June 6, 2001

Through the Lens - a conversation with Patrick Eagar

Paul McGregor

Like all lovers of cricket, those of us who work in the game await all Ashes series with anticipation and relish. One man who has risen to the top of his chosen profession, cricket photography, and remained there, greeted one particular Ashes series with extra enthusiasm. He is Patrick Eagar, who talked to CricInfo at the recent Test between England and Pakistan at Old Trafford.

The First Test of the 1972 Ashes series was played there in June. It started a run of home Tests covered by Patrick that is unbroken. "I have covered every day of every home Test in England since then," Patrick says proudly. On the field, the debutants in the 1972 match were David Colley and Bruce Francis for Australia, and Tony Greig for England. None of course has matched Eagar's unbroken run at the top.

"Before 1972 it was difficult, if not impossible for non-agency staff to photograph Test matches," he said. "Agencies had the rights to the games then and other photographers were excluded. That kind of restrictive arrangement ended because the Australian newspapers were not prepared to put up with a deal that may have suited the English press, but did not suit Australian editors' deadlines.

"In any case, there was a feeling that the existing arrangements had to end, as there was pressure from photographers to be allowed into grounds. It was no longer acceptable that photographers had to restrict themselves to photographing international players in less important tour matches outside the Tests.

Patrick eagar
Eagar - at work at Lord's
Photo CricInfo

"One of the great differences you see comparing 1972 to today is that in earlier times, there was almost a complete lack of perimeter board advertising at the grounds. Today, boards are everywhere as sponsors crowd for recognition." Indeed today photographers are often sent to grounds to "shoot the boards" and not necessarily the play itself.

Patrick Eagar has seen many important innovations. "Most, not all, coverage of games was in black and white, which I still like. I did shoot colour too but the quality was not what it is today. My camera would typically have been a Nikon F1 with a motordrive running at around two frames per second." The current Nikon F5 will give you up to eight frames per second.

"A 600mm Telephoto lens (f5.6) was the lens we had if we could afford it, although the f8 Mirror lenses were also used." The Mirror lenses are still sometimes seen on cricket grounds around the world, although the relatively small apertures make them less than ideal.

"So along with the improvements in film emulsion lenses have improved tremendously. The lenses we have today are really quite fantastic." Also the style of photography has changed. "There is now more demand for action close-ups of players, almost one-to-one confrontations are what editors demand now." Eagar adds firmly: "I do not feel I have done my job unless I have told the story of the whole game."

With the advent of digital technology, which is seen as getting closer and closer to film output in terms of quality, the same principles govern him. "Get the best possible pictures at the time, regardless of the technology." Digital technology is important to him, but not as a departure from the basic principles. They are the control of light and good composition, which convey the essence of the game of cricket to the readers of the papers, books and magazines in which Patrick Eagar's work has appeared.

The work of Patrick Eagar is seen as a benchmark to which other photographers aspire. Even the hard-bitten agency man has been heard to remark: "When I saw his work, I wanted to do that too." This would bring a small grin to the Eagar countenance, as his head descends once more to the viewfinder.