Alan Graham

Focusing on Sports

David Milloy

Photographers are the unsung heroes of the sporting world. Sure, they won’t score the goals that win the league, be first past the winning post, or hole the putt that wins the Open, but it’s their images that preserve the moment for eternity. And to ensure that they capture the moments that matter, they get closer to the action than anyone bar the competitors and the match officials. Indeed, they often get so close that they’re in danger of being felled by a stray ball or player, or struck by flying debris. Add to that the dedication that it takes to stand outside in all weathers and the skill and patience necessary to capture the perfect shot, and it’s fair to say that they’re something of a special breed.

Alan Graham from Ayr is one of that breed. Having taken up photography as a teenager, Alan decided to become a different sort of hero by taking up employment with the Fire Service, for whom he worked for 33 years. Having then married – he met his American wife, Patrice, in a queue at Boston’s Logan Airport and ended up sitting next to her on the same transatlantic flight (see, it doesn’t just happen in movies) – and become a father, Alan put his dream of becoming a sports photographer on the back burner.

After retiring from the Fire Service and with a grown-up family, Alan now had the time, aptitude and equipment necessary to make the jump into sports photography. All he needed was the opportunity. That opportunity arose when he responded to an advertisement placed by Robbie Forsyth for Youth Football Scotland (YFS) seeking photographers to take images of youth football matches for YFS’s website. Alan responded and was, to coin a phrase, snapped up.

He spent the next four years or so taking photographs for Youth Football Scotland and, as he puts it, learning on the job. His next step was to photograph senior football, to which end he attended a number of games at Kilmarnock and Ayr United. Over time, Alan’s links with Ayr United grew and he now covers many of the matches involving both the men’s and women’s teams.

Alan’s interest as a sports photographer isn’t just limited to football – he’s attended Ayr RFC and Ayrshire Bulls games for several years, covered Glasgow Rocks basketball matches for a year or so before the pandemic, and also covers some of Ayr Cricket Club’s home matches at Cambusdoon.

Alan’s other great photographic passion is nature photography, particularly birds in flight, a discipline which, like sports photography, requires a keen sense of anticipation, fast reactions, a steady hand, and a high degree of technical skill to capture good quality images, particularly in low light conditions.

Given the excellence of his work – he received an award from the Scottish Photographic Federation for one of his sports photos – it may come as a surprise to find that Alan isn’t a full-time professional photographer. He simply loves what he does, and that love is clearly expressed in his photographs. Indeed, such is Alan’s passion for photography that it was perhaps inevitable that his children would inherit a love of images. And so it has proved, with Alan’s daughter, Whitney, having forged a career as a wedding photographer, and his son, Martin, being a producer with the TV channel, Dave.

But what advice does Alan have for would-be sports photographers?

“Experience is key,” he tells us, “and the only way to acquire it is to take photographs and learn from your mistakes. Joining a camera club not only adds a social element to photography but also introduces you to more experienced photographers who will be glad to pass on the benefits of that experience to you. Having good equipment, particularly good lenses, is a must if you want to become a professional photographer, but it’s expensive to buy. My advice would be, try out photography as a hobby, not only to decide if it’s for you but also to find out what kind of photography interests you the most. The equipment needed by a photographer varies according to the type of photography in which they specialise – for example, a portrait photographer isn’t likely to need the same type of lenses as one who specialises in sports or wildlife photography – so it’s important to know what gear you need before you buy it. Above all, though, the most important thing is to enjoy what you do – the love you put into taking an image is reflected in the image itself.”