Leamington Spa Squash Club - Court 6 Launch Day
A few weeks ago, my friend Joe told me the squash club he belongs to was opening a new court and hoped to find a photographer to help document the event. The club was holding a day-long celebration and as well as a tournament among the members, half a dozen of the top squash players in the world. Leamington Spa Squash Club is run by volunteers so there was no payment on offer, but in terms of helping to get this photographic venture off the ground it seemed like a good opportunity to get my pictures seen by a lot of local people. The only possible downsides, which didn’t really occur to me until after I’d volunteered, was that I’d never done any sports photography before and I barely knew anything about squash.
On the day itself, as I walked the short distance from my house to the club, those downsides began to seem rather significant. I could be about to spend the best part of a day failing to get a single decent shot. That would be not only hugely embarrassing for me but potentially disastrous for the club who'd be left without a decent record of the day. So I was apprehensive - to say the least - as I found my way to the courts.
The games got underway soon after, with the club members dividing up into teams to play a round robin-style tournament played over all six courts. I knew squash was a fast-paced game and (to somebody like me, at least) quite unpredictable. Add in the challenge of trying to be in six places at once and it quickly became clear I was going to be doing almost as much running around as the players!
When you're photographing anything that's fast-moving, there are two factors controlling whether or not you get a decent shot. The first is focusing fast enough to keep up with the action, the second is using a short enough shutter speed to freeze everything inside the frame. Sadly, the kind of lenses professional sports photographers use cost serious money. My choice was between a standard prime lens that isn't super-quick to focus but has a nice big aperture to let in loads of light and allow a very short shutter speed, and a short zoom with snappy focus but a smaller aperture. Most of the time I stuck with the prime lens (the Fujinon 35mm f1.4), thinking that with the zoom there wasn't a lot of point having shots in focus if they ended up blurred by a too-slow shutter speed.
I quickly found myself envious of photographers covering high-level matches where the court walls are entirely glass. With only the newest two courts having glass backs I struggled to get many shots with the 'holy trinity' of elements - a good bit of action, at least one of the players' faces visible, and the ball in frame. But there were plenty of shots with a good two out of three that I was pleased with.
After the club members had played, the new court was officially opened by Leamington's mayor, and the professions hit the courts for a series of exhibition matches. Things got a little easier for me at that point because they only used the two newer courts, but there was still a lot to keep up with.
[The professional players were: Mohammed El Shorbagy (world no. 1), Cameron Pilley (Australian no. 1), James Willstrop (England no. 2), Laura Massaro (England no. 1), Sarah-Jane Perry (England no. 2), and Tesni Evans (Welsh no. 1)]
The evening was rounded off with drinks and music in the club bar. All in all it turned out to be a fantastic day, hard work but good fun and extremely useful. I learned a lot and ended up with a selection of photos I'm very pleased with. What's even more rewarding is that the photos seem to have been very well-received by the club members. The only downside now is that I've started wondering about the kind of photos I could be taking with one of those higher-specification lenses...