Its said that photojournalists need a lot of energy, some degree of business sense as well as a great sense of curiosity, especially while covering important news events. It is not important whether you have a degree or not but what really matters is how interested and dedicated you are towards the issues that you are working on at the end of the day.
Cricket is not only a passion but a religion in the subcontinent where temperatures run high on expectations and failures are riddled with controversies. And with increased competition and 24/7 satellite television coverage, photojournalist covering events and sporting encounters are expected to deliver on quality content. This is precisely what separates Bangalore based, Leonard Aarons from the rest. His simple mantra is “ I make photographs because I want to communicate and this is the best medium to use to do so.” Excerpts:
What is your favorite kind of sports photography and what is it about cricket that interests you so much? Is the world cup the ultimate dream assignment for any photojournalist to shoot and why?
To put this into perspective firstly, I love to photograph athletics, hockey, swimming, and football.
When I started as a photojournalist, cricket, used to be a boring sport to cover, because test cricket was a five day match and generally only a few people were present in the stands. In fact, a majority of the people listened to radio commentary while going about their daily routines. But if a wicket would fall, then they would huddle around the person with the radio to closely listen to the details. In today’s context the game has witnessed a sea change. This pertains to not only the way its played but even the format has changed from the days of yore. The result – it has created a wider fan base with a carnival like atmosphere in the stands and the interest and excitement are to be seen to be believed.
As far as covering the Cricket World Cup, I guess it would be the same like covering any other world cup tournament, as I have covered the Hockey World Cups and Asian games as well.
I believe you were fortunate to cover many Cricket World Cups in the past. In hindsight, what are some of the challenges that you had encountered apart from the fact that photojournalists jostle for space at the grounds with one another for vantage points?
True fact is it was easier then, as there were no TV channels (mind you in 1987 there was only
Doordarshan ) and only few photographers from the mainline newspapers. In fact, even the equipment was pretty expensive, and as such even the regional and small newspapers would take the pictures from the agencies, because it was economical. However, in today’s scenario things have changed radically: Plenty of sports channels, more photographers, easier means of transmitting pictures via the Internet and so on. This has triggered a mad rush in photojournalists jostling for space as there are hoards of them trying to garner vantage points. Many of the new school of photographers are alien to the film era and a majority of them must not have even processed a film or else even used a film camera. Certainly the lack of proper photographic schools and equipments in the film era was a dampener in comparison to the present. But then photographers had to work within the constraints and deliver excellent results.
How many photographs do you shoot at any particular game and secondly, how close do you volunteer to go to capture the action without in any way jeopardizing equipment or safety?
In the past, it was pretty expensive because photojournalists were shooting on film and importantly, had to wait till the time the film was processed to see the outcome. Moreover, the organization mattered and the film quota would have been set in advance and communicated explicitly. Unless something dramatic happened, the need to use an extra roll of film was not permitted because every frame was accounted for minutely. However, things have changed dramatically with the availability of memory cards, only the best is retained while the others are deleted.
As far as cricket goes there are basic ground rules that required the photojournalist to be on the boundary lines, the only exemption being the toss between the captains.
One particular incident which I vividly remember was when the Sri Lanka played India in the semi finals at Calcutta in 1996. Suddenly, the mob started pelting bottles on to the ground and lit bonfires. Only then I decided not to go extremely close, as my equipment was in danger of being vandalized by the spectators sitting behind me. In fact, one of the best shots happened when the Sri Lankan cricketer, Chandana was seen running into the pavilion followed by two black cat commandos for protection with their 9mm carbines. This picture was also featured in an exhibition titled ‘Violence in Sport’.
In your opinion how important is the need to have a basic knowledge about the game and secondly, how do you anticipate the action and strategically plan and position yourself to document the action sequence?
The basic knowledge will help you to capture basic pictures: You need to have a very good knowledge of the game as well as who is in form, style and other statistical stuff, that matters at the end of the day counts in your photographs. You should also be able to read the game as to how it will be firming up and so on, akin to a horse race. And like in the horse race you will never know which horse will cross the finishing line, in the same way, you don’t know till the very last ball is bowled, or unless the match has been fixed…..hahaha.
In cricket photography, how do you go about adding emotion and drama to the portrait, especially when capturing important milestones in cricketer’s career?
As I have already mentioned, you have got to know the game not in terms of 50 overs and power play etc, for you need to know a little bit about the history of the players and the relationship they share with the other players in the team. This helps in knowing the chemistry and the psyche of the player per se. So an informed photographer is fully aware of precisely when to document his picture rather than following other photographers blindly. Generally, every other photographer may have a fixed agenda which is dictated by the needs of his or her organization.
What equipments are absolutely essential for a sports photographer? Secondly, do you think costly equipments are necessary for shooting sports in general?
Importantly, there is a big difference between shooting in the 1980’s and at present. Digital photography has changed the dynamics of photography per se. Higher mega pixels have enabled photojournalists to document the best and at the same time it provides the luxury of deleting the ones that are not to your liking as well. In the past, it was mandatory to have good lenses (long lenses) like 600mm f 4.5 and the likes. With the advent of technology, photographers now have another additional tool known as Photoshop to improve their imagery.