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People: Bipin's pictures bowl them over

Community pharmacist and accredited cricket photographer Bipin Patel talks to Kathy Oxtoby about his love of the sport and passion for photography

Bipin Patel has two very different lives. Most days are spent as a community pharmacist and owner of Saxon Warrior Pharmacy in Lenham, Kent. But during the summer for several days a month, he can be found at international cricket grounds across the country, working as an accredited sports photographer.

For more than 20 years, Bipin has combined his love of cricket with his passion for photography. “What I love about cricket is its unpredictability and gentle pace. There are also all the subtle events and nuances of play that happen during the constant battle between the batter and the bowler as they try to outwit each other,” he says.

Taking photographs “brings out the creative side of me”, he says. “When I take a photograph, produce an image seen from my perspective, and capture a moment which tells a story, it gives me a real sense of fulfilment.”

Snap declaration

Of the hundreds of moments he has captured over the years, one of his favourite photographs has a particular poignancy. “During the 1999 World Cup held in the UK, Indian cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar returned home when his father died. Sachin wasn’t expected to return, but he decided to come back and scored 100 in his next match. 

“I took a picture of him at that moment, looking up at the sky with his bat raised to the heavens. When I showed him the picture before the start of the next match, he asked for a copy, which I handed to him in the dressing room at Edgbaston.”

Tendulkar  also features in another of Bipin’s photographic career highlights. “He was one of the ‘fab four’ cricketers I was commissioned to photograph for a feature in India’s premier news magazine India Today, alongside Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman and Sourav Ganguly – all widely regarded as India’s best middle order batsmen,” he says. 

 Bipin’s photographs have been published by national and international media, including ESPNcricInfo, Mid-Day, India Today, Sports Star and Pioneer. His photographs have also helped to chart cricketing history, with many of his pictures appearing in award winning journalist Mihir Bose’s book: ‘The Nine Waves: The Extraordinary Story of Indian Cricket’. 

However, the so-called ‘sport of summer’ was not his first source of photography inspiration. After graduating in pharmacy in India in the late 1970s, Bipin enjoyed spending weekends birdwatching while working in a state-run drugs control laboratory. 

“I was mesmerised by the beauty of some of the birds I saw and wanted to capture this on camera. After talking to a photographer friend I decided to invest my savings in a SLR camera with a long lens that would enable me to photograph distant subjects.”

Sachin Tendulkar celebrates scoring an emotional century during the 1999 Cricket World Cup, photo by Bipin Patel

Similar skills

Having “experimented a little” with his camera, Bipin was keen to take pictures of a match involving the England cricket team when they played in Vadodara, a city near his hometown. “I realised that similar skills were required to take photos of birds and of cricketers – that this needed awareness, patience and perseverance.” 

He also happened to meet the renowned photographer Adrian Murrell during the match and was fascinated with how professional sports photographers work. “A seed was sown in my mind, and I knew cricket photography was something I wanted to do.”

To develop his skills he continued to take pictures at matches, while also learning informally from watching and talking to professional photographers at work, who shared their knowledge and experience. 

Bipin moved to the UK in 1984, completed a one-year pharmacy conversion course in Sunderland, and then started his pre-registration year in London. “The real trigger to start seriously photographing cricket games came in 1986, when India was playing a test match at Lord’s,” he says.

“At the end of day four, India needed 134 to register their first ever win at Lord’s. I was really excited, made some frantic phone calls to find out how I could get hold of a long lens and begged my then pharmacy boss to give me a day off to cover the match. The next day, I went to a camera rental shop on Tottenham Court Road and parted with £40 – two-thirds of my weekly salary – to borrow a 400mm lens for a day to photograph and witness an Indian victory and one of the finest batsmen of his generation, Sunil Gavaskar.

“In those days you didn’t need to be an accredited photographer to take pictures so I went along with my kit, paid for my ground ticket, and sat in the photographers’ balcony under the iconic clock tower at Lord’s to witness and record this historic win.”  

Exactly 25 years later, at another Lord’s match, he shared that story with Sunil Gavaskar – now a cricket commentator – while sitting in the media centre among journalists and TV crews. 

Smriti Mandhana, pictured by Bipin Patel

Favourite spot

Over the years Bipin was to develop a “strong affinity with that place under the clock tower – the photographers’ balcony”, where he has witnessed many memorable matches. Since 2000, Bipin has been contracted to the daily Indian newspaper Mid-Day to be their photographer for all the cricket matches where India is playing in England, as well as all global International Cricket Council (ICC) events.  

“On match days you have to make sure you’ve packed everything you might potentially need that day – including two cameras, with at least one long lens, and a short to medium zoom lens to capture scenes like faces in the crowd or a close-up of a player – plus memory cards, batteries, chargers, a tripod, a folding seat and more,” he says.

He arrives at the cricket ground at least two hours before a match is scheduled to start to attend a media briefing and to settle into his allocated position near where the action will take place. “I then take some pictures of pre-match training, and also look out for any breaking stories about the team that I might need to capture during the game,” he says. A day’s play can last up to seven hours “so you need to be good at concentrating”. 

“You also need to have an awareness of how the game is developing to anticipate which player or event is going to make the story at the end of the day. By the time I’ve filed the pictures to my editor, I’ll have worked a 12-hour day,” he says. Despite the long hours, Bipin finds the work “helps me to recharge my batteries as a pharmacist because I’m focusing on something different”.

“When I’m at the cricket I completely switch off from pharmacy. Finding an interest outside of pharmacy that you’re passionate about is therapeutic – it helps you switch off.” 

He also uses his photographic talents to illustrate his pharmacy website, such as featuring a picture he captured of a bird in flight to promote his travel clinic.

Just like pharmacy, “you don’t know what the day will hold for you on the cricket pitch”, he says. The skills he has developed over the years to build relationships with patients are also put to good use to build a strong network of contacts within the cricket media, which in turn has led to more commissions.   

Bipin is able to run a busy pharmacy and spend time at the cricket during the summer thanks to the support of his wife, Geeta, also a pharmacist. And he has the full backing of his daughters, who both share his love of photography and passion for the game. His eldest daughter has played for Kent and MCC. 

As for the team he will be rooting for when once again he packs his cameras and heads for the ground, he prefers to stay neutral. “Whether it is India or England, for me the outcome doesn’t matter – it is a win-win regardless.”

Jason Roy, pictured by Bipin Patel

How to get involved with photography

  • Research the camera equipment you need. You may not require an expensive camera – smart phones can take good pictures
  • Start by taking photographs of subjects that interest you
  • Search the internet and social media for some ideas and inspiration
  • Find an opportunity to talk to experienced photographers – most will be happy to share their knowledge
  • Join a local photography group
  • Share your photographs with family and friends
  • It takes time to develop your skills and lots of trial and error – so be patient
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