sometimes make metering, especially with moving subjects quite a challenge. One second you're metering off of the dark horse, then off the bright grass, then off the riders white trousers and then back to the grass again. I do of course shoot exclusively in Manual, so overcoming the metering is less of an issue. If you're someone shooting in a priority mode this may cause you problems.
Let's take a look at the photographs from the day.
(Note: To view EXIF Data and view the photographs in a larger size simply click on the photograph and hover the mouse over it to display the technical data)
In this shot: player Number 3 for the Black Eagles takes the ball back on the offensive for his team after 'disputing' the ball back from a team Tempest rider (In Polo, a tackle is referred to as 'disputing' the ball). You can see here in this photograph how his long-handled mallet is bending under the force of his swing. It's an incredible technique the riders have whereby they swing their mallets a full 360 degrees in rotation to apply as much force as possible when they connect with the ball.
This shot isn't actually from the first few that I made. Initially we started off at the other side of the field shooting into the sun. The results however were quite washed-out as the sun was almost too direct. We decided to make our way round to the other side and position the sun behind us.
I noticed after taking this shot that really the only thing in motion is the mallet itself, whilst the horses (or, Polo Ponies) and riders seem static. Whilst this may sound obvious seeing as this is a still photograph, it doesn't really offer any sense of movement, motion or speed. So, I lowered my shutter speed further, as you can see in the next shot.
As I mentioned, I dramatically reduced my shutter speed in this next shot in a bid to achieve a photograph that demonstrated the speed at which the horses were travelling. I'd seen some pretty impressive shots from the London Olympics whereby some photographers slowed there shutters speeds to such an extent that quite a lot of blur was introduced, but in such a way that the shot still worked; for example the head of the sprinter would be sharp but the rapid leg movements and swinging arms would leave them totally blurry. This is because with a clean pan the head remains still enough for the shutter speed but the moving body parts are just going too fast.
Well, I tried to achieve something a little similar. This was shot at 1/250th of a second, which is dramatically slower than the previous shot at 1/3200. If truth be told I didn't just jump from 1/3200 down to 1/250th in one try, I instead tried a few shots and ever-decreasing shutter speeds before arrive at the conclusion that 1/250th was about as low as I could go without ruining the entire frame totally. If I were closer to the action, or had been using a 600mm prime lens then I could have perhaps panned more to emphasis the effect even more.
Here, the rider is still relatively still and sharp, but the horses legs and the mallet are rather a lot more blurry. If you look carefully you'll see the ball is just leaving the mallet in mid-air.
This third photograph (below) shows rider number 1 from team Tempest. If I recall correctly he had either just been sin-binned for foul play (or a foul mouth), or he was on was on his way to the corner to change horses. I think he was sin-binned though as they would typically dart directly cross-field toward where someone was ready and waiting with a fresh & rested replacement horse, rather than riding out of bounds and casually trotting around the edge. Polo teams have 4 riders on each team, so I can't imagine he'd have been so casual when changing horses.
Here, the sun was hitting him directly with no shade or cloud cover. I actually had to under expose this shot a little bit in order to not blow out all of the whites. as you can see the whites are pretty close to clipping though.
This next image shows an exchange between two of the riders from the Black Eagles team. Player 3 was quite rowdy and quite loud, shouting some pretty obscene things. On a number of occasions the ref would blow his whistle and have a word with this guy. The guy wearing the number 1 jersey is actually the team captain for Black Eagles. I would love to hear what they were talking about.
The ref can also be seen in this image there in the background in the black and white striped jersey - the refs also ride on horseback and remain relatively close to the play to keep an eye on things.
The next image I want to share shows another Black Eagles player. Here the horse and rider are casually heading back down field towards play just after the rider had changed horses. I think at this point the play was coming back up the field, so this rider was hesitant to go at full speed toward play only to have it come straight back past him in the opposite direction.
On a number of occasions goals were scored from very fast break-away's, where one team member would get the ball free from a small group of players and knock it into open space. A team mate would ride onto the ball and knock it towards goal. From there it would be a race between two riders to get to the ball first. If the attacking rider got there first, most of the time the next touch, or the next two touches would be to set the ball up and put it between the posts for a goal. If the defending player made it to the ball first they would perform a very clever and difficult looking swing to knock the ball away from goal.
At the end of the 4 chuckers - as they're known in the world of Polo - (quarters to the rest of us) Black Eagles ran out winners with the score finishing 10 - 8. The celebratory champagne bottles can be seen on the right hand side there in the background of this photograph too.
Match 2 - BHC vs Volga
So, after the first match between Tempest & Black Eagles finished Neil and I made our way back over to our families who were on a picnic bench at the other side of the pitch, enjoying the sun.
What we hadn't realised is that because there were so many stoppages in the first round (because of an injury to one player, but mostly because number 3 for Black Eagles was so abusive so the ref had to continue stopping to the match to talk to him). that the first match went on for far too long meaning the match that was supposed to start afterwards started late. So, by the time we had crossed the pitch, treading in some divots on the way, the second match began instantly.
For a short while Neil and I both just watched the match and relaxed for a bit, but that didn't last long. This time however rather than heading back over to the other side we decided to stay where we were and continue to shoot against the sun.
This next photograph really does show exactly how far each player is reaching to make it to the ball. You can see also that he's practically squatting on his right leg, whilst using his left arm to hold onto the horse and continue riding.
Anyone who thought this wasn't a sport with athletes, other than the horses themselves, should think again.another image
So, the last image from the Polo at Coworth Park that I'd like to share is this one. The riders from BHC (red & Yellow) disputing the ball with a rider from Volga (Blue, Red White).
I was pleased with this particular shot as I hadn't, up until now, really managed to capture one with the riders coming toward me. I'm also really happy that I've managed to capture some expression. Sure, on the face of the BHC rider, but also on his horse!
Check out that tongue!
Thanks for stopping by
That's all for now. I hope you enjoyed the photographs and found the technical data useful. Please do contact me if you have any questions and as always I'd appreciate and welcome comments in the comments section below too.
Enjoy your weekend and be sure to come back next Friday for the next installment here on the Blog!