Behind the Lens – tales from a hockey photographerPosted: 01/09/2014
At any hockey game, it’s easy to see people going about their jobs; the players and officials are on the ice, the off ice officials are making the show run smoothly, the stewards are in their neon jackets keeping an eye on things. One person, if you can find them, goes about their job as silently as they can and the last thing they want is to be noticed. It’s the team photographer.
For the last few years, Grant King has been that man for the Bison; normally seen on a match night slotted in between the benches wearing his trademark Red Wings hat, Grant has earned a reputation as one of the top photographers in British ice hockey. His work regularly made its way into the pages of the now defunct Powerplay magazine as well as into a variety of other publications and even having his sledge hockey photography featured on the website of the Paralympics. As the Bison head into the weekend’s challenge games against Guildford, Grant too is preparing for the new season after being the man to capture all of last terms’s glories. Banners On The Wall caught up with him to talk about what it’s like capturing the Bison “on film”.
When did you start taking an interest in photography?
I guess I’ve always had an interest from the age of about 8 or 9 when I used to pinch my Nan’s Kodak 110 camera & later her 135. All throughout school I would have a 35mm point & shoot that I was always “papping” my friends with. Once I left school I didn’t really touch a camera until I moved out & picked up a cheap 35mm Praktika SLR kit at around 20ish before finally moving on to my 1st Nikon DSLR (D40) that I bought after watching the Race of Champions at Wembley & being frustrated at my shots from my point & shoot! From that point things just got more & more serious.
When did you first start shooting hockey?
From the 1st game I went to vs. Newcastle Vipers back in ’07 (I remember it well because the Zamboni died & had to be jump started on the ice by a Ford Focus!) I took my point & shoot & tried in vain to get shots of the players, with varying degrees of success. I first took my DSLR to the rink back in 2009 & my son still has the signed Kevin Reiter shot I took on his wall today!
So how did you get the gig with the Bison?
After Mark Fuller left, Bolt Action Media took up the reigns with the match night photography. Meanwhile every now & again I would take my camera to get some shots for myself until one Saturday lunchtime I got a message from Graham Bell asking if I was bringing my camera (as the BAM guys couldn’t send anyone) & could I do the post game presentation photos for them? After a couple of weeks doing this Graham asked for a shot for the programme & the rest as they say was history.
So what’s the current technical set up you have for shooting ice hockey?
Nikon D7000 (16.2mp) w/ battery grip, Nikkor AF-S 80-200mm f/2.8 IF-ED (My Baby!!) for shooting the games, Nikon 17-55mm f/2.8 AF-S or Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 EX DG for post game photos & for the upcoming season I have got my hands on a Nikon D90 (12.3mp) w/ battery grip that I am going to experiment on using 2 cameras on match nights, It may work, it may not but it’s worth trying to try & capture better shots that are too close for my big lens.
You obviously love hockey but being involved the way you are in games means you obviously see and experience the game in a very different manner to the rest of the crowd. Is there part of you that misses just watching the game?
Besides just relaxing & watching the game with my family! I would say the emotional involvement, as obviously I can’t start shouting & screaming at calls when I am on the benches with the officials right in front of me! So I tend to watch the game with a lot more detachment than I used to (It also helps that I can hear the officials explanations for giving/ not giving a call. Although myself & Tony Skinns (Bison kit manager and father of netminder, Dean) were getting involved during the play-off final!
Do you reckon being that close has improved your understanding of the game as a result?
For sure! I still don’t pretend to know all the rules, but If I don’t understand the call I’ll ask one of the guys on the bench (either from our team or the visiting bench). If they don’t know I’ll ask who ever is wearing the armbands either at the break, on the ice whilst waiting for presentations or in the bar afterwards.
What makes up a good hockey picture in your opinion? What are you looking for when you’re shooting?
Very difficult to answer as my taste in shots changes regularly, a image that I loved & shared to death at the start of the season I could well view as being sub-par within a couple of months. I guess the old cliché of “capturing a moment in time or emotion that will be remembered” is what I look for, sometimes I get it by poor fluke, sometimes I can read the play & have a gut feeling what is going to happen & how to shoot it.
Where in the rink do you get the best shots from?
To be honest my position between the benches is probably as good as I can get for positioning, I do like the “traditional” in the corner on the redline position, but without the NHL style peep holes it’s difficult not to get great bit scratches/blurry smudges across the image due to the scratched plexi.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to start shooting hockey or any live sport?
Set yourself goals of the type of shot you want to capture each week. I started off with simple stuff like getting a goalie in perfect focus, going on to catching a spray stop/a hit/a slapshot/ a fight shot. Be patient! It took me 4 1/2 seasons to get a decent Hipcheck shot! Have fun & keep clicking, we are fortunate now that we don’t have to spend a fortune on film!
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned from a fellow hockey snapper?
Don’t focus entirely on following the puck. Some times you get some great shots behind the play. Whether it be banter between players, a cheap shot or an official falling flat on their backside or even just the players goofing around on the benches. You need to keep your eyes open for any opportunity.
Last question; given your usual position between the benches, which player has been the best to shoot or given the best banter?
Best photo op has to go to Andre Payette, his passion when he took a time out last season was unbelievable, I managed to capture him mid war cry & it let me capture what is one of my favourite images!
As far as personality I will definitely miss having my bench buddy Connor “King of the chirps” Standing with me this season. Listening to him trying to chirp imports who can’t understand never ceased to make me laugh & getting on well with all the members of Team Stripes has often lead to good banter.
For more of Grant’s work, check out his website at www.5holephotography.com where he is available for other photography work. Grant’s photos will continue to be featured on BOTW throughout the 2014/15 campaign so visit the website, buy a print!