While many like to capture motion, Stanley Cheah has made a point of doing speed photography in sports and events, to capture frozen stills with plenty of energy and story. We speak to him about his work.
Sport Photographer: Stanley Cheah
Camera: Canon 1DX MK II
Lens: EF 400mm f/2.8 MK II
You capture many split-second moments, freezing them to express an unseen perspective in a sporting event. How did you come about to explore this genre?
I started with travel and landscape photography, but my interest in speeding subjects developed over a few occasions when capturing running horses in Mount Bromo and inner Mongolia. This later led to sporting events such as Triathlon and Cycling.
EOS 1DX Mk II | F/4.0 | ISO 2500 | 1/800s
My interest revved up when I was involved as a Production Deputy Manager for the construction of the National Stadium’s roof in 2012, which exposed me to more sports and opportunities (given my familiarity with the structure) to photograph them from that height.
EOS 5D Mk III | F/5.6 | ISO 200 | 1/2500s
EOS 5D Mk III | F/4.0 | ISO 1600 | 1/320s
What made you decide to keep at this theme?
I love to challenge myself with the skills required to overcome obstacles in getting shots. I prefer to tackle multiple angles and enjoy getting adrenaline-pumping moments in events such as a 100m sprint or MotoGP race.
EOS 5D Mk IV | F/22.0 | ISO 200 | 1/40s
What are some of the equipment you bring when doing this type of shoot?
Usually I will bring at least 2 camera bodies and 3 lenses, depending on the sport. My camera bodies will be a Canon EOS 1DX Mk 2 and EOS 5D Mk 4, and my favourite lenses are the EF 400mm f/2.8, EF 70-200mm f/2.8, EF 24-70mm f/2.8 and EF 8-15mm f/4.
EOS 1DX Mk II | F/2.8 | ISO 4000 | 1/800s
EOS 5D Mark III | F/4 | ISO 4000 | 1/640s
What are your reasons for selecting these equipment?
With a stunning 14 frames per second speed and CFast card slot that delivers 515 Mb/s writing speed, the Canon EOS 1DX Mk II is my choice for high-speed action sports such as track and field, water polo, and motocross. It’s also superb in low-lighting conditions.
The Canon EOS 5D Mk IV, however, is lightweight and 30MP, so it’s handy for sports that require mobility, like marathons or panning shots of cyclists.
EOS 5D Mk III | F/4.0 | ISO 1600 | 1/1250s
As for lenses, the EF 400mm f/2.8 is best for shallow depth-of-field and sharpness, even though it is heavy and bulky. I pick the EF 70-200mm f/2.8 as the best walk-about lens. It gives nice “bokeh” and performs well under low lighting.
EOS 1DX Mk II | F/2.8 | ISO 200 | 1/1000s
EOS 5D Mk 3 | F/8.0 | ISO 2000 | 1/6s
When shooting speed photography, what are some of the concerns?
The source of light is always a challenge so observing the effects of various surrounding lights on the face of the subject is a factor. Coordinating between foreground and background interest and adjusting the correct settings quickly can also be tricky. Understanding the sport is also crucial as it helps with forecasting movement patterns and behaviour.
EOS 5D Mk 3 | F/5.6 | ISO 2500 | 1/800s
How do you overcome these obstacles?
Experience helps a lot, but understanding the sport will prepare you to get the best positions in terms of lighting and angles. Always stay alert and study your surroundings by keeping both eyes open; even when looking through the viewfinder.
EOS 1DX Mk 2 | F/2.8 | ISO 4000 | 1/640s
What is your usual thought process and procedure when setting up?
Always do your homework. I will search the web for information about the event, like who is participating, and even the favoured team to win the race.
I will also recce beforehand to better understand the venue and the best spot to shoot from. I try to understand the rules and limitations for the event to prepare for an alternative plan in the event of any hiccups.
EOS 5D Mk 3 | F/3.5 | ISO 2000 | 1/1600s
EOS 1DX Mk 2 | F/4.0 | ISO 1600 | 1/400s
Lastly, what are some of your tips for the budding photographer who wants to have a go at this genre?
Someone venturing into this must first be strong in his basics. Familiarity with the camera you have in-hand is essential during the event, as there will be little time during the competition to search for menu functions.
Start with friends at events that don’t require special passes. Try beach volleyball or marathons. Once you are comfortable with high-speed shots, you can ease your way into a photo agency for better access. Never break in-house rules!
First published: Canon EOS World