Shortly before I left my job at Lincoln Ventures, one of my staff told me that she and her family would be coming up to Nelson in July for a gymnastics competition. I jumped at the chance to photograph a new sport, even if it would mean getting up very early on a Sunday morning.
It turned out to be quite a challenge: only competitors, officials and the accredited photographer were allowed on the floor. All the rest of us were up in the gallery seats. The light was not good at all, so there was no hope of sharp action photographs. I would have to choose my moments carefully to make the most of a slow shutter speed.
Luckily, I found two very helpful assistants in a couple of senior grade contestants from Wellington. These 11 year-old girls were able to advise me about the routines: which moves were the most difficult (and therefore yield the most appreciated photographs); exactly when I could expect a pause in the routine (and so get away with the slow shutter speed); which gymnasts to watch out for, and so on. They were a great help.
The photographs turned out very well, the family were very happy with them and I learned a whole lot about low light sports photography.
But there was a sequel to this. A couple of weeks later, I was visiting my brother in Wellington. Around mid-afternoon, we walked down to the local primary school to collect his seven-year-old daughter. While we were waiting in the schoolyard as the schoolkids poured out of their classrooms, one of the older girls ran over to us. It was one of my assistants from the gymnastic competition. I got an update on her results (she got two bronze medals). My niece knew her, she was one of the big girls at school and well known because of her gymnastics prowess.
I was delighted with the whole encounter, not only because I scored some points with my niece but also because I’d obviously made the right impression on these girls. I had felt very self-conscious during the event, a large man with a grey beard and a camera with a very large lens, even though it had been obvious that I was with a family.
Postscript: in an email today from her mother, I learned that at her zone athletic sports, Maddy beat everyone in the 80m sprint and came 1st – she now goes to the Canterbury Zones final on Dec 1. What a talent!