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Seventy-eight frames of Mitch

It called for eight seconds of trigger-pressing to capture the fast bowler's celebration of Joe Root's wicket at Lord's

Philip Brown
Philip Brown
Mitchell Johnson celebrates after trapping Joe Root, England v Australia, 2nd Investec Ashes Test, Lord's, 2nd day, July 17, 2015

Philip Brown

Photography is a little like gambling. I've just shot back-to-back Ashes Test matches, in Cardiff and at Lord's. Five days of training photographs and eight days of actual play. Amazingly, both Tests finished in comprehensive victories in only four days.
Why is photography like gambling? Let me attempt to explain. You're going to have to concentrate because we are going to dip our toe in the water of camera technology and number of frames per second.
Professional cameras have changed remarkably over the last 15 years or so. In 2001, I was still using a film camera and each roll of film had a maximum of 38 shots available. It should have been a maximum of 36 frames but if you were experienced in loading the film then you could manage to get a couple of extra ones out of the roll of film.
In 2001, I purchased my first digital camera. I think it captured roughly one frame every second. When I took the photo was massively important. If a batsman played a cut or a pull shot, for example, if my trigger finger twitched too early I would most likely get a photograph of a batsman with his or her head down hitting the ball, whereas if I managed to delay my finger pressure for a tiny fraction of a second, I would be more likely to get a better photo with the batsman's eyes looking adoringly at the cricket ball racing away towards the rope.
I know this chat is slightly technical but stick with it - it gets better later. If you like furry and cuddly animals then you really will kick yourself if you don't stick with it. You can understand this. You will understand this. Don't be a quitter.
Fast forward to July 2015 and I'm using a Nikon D4 that takes ten frames every second. The cards in the camera can fit thousands of images on them. The upshot of this advance in camera technology is that many more shots are taken than ever before.
Last Friday at Lord's, England had to face Mitchell Johnson's bowling after Australia had racked up over 560 in five sessions of play. Johnson is usually great to photograph. By his standards he had a poor match in Cardiff and was obviously keen to get back among the wickets. He dismissed Gary Ballance with the third ball of his first over, but from my favourite photo position at Lord's, the slip fielders unfortunately got in the way in the resulting celebration pictures, mainly because the batsman was a left-hander.
Johnson started his second over bowling to right-handed Joe Root and I decided to aim my lens at Johnson rather than Root's backside and the stumps. Johnson had only bowled six balls and had taken a wicket already. He looked like a bowler on top. I gambled.
I wasn't taking photos of Johnson bowling the ball, but waiting for some reaction that hinted that he had beaten the bat, got an edge, or disturbed the stumps. Johnson bowled the third ball of his second over and I saw his face change. Down went my index finger on the trigger as I attempted to smoothly move the camera and keep Johnson in the tiny red target area in the viewfinder.
Up went his left arm by the fourth frame and he turned to the umpire to confirm that he had indeed taken the wicket of Root. He had. By frame 14 he had completed a full pirouette and was facing me again, running down the side of the pitch. By frame 21 he was beginning to jump in the air, and he landed in frame 28. His fists were clenched now and he ran past Root towards ecstatic team-mates. He met Steven Smith in frame 42, then Michael Clarke in frame 48, who held on to Johnson with what looked like a high rugby tackle. It slowed Johnson's momentum and other players started to arrive to join in the celebrations.
But Johnson was still enjoying his moment. Frequently bowlers seem oblivious or uninterested in sharing their glory in the seconds after a major success. Andrew Flintoff in 2009 doing his knee pose is a prime example of this. Flintoff's team-mates were superfluous to his requirements.
By frame 69, Johnson's hair is getting ruffled but he is still looking into the distance and lifting his fist-clenched left arm again. Frame 74 is very good, his fist is out of the way of his face, frame 73 and 75 not so good.
Frame 78 is the final frame before my camera basically stops taking photos. My trigger finger is still on the button but the camera has said "I'm full for the moment, give me a break" - a bit like a diner at a massive Chinese banquet. This has never happened before. I've never kept my finger on the trigger for a full eight seconds before.
In those eight seconds I've taken 78 photographs, and amazingly I've managed to keep Johnson in focus. No fielder has got in the way, so they are all sharp on this special bowler. The card from the camera is put into the card reader attached to my computer and I import all 78 images. The race is on for me to choose the best images, crop them, add a correct caption and transmit them across London to the international agency that I'm representing. Happily no other major things occur and I can concentrate on working on the Johnson pictures.
I send 13 images from those eight seconds of cricket. It's the Ashes. I'm excited. To be honest, the leap is probably the most disappointing part of those eight seconds. I especially like the picture where he runs past Root, and the one with the clenched fist, surrounded by team-mates. I love my job.
If you're only reading this far down for a cuddly animal mention I've cunningly tricked you. Do go away now.
Nikon D4, 600mm @ f5, ISO 320, 1/1600th sec

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