John Crothers, Lead Systems Engineer and Sports Photographer

My name is John Crothers and I am a Lead Systems Engineer with Salesforce, part of the Security Infrastructure team, located in Sandyford, Dublin. I am married and have two kids: Thomas (10) and Andrew (8). I was born and grew up in Bangor, Northern Ireland (more years ago than I care to admit!).

When I came out of college, there was a recession in full swing, so I took what I could get at the time – this happened to be a graduate programme with Logica in London for IT grads; I’ve been in IT ever since. I’ve worked in software development, consultancy services, training, production support roles, and now IT security.

Outside of my job, I’ve always had an interest in photography – I tried different genres (landscape, street, etc.) without anything really sticking. The positive reaction I got when covering my local rugby club (De La Salle Palmerston; www.dlspfc.ie) proved to be a turning point and a light-bulb moment: shoot what you love, as the saying goes. It can be an expensive hobby, especially for a genre like sports photography; the advent of (reasonably) affordable digital SLRs and access to a strong second-hand market in the UK has helped a number of us amateurs get on the ladder.

My son and I with Rugby Players Isa Nacewa and Sean Cronin

My favourite things to photograph are sport and people (sometimes, the crowd at an event can be as interesting to shoot as the action on the field). I’m an admirer of several of the local sports photographers in Ireland: Brendan Moran at Sportsfile and Morgan Treacy at Inpho in particular.

I currently use a Nikon D500, a Nikon D3, and assorted Nikon lenses. I shoot a lot in poorly-lit conditions, so the D500 is essential – its high-ISO capability is superb.

I have my own photography website called JC Sports Photography. I started this when I sent in some pictures from a game at my local rugby club to their social media people – it got a really positive reaction, and it just grew from there. I wanted to be able to showcase my pictures, have more control over them, and present them in a more professional manner. From this, I hoped to pick up some pro bono work. My website (https://www.jcsportsphotography.com) is now generating a good level of interest and leads, which is great to see.

Most recently, I’ve covered the Blessington Triathlon. I’ve also covered the Women’s All Ireland Rugby League for the Front Row Union website last season, the Irish Women’s Rugby team’s home games in the autumn internationals, and the Six Nations championship.

Greystones v Sandyford

I also started to support the Barretstown Camp through my photography a couple of years ago. I got involved with Barretstown initially through Salesforce’s Corporate Social Responsibility programme, which involves staff going down there to help out with grounds maintenance, gardening, painting, and whatever else is needed by the team to keep the camp in good shape.

I sell prints and provide photographic services on a pro bono basis in aid of Barretstown (https://www.barretstown.org/about/). It has been really well received and led to the DLSP rugby club designating Barretstown as the beneficiary of the club’s main fundraising event of the year: the Ladies Lunch.

Like most photographers, I am usually trying to capture something that everyone else missed! Luck plays a huge part in that, and you have to learn to accept a level of frustration that comes from someone walking across your shot or jumping up in front of you at the critical moment. Nailing a key piece of action can give you a real buzz.

Basic technique will get you so far: shutter speeds and aperture selections are important parts of the job. But an eye for a picture is still crucial – the rules of composition can be just as important to a successful sports shot as they are to a fine art portrait. Having said all that, what I try to capture the most is:

  • Emotion: the elation of scoring the winning try or the pain of the impact of a big tackle. A team celebration in the heat of the moment makes for a great shot.
  • Action: conveying a sense of an important moment unfolding in front of you, such as a crucial lineout steal or try-saving tackle.
  • Dynamism: a ball emerging from a shot as if it had been passed straight to you and you feel you could reach out and grab it. Maybe it’s a cricket wicket splintering from a fast delivery or a motorcyclist leaning deep into a bend.
  • Engagement: eye contact can give a sports shot huge additional impact and really pull your viewer into the story you are telling.
Mondello Park Track Day

Ideally, in the future, I would like to cover Pro14 and Champions Cup Rugby regularly. I would also like to cover international cricket, preferably with Ireland. Most importantly though, the pure enjoyment of it is the key; if it ever starts to feel like a chore and the buzz from nailing a good shot stops, then it’s time to try something else.

My advice to anyone looking to take up photography is to learn the exposure triangle and the basics of composition, and then just go out and shoot: practice, practice, and more practice. If you are interested in a particular genre of photography, find out who the best photographers are and study their work. If it’s sport you are interested in, invest in good waterproofs for you and your gear (which you should insure appropriately). Don’t get obsessed with equipment though; most genres, sport being an exception, don’t need the latest and greatest. The best camera is the one you have with you, even if it happens to be an iPhone. If you are covering an event, give the photos proper care and attention. Pictures submitted for publication do need to be presented properly with the correct resolution, aspect ratio, metadata, etc.

Sooner or later, I think most of us will find a need to have an outlet. As a musician friend of mine said: “it’s good to be defined by something other than work.” That’s probably obvious to most people, but I think it’s worth reminding ourselves of, especially in IT. I have found sports photography to be hugely beneficial in terms of my self-esteem and general mental health.

To see some more of John’s photos, be sure to check his website at:

https://www.jcsportsphotography.com/

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