Pat rick Eagar
As Australia and England prepare for another Ashes series, the doyen of cricket photographers, Patrick Eagar, talks to diehard Australian Keith Wilson about cricket, cameras, Lord’s and… er, more cricket!
Even before he picked up a camera, cricket was in Patrick Eagar’s blood – his father Desmond was captain of Hampshire for 12 years, and young Patrick quickly developed a love for the game.
But his route to the hallowed turf of Lord’s owed as much to another relative’s skill as his father’s own prowess with bat and ball…
When you were growing up did you want to be a cricketer like your father?
I suspect he wanted me to be like him! At junior school I bowled leg spin. I was almost as good as Shane Warne at that stage but it didn’t last. When you get the bigger ball and the boys get bigger, the straight slog goes for six rather than for nothing.
Who introduced you to photography?
Both my grandmothers were interested in photography, but in very different ways. My father’s mother photographed everything. This was the 1950s and she shot Kodachrome. We had slides on a screen and she did it rather well. But in the twenties and thirties my mother’s mother had photographed all the churches and villages in Devon and made postcardsized prints for sale. She did all her own processing. To this day, I’ve still got a lot
of her postcard-sized negatives. So, it might be genetic.
Did one of your grandmothers show you how to work a camera?
I can remember the moment; I was eight or nine and my father’s mother was taking pictures. I said, “Can I take one?” She said, “Oh no. You wouldn’t know what to do.” That was a red rag to a bull. I said for the next few birthdays, “I want a camera!”
How old were you when you did get your first camera?
Probably 12. Then I accidentally ordered a developing and printing kit for Christmas. I said to my parents in October one year, “I quite like that.” It was in a shop window in Ringwood in Hampshire, and then by November I had changed my mind, but they had bought it anyway. I was hooked: your first contact print when it comes up in the developer, that was it. Magic.
When did your interests, cricket and photography, converge?
Here’s a clue. Back then the rights to Test match photography at Lord’s were tied up with a contract between Sport & General Press Agency and the MCC . In return for being exclusive photographers for all Lord’s Test matches – which was nice – they had to photograph every day of every match. That wasn’t so good for them. So, when Hampshire played Middlesex at Lord’s it was recorded by Sport & General and they sent a packet of prints to my father, who was captain of Hampshire. He’d bring them back home. I’d look at them and think, ‘They look interesting.’
Which was the first game of cricket you photographed?
Probably Hampshire. My dad went to Australia on the 1958-59 tour as assistant manager and on the way out they stopped at Aden and he bought a Contaflex IV, and what he thought was a telephoto lens. It was a Zeiss lens, but no more than 85mm, so he was a bit disappointed when he got to Australia and wasn’t getting close-ups!
When he came back he gave me the camera. I started with that and I did what he had done, which was take photographs through a pair of
binoculars. You line the binoculars up carefully in front of the lens. I’ve still got some of those shots.
So you had to improvise?
Yes, the long lenses weren’t available and I was dead set on 35mm then, but the professional stuff was still being done on 2¼ square, or even 5x4 where appropriate.
What about telephoto lenses?
Cricket was difficult to do because in those days there were no long lenses. All the cricket cameras used air reconnaissance lenses, mainly left over from both World Wars. The camera was like an SLR, but as big as half-plate, which is 6½x4¾ inches. They’d raise the mirror, fire the shutter, change the plate,
re-cock the shutter, put the mirror down, recompose and do it all again. It was hopeless in many ways, but they had one advantage, which was the ability to enlarge small bits of the photo, because being half-plate it would blow up pretty well.
Which was your first pro job?
Jim Swanton, the cricket writer, took me under his wing and he was very good at giving young people a chance. He got me working for
The Cricketer magazine. I started with them in 1965. I tended to do the features, photograph cricket grounds, that sort of thing.
Why did the MCC lift restrictions on photographing Test matches?
It was 1972, an Australian tour, and the Aussies back in Sydney and Melbourne were really pissed off with the service they were getting, because their eastern coast deadlines were more or less as the match started, so what they really wanted was a picture – they didn’t care what it was – within five minutes. So they said, “We’ll send our own man.” The MCC said, “Oh, we don’t know about that.” Jim Swanton was saying in The Cricketer magazine, “We never get any colour photographs from the agency,” and Fleet Street wasn’t happy: the Daily Mirror was saying, “We don’t want the same pictures as the Daily Express, we want our own.” The pressure had built up in different directions, so in 1972 the restrictions were lifted. I was still lucky to get in because every newspaper got a pass and they reserved two spots for freelances. Thanks to Swanton, I got one.
What were you using then?
All the newspaper boys could think of was a big long box with a plate camera at one end and an air reconnaissance lens at the other. They’d never worked out that times had changed. I had a Nikon F with a motordrive. I had a 500mm mirror lens by then and a Russian 1000mm mirror lens, which went from f/8
The point with cricket is you do not know what’s going to happen next
Patrick Eagar Cricket photographer
when you bought it to about f/16 when the mirror got all tarnished. So overjoyed was I that in April 1972 I ordered a 600mm lens from Nikon. It turned up in September!
How many cricket matches have you photographed?
Tests, I can answer – it’s about 325 – but I haven’t a clue on one-day internationals. They tend to be forgettable – not all of them, but most of them. I did the first nine cricket World Cups. The first World Cup final, in 1975, I loved it.
Cricket is often described as ‘a sport like no other’. Is that also the case when it comes to photographing it?
It goes on a long time, doesn’t it? When you photograph rugby it’s 80 minutes of concentration and it’s over, tennis two or three hours. You can almost afford to miss stuff in tennis. Obviously with football you’ve got a goal to worry about, but it’s only 90 minutes. With cricket you’ve got to keep going all day.
What is in your match day kit bag?
If you’re doing it properly, you need two cameras, one with a 600mm lens, which you could convert up to 850mm or more, and then something just a little bit shorter, maybe a 400mm. I had a lovely lens, but I’ve since sold it, the Nikon 200-400mm zoom – a cracking lens. The point with cricket is you do not know what’s going to happen next. You’ve got a batsman who’s on
80-something or 90-something and you want a close-up, so that’s your 600mm, maybe upright, but then he gets caught somewhere and you’re too tight in. That’s where the other lens comes in.
Do you have cameras anywhere else around the ground?
In 1973, I was the first with cricket to use remote control cameras. I had noticed the Sports Illustrated guys used remotes for boxing and basketball, so I got this guy who did aerial model airplanes to build me a wireless set, which was great except you couldn’t use it for colour, because you didn’t have a clue what the exposure was. You see, the cameras didn’t have built-in meters; the first one that did was the Nikon FE and I bought three of those. I loved them, so that was the first time I ever did colour, but I did black-andwhite remote from 1973 onwards.
When using the remote camera, where would you set it up?
Usually down the wicket for the TV view, but for the 1975 World Cup final at Lord’s I had cameras all over the place. It being England, I’d have one loaded with slow film, one with fast film, one black-and-white and one colour. There was a lot of kit.
What is your favourite Nikon body?
I don’t think it was the F, I think the F2 because it was a real leap forward. I had an F5, but never an F6, and the F4 I didn’t like. The F5 was good and the F2 was good and I had FE cameras in between those.
What was your first Nikon D-SLR?
The D1x. A terrible camera really. It didn’t focus, didn’t do anything.
Were you a reluctant convert to digital photography?
Well, the advantages were in speed and lower running costs, and most of the agencies went over around 1998, but they were tiny files and they weren’t good, so shooting colour transparency you were way ahead of them in terms of quality.
I was the first [photographer] with cricket to use remote control cameras
Patrick Eagar Cricket photographer
In the summer of 2001, the Australians were over again and I went to the shop and got my D1x. It cost around £5000; a lot of money. Someone said, ‘Well, you’ll need a memory card, you might need two.’ It was a 320MB card, do you remember how much that cost?
I’d hate to imagine…
That card cost £500! So, two of those were a grand. But, I was probably spending around £1000 a month on film processing alone, so it made sense. You just bit the bullet.
What is your desert island lens?
Well, you’re talking cricket so it’s got to be the 600mm. You can’t do without it. I was very fond of the 200-400mm, though.
Is there another photographer’s work that you admire?
Back then I did look at Sports
Illustrated and the work of Neil Leifer and people like that. In England we all aspired to be Gerry Cranham. Gerry was the one who got Sports Illustrated work in the UK, in the sixties. He didn’t do cricket, but he turned up one day with his Nikon and all these long lenses and said, ‘Kodachrome, Patrick, you’ve got to use Kodachrome.’ He was THE guy in British sports photography.
Who was your favourite Test cricketer?
If you’re talking photographically, I suppose it was Ian Botham, because you never took your eye off him, batting, bowling, fielding.
Is that because he was always in the game?
He was always up to something! Against him a much better player was Garry Sobers, who would be my favourite cricketer probably.
Who was your favourite batsman?
You do like the bish-bash-bosh type. Viv Richards? I don’t think he was the best in that sense, but Adam Gilchrist wasn’t far off it. There are so many. You’d be hard to deny Sachin Tendulkar, but he was difficult to photograph. I never really got a classic picture of him.
When you say he was difficult to photograph, what do you mean?
Well, he was so in control of it, he never let rip. Even when he did hit
the ball over the bowler’s head for six, it didn’t look like it! Whereas Viv Richards was master blaster.
Yes, there was always an air of expectation when he walked to the crease…
Yes, and nearly every time when he faced his first ball, the bowler would bowl a lovely good length on the off stump, the perfect ball, maybe moving away a bit, and bang, it would go all the way through mid wicket along the ground for four. Everyone would be going, “What happened?” Especially the bowler!
Fast or slow?
Good question. Fast and slow…
I’ll do slow, it’s easy. It’s got to be Shane Warne. He was the best-ever at wrist spin. There had never been anyone like him before.
You must have been there at Old Trafford in 1993 when he bowled the ‘Ball of the Century’?
Yes, it was a bugger to photograph. It was pitch dark. Most of us were at the wrong end, our view blocked by first slip, but luckily I had the remote going and I got it in colour and black-and-white. It was film and the exposure was less than 1/250 sec, so a bit blurred, but it’s the only one of Warne and Gatting in the picture.
Some of those West Indians, Michael Holding especially, and the Aussies, Thommo [Jeff Thomson] and Dennis Lillee. Take your pick! Michael Holding’s action was so athletic, no effort seemed to go into it at all. I put him very, very high.
Which is your favourite ground?
There’s probably more than one. Lord’s is the ultimate for professionalism. You look at Lord’s at 10 o’clock on a Thursday morning, it’s immaculate; like Augusta at the start of the Masters, or Ascot. Everything’s tidy, everything’s in place. Trent Bridge is good, everyone is very conscientious. Adelaide is beautiful and, this may surprise you, Kolkata is spectacular. It’s not much smaller than the MCG but it’s