Dancing Days Are Here Again

Recently, probably given the number of photos that I have posted on my web site from things like the European Masters Championships, people have been asking me a lot how I manage to combine racing and taking photos at the same events. I was asked “Surely, if you concentrated on the track and less on the camera, you’d be a better athlete?”. My answer (given that I’ve been going through it a bit with injury lately) was that I’d prefer sometimes to concentrate less on the track, and be a better photographer!

The true answer to the more general question is “organization and compartmentalization”. Those who know me will know I am useless at the former, and getting worse. However, I reckon I am hard to beat at the latter. Compartmentalization in this respect means knowing when, and for how long you can, and need, to do one thing, and then recognizing the point that you need to stop. And then doing so. Thus, I have always planned when I am going to need to warm up, and can simply switch from “photo mode” to “athlete mode”. Organisation really helps when you are heading in the reverse direction, however. I usually plan where my camera gear is going to be stashed, so that as soon as possible after my own event, I can resume the job of peering down a lens.

My best trick with this has been the number of times I have photographed the race immediately after my own, usually by means of having put a camera beside the track somewhere, and picked it up when walking back to the start. You’ll have realized, I seldom get the urge, or the need, to do any laps of honour that might delay that opportunity!

Then they say “Don’t you warm down then?”. The answer is yes, almost always, but who says you can’t warm down holding a camera? Some of those strange leg-stretching movements I do down on the track are part of my warm down routine.

There is a downside from such devotion. I’ve found I have significantly raised expectation levels in other people of what I can and will cover. Amazing the people who ask if I have shots of them, only to be told “No, because we were in the same race.” Miniature mobile camera technology is getting good, and I’ve seen film of an 800m race from a “headcam”, but it just wouldn’t work for a sprinter like me. And certainly not for one who has ambitions to win stuff – though mounting it rear-facing would be an option, I guess (joke).

There’s training, of course, too. Don’t think you can manage a DSLR and long lens for an 11 hour day without it. I am lucky to have strong hands and forearms, as a legacy from many years as a rock-climber (sadly, rarely now), but the “claw-hand” that I can have at the end of a long stint is painful at times. It is back and shoulders that suffer most. And feet.

I’m not much of one for pride, but if there is one thing I pat myself on the back for at times, it is being able to see track and field events with “the athlete’s eye”. Those who know my web site will know that I am one of the few photographers regularly shooting major morris dancing events. Time was that I did a bit of dancing myself, and knowledge of many of the steps, and of the tunes, means that it is so much easier to anticipate where to look at the right time, for a decent shot. Same on the track. There are phases in long jump, shot, pole vault etc, where hands will obscure faces, heads will be turned, backsides will be prominent. Like it is for the athletes, so it is for the photographer – it’s in the timing.

This is a glimpse, of course. I’ll not give away too many secrets. I steal ideas too, of course. I often work trackside with Lesley Richardson. Her style is different to mine, but she taught me much, without knowing it, about how to rest and occasionally “slump” while working hard. No bull, it’s a skill.

On the progress side, I’ve just had a two week total break. I seemed simply to be hurting my calves every time I ran, and in the end the answer was obvious: don’t. A fortnight variously in Ghent (tourist this time), Amiens and Paris (ditto), three really hard days photographing the Rochester Sweeps Festival and all of a sudden it was time to start training again. I did a session on this week to test my legs. Guess what? No, you’re wrong, they were fine. Plan at present is to race in a fortnight from now.


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