The end of summer is quite possibly one of the most exciting times in professional sports: the US Open Tennis Championships. It’s a wonderful two weeks of some of the highest quality tennis all year, and for those of us in New York City, it’s local. Securing a press pass is no easy feat, but the best experience is had walking through the tennis center from court to court. You don’t need to see big names to see great tennis, and for photographers, it’s an excellent sport to shoot. Here are some tips if you want to photograph the last Grand Slam of the year.
Tip #1: Travel Lightly
The USTA has strict baggage requirements, and if you like a big kit, you’ll have to take a few minutes to reorganize. Limit yourself to one camera body and three lenses at the most. I usually spring for my 28mm, 50mm, and 135mm lenses and my Sony a580. I’d also keep a small hand towel in your bag because the weather is often very hot, and you’ll want to wipe away the sweat.
Tip #2: Get to Know the Player’s Style
Every tennis player has a style. Some favor two-handed backhands, others single. Some play from the baseline, others closer to the net. Many love their drop shots. Before you raise your camera to your eye, watch how the player moves, and position yourself accordingly based on the lens you’re using. Once you’ve got a sense of the style, start photographing.
Tip #3: Stop Down and Use Manual Focus Assist
More often than not, the sun is blazing every day for those two weeks, so you’ll have plenty of light to work with. I’ve found autofocusing to be tricky, especially with how fast some of the players move. Follow the player with your lens, and focus accordingly because unless she’s dashing from side to the other, she’ll stop and swing. It’s in those few seconds when she’s setting up her shot that you need to set up yours. I typically have my camera set to burst mode, so that I can shoot through the swing.
Tip #4: Hydrate
You’ll be dripping with sweat after an hour or two of moving around and photographing. Head to the nearest water fountain or grab a bottle of Evian, that’s the only water they sell.
Tip #5: Try a Wider Perspective
While the players are the focus, tennis wouldn’t be where it is without its fans. Granted, this court could be fuller, but Arthur Ashe, the largest tennis stadium in the world, is what draws the crowds. Put the medium telephoto away for a bit, and put on your 50mm or your 28mm to really get some scope in there. This is, of course, only a portion of the back court, but you don’t always need just the player in the photograph. Give her some air to breathe.
Tip #6: Be Mindful of the Folks Around You
No one likes to have their view obstructed, but unless you’ve got press access, be mindful of those around you. Everyone’s there to enjoy the sport. Besides, when a game’s in session, you can’t move. The players are adamant that you sit still because tennis requires a tremendous amount of concentration, and movement distracts more than you’d think. If you find a different spot would be better, wait until the service changeover.
Tip #7: Put the Camera Down and Enjoy the Match
Remember, you’re there for the tennis, and you’ll catch so much of the match through the lens. If the crowd goes wild while you’re trying to get a shot, you’ll know you missed a great moment. Give yourself some time to enjoy the match. There’s a certain thrill to witnessing the end of a long rally, and it’s even better when you’re not worried about getting the shot. Scream a little. Clap your hands. Be in the moment. You’ll be glad you did.
Then pick up your camera again and start shooting.
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