Picture Perfect: ‘I’m going to reveal a secret here as to how I captured this picture’

"If I was ever to hang one of my pictures in my house this would be one."
Picture Perfect: ‘I’m going to reveal a secret here as to how I captured this picture’

COMING TO THE BOIL: Sportsfile staff photographer Stephen McCarthy was awarded second place in the Sports category by the World Press Photo Foundation for ‘Steaming Scrum’ between The British and Irish Lions and Maori All Blacks in Rotorua, New Zealand.
COMING TO THE BOIL: Sportsfile staff photographer Stephen McCarthy was awarded second place in the Sports category by the World Press Photo Foundation for ‘Steaming Scrum’ between The British and Irish Lions and Maori All Blacks in Rotorua, New Zealand.

If I was ever to hang one of my pictures in my house this would be one.

When it comes to photography, I would be quite critical of myself and of others. I would be very slow to praise anyone’s work — including my own —unless it is a really good picture. When I look at this shot, I find it hard to find fault in it. It is as good as I could have captured in that specific moment, usually you have the excuses — if I was positioned to the left or the right, if I had a different camera or a lens, if the lighting had been better. And the excuses can go on and on.

But for this one all the stars aligned for me. And that is extremely rare thing to say when photographing live sport.

I took the photograph during the Lions Tour to New Zealand in 2017. It was a midweek game and the management were looking at partnerships and trying out different players. So it wasn’t one of the most important games, it was very much a stepping stone towards the upcoming Test game.

I knew in advance that the weather was going to bad — it was forecast to be cold and damp, so you struggle for motivation in the build-up. But once you get to the venue and you are in the zone, your attitude changes and you want to make the elements work in your favour to get a picture.

As the game went on I could see the steam rising and knew that there was a picture there. When something like this happens you just set yourself the challenge: Can I get the picture? Can I get it before anyone else? Can I do it better than anyone else?

Now you are in the zone trying to get the picture. It took a long time for things to fall into place. It was late in the second half, the scrum was in the right place, my positioning was correct and it all fell right for me.

There are a few bits of information about the night and the picture.

Firstly, The Lions weren’t playing the All Blacks — it was the Maori All Blacks.

There is nothing added or removed or adjusted — what you see is what was there on the night. The other thing that strikes me about it is the lack of a single sponsor in the shot. It is so strange to see a sports picture in this day and age with sponsorship or branding on it.

The standout is the height of the steam cloud and I’m going to reveal a secret here for the first time as to how I captured that. What happened was that two scrums had come together in quick succession. Given how cold it was the players got on with the second scrum straight away so what you see is actually two clouds merging together.

The picture itself got very little traction the next day which didn’t surprise or upset me.

A picture such as this needs a massive amount of space to do it full justice so papers would have had to rip up templates and their copy plans to accommodate it. (And most templates are set for wide pictures not tall and deep like this). The other factor that worked against me that day was that Conor Murray scored a try so that was always going to be the shot of interest for the Irish papers.

But when it was nominated for the World Press Photo Foundation awards in 2018 (the tour was in 2017), newspapers then had the opportunity to plan and use it. So it got good usage when it was nominated in February and then when the awards were presented that April.

The awards were on in Amsterdam and one of the most pleasing things about it all was that I was able to bring my parents (Leo and Maura) with me to the ceremony.

They have been great supporters of me throughout my career, doing everything possible for me to achieve my goals.

They might be at matches I’m working at but given the nature of the job we might only have the chance for a quick few words.

The picture was awarded second place in the sports category by the World Press Photo Foundation and it was lovely that my parents got to enjoy the night as much as I did.

Who knows, maybe I might find space on the wall back down in Cahersiveen in the weeks ahead and find a home for it.

Interview: Colm O’Connor

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