Shooting the Nottingham Tennis Open

Posted by David Travis on 2 Jun 2021

Shooting the Nottingham Tennis Open

I’m a novice at sports photography but it’s something I’m keen to do more of as it pushes my camera and my technical skills to the limit.

I took these pictures at the Nottingham Tennis Open. I did some research beforehand around settings and general guidance for tennis photography. The main takeaways from my research was to shoot at 1/1600th sec, keep the ball between me and the player and to aim for an uncluttered background.

American player Brandon Nakashima. According to Wikipedia, he has a career high ATP singles ranking of 133. In this game, he was on one of the outer courts so I was able to photograph him at eye level.

Olympus OM-D EM-1 Mk 2 with Leica DG 100-400 f/4.0-f/6.3 lens at 350mm. 1/1600s, f/6.3, ISO 1000.

Chinese player Zhang Shuai who has a career-high singles ranking of world No. 23. I wasn’t able to get a seat for this game so I photographed her while queuing for a seat.

Olympus OM-D EM-1 Mk 2 with Leica DG 100-400 f/4.0-f/6.3 lens at 400mm. 1/1250s, f/7.1, ISO 1000.

British player Harriet Dart. Harriet has a career-high singles ranking of world No. 121. I took this while seated in the stands.

Olympus OM-D EM-1 Mk 2 with Lumix G Vario 35-100mm lens at 100mm. 1/2000s, f/5.6, ISO 1250.

In addition to action photographs of the players, I also set myself the goal of trying to tell a story of the day. That turned out to be harder than I expected. Because of the COVID rules in place, there weren’t many spectators and everyone except the players wore masks. There was also very little of visual interest away from the courts. So I took some detail shots of the ground staff and the players to break things up. I tried to shoot horizontally only to ensure the pictures matched visually.

Top left: Ball girl, poised for action.
Top right: Umpire makes a call.
Bottom left: Harriet Dart waits for service.
Bottom right: A line judge waits.

Top left: Kristina Mladenovic’s feet.
Top right: A spectator protects himself from the sun.
Bottom left: Spectators on centre court.
Bottom right: Kristina Mladenovic’s back.

But the vast majority of my pictures were action shots of the players. I used the Olympus’s PRO capture feature. It’s magical but it burns through memory cards. I took 8417 shots, of which only 849 (10%) were worth a second look. I ended up with 52 picks but only 4 real keepers (a strike rate of 0.05%!)

A series of 24 shots of Harriet Dart returning a backhand. These shots cover about a second of play.

Olympus OM-D EM-1 Mk 2 with Lumix G Vario 35-100mm lens at 100mm. 1/1600s, f/5.0, ISO 800.

One of the reasons for having so few winning images is that the light was very harsh for most of the day. This created contrasty shadows on the players’ faces, and as they nearly all wore caps those images need a lot of shadow recovery which boosts the noise and makes the images unnatural. For many images, I stupidly ignored the guidance about keeping the ball between me and the player and aiming for an uncluttered background, believing I could fix things in Photoshop (which is more effort than it’s worth).

Based on this experience, I’d add these guidelines to what I knew previously:

  • Do some research beforehand on the players. Identify ones who are especially athletic, ones who have an interesting look or ones who wear an interesting outfit and get to those courts early.
  • Hope for a cloudy day.
  • The best action pictures demonstrate a player’s athleticism, like diving or stretching for the ball. Those are the pictures worth getting.
  • Players serving and players with both feet on the ground result in images that look static and boring.
  • Try to capture interesting facial expressions.
  • The ends of tennis courts are screened and these make good backgrounds. To make use of them, you want to be in spectator seats at the far left or right (not in the middle) and as high up as you can get.
  • As well as a 35-100mm lens (70-200mm full-frame equivalent), the extra reach of the 100-400mm lens (200-800mm full-frame equivalent) came in useful for some pictures.

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