The Rutland Cup and a few thoughts on photographing polo

nico Polo Photography 2 Comments

The four-goal Rutland Cup, hosted by Rutland Polo Club (surprise, surprise) marks, for me, the proper start of the polo season here in the East Midlands.

It also means trying to remember a little about how to do polo photography!

As I travel around different venues doing what I do, which is basically equestrian photography, the sport I get asked the most questions about is polo. I’m not completely sure why but I think it’s because, at first glance, polo is a very confusing sport. After all they change ends after each goal, the whistle goes and nobody seems to know why and penalties are taken from all sorts of different places on the pitch! Mostly though the question is, “how on earth do you go about photographing polo?”

Now, I’m no expert, and I can only pass on what I have learned from personal experience, but I will share a few thoughts on the hows and wheres. Take them or leave them as you see fit.

First, I think there are two sorts of polo image: the event photograph and the editorial photograph. I try to take some of each.

The event photograph is, for me, the image that the player  wants. It shows the best of their pony and their skill, or maybe them and their team at a prize giving, but is probably not particularly “arty” and could be described by some as boring.  The editorial photo can be much more imaginative and may break some of the unspoken rules by showing (deliberate hopefully) motion blur or by shooting against the light or from behind the action. They might also show scenes or closeups from the pony lines and be much more abstract. These are not rigid guidelines and there is a very fuzzy area in the middle but before you start it’s a good idea to know what you are trying to achieve. If you are shooting stock then go editorial and wander around. Take shots which don’t need releases and could be used widely. If you are making images for a club or for players then you need to be more specific and careful about how you work. I will elaborate.

First of all I generally shoot from one end. This isn’t a “must” but consider the fact that players want to see their faces and you are more likely to get the ball in shot from head on. I arrive at the ground and choose an end based on the movement of the sun. Again, I may change if the situation dictates but if the sun is shining and I want to see peoples eyes then the only option is to have it behind me. I stand to one side of the goal and a little way back from the line. At bigger events you may have to be further away but if you know what you are doing you take your own risks!

First rule of polo photography: don’t move when a pony is coming at you. If there are lots then move, but if you have a single pony coming towards you the chances are that it can see you and is going to avoid you so the worst thing you can do at the last minute is suddenly jump sideways. Polo photography is not a hobby for the fainthearted!

Lenses. The best polo lens, in my opinion, is a zoom with a wide range of focal lengths. If you can afford them then the Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS USM or the jaw-droppingly expensive Nikon 200-400mm f4 G VR AF-S IF ED are you best tools. Some people will shoot with primes but for me that means you are limiting your images to a very limited point on the field and missing an awful lot more. If you have a smaller zoom that is fine, you won’t be able to shoot with the wonderfully shallow depth of field that the 400s offer and you may have to wait for the action to come to you a little more but you will still get some great shots if you are patient.

Everybody has their own style so I won’t say any more on the subject – I am merely a student of the art myself – but I hope this will help somebody get started.

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