David Ashdown's Sports Picture Diary: The sports portrait

My job at The Independent is to cover a mixture of sporting events and features, which includes portraits of sports people, both past and present. Most of the time this form of photography is a pleasure, but on the odd occasion it's been a nightmare.



One time, I had driven up to Blackburn as we were doing a feature on the then manager of Rovers, Mark Hughes. Our football correspondent Sam Wallace had finished his interview with him but when he came out of his office, he told me that he didn't like having his picture taken and he didn't want it taken.

I had just driven for four hours and I was not leaving there without at least trying to get him to change his mind.

His first reaction was to say he hates his picture taken as he never comes out looking good. At times like this, I find the best thing to do is try and be a bit funny, like asking them what they think is their best side and telling the subject it won't hurt!

I knew it was going to be a big picture in the paper and I had already had a look round the training ground and found a good spot to take the photo. I explained it would take me just five minutes to do but Hughes asked to have the picture taken where we were.

Finally I convinced him and we went outside and I took the picture I wanted. When I showed it to him on the back of the camera, he was gracious enough to tell me he liked it.

Over the years I must have taken pictures of hundreds of people on a one-to-one basis. The locations are always different; sometimes it might be a tiny little room that's too small to sit in, let alone to take a decent picture, while at other times I might be using a huge stadium as a backdrop. At times I'll take pictures as the subject is interviewed but in general I just never know what location I'll end up having to use.

Most subjects are not as difficult as Hughes, but all have their own mannerisms. Some wave their hands about a lot, some a little, some blink so that every other picture you take, their eyes appear closed. Harry Redknapp for example is a blinker. So there's always a potential problem to overcome.

Last week, we did an interview with Billy Davies, the Nottingham Forest manager as Brian Viner was interviewing him for his column on Monday. Brian and I work together a lot and he understands the importance of the picture.

I had the idea that we could do the interview in one of Forest's hospitality boxes, sit Billy with his back to the ground, and use the stands as the backdrop as Brian talked to him. I had a chat with the PR man at Forest about locations and he suggested the trophy room. When he showed it to me I thought it was perfect - silver plate and lovely lighting.

The picture above was taken on a Nikon D3 at 1/40 second with a 24-70 F2.8 zoom lens at F5.6 using two flash lights, one on the left and the other on the right. The camera was set for the lighting in the trophy cabinet, and the flashes set to balance that. He was a very good subject the end result was about as good as it gets.

The one thing I have learnt is you have to be pragmatic and make whatever you're presented with work for you, one way or the other. I just hope I'm not asked to photograph Mark Hughes any time soon.

For the full Billy Davies interview, click here.

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