November 12, 2015

Shadowlands

Running up and down the stairs in Dubai is worth it if you can get the perfect shot with the sun playing hide-and-seek

Sunset boulevard: a tiny strip of sunlight finds its way onto the pitch as Wahab Riaz bowls © Philip Brown

Cricket photographers are always on the lookout for something different. Well, maybe not always. Sometimes we are happy enough just to sit in a chair in the sunshine and wait for something to happen, like a dismissal or a glorious six or a nice-looking streaker. Occasionally there is an opportunity to capture images that are worthy and hopefully require more than a fleeting glance from the viewer, but these photographs can take a lot of extra effort.

I've just returned from covering two Pakistan Test matches against England in the UAE. The first Test was in Abu Dhabi and the following one in Dubai. I had worked at both places before, so knew what to expect - heat and sand.

Dubai is an interesting ground as it is circular and has a light awning similar to a sail right around the top of it. The sun dips behind the stand during the final session of each day's play but as there was a small gap between the awning roof and the stadium there is also a tiny strip of sunlight that works its way across the field and reaches the pitch about an hour after the pitch has been covered by the original shadow.

There are, in effect, two opportunities to get "different" pictures on each day in Dubai when there is harsh sunshine. On days when it is slightly cloudy or hazy from flying sand, it is not really worth going after these photos. However, on bright days a couple of photographers independently head to vantage points to try and capture something worthwhile.

On day three of this year's Dubai Test I decided to head up to an empty stand and shoot against the light just as the shadow threatened to cover the wicket. Younis Khan was batting well and I thought it was worth the gamble.

After a rapid climb with my 600mm lens and tripod I realised that the only thing that might work was Stuart Broad running in to bowl, as he was running along the edge of the shadow - but only for about the next two minutes or so. One problem was fitting in all of Stuart and all of his shadow in the frame with the lens I had. After every delivery I would pick up my equipment and race another few rows back to try and get everything in the frame. I must have looked rather odd. After Broad bowled three deliveries the chance was gone and I descended the stairs hoping that I had the photo that I was after. I did have one frame that I was pretty happy with, which you can see here.

© Philip Brown

On the fourth day, Joe Root and Ian Bell were batting for England and I raced upstairs to shoot against the light again. It was a little hazy so the photos were not that spectacular. I headed back down the stairs but as the stand was not in use and I had descended the wrong stairs I was locked in. I had to climb back up to the top and try to find my way out of the deserted concrete maze. I found a corridor and after tiptoeing around a group of sleeping groundsmen, I got back out and onto the ground. I'd missed the dismissal of Ian Bell. Oh well, what can you do?

No one really expected the Test to go the distance, including me. I was predicting getting away from the ground around lunchtime or just after. I had plans to take my hire car around and explore the older parts of Dubai.

The car was very handy and seemed to be quite pacy as I nipped to and from the ground every day. This must have been so as I have just received four speeding tickets by email from the Dubai authorities. They had my credit card details and have already taken the payments. I expect one of the new buildings in Dubai might be named after me as I have injected such a vast sum of money into their economy. Philip Brown Photos Tower does have a nice ring to it, don't you think?

The last day's play did, in fact, go on into the sunset period, as England's Adil Rashid, Mark Wood and James Anderson tried to survive for a draw. England were nine wickets down when the slither of light approached the pitch. I decided to risk missing the final wicket and raced around the ground and up numerous staircases to shoot some pictures, but this time "with the light".

I was huffing and puffing by the time I got to the top of the stand and my heart felt like it might burst through my chest. Unfortunately the bowling was from the wrong end for the "magic light", but I took some images of Wahab Riaz bowling to Rashid until the light passed over, and then I rushed down the stairs.

Back in position at ground level in front of the England dressing room and behind my 600mm lens, the final wicket fell just 54 seconds later. Yasir Shah charged around like a madman and dived on to the ground, and the England players trudged off the field. It was time to edit and send the photos out as quickly as I could. I think I was still puffing from my endeavours the next morning. It's time I got fit before my next stadium-stair challenge.

Broad: Nikon D4 600mm f5 1/1600th ISO 640
Riaz: Nikon D4 70-200mm @110mm f5 1/1600th ISO 400

An Australian freelance cricket photographer based in England, Philip Brown has photographed over 150 Test matches around the world

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