Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Pick a card, any card…

The latest article in Five on Five

I’m not a gambling man, not because I don’t like risks, but because I usually always back the wrong horse. When I say horse, it’s not usually a horse, but a badly disguised badger with a slight limp disguised as a horse, with good odds and a fancy name.

Fortune telling isn’t a strong point either. I didn’t foresee Rainy City hosting the World Cup in Manchester in 2018, nor Leeds Roller Dolls and Hot Wheel Roller Derby joining forces to become Leeds Roller Derby.

The latest article by Sinead in Five on Five may focus on Leeds Roller Dolls but is applicable to many teams that want to play in the States and get to the play-offs.

I ‘suppose it’s always the danger of print, a time lag during which time events can change. However for me the web is kind of, ‘meh’ it’s okay, but not the same as seeing ones images on the printed page.

So why not get yourself a copy, turn the phone off, kick back with a cuppa and enjoy a quiet read.


Also, for all ex-members of Leeds Roller Dolls and Sheffield Steel Rollergirls a bit of nostalgia, Summer Horror Day hosted at Saville’s Hall, now renamed New Dock Hall for obvious reasons.


Sunday, 8 January 2017

140 characters or less.

Australia versus Canada at the 2014 World Cup.

January 2017, time to dust off the camera and get ready for the new season. Arguably 2017 will be practice for the World Cup in 2018. Having shot Derby for more years than I care to remember one is always on the lookout for a new angle, a new approach.

This year I have decided to concentrate on editing, posting no more than 40 images per bout. Photographers have tended, and I am guilty as the rest, to try and get a little bit of everything, include everyone. But on reflection, looking at the images I post, those that I feel are good, nobody likes, stick a cute puppy or popular skater in the frame, well, it’s a recipe for success. Social media plays with populism and it’s not a game I care to play any longer. If it wasn’t for running the Facebook page and keeping tabs on what bouts were coming up I’d probably get off Facebook.

After reading about how many revisions President Kennedy’s reply to the 1961 Berlin crisis orchestrated by Ulbricht and Khrushchev went through before being released, it makes one realise the importance of editing, getting the tone right, an art that many current politicians seem to have forgotten.

With this in mind, editing one’s own work takes on a greater importance. Post only the best that reflects and documents the sport, step back from the mechanisms that drive social media and concentrate on one’s own discipline. Not that I will shoot less frames at a bout, just be more ruthless in the final edit.

With the World Cup coming to Manchester in 2018 hopefully the sport will start to generate interest further afield and with that in mind how it is depicted visually will be ever more important. Hopefully being more ruthless in the final edit will give a more critical eye on how I shoot, which may in turn lead to more compelling images.  

Well, I’ve got a year to try and get myself sorted, so before I start, time for another cuppa.


Friday, 30 December 2016

The mythical Derby Dust Bunny

The first time in ages I've shot anything above f2.8 and there they were, lurking at f8.

I’ve never really been one for landscape photography. I can appreciate a good image but I’m too lazy and impatient to pursue the genre with anything more than passing interest. I will take a camera with me when I journey in to the great outdoors, but not with any real effort to take a great image.

I remember meeting a guy descending from a mountain peak in the Scottish Highlands one day. He was carrying a large plate camera, tripod and I assume the remnants of the snacks to sustain him during shooting. He explained he’d been waiting four days to get the sky, ‘just right’. That’s dedication and an ethos I cannot subscribe to.

For all the constraints venues that host Roller Derby put on photographers, bad light, bland walls, no coffee, hanging around for four days until the 40w bulb looks quite right isn’t one of them.  Neither is the evil, known as ‘Dust Bunnies’. Shooting Derby requires getting as much light in to camera in the shortest possible of time, effectively eliminating this evil. I could smear peanut butter on my lens and you probably wouldn’t see it. And anything that may look like ‘foreground interest’ is probably just a bit of my lunch I’ve dropped on the camera.

Shooting at smaller apertures allows ‘Dust Bunnies’ to rear their ugly head, ears and fluffy tail. De-spotting and generally trying to eliminate dust bunnies is a task that fills me with dread, and a certain amount of boredom.  It is a procedure most landscape photographers must endure in their attempt to get as much as the scene in focus as possible.  If I were to shoot landscapes, I think I’d use film to do away from this post-processing nightmare.

Dust Bunnies are generally not 12ft tall and look like a rabbit, but they are pure evil with a vicious streak a mile wide. 

Luckily, in Derby, there’s no chance of shooting anything above f2.8, and so minimising the possibility of seeing these mythical creatures materialise and then trying to destroy them, anything erroneous in the shot just probably a half-eaten sausage roll, or at this time of year, mince pie.

If you do ever catch site of the mythical Derby Dust Bunny, let me know.


Thursday, 1 December 2016

2016: A round up

London Rollergirls versus Gotham Girls Roller Derby

It’s not the end of the year, but the start of winter and the end of the Derby season for myself. The cameras packed away (scattered over the floor of the spare room). That’s until I decide to head in to the Peak District early one morning, for what at the time seems like a good idea, only to realise it’s cold, really, really, cold, and I can’t press the shutter.

Every year I promise myself to shoot less Derby. I need more weekends at home to do mundane stuff, get the roof fixed, stop the boiler leaking, ironing a shirt once in a while for work. There’s only so much squinting in near darkness one can do to convince yourself that a shirt doesn’t need ironing. I hate ironing.

This year I’ve been more successful in fulfilling my promise. Taking off events such as London Rollergirls 10th Anniversary party and Rules 56’s Derby Stance coaching summit, I’ve cut down. I’m not a totally reformed smoker, more of an e-cigarette smoker nowadays.

Numerous trips to London, Leeds, Oldham and places in between including a couple of bouts in Sheffield

I was going to recount the highs and lows of the year, but to be honest, there are no lows. 2016, for all its faults wasn’t bad for Derby. 2016 saw London Rollergirls celebrate their 10th anniversary, which also marked ten years of Roller Derby in the UK, affording me the opportunity to stay in a rather odd hotel in the docklands. The community then came together in Newark later in the year to see LRG take on Gotham once more, a chance for fans to see two of the top teams go head to head. As for myself, the Derby year kicked off in Telford for the aptly named Tattoo Freeze. Always a cold event, but in my mind milder than in past years. Then numerous trips up and down the country and sideways jaunts across the Pennines for various bouts at Rainy City Roller Derby’s Thunderdome. A few trips to Leeds, London and finally Newcastle for the Men’s European Championship. In between I was asked to be England Roller Derby’s official photographer once again, a role that is always a pleasure. Letting me work with some of the best skaters in the country and document their journey to the next World Cup.

A trip to Newcastle for the Men's European Championship

My final trip of the year was up to Leeds for Rule 56’s coaching summit. A gathering of like-minded people, eager to hone their coaching skills and to inspire and train the next generation of skaters. It was good to see so many leagues represented from across the country.

Now it’s time to rest, stuff my face with chestnuts, drink port and hunker down to await the start of next season.


Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Ice Cold in Alex

The final bout, Southern Discomfort Roller Derby versus Tyne and Fear, hour 23 trackside.

I work a day job, nothing exciting, your bog standard 5 days a week, 37 hours. This weekend 28 hours. Okay it wasn’t exactly work, but sitting trackside does take it out of you. The first shift, 9 ‘till 7pm on the Saturday (I skipped the first and last bouts) and then 8 ‘till gone 9 on the Sunday at the Men’s European Cup. Unlike skaters, who, once their games are finished are able to retire and relax for the day, as a photographer the next step begins. Like NSOs and helpers there is more work to do after a day has finished. Backing up files, clearing cards and charging batteries to make sure the gear is good to go for another day. Last weekend at the MEC I was trackside for 23 hours, shooting around 200gb of files, plus several more on the admin side. A lot will be blurred or dross, but it all needs to be backed up so that I can go through the final edit when I get back home. An edit that will take another 8 or so hours.

I understand that organisers of such events want to maximise the use of the venues they hire and costs aren’t cheap, coupled with the fact that many people, especially those teams flying in from overseas will need to take several days off, but by compressing so much in such a short space of time does take its toll on those involved.

No-one want to miss the action, but sometimes we need to take a break.

Photographers can be their own worst enemy, not wishing to take a break between games in case they miss a great piece of action or an event that ‘makes’ the competition, but I feel organisers could help manage their workload, much like those of announcers, refs and NSOs whose crews work specific games. Allocating specific bouts, sharing the work load and allowing all to shoot whatever they want if they so choose would bring more structure, coupled with freedom. At the World Cup in 2014 my priority, as their photographer, was shooting England, however while I was there to cover their bouts I was also free to dip in and out of others if I so wished. This allowed me to cover the rest of the event as I saw fit without feeling as though I should cover everything. Three tracks also helped as one couldn’t be everywhere. This meant I could organise my time to reduce burn-out over the four days, even then it was still gruelling and I spent most of the day after the competition in bed, although that could have been more down to the amount of alcohol consumed at the after-party.

So for organisers I would say, think about why you want photographers there, what do you want covered and why, and try and structure the days so everyone gets an opportunity and a break.

For photographers, here’s my advice for covering tournaments.

  1. Get to the event early, a day before if possible to check out the venue if it’s unfamiliar and have a relaxing night before the start.
  2. Have enough memory cards to last the day.
  3. Have enough batteries to last as well.
  4. If you are staying in a hotel, don’t skimp on costs, book a breakfast and eat hearty to help get you through most of the day.
  5. Know when to take a break, grab a coffee and some food.
  6. Try and get back to your hotel/abode as early as possible to back up files (possibly over a beer to relax) and get the gear ready for the following day.
  7. On the final day just have a blast, you can sleep the day after and those cards and batteries can wait to be dealt with. 

Tournaments can be gruelling but they are also great fun, just be focussed on what needs to be done and the beer waiting for you at the end. Ice cold in Alex.


Sunday, 6 November 2016

Heading North

Packing for the Roller Derby World Cup in Dallas back in 2014 was relatively simple, airline constraints limiting the amount of gear one could pack. The Men’s European Cup is a different matter, just a short trip up to Newcastle. Arguably I could pack everything, my back however may have a different idea. One thing I will take is a decent coat. Winter in Dallas wasn’t as severe as I imagined, certainly not warranting the cold weather clothing I packed. Newcastle is whole different prospect.

Having limited choice can focus the mind on the task in hand with the constraints you’ve been given. Free choice gives you more options to be creative and keep warm, but the potential to side-track you, looking for that one shot you can see in your minds-eye but can never achieve, well certainly not at a live event. I think I’ve come up with a compromise and still with the possibility of being able to pack some spare clothes and a toothbrush.

Southern Discomfort Roller Derby versus Lincolnshire Rolling Thunder, who I believe will both be competing at the Men’s European Cup.

Multi-day events, running from 9 in the morning to 9 at night require a lot more gear than a simple single or double header. Laptop, chargers, spare batteries, and card readers are all needed to back-up the photos from the day and to get the gear ready for the following one. One also tends to pack a couple of extra lenses, just in case, plus the spare body I always carry. The advance in technology is one area which has improved the experience of covering longer events.  The upgrade from USB 2 to USB 3 has been a godsend. No longer do I need to stay awake until the early hours to transfer all the files over from the memory cards to the laptop, now it can be achieved over dinner and a pint, leaving me more time to ponder why I didn’t pack a toothbrush or any spare clothes.


Monday, 31 October 2016

Blood and gore.

I wanted blood and gore, but I didn’t think it’d be mine.

Sitting in the suicide seats there is always a possibility of being hit by a skater. I’ve never been hit, the camera has been pranged a couple of times and I’ve had some close shaves but that is about it.

I thought the London Rockin’ Rollers Wreck league’s Halloween bout would get me some good images, a throwback to the time when skaters dressed up and the whole scene was more theatrical. It reminded me of my very first bout, Leeds Roller Dolls against Sheffield Steel Rollergirls, Summer Horror Day, where the Leeds team donned zombie face-paint and skated out, to how I’d imagine dead people would skate. The only corpse I’ve ever heard of roller skating is that of Elmer McCurdy, and I image he wasn’t too athletic. Just rolling up and down the high street as the local kids pushed him along.  I believe that past-times such as taking a corpse for a stroll around your local park is now frowned upon for some reason.

I had never been hit by a skater until last weekend. I guess it was bound to happen sooner or later, I’d grown to feel impervious, that for some reason they’d always miss me. I was wrong. Luckily my cat-like reflexes kicked in and my brain sought to protect my most valuable assets, my cameras, as the skater slid ever closer. The impact pushed me backwards in to the wall where my trailing arm cracked against the wall, shattering bone and spraying those close by in a shower of blood. The arm nearly severed, hanging limp and useless. Okay, that may be a lie, but it was a Halloween bout so a little exaggeration shouldn’t go amiss. Luckily both I and the skater was fine. I did crack my elbow on the wall during the impact but I didn’t even bruise, no evidence of my only Derby injury!

Next time I see a skater come flying in my direction I may consider moving, but then again, I’m just too lazy, I will just hope they miss me. And if they don’t, well it’ll be another good story to tell.