Monday, 5 September 2016

How many megapixels!?

My first digital camera, it was great, image resolution was less than 1/2 a megapixel.

Shooting Derby at the Thunderdome is always a challenge. The lighting pushes even the latest cameras to their limits. It is amazing how far camera technology has come in a relatively short period of time.

I got my hands on a digital camera way back in 1997. A Casio QV10. It was a revelation. You could take and view an image instantaneously, well, as instantaneous as technology was back in 1997. No longer did you have to wait to use up a film and either take it down to the local lab to get it processed, or roll your sleeves up and do it yourself to see your images. The resolution wasn't up to much, just 320x240 pixels. But apart from its shortcomings it was magical. After a weekend of wonderment it was returned to its rightful owner and I went back to film.

It was a few years later until I purchased my first digital camera, a Yashica KC600 a massive step up from the Casio, 800x600 pixels. At last images would cover a complete monitor screen. It also came with a 1MB Compact Flash card. Film still ruled and it was only when affordable DSLRs became available did the balance begin to shift in favour of digital. Since then I have owned many different brands of digital camera, Pentax, Nikon, Fuji and Canon, settling on my latest system due to the fact that I could borrow lenses off mates.

Technology has made capturing images, which a decade ago would have been impossible, possible. If it wasn’t for technology, I’d just be a spectator.

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Keep fit, get lost.

My fitness regime consists of over confidence and wild optimism. For me it works well and I would encourage people to give it a go. Think about what you want to achieve, double it, get drunk and then hit the road.

Working at a university in the UK affords me a few extra holidays, namely Tuesdays after a Bank holiday. My institution doesn’t give this luxury for every Bank holiday but the few we do get are special. That extra day off, when everyone, after enjoying a long weekend has to return to work. It’s a bit of a guilty secret. I used to spend it in coffee houses, watching the world go by but as I signed up to the Global Corporate Challenge (GCC) to monitor my exercise this year I thought I’d get out of the city, get some exercise and do some landscape photography.

I decided to head out to Edale and walk up Mam Tor. It’s a walk I haven’t done in a while. As it was a Tuesday after a Bank holiday I was guessing that it would be quiet. The plan was to leave early, get the 6.20am train and ascend Mam Tor around sunrise to take some photographs. The alarm was set to 5am. At 5am the siren woke me. I managed to flail an arm in the general direction of the alarm clock and eventually silence it, but getting up was much more difficult. My whole body, apart from the flailing arm, appeared to be in some sort of temporary paralysis. There was only one thing for it. Go back to sleep.

Three hours later I mustered enough effort to leave the house.

Arriving in Edale I resorted to the mental image I had created the day before of the route I was to take. It was wrong. Two hours later I made it to the summit of Mam Tor. A walk that shouldn’t have taken me more than half an hour. I had also forgotten that the path along the top of ridge was paved with stone and I was not alone as I had hoped. The ridge was thronged with ramblers, neatly dressed admiring the view. As my head dropped, dejected, I also wondered why they all looked so clean when my legs, from the knees down, were caked in mud. I set up the camera, took a few shots and then ambled back down via route no one else seemed interested in taking for reasons I was to discover later.

On returning home, I looked at the few photographs I had taken which reminded me why I am not a landscape photographer. I don’t have the patience and de-spotting images due to a filthy sensor is tedious. Roller Derby photography is so much easier. Shooting wide open, one doesn’t have to worry about all the crap that gets stuck to the camera’s sensor and unless one has to travel long distances, getting up at the crack of dawn isn’t an issue.

On the plus side I did walk a lot further than I expected, proving my theory, that getting lost is good exercise. However on reflection, sometimes you are better of just sitting in a coffee shop watching the world go by.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Let's do this thing again.

The World Cup journey starts again. Both England Roller Derby and Team USA have commenced their first round of try-outs and momentum is gathering for the next World Cup.

In 2014 I had the privilege to shoot for England Roller Derby. Following the team out to Dallas and recording them take the silver medal, one place higher than the 2011 campaign in Toronto. In Dallas, England defeated the Canadian team in the semi-finals to reach the last two, a turn-around from 2011 when Canada relegated England to the 3rd/4th playoff against Australia. The final game against the mighty USA was a tall order. A victory was unlikely, however England scored more points against the USA than any other team had managed in the past, and breaking the 100 point barrier, throwing down a maker, the rest of the world is coming.

As 2016 wanes and 2017 beckons, so does the next World Cup. Once again I have been asked to support England Roller Derby in a photographic role, a request I was delighted to accept.
Working with like-minded people, striving to be the best is both exhilarating and humbling. The highs and lows, the dedication and hard work required to put together a squad to take on the best skaters in the world. It's a long journey, but one that is worthwhile.

As for the actual World Cup, the adrenalin rush carries one through the competition. Four days of unrelenting hard work, little sleep and a massive party at the end, that makes all the effort worthwhile.

There's only a year and four months (approximately) 'till the final of the 2017 World Cup. 

Let's do this thing again. 

Saturday, 13 August 2016

So long…

I’m not proud of what I did, but it had to be done.

Inanimate objects feel no pain but I feel guilty. After providing sterling service over the past six years it was time to retire the trusty 1d mkiv. It accompanied me to three World Cups, been lugged all around the country and in all that time it never let me down.  Trading it in was hard, partly for sentimental reasons, partly because the camera shop had given me a ball-park figure for a ‘mint’ copy and when I pulled it out the bag I knew it didn’t merit that moniker.  You could see me wince as they checked the shutter count.

However I hope it goes to a good home and someone can make use of its capabilities. It may be getting old and the technology several generations behind the current crop of cameras but it is still capable of stunning images. Maybe it’ll be bought by an aspiring Derby photographer. Who knows.

Monday, 8 August 2016

Olympic dreams

With the Olympics upon us we can settle down to watch the best in the world compete on the world stage. Magnificent facilities set in gorgeous scenery in a city which many of us would love to visit. Meanwhile in the UK, Roller Derby continues apace in sports centres that are past their best, in locations which due to their familiarity hardly seem exotic. The Olympics seem to be in a very different league.

A few weeks ago I was chatting to a guy at my local life drawing class. He’s a keen sailor, having circumnavigated the world in the past. I enquired to see if he had any new sailing trips planned. Alas no, he was heading off to the Olympics as his wife, also a keen sailor, was heading out there as a medic for the Team GB sailing team. Wow, I thought, what an experience, I assumed that it was all funded. But no, apart from the top athletes in the glamour sports, sponsored by large multi-national companies, those in minority sports struggle to find funding and many in support roles have to clear out the penny jar to get themselves there.

Over the past few years I have forked out on several occasions for London Rollergirls t-shirts to help get them to the Championships. This year there is another UK team heading out to the States to compete at the highest level, Rainy City Roller Derby. Roller Derby like all minority sports, even those at the Olympics, struggle with funding as there bugger all money in the game, so lend them a fiver.  

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

I am boring

Antony Gormley's Another Place, being boring by the sea.

I am boring. I have few vices and those that I do are hardly spectacular, olives, garlic and chestnuts to name but three. On visiting the blood donors I dutifully answer ‘no’ to all questions. Sometimes I feel I should say yes to a few, go out, live a little.

Another vice which I am unable to get under control, but is hardly exciting, are books. I just can’t rid of any, always thinking I may need them in future, a reference for any quotes I may need. Why I may need to quote the Treatise of Theophilus, ‘On Divers Arts’ (maybe to make Spanish gold), or operate artillery for the Home Guard is anyone’s guess.

To compound my inner sense of ‘boring’ I’ve taken to print off maps and carry a compass when going hiking. It’s not really necessary in the UK. You are never that far from a road and the UK is hardly inhabited by a wide range of dangerous animals. You may be nibbled on by a donkey or hounded by a midge, but that’s about it. I’ve not yet succumbed to printing maps when going to bouts hosted in venues I’ve not visited before. I rely on good luck, wandering round until I find some sort of landmark and in extreme cases the pity of the locals.  My usual trick is to follow someone who looks like they know where they are going and follow them. This doesn’t always work and I have ended up in unexpected locations on a few occasions.

This weekend it’s a local game, three bouts to mark the final of the Tier 3 (, somewhere or other, British Championships. North Wales Roller Derby vs Wolverhampton Honour Rollers, Oxford Roller Derby vs Swansea City Roller Derby and Wirral Roller Derby vs Sheffield Steel Rollergirls, I really should pay more attention. At least getting lost on the way to the venue is not likely to happen. Leave house, turn right, turn right, turn left, turn right, straight on, turn left and I’m there. If you follow those directions backwards on Saturday you’ll find my place ripe to burgle, however anything I have of value I’ll be carrying.

Sheffield Steel Rollergirls at Ponds Forge International Venue

Being boring has one great advantage, one is ill-disposed to excitement, allowing one to keep the camera still, like the Waco Kid, ‘Steady as a rock’, eliminating camera shake and focussing on the task in hand. A boring photographer is the perfect foil for the action on track.

But enough of this fun, I have beetroot to harvest.

Monday, 27 June 2016

Shooting London vs Gotham

I like big games. They give me an adrenaline rush. A finite time to capture as best as one can the feel and excitement of the day. The Derby scene has changed dramatically over the past few years. When I first got involved there were far fewer teams and a lot less bouts. One a month if you were lucky, so everyone travelled to watch and to learn their craft. It allowed relationships to be forged amongst teams and new friends to be made. As the scene developed, more teams and more bouts meant skaters travelled less to see other teams.

Big American teams provide a gravitas which brings the Derby community in the UK together. Arguably, none come any bigger than Gotham and a rematch with London was a bout everyone wanted to see.

Travelling the length and breadth of the country I am lucky to know many from other teams. Bouts like this gives me the opportunity to see old friends all in one place. Skaters from Glasgow Roller Derby, Newcastle Rollergirls, Middlesbrough Milk Rollers, Leeds Roller Dolls, Sheffield Steel Rollergirls, Rainy City Roller Derby, Manchester Roller Derby, Hot Wheel Roller Derby, Lincolnshire Bombers Rollergirls, London Rockin’ Rollers and Surrey Roller Girls and probably many more I didn’t clock were all there.  As well as all the refs and NSOs that are constantly on the move to support the game.

As for the game itself I will leave others to re-cap. From behind the lens I don’t get to see much, let alone follow intricacies of game-play. Keeping an eye on the track and the ebb and flow of the emotions from both the crowd and players consumes my whole attention.

What I enjoy is the opportunity to meet new people, catch-up with old friends and see the whole community come together, united for the love of the game.

While big games give me an adrenaline rush, shooting the actual bout doesn’t represent any greater challenge than usual, In fact, in essence it’s easier, the old adage, ‘good athletes make for good images, great athletes make great images’, holds true.

I always say that if I can come away with just one image that sums up the day I am happy. Every now and again you get lucky. This time I feel I did. Job done.

Shortstop (Gotham Girls Roller Derby) and Shaolynn Scarlett (London Rollergirls) take a selfie.