A few weeks ago, after surfing the web for something a bit different to photograph, I stumbled across the All England Polo Team. What is this? I thought to myself, beginning to feel a little bit excited. So, one rainy, early morning I headed up to Hickstead just outside of Brighton, and had a look. More for the experience than anything else, as I had no idea of what to expect, and I had no idea of what was going to happen. But I wanted to see for myself whether I'd be able to get any good photos.
Allow me to set the scene for you. The sun had just decided to show itself. One man on a tractor flattened the arena, smoothing carefully the sand. The wind whistled from the hills, gently freezing an already chilly day, and the grassy fields glistened with raindrops. Then came the horses, beautifully groomed with plaited tails and glossy manes. At a loose trot they entered the arena gently travelling round it, warming up ready for play.
Enter the orange ball. Smaller than a football, but bigger than a tennis ball, this bright orange object is what its all about. Like an undisciplined football team the horses charge, tearing at full gallop towards it. For a good while, I was so caught up in the action, I neglected to take too many pictures. But then I really did want to take some snaps of this! Riders and horses, both so agile and fast, seemingly moving as one.
After the initial Chukka (game) I realised there is a lot more technique and strategy to this game than I could ever imagine. You can bounce the ball off the walls, back to your teammates, and you can block players against it too. There are plenty more game plays I'm sure but I was too excited to really notice.
The chukka will last for about ten minutes or so, and after that the riders switch horses so they can continue playing without losing too much energy. And its like a new game all over again! Fast paced and extremely fun to watch, these riders and horses are at the top of their game. I can't wait to go see it again.
For taking photos, you will definitely need a fast shutter speed to freeze the action. I will venture so far to say you won't need a long lens, as long as you are close to the action. And generally the action comes to you. I was using my 100-400m lens, but at times that was too big and I was too close. Be aware of the sun - there was a lot of light bouncing around, making some very deep shadows. Ideally, hope that the day is bright but cloudy, that way you have a natural softbox. But, I know, this is the UK, so making plans like that are very hopeful!
I found the hardest part to be getting the riders with their heads up. They are so focused on the ball, like in most sports, that it is difficult to see their expressions. I guess the best way to do this is when they are charging after the ball, or looking to see where it went. I will be aiming to catch that next time I go.
For the rest of the photos from that day click here