Netcord Confidential

Recently, I alluded to receiving media credentials to cover the Rogers Cup Men’s Tennis Tournament in Toronto.  The Rogers Cup is not one of the elite grand slam tournaments but it has become an important event for players to attend as preparation for the upcoming US Open.    The German magazine I represent has a circulation of  well over 30,000 but the Rogers organization claimed they were inundated with media applications this year and had to decline mine.  I got the impression that preference was being given to English speaking media so I said, how about letting me in for the first weekend of qualifying since many journalists won’t be appearing in Toronto until midweek when the quarter final match ups start.  I’m an underdog and as such happy to cover the tennis underdogs who have to fight just to get a berth in the first round.   They agreed .

Since I live in Toronto, I fantasized about bringing the Sigma 300-800 f/5.6 zoom lens to the game so I could look like a serious professional photographer.   However, in order to convey that elusive sense of action in a static tennis shot, you need to also be able to see the ball.  And with the m43 sensor being approximately one quarter the size of a full frame sensor, the field of view at 800mm would be like that of a portrait lens.   Useful for capturing facial expressions during the match but not much else.

Some bullet points for your consideration.

1.    Shooting from the sidelines, typically at one end, places you very close to the  player.   And since the players rotate sides quite frequently during play, you don’t even have to move.   The Zuiko 40-150 f/2.8 Pro with or without the 1.4x TC is the ideal lens for this focal distance.   150mm gives you enough room to frame most shots with the player and the ball.  200mm gives you a tighter crop where you may have to restrict shots to just the upper torso instead of full body but the higher magnification reveals more detail.

Mackenzie McDonald running towards me at 150mm focal length, if he had been returning on the other side of the court, that focal length would have captured his entire body.   Notice the deformation of the ball indicating it has just been hit.

2.     Drop the ISO to 200, f/4 – f/5 for peak sharpness, aperture speed between 1/500 – 1/1000 will allow some motion blur of the racket and the travelling blur of the ball while keeping the player’s face in sharp relief.  Face recognition on.  C-AF focus mode.  Procapture L if you want nearly all your player’s faces to be in focus especially if they are moving fast, Procapture H if you want to maximize getting a shot of the ball in the frame but of course the focus is locked after the first shot.

This shot is cropped to show the center 70% of the original  in order to highlight the amazing resolution of the Olympus optics and the densely pixel populated m43 sensor.    Mackenzie McDonald is shredding the nap of the tennis ball in his return with the individual fibers suspended in midair at 1/1000 s shutter speed.  Click to view at more than 100%.


Ryan Harrison absolutely destroys the ball in his return, shooting at a slower 1/400 s shutter speed allows you to exaggerate those thin tenuous fibers as they leave a blurred trail falling back to earth.  Shot with Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 with Metabones 0.71x focal reducer  at effective 212mm focal length, also displaying superlative optics.

3.     Once you get your fill of side profile shots, switch to shooting behind one end of the court to shoot full frontal views of the opposing player.   Here shooting at 300mm gives you the optimum crop.

Filip Peliwo at 212 mm focal length (and using his Jedi mind powers to position the ball for optimum return).
Filip Peliwo at 300mm focal length for a tighter, more effective crop.  These frontal shots are easier to pull off because the ball is travelling parallel to the axis of your field of view and hence will be much easier to capture.   Consequently,  you can crop tighter to the body of the player and still be able to place the ball in the same shot.

4.   I could carry two lenses, the 40-150mm f/2.8 Pro and the 300mm f/4 Pro or just one lens, my Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 and with a Metabones Speedbooster becomes the 85-212mm f/2.  The problem is that this lens is heavvvy.  It became seriously tiring to lift and hold this lens.  Adapted lenses work well but do not focus as quickly as native m43 lenses.  C-AF doesn’t work well with adapted lens, the focus response is too slow and frame rates drop to a ridiculous 1-2 frames per second.   So for adapted lenses I generally listen for the ball  being hit by the opposing player while tracking the target player in the EVF,  S-AF focus lock and shoot at High frames just in time to see the ball arriving.

5.  While it’s true that there are a small finite number of  interesting and action filled tennis poses (typically the lunging return) before it becomes repetitious, keep in mind that it’s best to shoot many examples and then during the image processing phase you have the luxury of choosing the shots that put the player in his/her most attractive light.  Since tennis players are not coached by ballroom dancers, they sometimes look less than graceful and wear gargoylesque expressions.

Left handed Yoshihito Nishioka pulls off a nearly impossible return while still looking good.

6.  And finally, capturing the human spirit in the sport.   Here the 300-800 might work but again the huge focal length might crop just the face and miss the rest of the body language.   Here you have to understand the game of tennis to anticipate when the players might crack their icy facades, typically after a long drawn out deuce or tie breaker duel or fending off that game break.

Filip Peliwo questions the existence of God.
Yoshihito Nishioka is pumped after breaking his opponent.

And as a final example of how to tell a story with your sports photos, sometimes you have to be innovative in your post processing.

Always stylish, French player Nicolas Mahut in composite.

In conclusion, wanted to relay a warning about shooting in intense heat and direct sunlight.  Conditions were about 33 C and very humid with a cloudless sky and intense high summer sun.  The black exterior of my E-M1.2 body got so hot that placing my nose against the viewscreen was uncomfortable.  And shooting at continuous high frame rates at one point caused a seldom seen high internal temperature icon to appear.  I shut the camera off for a few minutes and kept it in the shade and it became operable again.



I continued to pester  Tennis Canada with emails and images to gain access to the final game and mysteriously I started to receive the daily media release emails again on the weekend.  I took this as a positive sign and when I arrived to clear security on Sunday afternoon, my credentials worked!

I thought I was being clever by arriving just a half hour before game time via subway to avoid the nightmare postgame  traffic jam.  Being a novice, I didn’t realize that all the spots for the courtside photography positions would have been allotted in either a first come first served or lottery earlier in the day.   So I was left shooting from the mezzanine level of the stadium which had the height advantage of being able to shoot both ends of the court from the same position but I had to use the Zuiko 300mm f/4 Pro with 1.4x TC for 420mm of focal length to get the tight body crop I wanted.  Images were therefore not as crisp as I wanted them to be but I tried to shoot at f7/8 for optimum sharpness when the sun wasn’t clouded over.

Nadal crushed his opponent in the first set with trademark forehand returns faster than some player’s serves!
Tsitsipas’ strength is the unbelievable grit he displays for only a 20 year old.  He rallied back in the second set, broke Nadal and forced him to play a tie breaker.
Even though this is Nadal’s 80th title, he still treats it like his first.  Likely the reason why he still is the #1 player in the world.




If you enjoyed your time here, please press HOME in the upper right to see the entire list of photography related topics in this blog.




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s