The Untold Story :: Short Film

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Directing is a bigger step away from photography than I ever expected. My heart has been in cinema probably about as long as it’s been in photography, but it’s a very different change of direction in many respects. (Although, my taste in films is probably just as questionable to most as my taste in photography is). I’m glad to get away from photography for a bit and I’m extremely happy to have taken on this project. I’ve been writing several variations of this story for the past 2 years straight in my English class, and after turning it into a photographic story to use for my college portfolios it seemed almost silly not to take it one step further and turn it into a short film.

This was only possible thanks to everyone who participated and contributed to the making of.  And a special thanks to The Rehns for providing some brilliant music for the soundtrack (I suggest you check them out here – http://www.facebook.com/TheRehns ). This was a pretty strenuous undertaking as it was a first for everybody involved. The film is set to take part in the Kerry Film Festival, Cork Film Festival, IndieCork Festival, and Dun Laoghaire Underground Cinema Film Festival in the coming months and hopefully more in the future.

For now, I present to you, my debut as a writer/director – “The Untold Story”.

‘The Untold Story’, is a documentation of the frequently avoided subject of teenage depression, following the story of one teenage girl as she deals with bullying, social exclusion, isolation, and domestic violence while nearing the end of her time in secondary school. It touches upon the serious topic of teenage life, more specifically – the part of teenage life that people prefer not to discuss openly. The film depicts modern teenage life in school as vile and abusive as it really is. It aims to reveal how two-faced and self-absorbed teenagers can be, while highlighting the pressure to conform to an idealistic image of what your peers deem acceptable, with those who are ‘different’ being looked down on and bullied – both psychologically and physically.

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My first “creative” photoshoot

I come up with a lot of ideas quite frequently, but usually they end up in the form of drawings as opposed to photographs. It was a very spur of the moment thing yesterday when I ended up turning this 2 month old idea into a photoshoot – I was spending the day with one of my closest friends, and she suddenly decided that she wanted to do a photoshoot with me.  So I let her flick through my idea book and she picked this one, needless to say I was quite happy with her choice.

This was a messy shoot, there was paint all over everything and I had absolutely nothing planned. We worked with the space in my back garden, it was convenient and saved us the time of travelling to find a location so suddenly. I set up 3 light stands and moved them around slightly throughout the shoot, as I wasn’t particularly sure what exactly I wanted out of the shoot. The set up was, 2 naked speedlights on either side of the model (raised up rather high), and one naked speedlight pointed at the back wall.

I shot them with a Canon 1D Mark IIN and a Canon 70-200mm F/2.8L. It took a while to get into shooting, nothing seemed to be working for me. But eventually I started getting results I liked.

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I can’t imagine doing this with anyone other than a very close friend, I had a particular way I wanted the paint to look on her face so I had to paint it on myself, it took about 20 minutes to get it basically right, then it had to be touched up every few shots to keep it looking reasonably fresh.

I wanted a particular gritty type of look, with the only real colour in the image coming from the tears (the paint on the face).

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I’m still really new to doing portraits, especially ones in this style – I’ll call them “non-conventional”. But I enjoyed it, and feel like I got some good images out of it.

Please head over to my facebook page to keep up to date with my work, especially since my first short film will be released in the next few days.

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Eliminating distractions when photographing concerts

In music photography, one of the biggest concerns (apart from lighting) is how nice the stage is.  When indoors, the stage is usually (but not always) lovely, it’s clean, has awesome lights and is sometimes customised for the band you’re photographing – depending on how big they are. But when you’re outdoors, stages generally tend to be nothing more than a small tent raised off the ground with people crammed closely around it, or a huge tent with scaffolding everywhere at a festival.

Well, the small tent situation is what many early stage music photographers get stuck with. It’s either this or a small dingy pub (I haven’t quite figured out how to make the most out of these situations yet). These events are generally the easiest to get access to as a beginner, which sucks, because no matter how hard you try you’ll never be able to get amazing looking photos to help you progress, show off your skills and gain access to bigger events. However, they are good learning grounds when it comes to watching your frame. You’ll have to work harder to keep unwanted objects out of your background/foreground because the stage honestly looks like someone just threw everything there. My first paid live gig was to photograph Kate Nash in a tiny, terrible pub here in Dublin. I hate every single photo I took that evening, and I hated the entire evening because of the god awful stage.

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Maybe I’m just spoiled because I’ve never really been in too many terrible venues, but nobody wants to have to shoot in a terrible venue, unfortunately for some it’s unavoidable as they’re trying to assemble a music portfolio to gain press access to better gigs. Everybody wants to just take awesome looking photos. So what’s the best way to make something good out of a bad situation? Well, the other day I photographed Kodaline in the US Embassy here in Dublin, Ireland for the 4th of July celebration. It was a terrible tiny and cluttered stage and the best solution I could find was to shoot tight. I’m not a fan of “standard” focal lengths, I like to go extremely wide or extremely close when I don’t have a specific brief to stick to. I love shooting with telephoto lenses, I love the compression. I’d happily shoot a full body portrait at 200mm, 300mm, it’s just not always ideal.

When you’re in this situation where your surroundings is mostly one big distraction with scaffolding, stands, speakers etc then unless you have a very eventful crowd, shooting wide won’t work out very well. I unfortunately only had a 24-70mm with me on the day of the gig so this is as wide as I was able to go when I moved to the back of the crowd.

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The crowd was pretty poor, when there isn’t much life in the crowd just avoid photographing them. Nothing worse than a photo where somebody in the crowd is looking away from the stage. However, having an eye open for those rare occasions when a photo pops up in the crowd is always smart.

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But when you have a band like Kodaline on the stage, you don’t want to turn around with just photos of the crowd. So, how do you deal with the horrible stage? My main recommendation is to shoot as tight as possible – for me, it was 200mm @F/2.8 which worked a treat.

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However, you might not have an F/2.8 lens or you might not have a lens long enough to compress the background enough to minimise distractions. So you need to find a way to clean up your backgrounds/foregrounds. A handy tip for cleaning up your foreground is to use the crowd to block things by shooting between their shoulders for example.

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This method can be used to different extents, I only have a little bit of their heads in here as I actually shot quite close so didn’t have much to block out. But sometimes, don’t be afraid to just cut out all the distractions and shoot with as much empty space as possible when you find a clean part of the background.

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And remember, you only need one good shot to make it an acceptable shoot. If you can get one good shot from every shoot you do then you’ll be doing better than most people.

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Making a Short Film…

I’m not a videographer, my skills don’t really stretch that far. Although I would absolutely love to making videos it’s just not something I feel comfortable getting into, my preference lies in still images. I prefer the much wider creative scope and the power a still image can hold. However, I want to change that.

I’m a huge film fan, my respect for history of cinema and filmmaking in general has grown and grown since I was in 4th year in school where I did a filmmaking course, a film studies class and a history of cinema class. And over the past few months I’ve become more and more attracted to the idea of directing a film myself. One thing that often pushed me away was the amount of people who work on a film set to make the project come together, I’m quite the control freak and not only do I like to be in charge of everything, but there’s very few people I’d trust to help me and I like learning the extra skills involved.
I did a photo story to be used as my portfolio to get into college to study photography, and the issues in the story which the shoot addresses is one which I strongly believe in and really want to get out there and have it gather more attention. I’ve decided to take the plunge into the world of filmmaking in an effort to get this story out there and hopefully have these issues addressed by more people. So, a few weeks I started piecing together a script and developing my idea to suit the different medium. But the best thing is, my portfolio pretty much acts as a visual shooting guide/basic storyboard.

DSCF3483Instagram photo from Stuart Comerford

It’s been rather difficult to contain the world I’ve created in the script, it’s hard to not let other storylines drift into the spotlight. I’m trying to replicate a real world environment and keep it as realistic as possible without going too over-the-top and I’m finding it rather difficult but the script is coming together and is practically done, all other tweaks would be done during filming.
As I’m in the middle of my Leaving Cert exams I can’t start it quite yet, but at the end of this month the production will be in full swing! Hopefully everything will be wrapped up and released by August (actually, it needs to be into post-production at least by August since my leading male is moving to England in the first week of August!). I’m really excited to make this.

The film is a documentation of the frequently avoided subject of teenage depression, following the story of one teenage girl as she deals with bullying, social exclusion, isolation, and domestic violence during a pivotal time in her life when she’s finishing school and concerned about the purpose of her existence. Not everybody “fits in” as a teenager due to it being such a crucial period of personal development and self-discovery, and I hope to create something that at least opens people’s eyes to a topic which is very serious and demands attention.

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Is gear important?

For making good photos? No. Unless you count your mind/eyes as pieces of gear (I do have to include my brain on a checklist of gear to bring with me for shoots as I frequently find myself making stupid, brainless decisions).

If you want to take good landscapes, portraits, street shots etc. – you can do that with anything. About 90% of photography doesn’t have any sort of gear restrictions, of course better gear can improve things but you can still create magnificent photos with anything that takes a picture. I love using Instagram for example, my phone is the one camera that I have on me all of the time so I’m always taking some photos on it and popping the best ones on my instagram. You see many people on Instagram taking brilliant photos with their phones (not everyone, but there are some great photographers on there). There’s always been a huge cult-like hatred for Instagram but regardless of the means used to take/create the photo, surely if it’s a well taken photo – it’s a well taken photo?

But depending on your chosen field of photography, gear can be of the utmost importance. Sports photography is extremely difficult to do well at with minimal gear. It can be done, you can get some good photos, but to replicate the best you need to have the best gear available – there’s no real way around it. Long lenses, fast bodies, rugged equipment. Then for wedding and music photography you need to have gear that can cope with extremely dark situations – fast aperture lenses and high ISO capable cameras don’t exactly come cheap.

There’s something that I’ve learned over the past year which has really shocked me. “Looking the part” seems to be quite important when it comes to getting hired. Flash a white lens here or there, and you’ll have people whispering “oh, he’s a professional”. Getting people to move out of your way is much easier when you have a big camera and lens. Not very many people took me seriously when I was at a stage where I had minimal gear, only when that started growing to more lenses, bigger gear, bigger bags did I start getting respect for what I did. I can still remember the very first time I brought two lenses on a shoot with me – I was photographing a band’s recording session and I could feel the atmosphere in the room get more serious as I took out the other lens. Now, it was only a 55-250mm lens for my Canon 500D (the day that shoot was done was my 16th birthday, I got that lens as a present from my Mam that morning, the only other lens I had was my kit lens), nothing majorly impressive about the lens but I felt like I was in charge, which was a first.

I say it a lot, but it’s true that we live in a society where nearly everyone considers themselves photographers (thanks a lot, hipster culture) so people naturally look for ways to distinguish the big dogs from the rest of the bunch. Sometimes flashing some fancy looking equipment is the easiest way to stand out – it’s quite a dirty tactic, especially if you then go and produce terrible images, in turn damaging the reputation of professional photography. Looking and acting the part will open doors, your ability will dictate whether or not those doors get slammed shut in your face. I sometimes wear my business card on a lanyard around my neck for 2 purposes, having my contact information easily accessible and showing that I’m a photographer, this is my job.

Go look on 500px and you’ll see that there is a plethora of unbelievable photos that are taken with near ancient equipment. If you want to take great photos then just go outside and start taking pictures with whatever camera you have, practice makes perfect. But unfortunately, in a culture where first impressions mean a lot, looking the part is the easiest way to break into the field. But don’t let that hold you back, I’m still chugging along, building my gear as I go and pushing to get media passes, great photos, and respect for what I do.

 

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Amateur music photographers… what are you doing… stop.

I shot probably my last gig for a long time at the start of the month and it was a horrible experience. It was a battle of the bands event, all the bands in the battle were enjoyable and entertaining to shoot (although the entertainment factor of the music is arguable…). The headlining band, however, was a horrible experience. It was an underage band, and they had all their friends there taking photos of them. You know, all these wannabe photographer hipsters that are flooding the industry?  Well, due to the headlining band being an underage band the security were very lenient, they didn’t care about what happened just as long as no one died on their shift.
I sat in the pit waiting for the band to come on, very relaxed and ready to enjoy an uninterrupted hour of shooting. When suddenly, the band comes out, with two photographers on stage. They’re a young band, and they’re obsessed with having coverage of their gigs. (We’re also from a generation of people where every second person is a photographer, and 95% of those photographers are just in it for the popularity.) Then for the whole show I had to deal with two morons bouncing around the stage as if they were band members, the two photographers were more interested in entertaining the crowd, getting attention, and having fun, than they were in taking pictures (which is what I consider the most fun you can have at a gig…).

Here’s what I mean (I know the images themselves are poor, I just wanted to show what the photographers were like):

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In all honesty, if I had bought a ticket to see that band play live and ended up having those two numbskulls doing that on stage I’d be pissed. It’s not like it’s a big venue/stage either, this is one of my photos of what the venue looks like:

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I would excuse their behaviour if they had some amazing shots, they’d still be pricks but I wouldn’t be angry about it. Yet, I saw their photos, and I know how they work, and… I’m not excusing their behaviour. Two people who shoot in full auto, only for the reason of being cool because they’re hipster photographers don’t have any right to stand in the way of real photographers or fans at a gig. It was a pain to work around them, as I don’t want them to be seen in any of my shots I ended up with very few keepers which is unfortunate. I wouldn’t pick a single shot from their set to go into my portfolio, I am very disappointed with how it ended up going. It was going so bad I had to move out of the pit and up to the balcony after a while as I just couldn’t take it anymore. These are two of the only decent shots I got:

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If you are one of these kinds of photographers, please, please, obey the unwritten rules of photography: don’t block another photographer’s shot. It’s called a “photo pit” for a reason, use it.

It feels good to rant about things sometimes.

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How to photograph sports: Rugby

Here’s the first part of a new series I’m going to be starting up. The series will be called “How to photograph sports” and will be an in-depth look at positioning, hot spots, action and key moments.  I shall be covering as many sports as I can over time, I’ll be starting with rugby today and will hopefully move on to hockey (field hockey), basketball, football (soccer) and GAA in due time, but you’ll have to bear with me as I invest time in gathering enough information about photographing these sports to make this a worthy read.  The reason I’m doing this is because I spent a long time looking for information online about positioning when photographing sports and I couldn’t find information about anything other than baseball and american football – absolutely useless to me as I live in Ireland. I’m hoping to use this to help amateur photographers go to their first games with more confidence or improve their photographs with ease. So, lets get into it.

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To stand or not to stand?

Unfortunately rugby is a sport you really need to sit for, or at least kneel/crouch. I’ve taken some great photos that I’ve only been crouching for but I’ve never particularly liked anything I’ve been standing for. I’m 6’3″ so I’m close to eye-level with most rugby players. When you stand, horizons tend to be higher and often heads get cut off. Example:

IMG_9162To be able to keep the players’ feet in the shot I’ve ended up cutting off all the heads in the background which makes for an extremely distracting background. If you’ve ever stood on the sideline of a rugby match then this photo will look very similar to what you’ve seen with your own eyes. You can see that you’re looking down on the players and they look smaller because of that.

IMG_9037Now, here, as I’m sitting you can see that the horizon is significantly lower and all the people can be seen in the background (I know they’re further away, but it’s the best example I have). This positioning makes the players look physically bigger which is what our aim as photographers should be. Our aim is to make people look as good as they can (most times…), rugby players are known for being big and built so it’s important to get this across in the photo. You need to show them from a perspective that people don’t generally see, this helps to make your photos more eye-catching.

So I 100% advise that you should sit, kneel or at least crouch when photographing rugby. For the most part, I sit on my Peli 1510 case that I use to transport my gear (you can find my review of that case here). I don’t like to sit or kneel as it typically makes my jeans quite dirty due to the weather here in Dublin causing the ground to be soft most of the time. If you do plan on kneeling though, I advise you invest in some gel knee pads. You can buy these at any hardware store, I bought some for €8 at a local DIY store and they’re fantastic, I use them for photographing basketball now as they just get destroyed on the soft ground outsides.
I like to agree with the phrase, “If your photo isn’t good enough, then go lower and get closer”.

Positioning

Now here’s the bit I could never find information about when I first started. Where should I position myself to get the best photos? Naturally a beginner’s reaction is to walk around the pitch and follow the play, this can be quite useful when you’re photographing something where you don’t have time to wait for the action to come towards you. For example, I photographed two cup games recently, they were both being played at the same time (a senior match and a junior match) and they were on pitches right beside each other. So I had no time to sit down and wait for the action to come to me, I had to capture some action so I was moving between the pitches to keep up with the action. Only in this kind of situation do I advise moving around, usually you’ll get better shots if you pick a position and stick with it. It’s very much like getting used to your first ever prime lens.

So, where should I position myself? Well, lets start with the obvious position:

 

Position 1: The Halfway Line

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Surely by positioning yourself at the halfway line you’ll be able to cover all the action? Well… not really. Sure, you can get a photo of everything that happens, you can indeed capture anything and everything. But you won’t get very dynamic shots and you’ll hurt your chances of blurring the background unless you have an extremely fast lens. The easiest way to blur the background regardless of what lens you have is to have your subject as close to you as possible and have your background as far away as possible. By shooting across the pitch you’re restricting yourself to, at most, half of the pitch to separate your subject from the background. Whereas, if you were up by one of the try-lines you have the whole length of the pitch to put between your subject and your background, thus making it blur easier.
If you’ve ever watched a rugby match, which hopefully you have (if you haven’t, watch some before photographing rugby – the easiest way to make sure you get good photos, know the game), then you’ll know that the play usually moves across the pitch as the basic tactic is to push the ball out to the backs so they can make a dash up the touchline for the try. When you position yourself at the halfway line like this you’ll find that there’s a sweet spot in the middle of the pitch where you can get good photos, but very quickly the play will be too close to you or to far away from you to make good photos. You’ll start to cut off body parts if using a prime lens, lose the ability to isolate your subjects as you zoom out or lose your subjects in the background as they’re too far away to be isolated from it. I wouldn’t advise setting up in this position unless it’s for something very specific, I’ve found that this position is great for getting shots of players passing to each other, but that’s it.

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Position 2: The 22m Line

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Still not the best but indeed a much better choice than positioning yourself at the halfway line. This is a good position to start in if you don’t have a very long lens, for example, if you’re limited to a 70-200mm lens. This gives you a greater sweet spot in the middle of the pitch and improves your chances of capturing action as the players are moving towards you. Action rarely moves across the pitch so the further back you are towards the try line, the better your chances of getting clear shots of the players breaking through the opposition’s defence. This position, as I said, is good for people who don’t have very long lenses (or much patience) but it also offers some unique opportunities for closeups of lineouts and rucks. When you’re in a position like this you can very easily get low and look up at the players as they’re getting lifted for lineouts, this makes for a strong image showing the players as big as possible, you can use the sky as a background to remove any busy backgrounds you may have around the pitch.

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It’s almost impossible to get shots like this without being close to the lineout. This position also offers you unique opportunities to capture static portraits of players, generally not very interesting photos but they’re a favourite among parents/family/friends, great for selling purposes!

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Position 3: Behind the Try Line

2Probably my favourite position, only because I don’t have a lens longer than 300mm. If I had a 400mm and/or a teleconverter I’d prefer position 4. This position offers many advantages but also has a coverage issue. Firstly, you’re in a great position to capture tries whether they’re close to you:

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IMG_9071This position offers an even greater sweet spot in the middle of the pitch, which is ideal for isolating little bits of action to create good action shots. It works great for full body shots when they’re far away from you and it’s great for closeups when they come closer.

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IMG_3401However, unless you have a lens that reaches 300mm then you’re going to find your photos a bit far away so I’d recommend position 2 or a spot between this one and that one.
Another benefit this position offers is that you can clearly see down the touchline which can make for some great shots as players are being pulled out of touch.

STU_3032Two big drawbacks of this position are that you have to be patient and wait for the action to come to you. If you’re trying to photograph action that’s on the other half of the pitch then you’ll be disappointed with your images and feel the need to move closer to the halfway line. If you wait, the action will make its way to you, eventually. If you know the team well enough then you’ll know which side the players favour and you can therefore pick that corner to give yourself the best vantage point at capturing key moments as well as tries. The biggest drawback of this position is that you’ll have a fair bit of the other end of your tryline blocked by the posts and you’ll have a stupid corner flag in your way. If you’re photographing amateur games then it’ll luckily only be a flag but if it’s professional matches then you’ll be unfortunate enough to have a padded corner marker in your way which is significantly bigger, and therefore you’ll be better off with position 4.

 

Position 4: Behind the Dead Ball Line

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Typically favoured by professionals shooting with 400mm lenses or longer, this position offers many advantages of being able to isolate your subjects (there’s a lot of distance between the subject and the background – the length of the pitch), pick out runs and capture any try from a dynamic position. Due to the posts you can’t really see the other side of the pitch before the try line but the coverage of the side you’re positioned on is brilliant. However, it does require even more patience if you don’t have a 400mm or longer lens.

IMG_3355As the action is always coming straight towards you, you can get some fantastic shots of players straight on.

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Position 5: Behind the Posts

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I don’t particularly like this position, this is probably my least favourite out of all of them because I have yet to discover a real use for this position. It seems like it’s a good idea, you can see both sides and directly down the middle but when in action you realise that the posts block a lot of your vision. I was lucky enough to get one of my favourite photos in this position, I found it useful for getting in close to rucks but generally that can happen from any of the positions due to the frequency of ruck formations. This position, like position 4, is great for isolating your subject as you have the whole pitch between them and the background but that’s only when you’re able to get a clear view of your subject.

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Conclusion

Position 3 and 4 offer the best photographic opportunities but require a reasonable amount of patience waiting for the action to come to you. The key moments you need to look out for are when players break away from rucks, scrums etc. Nothing is worse than a crowded photo. You can be positioned in the perfect spot to isolate your subject but if there’s too much going on in your frame then the image will still fall short. The better the quality of rugby you photograph, the easier it will be to capture these moments. In junior rugby all the players just crowd around the ball whereas in senior rugby they’re more spread out and it just makes your job much easier. Most action tends to happen close to the touchline as that’s where you’ll find the backs making their runs and you’ll usually get some good tackles occurring there, with little crowding around the ball. It’s important to have a good view of the centre of the pitch as that is where everything starts, the photos may not always be the the cleanest or most consistent but you’ll always get some good keepers. A good view of the tryline is also vital, especially if you want to capture those big moments for a publication or whatever.

Hopefully you were able to find that information helpful, if there is anything you want me to add in or consider looking at for my next guide (hockey) then please let me know. Thank you!

 

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