Keswick Photography Society were entertained and educated in equal measure by a presentation from Sports and Music photographer Michael Berkeley, delivered via Zoom from his home in Wiltshire. Michael is highly experienced, having photographed more than three hundred musical acts and over four hundred sporting events, covering thirty different sports. Although sports and music might seem to be entirely different, he outlined the similarities of having an unpredictable moving subject, (especially at the more lively rock gigs), with lighting conditions outside the photographer’s control and usually very low in indoor events, and variable weather, sometimes cold and wet, sometimes hot and steamy.
The challenge is then to capture the decisive moment; the football bulging the net, the cricket ball and bails still in the air or the guitarist in mid leap, to isolate the point of interest by choosing to shoot from a position with as uncluttered background as possible and, hopefully, to tell a story. A striker wheeling away in triumph followed by his joyful teammates, perhaps with one or two despondent defenders in the frame is likely to be more powerful than an image showing him actually kicking the ball when scoring.
Key tips in sport included getting down low which increases the sensation of being in the middle of the drama, although an exception might be that in cricket a higher position can allow for the cleaner background of the grassy outfield as opposed to the sparsely occupied seating in the stands. It is important to be highly familiar with the camera and its functions so that changes to settings can be made rapidly and without missing the action, but not to be obsessed with technical perfection as a slightly out of focus shot that dramatically tells the story will be better than a perfectly sharp one that does not.
Generally, Michael shoots with a narrow depth of field, as this helps blur distracting backgrounds and he will take lots of images, rejecting up to 95% in order to get the ones that are most successful. Digital cameras with high-speed motor drives make this straightforward, but in musical settings, especially in quiet classical pieces, having a silent mode on the camera is also essential. Michael uses Sony mirrorless cameras that can be set to make no noise at all when shooting.
All of this advice was accompanied by numerous images of football, cricket, basketball, motor racing, speedway, rock bands both in dark sweaty venues and at a festival in the open air and concerts given by the Salisbury Cathedral School pupils, some in the Cathedral itself. Refreshingly, he showed a number of images that he did not feel had really “worked”, and explained in each case why and what could be done differently. An example was of photographing Speedway, a high-speed sport if ever there was one, where too high a shutter speed resulted in sharp spokes on the wheels which resulted in looking rather static and failed to convey the same feeling of speed that blurred ones would. Another was the simple trick of strange colour casts caused by the lights in an indoor music event being negated by the simple expedient of converting the image to black and white.
All in all, a highly informative evening.