Snooker is a slow moving sport so in theory it is not difficult to photograph as things move at a walking pace and players stay still on their shots for enough seconds to enable good quality sharp images. The major challenges are the quality / colour of light and the repetitiveness of it all - it is hard to get much variation in your shots and you have to be alert for anything that might be just a bit ‘different’.
You are normally sat behind the roving TV cameras so expect that for about 30% of the time you are going to be blocked out from your shot. You just have to accept it and realise that there is still sufficient scope for getting good shots. I was sat behind a four foot screen which was terrific as it meant that I could hide behind it when I wanted to change cameras or lenses without disturbing players with my movement. You do have to keep very still, if you move at all do it very slowly and not when a player is bending down to take his shot.
Monopod v Tripod.
I used a monopod and due to the limited room it is not really practical to use a tripod with a gymbal head, although this would bring more assured stability to your shots your hand movements to adjust the gymbal head would have to be carefully judged so it didn’t catch a players eye.
I used the 400mm f2.8, 300mm f2.8 plus the 70-200mm f2.8. I thought the 300mm was the perfect lens. The 400mm was also extremely good for getting in close but I felt there were too many occasions where it was just too close. I only used the 70-200 a couple of times to get wider angle shots of the table.
Shutter speeds can be as low as 1/200th sec and probably do not need to be more than 1/500th sec. Aperture is wide open f2.8 or f4 with ISO’s being in the range of 1000-2000.
The most important camera setting is the silent shutter release. The Canon 1DX has a noisy shutter and even on silent mode it still gives an audible click that players can hear. When you are sitting in your spot you could easily come to the conclusion that players would not be able to hear the silent-ish shutter click but believe me they can. One of them gave me ‘the eye’ on the one occasion over two days when my finger did the wrong thing. The ‘golden rule’ is that you must never press the shutter until the player has hit the cue ball - players will ask for you to be removed from the arena if you do this as they deem it to be disrespectful.
Shooting at wide open aperture is needed as the light is simply not good enough to do anything else but it does mean that in a head on shot you can expect the players face to be mostly sharp but his extended hand on the cue will be way out of focus. Side on shots work well in overcoming this problem but otherwise there is little you can do about it.
I judged that it was to risky to put the shooting mode onto continuous so I was shooting in one shot mode all of the time.
The colour of the light is the trickiest thing to master. Each corner of the table seemed to have a different colour of light which shows up primarily in the faces of the players… too orange, too yellow, too blue etc so you have to find the colour balance that works best. I chose to stick with AWB and tried to make processing adjustments afterwards. You also have to be aware of the light on players faces as they stoop down to take their shots. The bottom half of the face can be in deep shadow ( which is where 1\200th sec comes in handy) and it can be of a green tint as the colour of the table reflects up into their faces - you will be able to get rid of some of this in post-processing.
You need to watch out for the extremes of contrast - when you use 1/200th sec you solve one problem i.e you lighten up the face of the player but you cause another if a player is wearing a bright white shirt you will blow the highlights on that significantly - so you just have to find a workable compromise.
To get some variety in my shots I walked up to the balcony to shoot down on the table which only partially worked as the colour of the light from that position was too dominant yellow and proved quite useless.
What to wear
Wear black or dark blue shirt and trousers just like the TV camera men, it helps you to blend in with the background and shows that you are doing your bit to respect the players and the sport.