Press Pass, US Open. Here was a dream come true. Well, actually not so much a dream as a fortunate happenstance. No, not worded strongly enough, it was a fantastic experience! Every amateur dreams, of unlimited access to wander and photograph, at an event venue. Lisa’s co-worker’s husband is Manny, a Sports Illustrated photographer, whom I met at a dinner party in our home. I showed him my slide storage system for 100k+ slides. He was blown away. He later graciously invited me to assist him in Flushing Meadow at the US Open. And, “Bring your own camera.” I had a D70 that I had purchased when David graduated high school. I thought it was a pretty good camera. I had the 80-400mm zoom and an 80-200mm f2.8 zoom. The former I purchased when Julia started playing rugby. And the later I acquired on sale at the photo equipment repair shop. Everyone at the upper echelon of sports is mostly Canon. I’m talking about the heavy-duty workhorse Mark bodies and the gray telephoto lens mounted on monopods. Some of the lenses are nearly 20 lbs. Boy oh boy did I get an – on the fly lesson in event shooting. It made me realize how inadequate my skills were for this fast paced atmosphere. I upgraded my camera soon after. I suddenly had use for more buttons and menu settings.
For a little lady Justine packed a heck of a punch. She was focused. By that I say she never really smiled at all during play. Up in the stands, one can walk around the court from above. It allows for a different perspective. One such signature shot is a full court view in late afternoon with the players casting large shadows as they face one another. I like this shot because of the tension and energy you feel.
One of the ‘moments’ is when a player wins the match. As the points and scores change, the inevitable becomes obvious and every camera trains on the winner. And at that decisive moment hundreds of cameras click from all vantages – the sidelines, the dugout, and the stands. It will continue as the winner makes her/his celebratory display. Some will fall to the court in joy. Other times the winner will climb up into the stands to hug family and supporters.
On every point, cameras all over the tennis court follow at least two critical moments. Those are the serve and the return. I learned how to set my camera to focus and then to wait for the critical moment to press the shutter release. A motor drive does not save you. More often than not the motor drive will fire before or after the critical moment. The desired image is caught when the ball is in the frame. It’s even better if the ball is on the racquet just as it is leaving for the return. You spend all day shooting every point and come up with a handful of frames like this. Mostly you have action shots without the ball. A memorable shot that Manny took was one of Nadal. Nadal was looking into his racquet as the ball was hitting the strings. It was a close-up shot full of emotion. I will always admire that shot.
Dugout, Not PC
At the US Open there is an area at the baseline where there are cutouts in the wall. TV viewers pretty much never notice the openings. Photographer positions are there with the vantage at eyelevel with the players’ feet. The TV broadcast cameras are on one side and the assigned photo positions are on the other side. Sports Illustrated rates, so they get an assigned position. I don’t rate so I got to stand behind the first photographers and get what I could. This was mostly looking across the net and catching a photo of the opposing player’s serve. Photographers sitting here call it the dugout. So, here I am shooting across the court and working hard on my timing. Two photographers sitting in front of me are clicking away. Runners collect their compact flash cards to take for immediate download and upload to the internet. The male shooter on the right sticks his elbow into the ribs of his female colleague on his left. She gives him a disgusted look and I realize something is up on the near court but I don’t have a viewpoint. Sticking my arms out, letting autofocus work, I click off a few frames. Pulling my camera back and looking down at the screen, I grin too. I realize that this photo of a well-known ranked player will never be published – not politically correct. And, what’s with the suspenders above the thong?