Getty Images Sport Photographer Cameron Spencer‘s award-winning, black and white image of the New Zealand All Blacks Sevens performing a rain-soaked, celebratory Haka is one of the stand-out shots from our 2014 Year in Focus book. We spoke with Cameron to get the full story behind this powerful picture.

Describe the moment you captured in this shot.
The New Zealand All Blacks Sevens had just defeated England 26-7 to win the 2014 Hong Kong Sevens rugby tournament. Following the match there was plenty of celebration, followed by a quick trophy presentation. It had been raining on and off all day, so the sky was quite dark and grey. All of the sudden, the heavens opened up and torrential rain began to fall. As it kept pouring, the crowd and the majority of photographers quickly fled the field. I remember thinking, “This rain is insane!” and wondering the whole time if my gear was going to die. I could hardly see through the viewfinder of the camera. I wasn’t able to wipe my lens filter which was covered in water because absolutely nothing on me was dry, despite being fully outfitted in technical weather gear.

Witnessing a Haka in person is exciting on any occasion, but this was a truly unique experience. The whole team took off their jerseys and started performing in the pelting rain, adding to the intensity and emotion of the moment and creating an incredibly surreal scene.

Where did the instinct to convert it to black and white come from?
When shooting the sequence, I wasn’t thinking about what I would do with the pictures when editing. But it was one of those moments when I knew that this would be something special.

Because the light in the storm was really dark and murky, I knew that if I converted the image to black and white it would graphically enhance the picture and give it a timeless quality. I had the ISO up high, but the cameras have improved significantly in low light conditions. Water and rain happen to look great in black and white, especially when backlit. I’ve covered previous events at the Hong Kong Stadium and noticed over time that the stadium’s lights, because they are relatively low, can create a halo rim-lit effect when you point the camera into them. This makes the players glow with the light wrapping around them.

How did you go about shooting it?
I got as close as I could to the team and tried to shoot low in order to give them more of a dominance in the frame. I was using my 16-35mm lens on a 1DX – my long lens was sitting in a puddle somewhere else on the pitch.

What process did you use to convert the image?
I like to keep it simple when editing pictures – I basically use small adjustments in Photoshop and desaturate the image to zero. First, I look at the contrast of the image and adjust the curves to give the shot more punch. Then I adjust basic levels, trying not to blow out detail in the highlights nor block up all the detail in the dark tones.

Are you surprised by how much the finished product has resonated with people?
It’s always great when a picture you are passionate about gets shared around, particularly on social media. I think any sports image that shows raw emotion and passion tends to engage the viewer that much more. It’s rooted in the classic notion of ”the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.” Jubilation and dejection are what make a strong sporting image. In this case, it was essentially the “perfect storm.” Incredible camaraderie, passionate expression, fearsome physique, raw emotion and unrelenting rain are what make this Haka, and this picture so special.

It’s hard to believe that after taking roughly 10,000 frames over the course of 70 matches in a three day span, my favorite picture would end up being one of the last I took. But a great Australian photographer once told me: “Never put your camera down until the last player has walked off the pitch.”

How right he was.


Editor’s Note: Congratulations to Cameron Spencer on winning the prestigious Nikon-Walkley award for Sports Photographer of the Year.

 

 

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