In a series of articles X Photographer Jeff Carter will be shooting at sports events in the UK and showing how to capture great images with the Fujifilm X Series without the need for a media pass. In this final blog of the series, Jeff gives you all his top tips for photographing cricket.
Sports Photography as a Spectator – Cricket
With the approach of the summer it seemed apt to choose that quintessential British summer sport for the twelfth and final Sports Photography as a Spectator feature – cricket. I travelled to the Emirates Riverside Stadium in County Durham for the opening Specsavers County Championship encounter of the 2018 season between Durham and Kent.
Cricket is played all across the country from spring until early autumn. Like all sports cricket is played at all levels from local cricket clubs, who play matches on the village green, right up to internationals. This summer England will be playing Pakistan in a series of tests and Australia in one day internationals but without a media pass these matches are not the best to capture with a camera due to the restrictions in place and limited shooting position.
Durham play in the first class league, the premiership if you want to refer to it in terms relating to soccer. However access for amateur photographers is certainly easier for cricket than it ever is in the top flight of the football premiership.
County Championship matches take place over four days and are at the mercy of the fickle British weather and if it rains, the play stops. Luckily the day I chose to travel to Durham the spring sunshine was glorious, if a little windy, and day one went ahead uninterrupted.
If possible attend the big matches on a week day when the stands are less busy. This will give you more options where you can take images from but always avoid getting in other spectators way when you are shooting.
Cricket is a challenging game to photograph for a couple of reasons. The first is you are a long way from the action and for frame filling shots I was using the Fujinon XF100-400mm with the 1.4x converter. You can use shorter focal lengths but if you want to fill the frame, a focal length of 400mm or longer is going to be the required.
The second issue is cricket is a long game and there are long periods of little happening, with sudden flurries of activity. You need to be ready to react quickly when something does happen on the pitch.
If you haven’t shot cricket before I recommend that you go along to a match without a camera and observe how the game is played. This will improve your hit rate because you will be able to anticipate the action better.
BE PREPARED – What to Take
As always I contacted the club before travelling and I recommend any photographer to do this beforehand if you intend shooting at a first class game. Different clubs have different rules regarding photography and it is always better to check rather than being refused entry because you are carrying what may be deemed a professional camera because it has interchangeable lenses.
I did take all four Fujinon zooms and a couple of faster primes but the lens that got the most use was the XF100-400mm telephoto zoom with the two converters. I did use the XF50-140mm f2.8 for a wider angle of the game and also when the ball traveled to the boundary and was chased down by one of the fielders. I also used the XF10-24mm f4 for the ultra wide shots and I also had the Samyang 8mm f2.8 fisheye to get the whole stadium in the shot from the top of the grandstand.
GET IN POSITION
Being able to choose a good position is easier on a weekday. With the stands pretty empty you have plenty of options on where to shoot from, this might not be so easy during the weekend of the big matches where you might be limited to one seat. On the Friday I attended the Durham v Kent match I was free to move around the different stands as I wished as long as I didn’t stand in the way of any spectators.
Try to get low down in the stands so that you are shooting at eye level with the players. The ideal position is to get as close to the line of play as you can but you are not allowed to shoot straight on to the batman or bowler as you will be in their eye line and may cause a distraction. You can get pretty near to the line of play, but watch where the fielding team players are standing as they may walk into your shot at the decisive moment.
The other position that proved to be quite good was to the side of the field on the short boundary. My shooting position was 90 degrees to the batsman or bowler and this allowed me to capture some great action images.
I did move up into the top of the grandstands for a while to capture some wide shots of the stadium but for action shots these positions were not very exciting. While the angle gave me a clean ‘grassy’ background, the images were just not very dynamic and even with a focal length of 560mm with the 1.4x converter fitted to the 100-400mm zoom I still couldn’t fill the frame, so I abandoned the high shots and went back down to the pitch side locations.
SHOOTING THE ACTION – AF and Exposure
For action freezing shots a shutter speed of 1/1000 or higher is needed. With the 1.4x converter fitted to the XF100-400mm zoom the maximum aperture is f8 but the conditions were sunny, so the ISO didn’t need to be pushed up too high.
Cricket is tricky to get right with regards to exposure because the players all wear white and on a sunny day their faces are in shadow due the helmets or hats they wear. I decided to slightly over exposure the images to ensure I had detail in the player’s face and then balanced the exposure in Lightroom. I always shoot RAW and JPEG (set to Provia) to give me the flexibility with tricky lighting conditions such as I experienced at this event.
The auto focus was set to AF-C and the custom function set to Set 2 (ignore obstacles), which helped when players moved across the frame between my position and the subject. The system certainly isn’t infallible but it worked really well, especially the X-H1s new AF algorithm that improves the speed of focusing at apertures of f8 and smaller.
I also experimented with some slow pan shots of bowlers at 1/60 and even 1/30. This did produce some interesting results, giving a real sense of speed in the final image but the hit rate wasn’t very good.
I did experiment with the Electronic Shutter on the X-H1 to give me a maximum frame rate of 14fps. However I wouldn’t recommend this setting, while players are recorded perfectly, fast moving objects, like the ball and the bat in mid swing, can distort.
CHOOSING AN EVENT
For County Cricket and One Day matches visit the England and Wales Cricket Board website at www.ecb.co.uk. For local cricket clubs check your local paper or the local village hall notice board.
CAMERA AND LENSES
• FUJIFILM X-H1 & FUJIFILM X-T2 with battery grips.
• Telephoto Zoom – 100-400mm f4.5/5.6 and 50-140mm f2.8 with 1.4x and 2x converters. A good alternative lens in the 55-200mm f3.5/4.8 but this lens will not take the Fujinon converters.
• Standard zoom (16-55mm f2.8 or 18-55mm / 18-135mm) for wide action shots.
• Wide Angle Zoom – 10-24mm f4 wide angle zoom lens can also be useful a different perspective.
• Shutter dial set to ’T’ (and locked). Shutter speed selected on rear command dial
• Optical Image Stabilisation (OIS) on.
• Metering set to centre weighted
• Autofocus – AF-C with camera set to ‘boost’ to improve reaction time.
• AF custom setting on Set 2 (Ignore Obstacles)
• AF Mode – Single Point
• Drive set to CH (8 or 11 fps)
• Action freezing images – minimum 1/1000s with aperture wide open to isolate the subject from the background as much as possible. Adjust ISO accordingly.
PREPARING FOR THE EVENT
• Check the weather before travelling to a cricket match. If it rains, play will be interrupted. If the sun is out dress accordingly and take a hat and suncream.
• Food and drink. There are excellent facilities at most match venues but have a bottle of water with you.
• Always check with the club before travelling to make sure they allow cameras. I recommend you speak to the club ahead of travelling to the game as they may refuse you entry if you turn up at an event with a camera with interchangeable lenses.
DOs and DONTS
• Stay in the grandstand areas at all times.
• Do not get in the way of other spectators around you.
• Obey any instructions given to you by the event officials.
Thanks to Matt Smith and Durham County Cricket Club for allowing me to shoot and film during the match on Friday 20 April.
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