Photo feature: Don't miss this former Marine Commando's pictures of polo players

Speed and skill. Two complementing virtues, in a sport of humans and horses. An adrenaline rush and an itch to explore the uncharted, through the lens of a camera. Catch some of the most special glimpses from and behind the polo field — from sunny pitches to snowy grounds — detailing the moments that lend the game the thrill it exudes for the players and spectators alike

polo art I took this image at a low goal tournament, in the Santa Maria Polo Club in Sotogrande, Southern Spain. ‘Low goal’ doesn’t mean that the action will not be as good as a ‘high goal’ game, but it may not be as fast as the ponies won’t be as good. It is also where a lot of young players learn the skills and techniques needed to shape their future in the sport. As you can see, these two players were riding flat out and they were both going for the ball at the same time, showcasing the competitive spirit that polo entails

Neil, tell us a bit about yourself.

After school, I served in the Royal Marine Commandos for 12 years. My father had been in the Air Force and I wanted to make him proud, by being in the military. When I left, I was looking to do something that piqued my adrenaline equally. I found it in photography, an art form that I had always been passionate about. I was given the chance to work with a great sports photographer, so I jumped at the opportunity. The rest is history.

polo horse I took these images 10 years ago, on the hallowed grounds of Cowdray Park Polo Club, during the Veuve Clicquot Gold Cup — the British Open. The player is the unrivalled Adolfo Cambiaso, the greatest player in the world at that time. He was playing for the Dubai Polo Team, and was riding flat out when he looked back to see the ball coming at him in mid-air. In a split second, he turned in the saddle and hit the ball perfectly, sending it forward for him to ride onto and score a superb goal

What made you specialise in polo photography?

My first experience of polo was several years ago. It was mid-week in July. I was driving through Midhurst, Sussex, and saw a sign saying ‘Polo Today’. For a reason that I cannot explain — perhaps it was just instinct — that sign was like a ‘red rag to a bull’. I was immediately attracted by what I would ‘potentially’ see. I pulled up at the edge of Lawns 1 at Cowdry Park polo ground and they were playing a game in the Gold Cup, the British Open. I was transfixed with the speed and skill of the horses and players. The game had me hooked.

polo horses Polo ponies are very social animals, and like humans, even they have best friends. Both ponies in this image were saddled up and waiting patiently to play in the game. I could sense their camaraderie by the way they stood together. This moment was captured at the Cowdray Park Polo Club in Sussex, England

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One of the aspects that add appeal to your pictures are the horses. What is it about these majestic animals that draw you to them?

I have always had a love of horses. They are such noble animals. I admire, respect and value them. It is a well-known saying, but never has a truer word been said, that ‘When you look into a horse’s eyes you are looking into their soul’. Treat horses well and they will open their hearts to you.

A polo field is so big. How do you ensure catching the most dramatic action and not missing it?

polo caddie A few years ago, at the Santa Maria Polo Club in Sotogrande, Southern Spain, a ladies’ polo tournament was underway. I saw this young player walking to the pony lines, carrying her polo sticks and kit bag. She used to be a polo groom and has since become an excellent player. This photograph stands for women power in a 'gentleman's' sport

I tend to position myself behind one of the goals, usually with the sun behind me. That way, I will (hopefully) get some of the action, unless it is all being played down the other end. If that is the case, I will move and adapt the settings on my camera accordingly. Have I missed out on the drama? Of course, many times. But it is such a fast-moving sport that invariably something will happen close to you within a couple of minutes, so I stay focused on what I am shooting, not what I am missing.

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How do you choose your spot while a game is on?

polo horse bathing Polo is a very fast and intense sport for both players and ponies alike. In countries with a hotter climate, such as Spain, the USA and UAE, ponies will only play a chukka or be a part of a chukka that takes place just for a few minutes. They still feel the heat a lot. So, as soon as a pony comes off the field, their saddles, bridles and leg bandages are taken off quickly and they are treated to a shower to cool down. That is followed by a short walk, before they are taken back to the stables. This is a priceless moment from one such shower

I always get to the ground early, while the ponies are getting prepped in the pony lines. For me, ‘behind the scenes’ photos almost always offer the opportunity for artistic shots.I like to work with the sun behind me when the action is on. Light lifts the definition of the ponies and gets under the players’ helmets, so you can see their faces.

During chukka change-overs, I tend to photograph in the pony lines or capture players jumping from pony to pony. One of my favourite types of image is capturing ponies getting showered down with the sun behind them. That way you get all the water drops shining in the light.

polo horse legs very sport needs muscle and might, as does polo. This image lays focus on the vividly visible muscles and the veins on a high goal ponies’ legs, signifying the power and strength needed to stay ahead in the game. Ponies are typically warmed-up by the grooms, who ride the pony up and down before it goes out onto the field to play. Just as with any athlete, the ponies need a proper warm-up to avoid pulling a muscle or getting injured. The groom waits for the player to signal, before handing over the new pony and then taking the other one back to the pony lines for a shower

Is it not dangerous to be so close to the horses galloping towards you?

Yes, it’s a very dangerous sport! You must never get in the way. I work about 20 metres back from the goal line, but horses still come charging by. The key is not to move. A horse and player do not want to charge into you - they will do everything they can to ride past. That said, I have had a few ‘hairy’ moments, when they have come a bit too close for comfort …. within inches!

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Do you shoot with a monopod or prefer shooting with a hand-held camera?

Polo Gold Cup There's no thrill greater than catching the action in an action-packed sport. This one features Adolfo Cambiaso, and was again taken during the Veuve Clicquot Gold Cup, the British Open. He had just scored a superb goal from a long way out and was riding across the field right in front of me. Take a closer look, and you can notice another player closing in fast, but too late to stop the world’s best player from scoring and winning the game

For the action, I use a heavy-duty monopod as my lens and a camera (400mm 2.8 lens with a 1.4 converter and a pro Canon)  that weighs 11 kg, so I cannot hand-hold it. I have a second camera with a shorter zoom for working around the pony lines. I also use two other pro Canon cameras, plus a selection of other lens: 16-35mm, 28-80mm, 50mm and 70-200mm.

What is your regular camera setting like?

polo women players Ladies’ polo is increasingly becoming popular all over the world, giving a fillip to professional women players and tournaments in a traditionally male-dominated sport. I took this image in Sotogrande, Southern Spain. The natural light in the evening there is perfect for polo photography, and it lent itself beautifully to encapsulate the speed of the pony in this image as she chargers away from the camera after a loose ball on the far side of the snow-laden polo field

For the action on the field, I set the shutter speed around 1500th of a second and aperture 5.6.

Some do's and don'ts for enthusiasts who want to start off?

neil andrew egerton

My strategy for shooting polo is to work hard at it: understand the game; go to the exercise tracks in the morning light; get to know as many people as possible, be it players, grooms, etc, even if it’s just a nod or a wave. Most polo people are very welcoming and will bend over backwards to help you, if you ask.

Don’t get in the way or interfere! Working around one, let alone numerous horses, that cost a small fortune, can be risky to life and limb, whether on the field or in the pony lines. As with every sport, a polo photographer must never be a nuisance and always appreciate that a polo pony is a finely tuned athlete, who has one goal, and it is not to perform for a photographer.

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Could you share some of your experiences of shooting around the world.

I have had some wonderful times and adventures with polo around the world, including 3 years photographing this amazing sport on the frozen lake at Saint Moritz, Switzerland. I got invited to take images at Ellerston, the private grounds of Jamie Packer in Australia. Dubai was wonderful and the facilities are superb, but the most thrilling moment was being asked by HRH The Prince of Wales to take the first polo images of the two young princes, HRH Prince William and HRH Prince Harry in their first polo games. 

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