Journo Talk 5: The man behind the camera

by Sam Blackledge

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The first Test between Bangladesh and England, as thrilling as it was, probably won’t be remembered for long.

But one particular image from Chittagong is likely to stick around for years to come.

It shows Shakib Al Hasan aiming a drive through the off-side, the sun glinting off his bat and dust flying up around his feet.

The man behind the camera, freelance photographer Philip Brown, worked hard to capture the moment.

“I found myself moving almost every couple of balls,” he says.

“Masses of dust was visible towards the end of the day and I kept moving slightly to try to get the best available background depending on the batsman’s stroke.

“Luckily Shakib played an attacking shot, the dust flew, he looked back, and in one frame of the five taken the sun reflected off his bat.

“A pleasing shot, but if I think about it I had worked very hard to create the opportunity to capture it.”

The picture was shared around the world, and now takes pride of place at the front of Brown’s website.

Bangladesh v England - First Test: Day OTwo

Hailing from Canberra in Australia, Brown came to London to cover the 1989 Ashes and has since become a regular fixture on the international scene.

When I ask whether England now feels like home, it seems he hasn’t given it much thought.

“I think it is more the case that a cricket boundary feels like home,” he says.

“Whether it’s Cape Town, Lord’s, Melbourne, or Dhaka, that’s where I feel most at home.

“There is a lot more cricket in the UK, so I can’t see myself ever moving away from here or back to Australia.”

He says the key to a great cricket photograph is simplicity, pointing to the famous image of the 1960 tied Test between Australia and West Indies.

“Apparently two photographers with old style ‘plate’ cameras made an agreement before the last ball of the match,” Brown says.

“One would ‘drop his frame’ as the ball reached the batsman and the other would ‘hold fire’ in case something happened after that. He came up trumps.

“I think my very favourite cricket photo was one taken by my friend Gareth Copley-Jones of Jonathan Trott being run out in 2009 at the Oval against Australia.

“All the elements are there: a diving Trott, his face looking particularly concerned as the throw disturbs the stumps, the bails are flying, and importantly there is nothing distracting in the photo.”

If, like me, you don’t know the first thing about photography, Brown’s regular Cricinfo blogs are a must-read.

He says his favourite players to shoot were Flintoff, Warne and Pietersen, while Marcus Trescothick could be “quite difficult”.

He does not shoot every ball of a day’s play – apparently that is frowned upon – but often uses a remote camera stationed on a gantry or near the TV cameras.

The world of cricket journalism, I am discovering, is as much about who you know as what you can do.

I am keen to find out whether there is quite as much schmoozing among the photographers.

“I form relationships with everyone,” Brown says. “Officials, players, journalists, other photographers and even the public.

“I’m a naturally friendly person and not doing it for gain of any sort.

“Of course it helps when you want a private shoot with Joe Root or Alastair Cook that they know you pretty well.

“The England team at the moment are very friendly and brilliant fun, a great bunch of lads.

“It’s also important to not have a camera sometimes, especially if you’re in a bar after a win.

“I’m very pleased with the fact that a lot of the experienced England players trust me to take photos when it is appropriate and they realise I’ll be off duty sometimes.

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Brown feels the art of sports photography is going the same way as the written form – quality suffering at the hands of under-pressure executives.

“There seems to be an insatiable appetite for speedy content these days rather than quality content,” he says.

“Perhaps one day it will change back to quality rather than quantity. Who knows?

“I’ve been lucky enough to shoot cricket for 28 years and truly believe it to be the best job in the world.

“I was lucky to be given the opportunity to shoot sport but I know I’ve also worked very hard at it.  I love what I do. “

Are you a ‘proper’ cricket journalist? Would you like to feature in Journo Talk? E-mail samblackledge@yahoo.com or tweet @samblackledge

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