David Ashdown's Sports Picture Diary: The Grand National

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The Independent Online

There is no other sporting occassion like the Grand National at Aintree.

I always try to approach the race with an open mind and forget what I did last year, but it's not that easy to do. I was there on my own, so I had to cover as much ground as possible. What is possible and what is a good idea are not the same thing!

This year I tried to cover the start, the water jump, the chair and the finish. The race only goes over the chair and the water once and the jumps follow one another, so you may ask How is it possible to cover both jumps? Well, by being in two places at once!

The picture above of the winning horse Mon Mome ridden by Liam Tredwell at the water jump was taken using a Nikon D3 with a 14mm F2.8 lens and set off with a radio remote. The camera was mounted on a spike that was pushed into the ground. Because the camera is so close to the horses I used a very fast shutter speed which freezes the action. This was taken at 1/1600 second at F8.0.

I was standing the other side of the fence so that I could snap the horses as they came over the chair using another Nikon D3 with a 500mm lens. There was just enough time to put the 500mm down and press the radio transmitter as the horses were going over the water.

There is a lot of luck involved with this type of photography and you can never be sure that the camera will even go off. There were about six cameras set up at the fence on Saturday but only two of them worked. Mine is a very old one made about twenty five years ago and it looks like something from the second world war, but it always works. There is a lot of hi-tech stuff around today but they seem very susceptible to interference. They work fine when they are set up but not when it matters, which makes me think I'll stick with my museum piece.

Another element to consider is where the winning horse will appear in the picture. It could easily have jumped over the far side from the camera, but this image is about as good as it gets. It's all there: the splash of water and the horse seeming to jump into the sun. It's very satisfying when it all comes together, but who knows what will happen next time?