Lenny Clark was a young giant of a ruckman, standing at 203cm, for the Brisbane Lions AFL football team when I took this photo in early 2006 (for those of you not familiar with Australian Rules Football, ruckmen are the big blokes who leap up to tap the ball down to their team-mates...several examples can be seen HERE).
I was working for the Courier Mail newspaper in Brisbane and it was a miserable afternoon when I got the job to go to the Gabba, the home ground of the Lions, and photograph this 'big bloke', Lenny Clark. All the way out I was thinking, "What can I do to show how big he is?" I had a few ideas but they all seemed so cliched.
To make matters worse, when I got to the Gabba, it had started to rain and I was faced with the prospect of having to do a photo inside. 'Inside' photos of people who do 'outdoor' things invariably suck. When the journo and I arrived we met Lenny and an assistant coach in the foyer of the club. They didn't have much time and were keen to get things wrapped up as soon as possible. The journo started talking to Lenny and I hoped to goodness they weren't expecting me to take the photo somewhere in the foyer. If they did, the photo had every prospect of sucking big time - one big bloke, one foyer, lots of crap in the background (the sort of crap I didn't want in my photo) and not much else to work with. If I was searching for ideas on the drive to the Gabba, I was now at a total loss.
Thankfully the journo spent a few minutes interviewing Lenny, so I had a brief window of opportunity to hopefully come up with my Eureka moment. My brain was, by now, churning as the adrenalin surged through me. I was almost frantic but tried not to show it.
The interview finished and I said, as calmly as possible, "There's nothing here I can work with. Can we head out onto the ground for a few minutes?"
Even though they said they didn't have much time, I think they realised the foyer sucked as a backdrop and agreed. As we walked through the bowels of the stadium in the direction of the pitch, I was still bereft of ideas.
I followed Lenny up the race and onto the ground and saw the massive light towers loom over him. It was at that moment the adrenalin weaved its magic (as it so often did in situations like this) and I thought back to a photo I'd seen of an air force pilot supposedly picking up his jet.
The photo was a visual illusion along the lines of the well-worn holiday snapshot of people 'leaning against', and 'propping up', the Leaning Tower of Pisa. The jet had been about a hundred metres behind the pilot and the photographer had used a wide angle lens that not only accentuated the size of the pilot in the foreground compared to his plane in the distance, it also made everything in focus. Thus, when the pilot leaned over and, with a bit of crafty hand placement, appeared to be grasping his jet, it looked as if he was about to pick it up.
Having remembered this photo, I knew what I wanted to do. The nervous bubble inside me popped and a wave of relief washed over me.
I was now excited and began working quickly. I explained to Lenny that I wanted to make it appear as though he was grasping one of the light towers. He wasn't quite sure what it was that I had envisioned but he was happy to go along with it.
It had been drizzling for some time so I spread out my waterproof poncho on the grass so I could get as low as possible to accentuate Lenny's height. I increased my ISO to 1000 in order to close down my aperture and get as much depth of field as possible (to cut a long story short for those not au fait with 'camera speak', I did this so I could get as much in focus as I could). I sat as low as possible, moved Lenny into place and got him to position his hand in mid-air so it appeared as if he was grasping the light tower.
This wasn't as easy as it sounds. To get everything just right I had to make sure his hand was in the right place, his 'grasp' wasn't too much or too little (so the light tower fitted perfectly), his hand was as still as possible and I was a still as possible. To get the aperture down to f11 I had to drop the shutter speed to 1/30 second and I had to keep as still as possible, quite a feat when you're sitting and bending over to get yourself as close to the ground as you can.
I did all this and then noticed that, due to the lateness of the day and the heavy cloud cover, the light was really dim and Lenny's face was quite dark due to the fact he was looking downwards. I knew Lenny was pressed for time but there was no way the photo would work the way it was. I explained the situation to him and told him I needed to get my flash. He was fine.
I fumbled for my flash in the tiny canmera bag I'd brought with me and attached a cable from the flash to the camera so I could use it 'off-camera'. It was going to be difficult for me to juggle both sitting as low as I could while holding the flash, so I did what I always do in situations like this - I called on the assistance of the journo.
I positioned the journo, gave him instructions on where to point the flash (it may have seemed obvious where to point the flash, but you'd be surprised) and, with everything and everyone in place, I began shooting.
After half-a-dozen frames I checked the back of the camera and there was one frame - the one you see - where everything worked perfectly. I like to work quickly at the best of times and didn't waste any more of my time, or Lenny's, getting more photos than I needed.
I showed Lenny the photo (he was impressed) and the journo and I raced back to the office. The page the photo was slated for had an early edition time and people were waiting. The following day the photo got a massive run in the sport pages. Adrenalin had done the trick yet again!
Gear used - Nikon D100, Nikkor 18-70mm lens, 1000ISO, 1/30 sec f11