Keeping up with Bolt

Karen Fuchs tells how she became a sports photographer and of her encounters with Olympic champion Usain Bolt

I fell into sports photography by chance about 17 years ago, through taking a portrait of Linford Christie for one of the Sunday supplements. For several years, I ended up shooting Linford and Colin Jackson, almost exclusively.

With that early opportunity, I had no choice but to learn to capture the superfast world of track and field imagery, which was certainly a steep learning curve after coming from a portrait photography background.

But my love of sports and my fairly athletic self, helped considerably. Having an understanding of movement and of what you can ask from an athlete (and yourself) is critical.

When shooting sport, there are several criteria to consider. Firstly, if there is a specific movement or moments you would like to capture, and second, the message you want to convey. For example, it could be the effort of the athlete, the emotion or the driving force behind it or how to portray the athlete in a certain way.

Also, it is important to consider the background and overall composition of the shot you are planning. Sometimes that will include using an effect such as “motion blur” to enhance the photograph. Most professional sport photographers evaluate all of the above for virtually every shot they take.

My shot of Usain Bolt caught him when the exhaustion and effort from training was clearly visible

One of the most effective ways of capturing movement is to pan your camera, following the athlete or racehorse, car or cyclist, and pressing the shutter when the precise motion you would like is in the frame. This will blur the background, isolate your subject and create a wonderful sense of speed.

Thinking outside the box can sometimes produce memorable images which happen before or after an event. For example, getting prepared for action or engaging in quiet concentration before the gun goes off. My shot of Usain Bolt caught him when the exhaustion and effort from training was clearly visible, but there was no sign of actual live action.

In sports photography, it is vital to push yourself; being in a comfortable position straight on to the subject will not get a good shot. The harder you drive yourself, both mentally and physically, for that interesting angle, the more likely will you capture something special. Quite often I find myself flat on the floor, regardless of weather or conditions or if I’m covered in dirt or mud. I’m looking up at the athlete to create a heroic effect, or to isolate him or her from crowds or buildings, so that they stand clear against the background. Sometimes I situate myself on a very high vantage point to get a viewpoint most people will never see.

In my years of shooting sport (and only meeting one other female photographer on the infield on two occasions), I have found that this has brought me most respect from my peers and the athletes I have worked with. I am just as driven to get a great shot, as they are in their aim to be the best.