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4 Tips to Take Better Tennis Photos with Chris Nicholson

With the US Open currently on with full vigor, those attending would be looking forward to capture their favorite tennis stars in action. There have been, in the history of the game, many sports photographers who have taken some breath-taking shots of tennis stars in action. The sheer dynamics of the game with the poise of a trained athlete come together to make beautiful compositions. However, this task is harder than it seems to the naked eye. As acclaimed sports photographer Chris Nicholson states, “I have shot every sport you can think of. Tennis is still the hardest sport I’ve shot.” In fact, Chris is about to serve up a detailed excerpt on tennis photography, known as, “Photographing Tennis: A Guide for Photographers, Parents, Coaches, and Fans”. Here are a few excerpts from his upcoming book that should suffice as useful tips while endeavoring to take that perfect picture during a tennis match.

 Billie Jean King at Wimbledon

Billie Jean King at Wimbledon

Maria Sharapova at Wimbledon

Waiting to see the ball

It might be difficult for most of us to believe this, but ask any professional sports photographer and he’s almost certain to tell you that timing photographs during tennis action is not as simple as it appears to be. The ball actually speeds across the court at such high velocity, that if you pause to observe it through your camera, you will definitely miss it. Mr. Nicholson says, “One of my favorites is to watch for the player’s muscles to move as he or she is about to swing. That will tell you that the player sees the ball coming, so you’ll know it’s coming, too. Then fire the shutter—fast!” For this purpose, he suggests that you develop an appropriate timing method that would assist you in judging the exact moment to press the shutter release button. Another thing that you need to do is utilize your camera’s LCD to play back and observe your timing.

Don’t put down the camera too soon

Sports in essence is not solely about winning, it is also about the players and the parts they play. Especially in tennis, even after a volley is complete and a point is scored, it’s imperative that your camera remains focused on the player. This is sure to pay rich dividends, because after lengthy volleys and crucial points, the athletes are sure to react animatedly, whether in ecstasy or disappointment. This is the perfect time to capture their raw emotions with actions such as exalting, yelling, smashing of rackets, pumping of fists, arguments with the chair umpire, and tears of triumph or defeat. Such emotions reveal more about the match than any number of pictures depicting their backhands, serves and volleys, forehands, winners, or unforced errors ever will.

Mind the background

Always be aware of the background while you’re shooting. Sometimes, while capturing sporting events, it’s possible for even professionals to forget this minor yet vital detail. So much of effort and concentration is applied on following and shooting the sporting action itself that we tend to neglect the appearance of the background. Now committing this error in tennis is sacrilege. Bustling crowds garbed in light garments, bleacher railings, isolated racket bags, towels, water bottles, ball boys, and other factors can all contribute to spoiling the background of your tennis game shots if you do not pay proper attention. In order to avoid such a scenario, you should zero in on an angle that enables you to aim at the back-screen at all times. The smooth and leveled surface of the back-screen is sure to merge well with your photographs than any other background in a tennis arena.

Go long

Remember to always use a long lens for shooting tennis events. “The preferred length,” says Mr. Nicholson, “is the equivalent of a 300mm lens on a 35mm camera. Because the light sensors in Digital SLRs are smaller than a frame of 35mm film, lenses effectively magnify more, so a 200mm lens is the equivalent on those cameras.” One more benefit of long-range lenses is that they effectively blur the background. Also remember to use swifter lenses, particularly those with lower f-stop values, for two essential reasons. “One is,” said Mr. Nicholson, “You need fast shutter speeds to shoot tennis action. The other is low f-numbers add to the artful blur, which you want because tennis backgrounds are busy (other courts and players, grandstands or other camera-toting parents). Using a long lens helps you isolate the player and keep all of those other distractions out of the shot”. Refer to this buying guide, if you need help understanding the  type of lenses.

It is very important that you don’t lose hope if your initial attempts at tennis photography are not up to the mark. Simple mistakes like lowering your camera after each point – even though you know that it’s necessary to keep shooting to capture the players’ reactions – are bound to happen. The important thing to do is to try and remember these useful tips at all times and keep persevering till you perfect the art of tennis photography.

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