Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Curling photography

A couple of things have stimulated this post with some thoughts on 'curling photography'. I don't think I'm unusual in my enjoyment of seeing an illustration which captures well some aspect of the sport. When I took over as Editor of the Scottish Curler seven years ago, I realised that missing from its pages were action photographs. In the intervening years it was one of my jobs as 'photo editor' to source and manipulate photos so they could be used in the magazine.

The growth of digital photography certainly helped. I got my first digital camera. As the months went by I realised how difficult it was to obtain good shots, and I soon despaired of my own tentative efforts. There was a lot to learn, including Photoshop skills!

But the magazine was fortunate in having the services of Hugh Stewart and Richard Gray. The latter especially took time to encourage me in my efforts. Three years ago I set up the scottishcurlerpics site, for a number of reasons. Firstly, it was a way of promoting the magazine. Secondly, it was to be a showcase of good photographs of our sport, taken by the three magazine photographers. And thirdly, I hoped that it might provide an income stream which would help supplement the expenses that have to be incurred in obtaining the pics. This last was singularly unsuccessful. There was little market for purchase of the photographs, although it was certainly encouraging how many people looked at the site every week.

When I thought that the Scottish Curler was going to fold completely, and I had decided that it was time to retire, I stopped updating the site, and that's the reason why there are no recent photos on it. It will close completely next month.

Knowing that these pics will soon vanish from the web, got me thinking about the impermanence of material that only exists online. At some point, the 2000 or more pics currently embedded on the Curling Today blog, will also be removed as I need my allocated Blogger space, or as they become dated (whichever comes first).

Hence I was fascinated by something I saw for sale recently.

This is the cover of a 'photobook', really just a collection of photographs, printed and published privately. Ladies, You Have the Ice contains a selection of photos taken by Lawrence Christopher from the Scotties Tournament of Hearts 2009. For more information and to find how to get hold of a copy, go here.

I bought the full hard back edition. It was fascinating to go through it. Lawrence is not a curler, so it is interesting to see the sport through his eyes. He has gone for quantity, rather than quality. And used a Leica M8 with short lenses. Some of the photos are very good indeed, others could well have been left in the in tray, or benefitted by even a few moments with Photoshop. But I do not mean to be critical. I admire what he has accomplished. It is a wonderful addition to my library, and the photos have a permanence, unlike those on the scottishcurlerpics website, or indeed on Curling Today or this blog!

My tendancy to criticise when I see the photography efforts of others has led me to try to analyse why I think a photo is 'good', or not.

Here's one I took myself a couple of years ago. At the time I was quite pleased with it. The action is from the Euro Mixed in Madrid and shows Gordon Muirhead in the head against Latvia. It's fun to look at. Now I would not rate it at all. Good for the blog certainly, as it captures a moment of the event, but it would not win any awards. The messy background is the problem.

So, two years on and having looked at many hundreds more photos, what are my favourites? Here are just a few. I hope you enjoy looking at them again.

This is the oldest one, and still my favourite. It was taken by Hugh Stewart. Sheila Swan, third player in Jackie Lockhart's team, is in the foreground in a game against Switzerland as the Scots headed for their World Championship victory in Bismarck, North Dakota, in 2002. There's so much going on. The intensity of the Swiss players, the alternate and photographer on the bench behind, the flowers. Even the sponsor's logo and the championship trophy are in the frame!

Talking of intensity, this of Tom Brewster in the Scottish Championship final a couple of seasons ago, shows his passion. It was taken by Richard Gray.

This remains my favourite of Richard's many great pics. Kevin Koe, complete with retro clothing, is competing at the Ramada Perth Masters last January. It's the corn broom behind the hack which just makes this shot for me.

Sometimes a good photo will tell a story. It is not always possible to get into a position to take a photo like this, which I managed to capture at Kitzbuehel last September at the Euro Mixed. The Scottish team have been working to ensure that their skip's last stone can tap back the opposition conter on the button just enough to get shot. And it did.

I asked Richard what was his own favourite from the last couple of seasons. He plumped for this one of David Kelly competing in the Scottish Senior Championship in 2008. I love it too, and used it as a Scottish Curler cover photo.

It is a challenge to capture the release. I was pleased with this one I took of Niklas Edin at Kitzbuehel.

Forget the equipment, the skill, and the patience, sometimes you just need a little bit luck to have the camera pointing in the right direction at the right time. I was lucky on this occasion! That's Kelly Wood and Bob Kelly at the Inverness Skins - was it four years ago? Made a good caption competition subject!

Another caption photo, this time by Richard Gray. 'Some days are diamonds, some days are stone.' England's John Brown watches his skip's stone at the World Senior Men's Championship at Paisley in 2005. USA's Dave Russell and Bill Rhyme are behind.

(Added later. No sooner had I written the above than I found this blog post by a professional photographer in Canada looking at curling for the first time. See here.)

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