The time of year has come around once again when I need to start wrapping up warm and digging out the fingerless gloves when I pick up my camera: the ice hockey season has started once again! Between now and next April, most of my Sundays, some of my Saturdays and the occasional Wednesday will be taken up with photographing large sweaty men travelling at high speeds with blades on their feet, whilst I try to avoid being hit by a stray puck. (For the record, I was nearly hit no less than three times during last week’s game!)
This is the fourth season that I have taken stills for the Manchester Phoenix Ice Hockey Club , and it’s the second season that my wife Yolanda has joined me in pointing our lenses at the ice. Our responsibilities are to provide images of each match for use in the match night programme, on the Club’s official website, the official Flickr feed, and to the press. Our images have made it onto various news outlets’ websites, and have even graced the pages of the Manchester Evening News (which is the equivalent of the Holy Grail when it comes to sports photography in the Greater Manchester region!)
Not only are we responsible for providing action shots, but we are also required to cover the events that the Club hosts that take place away from the ice such as shirt launches, promotional events and awards evenings. We’re also required to provide headshots of the entire roster and coaching staff, and coordinating that is a logistical nightmare in itself: you find yourself trying to organise more than twenty people to be in one place at the same time, without it being a game day, and make sure they’re all presentable enough to be photographed!
It’s a difficult job for several reasons. Firstly, the action is taking place at a fast pace in an indoor environment, which ultimately means that no matter how much lighting the building has, you’re going to be shooting at a high ISO in order to be able to freeze the action. Shooting at ISO 2000 is not uncommon, in order to be able to shoot at 1/320th of a second. On an average night I can shoot 6-700 shots in order to get maybe 20 shots that are good enough to use, because not only does the shot have to be technically acceptable but it has to show something that tells the story of the match. (It’s much easier to get photographs of the players when they’re not doing much, but the downside is that they’re not doing much!)
Secondly, the turnaround time on images is very quick. By the time we get home on a Sunday matchnight, it’s usually already approaching ten o’clock, and we still have to provide six shots for the website and six for the press before midnight. All of this has to be accomplished on a laptop, usually with feline interference – we have two cats who decide to get very affectionate when they know there’s a deadline that we’re working to!
Thirdly, did I mention that we shoot in an ice rink? It’s freezing in there!