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Thursday, September 16, 2021

Behind the lens

Alan Thatcherhttps://squashmad.com
Founder of World Squash Day, Squash Mad and the new Squash 200 Partnership, building clubs of the future. Founder of the Kent Open and co-promoter of the St. James's Place Canary Wharf Classic. Author and Public Speaker.

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SNAP! Photographer Patricia Lyons, who has brilliantly recorded the growth of the North American Open on camera, is in the spotlight herself. Alan Thatcher joins her for a Pinot Noir and sets the questions.

1: Squash is one of the fastest sports on the planet. How do you cope professionally with that?

Having the right equipment is key. While the camera must be capable of near-instant shutter response times and able to process multiple frames per second, you also need the right lenses in your kit to accommodate the less-than-stellar lighting conditions.

It also helps significantly to know the game and be able to anticipate (roughly) the player’s next move. From my perch in front I can often guess where he’s going next by his reaction to the other player’s shot and location on the court.

That said, a nice Pinot Noir afterward helps.

2: What were the biggest difficulties you had to overcome when you first started photographing squash?

Aside from learning how to watch a match through a 1/2”x1/2” viewfinder with one eye, overriding my self-preservation instincts and not flinching when the ball comes at my noggin 100+ mph is definitely one.

Over-shooting is another difficulty. When your camera shoots several frames per second and the action is really heating up you can end up with a boatload of images and editing work. You learn quickly to edit what you shoot.

3: What’s the most enjoyable part of the job?

Helping to promote an under-appreciated sport.  I think when people see the images they understand the physicality, speed and athleticism required. That’s my hope anyway.

4: Funniest thing you have seen at a tournament down the years?

Ummm… no comment.

5: Do any clothing rules or restrictions apply for squash photographers?

While there is no handbook on the subject (is there?), black or dark clothes help you disappear behind the glass. Some ninja photographers wear black gloves, hats and all of that, but after asking many of the players I have been assured that they are quite focused on the task at hand and I pretty much disappear anyway. Besides, I don’t really like wearing hats.

6: Is it uncomfortable back there?  Do you need the physio at the end of the week, just like the players?!

Absolutely. It’s awful! Clearly I am working harder than any player out there.

7: Do the players ask for copies of the pictures?

Sometimes if I caught them doing something extraordinary (or they are wearing a fab new outfit).  But I think they see a lot of pics over time that look exactly the same as they each have a pretty standard set of strokes and expressions.  My favorite is the ‘oh sh*t’ expression shot but they never ask for that one.

8: Do the players ever give you any souvenirs?

A racquet was thrown near me once, does that count?

9: If you could enhance or improve the court, the colors or the lighting, what would you do?

Oh where to begin. First I would apply some kind of anti-glare finish to all the glass surfaces, at the very least to the area from which the photographer shoots. The folks sitting behind me are in my shots constantly unbeknownst to them, floating at the top of my images like massive ghosts. Knowing it will save me lots of time in post-production I don’t hesitate asking people to change seats. Nicely, of course. Sorry Gus!

Also the dark court floor absorbs the light and what little it bounces back up to the players is the lovely maroon hue of the wood requiring some color balancing. When you remove the magenta they end up looking greenish, so you just have to find the balance.

10: Does watching the pros help to improve your own squash game?

No, it mostly makes me feel inadequate, old and feeble, but it’s really fun to watch.

11: Which are your favorite images and why?

The images that show the player at his absolute limit: completely outstretched, in some gravity-defying leap, or in a guaranteed-skinned-knee dive that makes you wonder how they ever recovered to get the next shot. Everyone knows which shot that is because at my next break twenty people will ask if I got it!  It’s just exhilarating to watch.

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