Professional sports photographer, Ian Cook likes to travel light and run (almost) as fast as the subjects he shoots.
Lumix Ambassador Ian Cook has been into photography since he was 7 years old but he had to wait until he was 16 and got a job before he could upgrade his compact camera for an Olympus OM-10. His first roll of film, however, held nothing but disappointment as not one frame was correctly exposed.
Never one to be easily put-off, Ian went straight to the local library and picked up a book about photography. He also joined his local camera club and began to learn the ropes. Then when the Nikon D70 came along in 2004, he decided it was time to go digital. He also tried the Canon 300D but he didn’t get on with the controls and it felt too plasticky.
As a life-long sport-lover, it was only a matter of time before Ian started photographing friends playing football, and he used to put his photos up in the club house. One day he was asked by the chairman of a local rugby club if he’d like a pass to a Newport Gwent Dragons (http://www.dragonsrugby.wales/) charity match. Naturally, Ian leapt at the chance and before he knew it he was the proud holder of a full media pass for the season.
It was when he shooting the rugby that Ian noticed other photographers were hunched over laptops at the side of the pitch. That made him realise that he was going to have to get his head around image editing. He also decided to upgrade his kit to a Nikon D200 and even splashed out on a 70-200mm f/2.8. It was money well spent though as he started to get commissions.
Since then, Ian has shot a huge range of sports at the highest level, but he’s never happier than photographing the Welsh rugby team when they’re winning. He also shoots some corporate events, weddings, portraits and music.
These days Ian shoots almost exclusively on the Panasonic Lumix G9 because he loves its light weight and small size. It gives him the freedom to move quickly and keep up with his subject. The only time he doesn’t use the G9 these days is when he needs a transceiver at events to send images direct from the camera to a big screen.
That means he always uses his G9s for sport. After almost a year of using the camera, he’s also explored all the settings and has some recommendations for anyone who want to use it for action.
The G9 has a collection of customisation options for the continuous autofocus system. Ian always uses Set 4 (for subjects that change speed and move unpredictably).
He also likes to use back-button focusing and separates the focusing and shutter release. This means that he uses the shutter button for firing the shutter while the back button activates the focusing. He finds this makes it easier to keep the focus on the subject and time shots carefully.
Ian always uses 1-Area AF mode and he sets its size to about 1cm on the back of the camera. With rugby and team sports, this allows him to maintain focus on the player he’s concentrating on. There are always lots of players crossing around on the pitch and they can get picked up by a wider focus area so the focus suddenly switches.
Interestingly, Ian sets the G9’s balance between focus and release to Release. That’s because if Focus is set the camera will only release the shutter if focus is locked-on. However, with Release set he has more chance of getting the shot, the minuscule delay is eliminated and with the benefit of a bit of depth of field, he gets more of the shots he wants.
Shooting fast-moving sport usually requires a fast shutter speed. Ian recommends going for at least 1/1000sec, often 1/1300sec.
Shooting in manual exposure allows Ian to control shutter speed and aperture. With shutter speed set to 1/13000sec, he aims to use an aperture of around f/3.5-4.0. He prefers that to shooting wide open as the tiny bit more depth of field is helpful.
In many cases, Ian will pair manual exposure mode with Auto ISO. This means that the camera sets the sensitivity and it’s useful for variations in the lighting around a stadium. However, he’ll check the exposure around the stadium before shooting and aims to keep the sensitivity to a maximum of ISO 6400 if possible.
His mantra is to nail the exposure in-camera when high ISO settings are in use. This ensures that the images look good – its post-capture brightening that brings out the noise.
Why Micro Four Thirds?
Ian started out using DSLRs for sport but he quickly saw some advantages to using Micro Four Thirds cameras. The key one for him is the weight. These days he turns up at an event with a single backpack whereas his DSLR-toting colleagues are weighed down with two or three bags.
Carrying less weight enables Ian to move quickly and find better shots. It’s even advantageous with golf, which you wouldn’t regard as a fast-moving sport. That’s because he usually shadows a player around a course and that means following them after a 350 year drive and getting his shot lined-up before they take the next one.
4K Photo mode is another bonus to sports photographers. Ian likes to set the camera to Stop/Start mode and then leave it running behind the goal in football. At the end of the half, he can stop recording and extract any stills with some action. A top-tip here, is to turn off the camera’s Sleep mode otherwise the 4K Photo Recording may stop a bit sooner than you expect.
Interview by Angela Nicholson