New Byron Ferguson video in town. “World’s Most Amazing Archer?” Well, more amazing than a certain other video I’ve seen tagged with the same thing recently – and with some interesting science too. Enjoy.
Bow and arrow from the Solomon Islands circa 1920s. Both are covered with elaborately plaited cane, which at least suggests that they were status symbols rather than efficient hunting weapons. That arrow reminds me of a multi-stage rocket…
These are 19th century Aboriginal Australian arrowheads knapped from scavenged glass.
From an article on another museum’s website: “Since first contact, Australian Aboriginal people have ingeniously adapted discarded European goods from campsites, shipwrecks and rubbish to their own ends. Salvaged clear, green and brown bottle glass was often used for knife blades, spearheads and arrowheads because it could be flaked using a large pebble, in much the same way as quartz, from which most traditional blades were made…. a sharp stick or animal bone was used to ‘pressure flake’ very fine, serrated edges.”
Away from archery, possibly the greatest treasure of the MAA is one of the Star Carr red-deer headresses which looks like something out of True Detective; 9,500 years old and looking probably as strange and terrifying as it did then. The human need for ritual and magical thinking goes back a long way.
A couple of Saturdays ago me and about 20 other photographically-inclined members of Archery GB were treated to a masterclass from Dean Alberga at Lilleshall National Sports Centre. There’s no such thing as a free lunch: this lesson from the capo di tutti capi of modern archery photography was organised in the expectation that we would be delivering our much improved photographs to Archery UK, the magazine of Archery GB.
Dean has been working for World Archery since 2006. I can’t replicate his experience (let alone his smiles, geniality, or cracking anecdotes) but I will try and summarise some of what he said in our four hour session in a mostly non-technical way. A fair bit of what he said is applicable to digital and sports photography generally – there may be some unfamiliar areas (there were plenty for me) but if you get stuck just follow any of the links below.
Make sure to have a look at Dean’s website: dutchtarget.com.
1. Get the right equipment. Dean recommends a DSLR with at least two lenses: a telephoto zoom, preferably 100-400mm and a wide angle zoom. It may well be more than you need to take photos of your local tournament, but a full rig from Canon or Nikon will set you up to create seriously extraordinary results. This is the ideal setup for getting professional photographs and close-ups of archers from the ‘1.30pm angle’, but will cost you a good deal of money.
If a full-frame camera and two heavy bits of serious glass are out of your range, you should start looking at the range of excellent midrange models which use APS-C format and lenses, or perhaps mirrorless system cameras (sometimes called DSLMs). * [see note below] Definitely avoid so-called ‘bridge’ cameras with a non-removable zoom lens as they are less flexible, make a poorer image due to cheaper glass, and have a low resale value. You want to do this properly, right?
For post-processing, Dean recommends Adobe Lightroom and / or Adobe Photoshop for editing photos (he uses both) and you will need a decent computer with a good, clear, accurate screen (he uses an Apple MacBook Pro with a retina display). You can now rent both Lightroom and Photoshop by the month, and there are other processing software solutions available, such as Aperture for OSX (soon to be replaced) or a variety of free/cheapware solutions for the PC and Linux. All can perform the basic steps required to deliver images to a client, and all have advantages and disadvantages.
You will also, of course, need many accessories as well, and Dean was keen to point out that you shouldn’t skimp on a bag / carry case. Oh, and whether it’s arrows or photographs: always check the weather before you go out to shoot.
2. Teach yourself how to take photographs. You could spend ten minutes on this or the rest of your life. At the very least, you are going to have to spend a few moments learning how to shoot in semi-auto modes, what shutter speed, aperture, and ISO all do and the link between them, white balancing, the difference between JPG and RAW files, and how to use burst mode (to get that classic arrow-leaving-the-bow shot). You will also need to understand composition and the rule of thirds. YouTube tutorials are definitely your friend here. (For a general introduction to digital photography, I enjoyed this book a lot.)
3. Find out what your client wants. Your client might just be you and your Facebook page, your club’s website, an archery magazine or even a national newspaper. What are they expecting? Poses at full draw, the home country, a specific athlete, the trophy in the air – what are they looking for? There are technical issues too. What ratio are your photos going to be published in? – you may need to crop depending on your sensor size. Are they expecting JPG files or RAW? Should you be editing them first or leaving them as is (answer: the latter!). If your photos are going to end up in magazines, you may even need to get down and dirty with CMYK profiles. Find out what people want, and deliver it to them.
4. Look for something different. Everyone has seen hundreds of shots of archers at full draw, from a dozen angles. Maybe you can try to catch something else. Dean has lain on his back on the grass, shinned up flagpoles, knocked on the doors of apartments overlooking the field and much else to get an interesting photo. Over longer tournaments, he picks a different thing to look for each day to keep things fresh, whether that be close-ups, emotions, colour or something else. You might find a shot at all sorts of odd times (like I did at official equipment inspection or warm-ups). Dean takes around 1000 photographs a day at major tournaments.
5. Make friends. With the athletes, with the team managers, with the coaches, with the judges, and definitely with the security guards on the gate. This can open up all sorts of photographic doors. Dean illustrated this with a pic he took at London 2012, where in a press pack scrum after Im Dong-Hyun had broken the ranking round world record, he asked Im (a friend) to turn round and got the shot everyone else was looking for:
6. Get up early. Being up and about at first light is a staple of photography, and essential for catching one of the magic hours. One of Dean’s favourite images was taken early in the morning at the tournament in Ogden, Utah in an atmospheric shot that captures both the tournament and the spectacular backdrop:
7. Always keep an eye out for what could be happening elsewhere – this could be particularly applicable in head-to-heads, when the archer not currently shooting is preparing themselves. Your point of focus need not always be the athlete currently in ‘action’. Dean demonstrated this with a picture of Aida Roman preparing herself to shoot, but this picture taken after the final of the 2015 Australian Open artfully demonstrates it too:
8. The real work is done afterwards. Digital photography in recent years is as much about editing as getting the shots in the first place.
Firstly and most importantly, Dean recommends a process to protect your photographs. After you’ve finished a shoot, copy all the shots from your memory card onto your computer and into a clearly marked folder saying something like “2015 Telford Shoot Day 1- original files” or whatever. When you have copied them into you editing software library and edited them, print the edited photographs to another folder clearly marked “edited files”. Then copy both folders onto an external drive or memory stick. Only then should you delete the photographs on the memory card. In this way you always have a backup if something goes wrong.
There are whole books and websites – and indeed, careers – devoted to digital photo editing, and it’s way beyond the scope of this (or any) one article. In order to deliver the best photographs you can, you will need to learn about cropping, noise reduction, dodging and burning, spot removal, using the adjustment brush, metadata, and reading histograms and correcting colour casts, amongst much else. YouTube is your friend here; there are a gazillion tutorials available with a quick search. Take the time.
This could be a long process of learning, but it will ultimately improve your photographic output enormously, and enable you to save photographs which appear unsalvageable. Dean suggests that if you have a photo that isn’t magazine-cover-quality but which otherwise works, it may still be useful as a background, or it may work in monochrome. Bascially, if in doubt, keep it.
9. If there are sponsors banners visible, try to get them in the frame. This might even lead to a handy sale down the line.
10. Getting it out there. When you are happy with your results, you need some way of sharing it with the world. Dean uses SmugMug for both World Archery work and his own Dutch Target website. This charges an annual fee, but is easy to use for both photographers and customers alike. There are dozens of other photo-sharing services, of which Flickr remains the most popular. Then you might try and find a market for your work – but that’s a whole other chapter…
Anyway, thanks very much indeed Dean! We will all try and do you proud.
*I’ve been very happy with and produced some decent images with cameras and lenses from the Micro Four Thirds system developed by Panasonic and Olympus. MFT and other ‘mirrorless’ system cameras have the advantage of getting DSLR-like-or-as-near-as-makes-no-difference-to-most-of-us results from a system that is usually smaller, lighter and cheaper. The system has a large range of zoom and primes available, although unlike a DSLR they do not use a full-frame sensor, which may ultimately be limiting, particularly from a professional angle. As usual, it all depends on your expectations and what you want to achieve!
Special thanks to bimble at AIUK for the lift.
Am currently watching the BBC’s big-budget adaptation of Tudor epic Wolf Hall, resplendent in its complex plotting, full-service costuming, and dense candlelit dialogue.
This week’s episode featured some hot longbow action involving the leads, and incredibly… they got it right. Have a look:
Cromwell draws to his ear (pretty much) and doesn’t hold, and from the tension at full draw from both actors it even appears they are using real longbows, instead of the stick-with-a-bit-of-elastic of your average Robin Hood knockabout. Although: should they be wearing shooting gloves, in the 1500s? Perhaps someone can confirm.
Thanks to Rik, Butt Face, Bimble, Raven’s Eye, and Matthames over at A.I.
Jane Weber. UConn ’51, US intercollegiate national champion from 1949-1951. More here.
I thought I’d seen every dumb thing that longtime TIC favourite Ki Bo Bae had done (or been coerced to do) in the name of sporting publicity. I was wrong. As an Olympic star, she’s one of the faces of the Gwanju Universiade this year, and a little while ago, she had to do this:
To be fair, I can barely keep up with her. The life of an Olympic gold medallist in South Korea is obviously a busy one – although it should be pointed out that she’s a better dancer than she is a singer. However, she’s always game for something silly in front of the cameras – controlling things with her mind, for example, or pitching baseballs with a bow. She’s no stranger to the classic gameshow sharpshooting display either. And, not unlike Jessica Ennis finally cashing in on her years of Olympic sacrifice by stepping out for Santander, Ms. Ki has also been spotted flogging hi-def Samsung monitors – but we shouldn’t forget her charity work, helping the Korean archery team deliver winter fuel to the poor (as they do every year) or indeed, straight up saving the planet.
Ms. Ki was pressed into service to commentate on the Asian Games last year, when she broke the news to an apparently surprised Korean media that her and Oh Jin-Hyek were no longer together – news that was broken on The Infinite Curve only *ahem* more than a year beforehand. (Oh Jin-Hyek got married to someone else in 2014).
But back to archery. She managed to maintain form last year despite being sidelined from Korean national duties (apparently due to a shoulder injury), and has even been filmed recently giving away training, um, ‘secrets‘. Hopefully she’ll be in form enough to be back on the recurve front lines again in 2015. Or failing that: more dancing, I guess?
Damn good shot, actually. (via the LEAP programme, Malaysia)