“My favourite sporting event to shoot is…” – you’ll be surprised at the answer

UK-born Eddie is a freelance photographer shooting sport and sport features for Reuters. He previously worked as a sports photographer for national newspapers

So, Eddie, what event would you like to reminisce about?
I think I really will surprise you. Because it’s not the Olympics or the World Cup Final. No, it’s the Eton Wall Game. Are you aware of it?

I’ve heard of it, but you’ll have to tell me more.
It couldn’t be further away from those spectacles. Great as it is to be part of those, real sport is often far from all the money and politics and is a group of people enjoying the thrill of competition. At the same time the Eton Wall Game has so much tradition and history oozing from it.

© Eddie Keogh

Eton College is the famous English school that has educated many British prime ministers and its history goes back to 1440. The game originates from 1766 and you can see how the players’ attire is from another age.

How is it played?

The game is played on a narrow strip 110 metres long up against a wall. The idea is to move the ball along the wall with your feet and score a goal at the far end.

Goals are very rare, the last one scored was over a hundred years ago in 1909.

I was actually on my way to nearby Twickenham, to photograph an international between England and Australia, when I stopped off and took these photos. You couldn’t get a greater contrast.

Although the game is played at the college I was able to watch and shoot from a public footpath. Everyone was so relaxed. And I felt like I had stepped back in time.

© Eddie Keogh

Was it tricky to shoot?

Obviously the wall is a big feature. But I was able to position myself so that the wall leads the viewer into the action. You don’t often get that! The boys sitting on the wall add to the unusual nature of the whole event, but can’t be allowed to distract too much from the game itself.

© Eddie Keogh

Action always needs to be thought about. Particularly, how close to zoom in. In this instance, I used the EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens, a great working zoom lens. I needed to keep a lot of the scene in, unlike with the photography at the rugby later that day.

You have to decide, do I want to capture the whole scene and the atmosphere, or does the viewer want to see close-up? If you are shooting less formal sports then I think you need to show everything, whilst still capturing the emotion of the participants.

Any other tips for people wanting to take sports photos?

Start off by going to the local recreation ground or similar and practise shooting. You can get a lot closer than you can at organised events and can practise. Of course you need to make sure you have all necessary approvals.

Make sure you try taking a variety of shots, some close-up, some further back. If you are zooming in, make sure you have somewhere to rest your camera. Play around with the settings, to see what works best.

And shoot lots. Don’t be afraid to fill your card up. Stick your camera on continuous shooting and off you go. You won’t know what’s really worked until you look at it on your computer screen.

Do you make many changes to your photos on the computer?

Quite the opposite. I will fiddle with the cropping, and that’s about it. I do a lot of work for Reuters and we are not allowed to make changes. We shoot in jpeg format and mustn’t add or remove anything from the photo. I like it that way, what you see is what the readers see.

What’s in my bag?

It all depends what I’m shooting, but if I am going to a stadium event I will have one body, often the EOS-1D X, and maybe 3 lenses. Plus an extender. You have to make sure you are going to get close enough. To fill the frame with the action.

Two lenses I always have with me is the EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM, and the EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM. The really big lens, the
EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM I will have in the car, in case I need it.

A lot of the sports I shoot are winter-based and there is often a lot of rain around. Don’t let the weather put you off. I always carry a towel to wrap the lens in to protect it. Nothing too sophisticated. But the rain often adds to the atmosphere of the shot.

When it’s raining one thing to do is to get the raindrops to form part of the image. If you get the shutter speed a lot slower – say 1/60s, then the raindrops will be lovely and big in the shot.