Not long after shooting Wimbledon 2019, Ella Ling gave us a slice of life as a pro tennis photographer.
We often see tennis shooters wearing a couple of cameras, and notice that sometimes they’re both sporting telephoto lenses and other times one is telephoto and the other isn’t. Which camera/lens combos are you using at Wimbledon? And why those?
I am using 2 Canon 1Dx’s and my go to lenses that I carry around are the canon 400mm 2.8 mark 3 and the canon 70-200mm 2.8 Mark 2. They are the most useful to have as they basically cover all bases, both tight action/details and more full body/ambience shots, without having to change lenses which is time consuming and you end up missing shots.
Sometimes it looks as though photographers are using a relatively long lens, such as a 300, even though they’re courtside. What is the thinking there?
Yes, I use a 400mm now as it’s essential to get good detail, whether it be facial expressions, reactions, or tight action shots. They can often lead to dramatic images that you might not necessarily see with the naked eye.
Do you shoot singles, short bursts or long sequences?
Mostly I shoot short bursts and single shots. However, on big points like match point or points where you anticipate a player reacting, I tend to shoot longer bursts to make sure I don’t miss the best timing.
How do you decide which match to shoot?
I try to shoot as many matches as possible throughout these tournaments. There are always several high profile players in action and I try to balance out between shooting matches with these athletes and shooting matches with younger or newer players.
I’m lucky to shoot a sport like tennis where you can see so many rising stars make their way to the top. For example, Ash Barty winning her first Grand Slam at Roland Garros last month or younguns like Stefanos Tsitsipas making it to the Semi-Final at this year’s Australian Open.
How much flexibility do you have in terms of shooting positions? Do you have to spend the whole match in one small area, or can you move around?
This depends on the tournament. At Wimbledon, they are quite strict with shooting positions and we don’t have the flexibility that we might have at other Slams. There are certain spots on each court where we are allowed but outside of those, we are forbidden. From the Semi-Finals onwards, we are each allocated a seat which we are supposed to shoot from the whole match.
Do you know players’ style of play well enough to anticipate particular shots?
For players that have been on the circuit for a while, I think photographers start to pick up on certain trends in how they play and move. For example, Nick Kyrgios is known for his underarm serve and the power in Serena Williams’ serve is always amazing to shoot. Other examples will be Rafa’s forehand follow through and Federer’s backhand from certain positions on the court which only those who have experience shooting will be able to predict.
Naomi Osaka at the 2019 Australian Open. Ella Ling/Shutterstock.
What’s your favourite lighting for tennis?
Natural sunlight is usually best. While it can sometimes get warm I’ve captured so many amazing shots just because of how the sunlight is hitting the athlete like this one of Naomi Osaka from the Australian Open (above). The magic hour for me is when the shadow starts to come across the court and we can shoot the player in the evening sun with shadow in the background, creating a stark contrast and beautifully clean images.
Do you photograph the crowd to help convey the atmosphere of a match?
I do occasionally. I love photos that really convey an emotion so I often try to get spectators in the background of my photos so the audience can really ‘feel’ the atmosphere of a match. Sometimes it’s really great to take a step back and look at what’s going on around you, which is why I particularly like a shot from earlier in the year at the Australian Open (below).
Are your images going straight back to a photo editor as you shoot? What is your workflow process?
Here at Wimbledon, I am lucky to have a couple of Shutterstock editors working for our team of shooters. On the bigger courts there are cable outlets so that we can plug our cameras in and send the shots back to the editors computer directly from courtside, ensuring we don’t miss any of the action and that the speed from camera to Shutterstock.com is within seconds, allowing photo editors at magazines and newspapers to quickly access the images for their news stories.
What are your top tips for action photography?
Three of my top tips for action photography are:
1. Make sure you’re paying attention to what’s going on around you and don’t just follow the ball. Some of my favourite shots often happen off the ball so I try to make sure I’m thinking beyond strictly action shots.
2. Think about finding the shot that no one else has. I always try to shoot something non-traditional whether that be playing with the light, looking into the crowd or changing my angles around.
3. Don’t just follow the crowd. I think there’s a lot of value in choosing your position if it’s possible. It’s a guaranteed way to get a shot that no other photographer will have.
What sparked your interest in photography?
I specialise in tennis photography and have always loved taking my camera to tournaments as a young fan. The excitement of getting back that developed roll of film back when I was a teenager, and a book on the most beautiful tennis images from the professionals motivated me to try to become one myself!
What advice would you give to a young amateur photographer hoping to become a pro sports photographer?
Be prepared for hard graft, patience, long hours and a difficult/non-existent social life. It’s also a very competitive industry with no guarantees. If that sounds acceptable, try approaching different agencies or photographers and ask them if there are any intern jobs going to start off – and good luck!