I had one of the biggest challenges of my career this month when I was sent to Chelsea football training ground to photograph ‘The Sulk’!
This is apparently the affectionate name given to Chelsea’s surly French striker Nicolas Anelka, and the picture desk brief was to 'get him smiling!'
Nicolas, in true football supporter fashion was unofficially christened ‘The Sulk’ because of his lack of charisma and expression whilst on camera, and I could see that a smiley photo could be a tall order. On my arrival I met up with the sports writer, who also had reservations as to how interesting the interview might be, and we sat down in a very small boxy room with a wooden wall covering and waited for Nicolas.
After inquiring as to whether there was a larger, more photogenic room in the building, I was told that all the other rooms were unavailable. Listening to the heavy rain outside the window, I could almost hear the rollicking I was going to get from my picture editor if this was to be the location for the sports pages ‘shoot’.
Nicolas entered the room and sat down for the interview. Due to the size of the room I had set up my Quantum Qflash and mini soft box to shoot Nicolas with. As the interview started I could see that Nicolas was a really pleasant, easygoing Frenchman and asked him whether he would mind me taking a few frames during the interview as I thought I might catch him smiling during the chat, he agreed and I fired away. Towards the end of the 15-minute interview the rain subsided and I could see that an outside photo was a possibility. The reporter thanked him and I requested a picture outside, he agreed, put on a different top and met me at the front door. As with all these shoots I only had a few minutes with him and I had decided to avoid the statutory standing in goalmouth
shot and took him to a fence with a tree on the far side of the car park. He gave me about 6 minutes to get as many different poses as possible. The Qflash, which was already set up was placed off to one side and gave that ‘studio-light’ feel to the photographs, and once again proved invaluable with its wireless TTL adjustment on the camera hotshoe and the limited time available.
I had managed to get some cheery Nicolas pictures during the interview so the pressure to get him smiling was off. I applied a little photographer banter outside telling him of the true story of Sun staff photographer Peter Simpson who had turned up at Wimbledon FC training ground a few years ago unannounced, in the hope of getting some cheeky training pictures, he was spotted by a player and invited into the ground to shoot, then had a bucket full of orange juice poured over him and his cameras much to the amusement of the rest of the team.
From that day onwards, Peter was known as O.J Simpson!
The story failed to raise more than a glimmer of a smile with Nicolas, so I decided to withhold the rest of my comedy repertoire and concentrate on the photographs.