Portrait of Herbert Fishwick with telescopic camera rig. Courtesy of Fairfax.

Herbert Fishwick

1882-1957    |    Photographer

Fishwick revolutionised the way cricket was photographed in 1920 and thus rewrote the rules on all sports photography. He held every photographic position at the Sydney Morning Herald from cadet to picture editor between 1910 and 1939, but it was his technical genius that solved the cricket problem of short focal length lenses and the long distance from the boundary to the wicket. He designed a custom-built lens attached to a bulky Graflex plate camera and captured the action in full frame. His prints from the 1920-21 Ashes tour caused a sensation and British editors sent representatives to learn Fishwick’s technique. He also pioneered the use of a revolutionary camera designed to allow colour printing in newspapers in 1937.



Herbert Henry Fishwick

Unearthing a glass plate with HHF written on the edge generated a moment of electric anticipation in me. I couldn’t wait to get to the scanner and see what this black and white negative would look like as a high-resolution scan. The year was 2008 and I was looking through the extensive archives of The Sydney Morning Herald and the long-closed Sydney Mail for material that was yet to be digitised. The project was a book to mark the centenary of Herald photography.

The initials belonged to a trailblazer of Australian press photography: Herbert Henry Fishwick.

Fishwick emigrated to Australia from England when he was in his twenties. In 1910 he was employed by Fairfax to produce photographs for The Sydney Mail and The Sydney Morning Herald. This was just two years after the Herald first ran photographs.

Fishwick set a standard of innovation, creativity and professionalism that helped the emerging photo department at the Herald gain a worldwide reputation for the quality and strength of its work. To this day a photographer’s digital image at the Herald is identified by their three initials, a protocol established by HHF.

During the 1920-21 English Ashes tour of Australia Fishwick introduced a quantum leap in the way photographers covered one of the great passions of the Australia summer. A book published in 1931 to celebrate 100 years of Fairfax printing -  A century of Journalism – tells the story:

Mr Fishwick has been instrumental in introducing to camera artists the telescopic lens, which enables quick-action photographs to be taken from a distance. Distance lenses had been previously in use, but it was the new instrument which, when made to the (Sydney) Mail’s specifications by the optical firm Ross Ltd., of London, made possible the cricketing and racing pictures of the present newspaper illustrating. When the Mail’s cricket photographs of the English visit of 1921 were sent to England, Ross Ltd., the well known British makers of optical instruments, wrote that had created a sensation among newspaper and cameramen of England.”

Fishwick wore special magnifying binoculars on his glasses which left both his hands free to operate the cumbersome rig while giving him a magnified view of the pitch. The whole set up had a length of 1.2 metres.

Scanning the boundary of any major cricket event in the world today reveals where Fishwick’s innovation led. The wrangling of long lenses still requires both hands, however auto focus and fast lens technology would be unrecognisable to Fishwick.

As the popularity of photographs in daily newspapers increased, a dedicated photographic department for The Sydney Morning Herald was established from what previously had been called the “Process Department”. Fishwick was a natural choice to lead it. He was joined by photographers Harry Martin and Beau Leonard and they took on a cadet that first year, Frederick Halmarick. Fishwick handed over leadership of the department in 1928 to Arthur Martin to enable him to return to his true passion, taking photographs.

Colour reproduction was in its infancy in 1937 when the master of photographic technical innovation was dispatched to Germany to purchase the Bermpohl Naturfarbenkamera (natural colours camera). This camera used beam-splitting mirrors to expose three monochromatic plates that were filtered through primary colour filters (red, yellow and blue). When each of these exposures was used to produce a separate colour plate during the printing process, a colour image emerged on the page.

Fishwick gave an insight into the cost of purchasing this piece of technology when he wrote to Fairfax General Manager Athol Stuart from the SS Otranto on his return voyage from Europe in late December 1937, asking to be met in Sydney with money to pay the duty on the camera: “As it is of the utmost importance that the camera be handled very carefully, I have allowed no one to even carry it since I took delivery, and it would be very unfortunate to have to leave it in the hands of any customs official on arrival.”

Fishwick listed the cost of the camera as 3444.20 Reichmarks. Australian authorities in London told him that the duty payable on arrival in Sydney would be equivalent to about a third of the original cost of £281. This was a considerable sum at the time, with the Commonwealth basic weekly wage being £3 15s. Fishwick had used the camera on board the ship and at refuelling stops in Ceylon so he could honestly state on the customs declaration that “the camera had been used”.

The closure of the Sydney Mail in 1938 prompted Fishwick to strike out on own. He established a business producing high class photographs of for a number of the leading Merino studs. He soon secured a reputation as an expert in animal photography.

Fishwick died at his home in Sydney’s Roseville on 27 May 1957. His innovative approach to photography and constant search for better ways to tackle different assignments produced major leaps in photography in Australia and around the world. He rightly deserves to be acknowledged as the father of modern sports photography.

Mike Bowers is a photographer, author and broadcaster. Now a photographer with the Guardian Australia, he was the Picture Editor of the Sydney Morning Herald and Sun-Herald from 2001 to 2008. He hosts the weekly segment Talking Pictures, reviewing political cartoons and photographs on ABC TV's Insiders.

Herbert Fishwick's telescopic camera set up. Courtesy of Fairfax.


Cricketer Mr Marks swinging at ball from Mr Sims and missing at the Sydney Cricket Ground, Sydney, December 1935. Courtesy of National Library of Australia and Fairfax.


Australian cricketer Arthur Chipperfield drives a ball from English cricketer Jim Sims, New South Wales, 16 November 1936. Courtesy of National Library of Australia and Fairfax.


Female skier at the Chalet at Charlotte Pass on Mount Kosciusko, New South Wales, 1931. Courtesy of National Library of Australia and Fairfax.




Further reading


Century of Pictures: 100 Years of Herald Photography, Mike Bowers, Penguin Viking, 2008


A Century of Journalism: The Sydney Morning Herald and its record of Australian life 1831-1931, Green Press, 1931.