Saturday, September 15, 2012

After One Week Of Shooting Tennis

If you saw my post last week about the Fraser Heights Open, then you know I've been shooting tennis lately. This style of sports photography can be very exciting and challenging. The speed and movement is no match for bird photography, but the subjects are closer. In some ways that makes shooting tennis more difficult. Any sudden movement from the players can mean that they are out of the frame. After a few days I learned to track these movements better, but it is a work in progress none the less. 

Since I am shooting outdoors, in the early evening into the night lighting has been another challenging aspect of the job so far. The light changes from harsh pre-dusk light to smooth dusk light, to horrific uneven florescent lighting in just over an hour. This means that the ISO levels can move from ISO200 at the start of the evening to ISO6400 extremely fast, in order to keep the shutter speed up for the action. Generally speaking I'm shooting at 1/800s to freeze the action, but I have gone as low as 1/500s to add some motion blur.

The harsh early evening light creates deep shadows, and if you aren't careful can lead to blown highlights. The shot above might be a little underexposed in the shadows, but any brighter and the highlights would simply have been unrecoverable. That being said, the evening light can also aid in making some great back-lit portraits.

The florescent lights at the complex have been the most challenging to work with so far. Due to the nature of florescent lights, which refresh like an old fashion computer monitor the lighting can be uneven. At low shutter speeds, where the camera can gather more light this is less of an issue, but at faster shutter speeds it becomes a problem. Basically what happens is, one photo will be perfectly exposed, the next shot of the same framing could be way off. Either that or half the frame is well lit and the other half is not. When you are shooting a sport you cannot ask players to move just for better lighting. Therefore I've just had to work with what is available, fire off a short burst, and hope to pull out shadows in post if need be.

My primary camera of choice for this shoot has been the Nikon D700 with MB-D10, as I've found that the most interesting tennis shots are taken vertically. The lens of choice has been the Nikon AF-S 70-200mm F2.8G VRII, that I've rented for duration of the tournament. After the first day I found my AF-S 300mm F4D IF-ED was simply too long for the small space at the court. That might be different at locations where you cannot be right on the court, but I am. Due to the fact that I am right on top of the action, the flexibility of the zoom is a must.

I mount the camera and lens combo on a Manfrotto 679B monopod, with a Markins Q-10 ballhead. I don't use the ballhead for anything other than mounting the kit, ballhead itself remains locked down tight the entire shoot. Using a monopod gives your arms a break (try hand holding the D700+grip and 70-200mm VR for 3-4 hours in a row and tell me your arms are not tired!) and makes it easier to track the action. I use a Nikon D200 and 24-70mm F2.8G for any wide shots, but only early in the evening as the cameras high ISO performance isn't stellar.