on archery photography

20 May, 2017

I was contacted by someone last month who wanted advice about archery photography, which was very flattering. I still don’t consider myself a photographer. Enthusiastic amateur, maybe. But it’s been an fascination of mine since I started writing about archery, and I went to my first World Cup with an tiny little Micro Four Thirds Olympus digital camera and a single 20mm lens – the first camera I owned that wasn’t a point-and-shoot. I wasn’t even planning on using it much. But I took some photos, just snapping away, and I noticed some of them had personality. And it made an image that was vastly better than your phone.

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Ki Bo Bae. Wroclaw World Cup, 2013

From then on, I’ve been steadily more hooked. I’ve progressed steadily upwards with equipment to full-frame Nikon. A lot of people in archery are fascinated by equipment and what differences this bow or those limbs make, which has never interested me as much as the people in it and how and why they do what they do. Photography, to me, is similar; while it does require you to be more familiar with specific tools, as you improve at it you realise that it’s not really about the equipment. It’s about who you are. How you are interacting with people and the environment that has the biggest effect on your photographs and crucially, their impact on other people. There’s a million examples, but I’m going to tell you about just one.

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Rineke Dijkstra, from Beach Portraits (2002)

The much-decorated Dutch photographer Rineke Dijkestra’s Beach Portraits were taken at beaches in Europe and America. She mostly photographed adolescents, using a large, heavy large-format camera on a tripod, the old-fashioned kind. There’s a little fill-in flash, but technically, it’s not complicated. The portraits work because of the interaction between photographer and subject. Someone asks to take your picture and tells you to stand in front of the camera. The girl is a willing participant, but you can sense that that’s about it; not a lot of time has been been spent making her feel comfortable. Dijkestra specialises in this kind of work, setting up formal portraits in emotionally charged or vulnerable situations. There’s other factors at play too; a male photographer asking to photograph kids would probably have got chased off the beach. She could do it.

Also, people respond very differently to different cameras, too. Think how you would respond, how you would pose, what you would do if someone asked to take your picture with something like this:

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as opposed to something like this:

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In the international archery world, Dean Alberga knows pretty much everybody on the field, and this builds trust between him and his subjects. This trust allows him to ask people to pose for him, and also means they behave more naturally when he’s around, because they know who he is and what he’s doing there. All of this has a bigger effect on his work for World Archery than what lens / body combination he is using at the time. His position as the official photographer also allows him access that other photographers don’t get and places other people can’t go.

My favourite shot of Dean’s is this one of Brady Ellison at the World Cup Final in Lausanne in 2014:

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Brady Ellison by Dean Alberga

It has incredible energy. The essential Brady-ness about it. It has motion. You can sense the crowd are there, making a noise.  It says a lot about the man, but it’s a great sports photograph anyway. Anyone can understand it and what it means. It may have been a lucky moment, but it wasn’t an accident. Dean knew exactly where to stand, and positioned himself specifically to give himself the opportunity to get lucky. It’s a little like fishing. You may not always catch something, but you try and use all your experience to give yourself the best possible chance at catching something.

Ane Marcelle Dos Santos before her final match, Samobodromo, Rio de Janeiro, July 2016

The best pictures I have taken of archers have less to do with sport. I suppose I’m more of a documentary/street type photographer who happens to focus on one thing. If I have a style (and I feel I’m kind of fumbling towards one) it’s trying to capture the essence of a person or situation, and I like people to behave naturally, so they’re not (usually) aware they’re having their picture taken. The better pics I took in Rio were like this.

So, if you want to be an archery photographer – or any type of photographer – lucky you. There’s never been a time in history where you can own equipment capable of taking astonishingly high-quality images for the lowest cost, and with automatic modes that allow you to work in almost any way you’d like.

For a general introduction to digital and sport photography, read this thing I wrote a couple of years ago, which sums up the masterclass Dean Alberga gave at ArcheryGB.

Archery does require some specialist lenses. Because you can’t get very up close and personal to an archer unless you’re in a private setting, you will need a lens at least capable of a 200mm reach, preferably more, and the fastest you can afford. A common problem in archery situations is that the backgrounds are often very busy/noisy with people and colour, which needs a fast, long lens to focus attention on the subject. Careful use of vignetting, cropping and/or exposure dodging up and down to push the background away is important too.

The one good thing about expensive, heavy lenses like this is that they are an investment which could last you decades without losing a great deal of their value (unlike camera bodies).

Choi MIsun practising, Odense World Cup final, November 2016

Archery comes broadly under the category of ‘sport photography’, which is of course a specialist discipline in itself. It demands particular equipment and techniques, usually around capturing motion. But a lot of it is knowing the sport well. Have a watch of this video to see how pro sports photographer Tom Jenkins captures cycling:

Some of the special issues around professionally photographing the Olympics are in this fascinating short documentary, showing how images from the men’s 100 metre race are available to clients within a minute of the race finishing:

In the wider world of photography, one of the best documentaries I’ve seen is in this recent Netflix series, called Abstract: The Art Of Design. The photography episode focuses on a photographer called Platon, who has taken distinctive portraits for some of the most famous people in the world. He discusses, in great detail, his technique for getting what he wants onto film. The equipment he uses, while high-end and specialist, isn’t the reason he is one of the highest paid and most sought-after photographers in the world. It’s the interaction between himself and his subject that makes the difference.  If you have Netflix and any interest in photography at all, watch it immediately.

Read and look, always. There’s almost limitless resources available online. Don’t read them all. If you want to know how a particular lens can do, try searching for it on Flickr.  Read Ken Rockwell’s blog – a most extraordinary resource. Read this book and that book – even if you only do it in the bookstore. They will introduce you to a range of some of the greatest photographers of the past 100 years. Buy second-hand equipment and flip it on eBay if it’s not for you. Don’t worry about whether Nikon or Canon is better. Just pick one and run with it.  Read about Vivian Maier – a classic outsider art tale – and watch the documentary. Read this extraordinary dissection of Melania Trumps’ photographs. But most of all: get out there, shoot, reflect, and repeat.

Even if it’s just you and your smartphone (and/or your Instagram account) photography is always something that you can practice and do better. For the rest of your natural life, most likely, you will have a camera in your pocket capable of making images that can dazzle and fascinate. It’s at least worth learning a little about how the magic is made.

 

Chang Hyejin’s Instagram page is awesome

10 May, 2017

ArtboardChang Hyejin’s Instagram page is awesome. It’s not the formal look-at-me-I-did-this page of an Olympic champion, it’s the page of someone enjoying the hell out of taking very arch photographs of themselves, someone obviously enjoying their life and – as previously mentioned – finally being in the spotlight. It’s also someone with a decent sense of how to compose a picture, selfie or no.

She also has not one, but two Instagram fan pages  – the other one is here. Choi Misun has an excellent fan page too.

To be honest, I’m amazed the Korean Olympic recurve team have been able to fit in any archery in between  all the talk shows  they’ve appeared on  in the last six months.

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There’s are plenty of archers racking up views on social media, you can have a look at some of the American Insta wing here, although for sheer numbers no archer even comes close to Deepika Kumari’s quarter of a million Facebook followers. But nobody is yet beating Hyejin for awesomely silly, exuberant joy on social media right now.

UPDATE: birthday time!


You can follow me on Instagram here, although warning: you get a few dogs / buildings / other stuff too. 

Korean archery secrets pt. 27: bungee-jumping

3 April, 2017

Somehow missed this excellent short about the Korean team which came out shortly after Rio last year. It features Kang Chae Young, who had to suffer the agony of coming fourth, by the tiniest of margins, in the Olympic trials and not making the trip to Brazil. It’s pretty amazing to me how she dealt with it.

On a wider level it contains some interesting notes about the Olympic roots in traditional archery, mental strength and about dealing with fear – apparently by bungee jumping. The long-repeated canard about the Korean team once being made to handle live snakes in order to face down fears comes out again, although I’ve never been able to ascertain if this is true or not.

At the end Kang says that she hopes to be able to come back and win medals at the Olympics or the Asian Games again; notably, the World Championships are missing from that list. 🙂 It’s difficult to get across just how important the Asian Games are to Korean archers and Korean sport in general, played out against a backdrop of fierce historical rivalries and regarded almost on a par with the Olympics. (Next year’s edition will be in Indonesia). Anyway, enjoy.

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Korean bow documentary

27 March, 2017

If you haven’t yet watched this fantastic doc from KBS1 about the history of the Korean bow and it’s influence on the current Olympic team, do so immediately.  (Click on the little ‘CC’ button to access English subtitles).

P.S. Still looking for an English-subbed version of Game Of Numbers. Does anyone capable of translating it want to add some captions themselves? You can just go ahead and do that these days….

moving towards the light

13 February, 2017

 

Archery Fit – coaching range

I’ve been writing about archery for five years now, but recently, not doing very much of it at all. I wrote a while ago about trying to improve, before I got reminded of my status at the Lausanne Archery Classic. That’s all changed in 2017. I’ve caught the bug again.

I know most of you out there are archers of one stripe or another, and if you are, you’ve probably run through the same gamut of emotions that everybody else has had. Incredible urges to go out and shoot, to get better, to master it. Getting home from a bad shooting session in a foul mood and throwing your bow into a cupboard for several weeks, or months – or even years. Sessions where you surprised yourself with inner strength and confidence. Sessions where you couldn’t hit a barn door if they stood it up in front of you. Fun sessions. Boring sessions. And everything in-between. 

I spent 2015 and 2016 doing scrappy, occasional hobby shooting at my club. Stick-flinging, in the British parlance, capped by a disastrous short metric competition at our local rivals last summer where I abandoned the last few ends rather than put any more arrows in the green.

I realised that I needed to start from scratch. It was pointless to continue as I was without coaching, without structure – which raised another problem.  I live in London, which is great for many things in life but isn’t the focus of archery in the UK, which is centred (roughly) on the Midlands.

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did this with a Samick Polaris, no clicker, at 18m. YEAH.

Greater London boasts at least twelve archery clubs, but not a single archery shop. The slim margins and the need for a large range space preclude it, despite the fact that the demand to learn archery in London, since the post Hunger Games / London 2012 boom, has long outstripped the supply – the beginner’s courses at our club were booked up for two years in advance at one point. There are just a tiny handful of qualified coaches in the city, and most of them are busy or available only sporadically. 

Indeed, getting to higher levels in archery is something of a postcode lottery in Britain. You need to be lucky enough to be near a coach or a club with a deep tradition of coaching and someone with the time and energy to take you on. Good luck. Ultimately, the majority of archers after completing a beginner’s course are left to fend for themselves with a mix of the odd half-coaching session and ad-hoc advice sourced from club members, books and videos, and the internet. A handful each year go to the open residential courses at Lilleshall. Imagine if you had completed a six-week beginner’s judo course, graduated, and were sent on your way with a: “Great. Now go and make it to black belt on your own.”  That’s the reality of archery tuition for most of the UK.

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Luckily, someone finally realised the pent-up demand for archery in the capital and opened, in 2015, the wonderful Archery Fit in Greenwich, on the river east of the city centre. It is the first and so far the only dedicated commercial indoor range in the country where you can book a slot any time they are open, and they provide something else which is almost unique in the UK: bookable coaching, usually in small groups of just two or three. 

Roman and Kate, the transplanted Russians who built and run Archery Fit, aren’t keen on stick-flinging. Everyone who comes to the club gets taken under their wing, but it’s very clear this is not the casual, pinging-away pastime atmosphere of many UK clubs. It’s a place to learn how to be an archer. In a gleaming, modern basement with plenty of light and space, they have built a club with atmosphere and style. There is an emphasis on formal, well-trained shooting with full warmups, but they’ve managed to keep a sense of humour about the place too.

By accident or design, there’s a lot of recurve barebows around, although beginners are encouraged to try all bowstyles.  It’s seen a few luminaries since it’s been open: Vic Wunderle, whose shirt now hangs on the wall, and Natalia Avdeeva have made appearances. There’s a strong community spirit, and all levels at the place made a successful trip to the indoor nationals last year. I love my club and I’ll be there forever, but I feel like I’m part of this place now too.

I have a coach. It feels odd just saying it. Kate Zalyubovskaya is a former Russian national champion. There is no doubt about what needs to be done.  She saw what I had brought, and shook her head. Since December, she has rebuilt my recurve shot from a hotpotch of inherited ideas and oh-maybe-I’ll try-this into a formal, strong, upright delivery. There’s no hiding place. She spots everything; the tucking in of the head, a push out of the chest, even the tiniest pop of the fingers on release. Nothing is missed. I’m getting used to the wry smiles, and the cries of “elbow… head… focus…hold it!”.

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Better than that, with regular coaching I’m starting to figuring out what could be wrong before the arrow has left the bow; coming down and resetting rather than just letting it fly. The more garbage shots you can leave on the line, the better.

There’s some way to go, but I no longer feel like I’m struggling with the bow, like it’s something I can’t control. The draw is starting to feel like I’m charging something with magic. The fourth or fifth arrow in a training end is still clumsy, but the first three are starting to fly confidently, with a snap. There are few things more satisfying than a consistent strong draw, releasing with confidence and hitting something like the mark, and the cyclical building of confidence that comes with that.

More than that: I want to go and shoot now. I want to be there. I see it coming closer now. Being an archer, without that sense of feeling like an imposter. I know I’m not Tokyo 2020 material, but there’s some other goals that could be set. I’m not even scoring yet – coach says that’s further down the line – but I’m kind of itching to start. It’s part of me again, and you can take the confidence away with you. It’s something even more special that I remembered.

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Joining forces!

6 January, 2017

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So it’s all change for 2017. Me and Dean Alberga are joining forces under the Dutch Target banner.

I’ve been working with Dean on various international events for a couple of years now, and he’s been the same absolute gent that many of you have met over the years. We are both running archery blogs, and it seemed a little odd to be working at cross purposes, as it were, so, after a fair bit of discussion, we’ve decided to meet in the middle and create something even bigger and better.

The blogging will be under Dutch Target, but the Facebook page is staying the same, and The Infinite Curve will remain up with everything still there. Most importantly (haha), I’m staying the same – am going to continue to provide independent coverage for archery. I’m very glad so many of you have enjoyed what I’ve done so far, and I’ll carry that on just as long as I’m able.

I’m really looking forward to this new venture in such a big year for archery and looking forward to seeing where it leads. I hope you are too! John x

New year, new Urban Archery

31 December, 2016

Patrick Huston, recurve archer and Olympian for TeamGB has plans. Big plans. He’s been working on a concept called Urban Archery, a ‘real life video game’ involving foam-tipped arrows, pop-up enemies, and shooting all your friends. It’s kind of urban field archery, wth crazy angles and making extraordinary shots possible. Let him explain it to you right here:

 

 

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You can watch the other promo video here. The first Urban Archery centre is planned to be open in a warehouse in Manchester early next year. It’s going to target recreational gamers, “people who are more used to playing Call Of Duty than getting off the sofa”.

That’s not all. There’s plans for an elite ‘X-Games’ version called UrbanXArchery. That’s not all either. There’s plans for an archery festival involving music and food as well early in 2017. There’s plans for TV. It’s lucky Patrick has a lot of energy. He’ll need it.

Have a look at the Crowdfunder page here, which explains a lot more of what’ll be going on. You can get behind it in a more concrete way:

http://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/urbanarchery

This is obviously a massive project, but with a great deal of potential for a broad sell to all sorts of people who would never take up target archery.  Has it got what it takes? I hope so.

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Uncontacted

29 December, 2016

Photo: Guardian / Ricardo Stuckert

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Photo: Guardian / Ricardo Stuckert

Just before Christmas, the UK Guardian published some striking images from Brazilian photographer Ricardo Stuckert of an uncontacted Amazonian tribe, taken from a helicopter.

There are just a handful of uncontacted tribes left on the Earth, and the number is shrinking every year. The definition of ‘uncontacted’ is wide; usually certain groups are known to exist locally, and may even trade with others, but do not emerge from their territory. Given the history of uncontacted people making contact with the developed world, especially in the 19th and 20th centuries, it’s not surprising; unresistant illness, assimilation, and murder are likely outcomes, at least historically.

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Photo: Guardian / Ricardo Stuckert

The reason they are in here, of course, is that they are wielding bows. Not just as sport or relaxation, or recreational hunting – as a matter of life or death, as a fundamental tool that has to be understood, learned and respected. It’s easy to forget the origins of that most human of objects.

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Across the Atlantic, you can read about the Sentinelese, an ‘uncontacted’ tribe of legendary hostility living on an island in the Indian Ocean, luckily now left in peace by the rest of the world. Probably the most isolated of pre-Neolithic tribes of all, no-one in the world outside the island can speak their language, but legends tell of the accuracy of their flatbow, only occasionally photographed, usually with the business end pointing at the photographer. In 2006 Sentinelese archers killed two fisherman who were fishing illegally near the island. An Indian Coast Guard helicopter that was sent to retrieve the bodies was driven off by Sentinelese warriors, who fired a volley of arrows.

You may love your bow, but It’s as well to remember that for a handful of people, quietly and proudly living on the same planet, the bow and arrow remain not just part of their identity, but part of their very existence.

Read more about uncontacted peoples here. 

 

 

Chang Hyejin wins… again.

22 December, 2016

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Copyright: MK

Chang Hyejin, the Rio double gold medallist, has won yet another award, this one first prize at the 2016 MBN Women’s Sports Grand Prix, this following on from her award for Female Sportsperson of The Year last month. She’s also opened up to the media about her plans for Tokyo – and getting married.

Despite her comments below about feeling awkward, from the pics that are coming out it looks like she’s been waiting a long time to glam up and take the spotlight. This, of course, follows her excellent turn in Korean Vogue a couple of months ago. Enjoy.

 

The big star is Chang Hyejin, nicknamed ‘Chang Kong’, who has been transformed from obscurity to star by winning the double gold in Olympic archery.

Her cute appearance and her witty interview style when she stated that gold medals at individual divisions tasted like chocolate pies and that gold medals at team divisions tasted like rainbow coloured cotton candy, gave her the spotlight.

“I think I won’t be forgetting this year since I’ve received such a big prize.”

She won the highest honour at the ‘2016 MBN Women’s Sports Grand Prize’ ceremony held at Lotte Hotel in Sogong-dong, Seoul on 19th December, but was still shy. Hyejin, in her fancy pearl dress stated, “I laugh and smile a lot usually, but I thought I was going to die out of awkwardness and uncomfortable feelings when taking pictures in the dress.”

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Copyright: MK

Hyejin took photos with her fans well after the awards ceremony and showed a reluctance to be a ‘star’. “I still use public transport, but, I get autograph requests in restaurants from time to time.”

This attitude is the reason Chang has played a pivotal role in gaining fame in 2016. Four years ago she did not go to the London Olympics after being ranked fourth in the representative tournament, but made third place in the year and eventually found her archery potential was blossoming.

When asked about the year-end and New Year plans, Hyejin said, “I started winter training last week, and I think I will probably return over Christmas and train.”

“As I’ve expressed that I’d want to write a new page in history, I won’t have any time to rest in 2017. The national archery team that will meet will be selected again, both the coaching staff and the athletes. Olympic gold medalists are no exception”

“The Olympics are already over. Just because a person has been at the top of the world once,  that skill rusts over time. As time goes on, my goal for participating in Tokyo is becoming crystal clear.”

Hyejin will try to make the team for the Tokyo Olympic Games in 2020, and if she wins a gold medal in the individual event would become the first individual archer to defend a title in history. 

Chang will be 30 years old in 2017. Being currently single, she expressed, “I don’t feel ready to marry anyone right now, but I get anxious that it might be too late to marry someone by the time the Tokyo Olympics are over. Two consecutive gold medals at the Olympic Games are a dream, but I have other dreams too”, she explained, shyly. 

Hyejin, who once said that gold medals taste like ‘chocolate cookies’ in Rio, is still hungry for more. “I am trying to accomplish successive individual golds, marriage, and kids all at once. I suppose I want to taste other flavours as well, but I’ll know when I actually taste it.” she said, smiling. 

Copyright: MK

Original news articles by Sport MK, and can be found here and here.  Thanks to Sooji Kim for additional translation.

 

 

What does it say on Choi Misun’s quiver?

16 December, 2016

Choi Misun Quiver card

Choi Misun’s quiver card

Was looking through the year’s photos, and I noticed this from the Odense World Cup final in Denmark. It’s a laminated card attached to Choi Misun’s quiver. Either I’d not noticed it before, or it was new – either way, I zoomed in voyeuristically for a shot.
This week I asked a Korean friend to translate what it says on it.  It’s weirdly simple:

1. Hold the left grip
2. Aim accurately
3. Maintain the bow arm until the end when shooting
4. Have trust and shoot confidently!

I guess that’s all it takes to be the world number one. Unless she’s trolling everybody? 🙂

You can have a look at what it says in Ki Bo Bae’s notebook here.  What does it say in yours?