Kevin Bernard invited Photographic Society of Rhode Island members to shoot a polo match at the New Port International Polo Series. Newport Polo was the first polo club in the United States, established in 1876. It has been welcoming teams from other US cities, and from around the world, for the past twenty-five years. Newport hosts exhibition matches every Saturday from June through September, creating many opportunities for a photographer to practice their craft. For this photographer it was a chance to practice a new type of photography. I had never seen a polo match before, much less shot one, and knew nothing about it.
Kevin told us to get there about one, even though the match didn’t start until four. The first thing we did was get the best area to shoot from. Next we went to the far corner of the property, to get pictures of the grooms getting the horses ready. No one seemed to mind that we were there taking pictures. I guess it was the norm for them. The atmosphere among the people and horses was one of fun and excitement for the upcoming match.
Another reason to get there early was the before-match activities. Similar to football, half the fun is the tailgate party with the food, drinks, and fun on the field.
PSRI has meet-ups many times throughout the year. Each one being in a different place, and a different type of photography. Before the match started, Kevin made sure we all had the correct settings for chasing horses around the field. My Canon camera was set to Shutter Priority mode with a shutter speed of 1000. The drive mode set to high burst, AI servo, ISO to auto. Under menu – AF – Case 2 = tracking sensitivity between 0 and +, acceleration/ deceleration. tracking to 1, AF pt auto switching to 1. Some of these settings I had never used before. I was used to setting a focus point for a stationary object or one that didn’t move very fast. Keeping a galloping horse in the frame required letting the camera do the focusing, but still I had some blurry pictures. (I have no examples of blurry pictures. They are immediately deleted so no one can see that I take a blurry picture.)
At times the action happen so fast I couldn’t zoom out fast enough or far enough. All of a sudden the horse was too close for my 70 to 200mm. Then they would race to the far and of the field and I wish I had a 500mm lens.
At halftime it was the responsibility of the spectators to go out on the field and stamp down the divots. This was also a good time to get photos of people living up the spectator’s life. This included anything from frisbee throwing to the latest suit to impress the women. People and dogs alike got to have fun on the field while the riders and horses rested and prepared for the second half. Late in the second half the sun went behind the clouds and it was getting late in the evening. We were loosing light and it was tough getting a shot that wasn’t blurry. Here a fast lens would have been helpful. After the match all the spectators lined up along the edge of the field. The riders galloped by, and slapped hands with the spectators. After the last horse went by I was sad it was over, but left knowing I could come back next year and do it again.