Photographing tennis at the Nottingham Open

June 16, 2018  •  Leave a Comment

The tennis fraternity seems to be very friendly not just to accredited event photographers but also to spectators sitting in front rows clicking away with expensive cameras and lenses - you would not be allowed to do that in most other sports. Surprisingly the players don't seem to get put off by the shutters firing loudly quite close to them. I attended the Nottingham Open for two days in June 2018 and there were usually four courts on the go at once together with a range of practice courts used by the professionals. I chose to bring a 200-400mm f4 for close up action shots and portraits plus a 70-200mm f2.8 for wider full-body action shots.

Tennis is a thoroughly enjoyable sport to photograph but a busy one for the working photographer as you have to spend enough time on each game to get a selection of shots of each player and then move on to the next court or go back to the media room to send off some images - so its a bit too and fro with no time to sit and watch a game from start to finish. Luckily the opportunities for good action shots come thick and fast.

One of the biggest problems is image backgrounds. There are lots of different elements to potentially clutter up your shots - ball kids, line judges, umpires chairs and ugly gaps between the stands - all play a part in making your backgrounds quite challenging. The accredited photographer positions even had TV cameras sitting directly in front of us so that we could only take pictures of one half of the court at any one time. You must be prepared to move about and get better angles for cleaner shots. It is worth noting that the practice courts are ideal for good backgrounds as all of the obstacles mentioned above are simply not there.

For the most part I found it best to use continuous shooting mode for action shots with shutter speeds around 1/2000th sec plus. Even at this speed you will see in some of my shots that the racket in the players hand is quite blurred - not a big issue as I think it demonstrates a bit of motion but if you want sharp shots throughout you may have to go to higher shutter speeds. I tend to favour Shutter priority mode with ISO on Auto. Usually with Tennis it is bright and sunny so you can get quite high shutter speeds with quite low ISO giving you good quality within your image. If I want to get a particular depth of field in the image then I go to fully manual and higher ISO values.

With a good range of focal lengths there is ample scope for a wide range of shots from close up portraits to waist high action shots and full body action shots. One of the important things to remember if you want to have the ball in your image you must start shooting before you can see it enter your viewfinder - try to look at the player getting ready for the shot and shoot in a continuous burst well in advance of the ball arriving. Some good shots can also be gleaned at the end of the game when the winning and losing emotions kick in and when the players are walking off court. At smaller events like this one there is always a lot of post-match interaction between players and fans with selfies / autographs etc being given and this can also make for good shots.


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