A month ago, from November 12 to 17, the $150,000 Bengaluru Open 2018, South Asia’s biggest ATP Challenger event was hosted in the Karnataka State Lawn Tennis Association (KSLTA), which sits inside beautiful Cubbon Park in the heart of India’s garden city and a fast-growing sports hub.
The tournament had players from over 20 countries participating, and was a welcoming opportunity for the Indian players looking to improve their rankings before the year ends. I had the opportunity to watch it very closely while documenting the highlights from different perspectives as the official photographer.
Now, All Access is a privilege that comes with great responsibility. Before the tournament, I wanted to write about my experiences to highlight what happens from my (a sports photographer’s) perspective to share my journey but could not get around to do it. Better late than never. So here’s a peep.
Having lived in Bengaluru for close to a decade, I was expecting a magical winter dusk with clear skies on at least one of the evenings. As anticipated, during the qualifying rounds, while I was engrossed in capturing action on the centre court, I noticed the sky turning crimson while the clear blue was quickly turning dark, it looked like a transitioning oil painting, a poetic one.
I knew at once that I had only a few moments to get to the opposite side of the stadium to capture the moment before it disappeared. I could not just sprint to the other side as it could disturb play and I had to take quick, calculated steps in the direction I wanted to be. I made it just in time to click this photograph.
Looking back I am glad there were no matches on court one as it meant I could get to my vantage point quicker. I sat and watched the sky changing shades within a couple of minutes of capturing this image and I allowed myself a breather to soak in and watch the scene with the iconic UB City staged as the backdrop, before I returned to see the match on centre court.
All of this happened in the span of a few minutes. Like you probably read/heard before, there is usually only one chance to capture action in and around a sporting arena. I am hyper attentive to everything that is going on around me even if I am fully zoned into what I am doing.
You might find me in corners that nobody else usually ventures, because I really like the adventure. I missed climbing to the lights this time, but I did that too. If I were to list what I enjoy most about tennis photography, it would be the peace in the chaos that comes from preparing, observing, assimilating, anticipating and capturing fleeting moments and its people.
For everything, including preparation, remember that there are controllables and uncontrollables. I try to take charge of the stuff I can control. I am religious about prepping my gear, I do as much homework as I can and try to watch what I eat, drink, how much I rest etc. and try not to get worked up about the uncontrollables; for those I go with the flow and enjoy them fully as they come.
My preparation includes familiarising myself with key aspects of the overall event. In this case, it essentially involved making notes of things that I must not miss and things I do not want to miss. For example, the people I don’t want to miss included every player, different teams that help the event being conducted smoothly; officials who manage and those who make the event possible, sponsors, smaller but crucial teams; like volunteers, ball kids, umpires, event managers, medical staff, media, etc. Preparation enables smooth execution and prepares one better for the uncontrollables.
If you are a gear geek, I carried two cameras on me through the event, a D750 + 24-70mm and a D500 + 70-200mm, almost all my equipment is from Nikon. I scouted for a spot where I safely stowed the gear I use less often (like the external flash). They are all strategically placed within quick reach. I have been asked often why I need two cameras and explain that I carry both because I do not like running in and out to keep changing lenses, I prefer being prepared for what could happen around me than wish constantly that I had the other lens.
There is always an extra battery and memory card on me and my laptop is charged and waits in the best spot in the media room accessible to proceedings updates and everything I need to know.
For instance, I can never forget the moment I sprang to my feet when a media photographer indicated that something was going on in the centre court minutes after Sasikumar Mukund started playing the quarterfinals against Prajnesh Gunneswaran. All of us (photogs) missed him double up in pain as we were filing images of another match that just concluded in the adjacent court. A sprint enabled me to just about freeze the moment where Prajnesh picked up Sasikumar’s kit to pass it to his coach. Incidents like this have taught me time and again that I cannot be omnipresent but can prepare myself to be aware and vigilant so as to not miss them.
My next tool for a photographer looking to capture Tennis, would be Observation. Give yourself time to observe each player, the surroundings, the light, options for places to shoot from within the restrictions, anticipate the changes that will happen real time and usually very quickly and make mental notes on key changes. These are as important as shooting itself and will prevent confusion.
As you would guess, the main elements of photography such as light, angles, framing, knowing your equipment etc. apply strongly to sports photography in general and tennis photography specifically and remember it is changing all the time. I shoot Manual.
I most enjoy capturing the action with the emotions not forgetting why I am hired. You will notice branding in a lot of my images, they are there to thank the sponsors for the very crucial support they extend to the event. There is a lot going on and it is packed, matches happen on three courts for most of the week, days are long until the quarter finals. It is very easy to get lost in the thousands of images made. I provide images to various media and pick all the day’s highlights before I call it a day. A good workflow helps use time efficiently, I tinker mine if I have to, depending on the circumstances.
The manner in which a photograph is made is not usually thought about. The unique ones almost always have a story entwined with memories. With very little time and day light left before the Singles Final which is the also the last match of the tournament, I stepped out into Cubbon Park to capture signages. I had my gear on me and was pillion on a motorbike and was clicking away either on the move or had to briefly pause on a busy roundabout at peak hour to capture most of those images.
I had no idea, one of the key sponsors saw me shooting against the busy traffic as he was driving past until he told me just before he tossed the coin to open the singles finale. Don’t work to be noticed, it happens on its own when you are enjoying your work.
Unstaged and raw emotions create a connect with what goes on. Blending into the atmosphere helps both finding and capturing heartful images. There are no retakes and very few, look at me and smile please scenarios to capture for a sports photographer.
While I enjoyed sharing this, I will leave you with the blossoming Jacarandas to let Bengaluru Open 2018 linger in your memory until its next edition.
Tournament Website: http://bengalurutennisopen.com
Have tennis images you clicked? Please post a link in comments I’d love to see them.