Polo is a game played upon an open field 300 yards long between two teams of 4 players on horseback. Often called the “Sport of Kings”, it was imported to England from India. It is an adaptation of the an ancient sport of the Persians, who used it originally as training in mock battles and later it became a formalized sport. Much like jousting became a sport in Europe during the late medieval period.
The sport is popular among the richer classes of society due to the high cost of owning and maintaining so many ponies required for the sport. The game is divided into six periods called chukkas of 7 minutes each. Most teams change ponies during each chukkas. This means a team may require at least 8 and up to 96 ponies for a match.
The extreme distances of polo are a photographic challenge similar to other field sports but on a larger scale. At 300 yards, this distance is triple what could be expected in Soccer or Football. However, this is mitigated in that the subjects are larger with a horse and rider, versus an unmounted player. Polo is also difficult sport to follow as the players can move from one end of the field to the other quickly. This makes it difficult for a fixed focal length lens to track and the great distances makes it necessary to have a long lens to keep close enough.
For this photo, I used a 200-400mm zoom lens. This allowed me to follow the action close enough across all distances of the field from behind the goal post on one end of the field. The viewing line behind the goal posts sit 30 yards back to prevent any accidents happening as the riders and the ball move down the field at great speeds. Another option to covering the players would be to use a 70-200mm lens with a tele-extender mid-field to halve the distance to either goal post.
A quick rule of thumb for telephoto shooting is to have 100mm of lens for every 10 yards of distance to capture a six foot tall subject. For a horse mounted subject this distance can be doubled. Also, the multiplier factor for digital camera should be factored in. For example, you should be able to get a full body shot of a footballer at 42 yards with a DSLR (with a 1.5x multiplier factor) and a 200m lens with a 1.4x extender. With a 400mm lens, the same extender, and the same camera you should get 168 yards with a mounted subject. Remember, this is a guide and is not a firm mathematical law. Your mileage wil vary.
I shot this in manual mode as the light was consistent through out the match and allowed me to select the optimum high shutter speed to stop action and the shallow depth of field to soften the background, keeping the subject in sharp relief. I found my exposure by making test shots of the field grass to ensure that the shots would ne be too murky or washed out. Manual exposure setting can help in exposures because even though cameras are very sophisticated, they can be tricked by a confusing background or excessive contrast in the subjects brightness.
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