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Motion pictures: Clive Mason in retrospect

Motion pictures: Clive Mason in retrospect

© Clive Mason/Getty Images

March 2017

Getty Images’ Clive Mason is one of the world’s foremost sports photographers with a career spanning three decades. The multi-award winning lensman – who recently won the Rio 2016 Portfolio award at the annual Sports Journalist’s Association Awards – speaks exclusively to CPN Editor David Corfield on changing times and changing workflows in a profession he still loves...

In conversation with Clive Mason, it doesn’t take long before the name ‘Monte Fresco’ bubbles to the surface. Clive worked his way up from local newspapers in Northampton, UK, via the guiding hands of this notable character, considered by many to be one of the finest sports photographers the world has ever seen. With a name like ‘Monte’, you just know that there’s going to be a story to tell. In fact, as I’m quick to discover from Clive, there are hundreds...

© Clive Mason/Getty Images
© Clive Mason/Getty Images

October 26, 2011. A boy is seen playing cricket against a setting sun at India Gate in Delhi, India. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D Mark IV with an EF24-70mm f/2.8L USM lens at 35mm; the exposure was 1/640sec at f/13, ISO 400.

“He looked at my work when I was a nineteen year old hopeful and told me to go out and document all the sports that took place near my house in Abington Park, Northampton, over the course of a year,” Clive recalls. “So I shot rugby in the winter, cricket in the summer, football, tennis, people eating ice cream. Everything that happened in the park, really. I came back a year later and he went through my work, chucking out a fair bit. But he helped me edit and see my work objectively. He was critical but fair and we formed a really good friendship and when I went for a job at Allsport a few years later he gave me advice and said something to me that stuck in my mind: 'See all, hear all, and say nothing.' And you know what? He was absolutely right.”

Early years

Clive, like many, was inspired by his father to pick up a camera. “My dad was a very keen amateur photographer and used to process his own black & white films,” he recalls. “As a boy I used to see all these lovely old images and when I was about seven he gave me his camera to use, so off I went and took my first pictures and processed and printed them afterwards. So as a seven year old I was introduced to this magic and I loved it straight away.”

“Dad sadly died when I was ten but my mum recognised that I had the passion for photography so helped me with cameras and such when I was growing up. I didn’t know at that point that sports was going to be the path I’d eventually take but it was taking pictures on Saturdays and Sundays for my local paper that gave me my biggest buzz. I worked with the Northampton Chronicle and Echo for my first job and I shot everything from weddings to football and got to know a few of the lads working for Bob Thomas Sports Photography, a well-regarded sports photography agency. Bob was working with Monte at the time, and it was from that first encounter with the great man that my career was to change totally.”

© Clive Mason/Getty Images
© Clive Mason/Getty Images

6 September, 1997. Giancarlo Fisichella of Italy takes off in his Jordan-Peugeot during qualifying for the Italian Grand Prix in Monza, Italy. Taken on a Canon EOS-1N film SLR with an EF600mm f/4L IS USM lens.

Focusing and film

Clive looks back fondly to those days and comments: “The industry is far more accessible than it ever has been. And you can blame the cameras for that, because they make it so much easier for kids to get started. The bottom line is, you can shoot as much as you want, see that it doesn’t work, delete it and start again. The skills remain as in how to see and take a good picture, but the graft that goes into getting that picture has gone. The graft and the blood, sweat and tears that went into sports photography back in those days when the cameras were totally manual focus, were what separated the men from the boys.”

Clive recalls that it would sometimes be days or even weeks before he’d see one his pictures when he was travelling for an event. “Case in point is one of my most well-known shots of the touring Australian cricket team in Saint Kitts, taking on the West Indies Board XI at Warner Park in 1995, with fantastic light and a passing cruise ship in the background. I shot it on transparency film, Fuji Velvia I think. I was there covering the match for Allsport with the well-known photographer Shaun Botterill and I remember I had to wait two months to see the image. 'You got a nice shot of a boat...' came the word from the picture desk back in London. We always used to shoot colour neg for transmission and tranny when the light was nice. And back then I was actually Shaun’s wire man and was floating around with a roll of tranny film in my camera while Shaun was doing all the nuts and bolts hard work, getting great action pictures. Sometimes you catch a lucky break as a youngster and that was one of mine.”

© Clive Mason/Getty Images
© Clive Mason/Getty Images

15 April, 1995. A cruise ship floats serenely by as the touring Australians take on the West Indies Board XI at Warner Park in Basseterre, St Kitts, West Indies. The match was drawn. Taken on a Canon EOS-1 film SLR with an EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM lens.

Clive continues: “You must always do the right thing by younger photographers coming through the ranks who look to you for help. Monte did it with me and I try to pass on what I know to people coming through Getty Images. You can have all the kit in the world, but if you don't have an eye for a picture and a sense of timing you’re going to get nowhere.”

So what helped Clive get that vision? “I used to look at other people’s work all the time. I used to soak up work from all directions and really aspire to take the pictures that impressed me. I would find out everything I could to know how to take those images I loved. Once I had worked out how to take them, then I would work at it and fail, fail, fail. But I learned from my mistakes. It doesn’t come easy. And I truly believe that it shouldn’t.”

The Canon connection

Clive grew up with Canon, and went with them from film to digital. “In my film days I had a Canon F-1 and a T90 as a second body. The T90 was the first of the plastic bodied cameras that was good enough to be used by a professional; it was the forerunner of the first EOS really.”

“But it was manual focus with the FD lens mount and I was never a great follow focuser with manual lenses, not like Clive Brunskill, Shaun Botterill and Mike King, God rest his soul. These guys had a real gift for manual focusing on moving subjects, but it was the EOS system with its fast AF that helped me.”

“There’s something about the Canon system that I always really liked,” Clive observes. “I’ve tried other makes in the past but I came back to Canon with the EOS-1D X. The focusing was superb and the new Canon system now, with the EOS-1D X Mark II, is by far the best camera I have ever used. And I’m not just saying that.”

© Clive Mason/Getty Images
© Clive Mason/Getty Images

January 21, 2017. Kevin De Bruyne of Manchester City fouls Danny Rose of Tottenham Hotspur during the Premier League match between Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester, England. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark II with an EF400mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens; the exposure was 1/2000sec at f/2.8, ISO 3200.

“I use all the lenses under the sun,” he jokes. “Depending on the event, of course, but for most sports I will take the latest Canon L-series EF primes such as the EF300mm f/2.8, 600mm f/4, 11-24mm f/4, 24mm f/1.4, 50mm f/1.2, and two zooms, the 24-70mm Mark II lens – which is a fantastic all rounder lens – and the 70-200mm f/2.8. That’s the standard kit that goes with me everywhere but it can change occasionally. For football, for instance, I’d swap the 600mm for the 400mm f/2.8, which is kind of the standard lens for pitch side work on a monopod.”

The day job

Clive is one of Getty Images’ senior sports photographers now, and is in a position to lead and advise on key sporting events. And mentor the new breed, of course. “I joined Allsport in 1994 and when Getty bought them I stayed on at Getty, so I have been around a long time I suppose! We have an assignment editor and I will sit down at the beginning of the year and work out a year of sporting events and who does what. And most sports we cover now have a specialist photographer to tackle them. That’s where the business has fundamentally changed, I believe. If you want to be an all-round sports photographer it’s actually very difficult at Getty Images. You have to focus on one area because you learn about it and your stuff is so much stronger.”

“The Getty Images strength is that all our photographers specialise. So I’ll look at, for instance, the Formula One race calendar and see what else I can fit in. Like the America’s Cup with Sir Ben Ainslie, for instance. My desk knows I am a family man, so they know I need time off but equally they give me the flexibility to go and shoot big tournaments when I can. I’ve done the learning curve and I’m lucky in that I have a great back-up system behind me. There is a proper support network and I’m not overstretched. It can be a very lonely business at times...”

© Clive Mason/Getty Images
© Clive Mason/Getty Images

August 6, 2016. Mathew Belcher and Will Ryan of Australia in action on board their 470 class dinghy during training at Marina da Gloria in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark II with an EF20mm f/2.8 USM lens; the exposure was 1/8000sec at f/11, ISO 400.

Clive pauses to reflect on Monte Fresco’s words of advice once again. “If he were looking down on me now, he’d probably say: ‘You lot have got it so easy!’ The frustrating thing with the industry now is that the quality threshold has gone down and a lot of people are just getting away with it. When I worked at the Chronicle and Echo in Northampton in my early twenties cutting my teeth I used to come back from an event, like rugby or football, and kick myself if I only had one decent picture to go on the back page. I would always hear Monte’s voice driving me on to get more, and be better at it.”

Clive was taught a crucial skill from very early on: to have the whole story covered, not just the key moments that made that story. “It’s a visual narrative,” he concludes. “That’s what photography is, in any discipline. And there will always be those unexpected moments, but that’s what makes sport such a fascinating subject to record as a photographer. You never know what’s going to happen. But you must always be prepared for it.”

Biografia: Clive Mason

Clive Mason

Clive Mason is one of the UK’s premier sports photographers with over 30-years experience in all sporting disciplines. As a full time sports photographer working from Getty Images’ London office, he travels extensively covering a multitude of sports but with his current concentration on the Formula One World Championship. In February 2017 Clive won the Rio 2016 Portfolio award in the prestigious Sports Journalists’ Association British Sports Journalism Awards.


May 26, 2002. General view taken during the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix held in Monte Carlo, Monaco.