These blogs can be hard to write. When I sit down for the first time to think about two whole weeks of manic work and consider how to summarise what an isolated world of tennis obsession Wimbledon actually is, I realise that it’s probably best to just go with the shots. So here, interspersed with random niblets of Wimblelife, they are.
For some reason, this year my picture editor decided to give me the power of life and death OVER EVERY MORTAL… sorry, got a little carried away there. I’m not sure what happened. Anyway, as I was saying, I was made team leader so had to grab an order of play every morning and sift through the matches, panning for agency gold. Alongside your Roger Fedoras and your Angry Fishes, AFP looks further afield to provide content for other clients, particularly in Australasia and eastern Europe. With this in mind, we’ll often find ourselves scurrying to the outer courts for a chance to catch players such as Indian tennis star Sania Mirza, while others are heading out on their lunch break. Shooting for an agency means learning to think about the bigger picture, so while you may not end up with shots in the UK press the next day, newspapers and websites on the other side of the planet will be lapping it up. It takes some getting used to, but it’s equally satisfying when the play reports come through!
Regarding lens choice, if you’re sent to shoot the sport itself, you soon realise that it’s nearly impossible to do any features at the same time. While AFP photographer Glyn Kirk christened me Inspector Gadget for my slight overkill with gear, I found it was great for matches, but it not very conducive with slipping through the crowd and capturing nice little moments. My toys of choice for the geeks among you (oh, admit it, you are) were one D3s and two D4 bodies, a 400m f2.8, a 300mm f2.8, a 70-200mm f2.8, a 24-70mm f2.8 a fixed 20mm f2.8 and a WT-4 transmitter and cables. Combined with the lunch that I had to stuff into one of the Thinktank pouches, I was about as mobile as a branch of “Safes-R-Us”.
One of the surprises of the tournament was Yaroslava Shvedova’s “Golden Set“. Writing herself into the Wimbledon history books, she managed to take a full set without conceding a single point, a fact that she was totally unaware of until the press conference after the match! I only discovered it when I saw that the downloads on what I thought had been a couple of randoms working their way through the early stages started creeping up. Like Lucas Rosol’s defeat of Rafa Nadal, it just goes to show that the shocks and records don’t always go to the big names. The lesson? Pay attention, whatever the match.
Working on-site during the Wimbledon tournament is a massive pain when it comes to communications. With so many people in such a relatively small area, phone networks become useless, messages are delayed for hours on end and the data signal is non-existent. While the site has Wifi, you soon realise that you can’t rely on it. This makes it a little tricky to get messages back and forth regarding match status and picture info. While I solved the issue of speaking to the editors by leaving voice tags on images about totally unrelated issues, match conditions became a game of Chinese whispers, as photographers shared last-known status info on courts that they passed. While it works most of the time, after a few days your brain begins to blend match into match and the info becomes a little less reliable. “The Tsonga match? Yeah, I think he’s 2 sets up against Agassi last time I passed. I think. Maybe. Who am I again? Whose foot is this?”
With all the gear I was lugging between courts, the Lomography Spinner 360 only had a brief outing on a couple of days. It’s a shame as I’d love to have really sunk my teeth into getting something a little different, but time just wasn’t on my side. The problem with experimenting is you never know when something’s going to happen. Invariably, the moment a player spontaneously combusts is the time that you’re shooting at low speeds and playing around with motion blur. Mardy Fish’s direct shot to the eye of the lineswoman below being a good example of things happening quickly. After being hit in the right eye with a ball travelling at 130mph+, she still managed to signal that the ball was indeed out before being assisted off the court. That’s gotta hurt…
Those of you who follow me on Twitter will know that I’ve had some gripes about the Nikon D4, but Wimbledon appears to be where the camera came into its own. With firmware v.1.02 announced on one of the early days, performance seemed to really improve with the 3D focus option proving particularly solid. Another great new feature that I got to test out for the first time, was the built-in ethernet network port. If only every job had a handy network cable placed in front of me so I could just click it in, transmit to a remote editor and move on. Bliss… The only downside to the port is the fact it DRINKS power. Leave the port “enabled” and you get half a day out of a battery. Turn it off and you get 5 days. It’s a simple firmware fix for Nikon that I hope will be implemented soon. It wouldn’t take much for the port to auto-detect the presence of a cable and power-down if the socket’s empty, would it?
Despite Andy Murray already saying in an interview that the shouts of “Come on, Tim!” pissed him off, there were still the usual idiots who thought it’d be hilarious to shout it, even as he served for match point that would take him through to the Men’s final. On the positive side, my favourite shout from the crowd has to go to the Ballamory-esque Scottish woman who called out “Keep ya’ heed, Aandy!” Much chortling was had in the pit during quiet moments whenever anyone whispered those immortal words.
While the guests of the Royal Box play an important part of the proceedings, it was all much as expected. With one particular day seeing appearances by everyone from Kate and Pippa and the Prime Minister, to “Posh” & Becks and Rupert Murdoch, you had to keep one eye on them throughout the games. However, the only moment that actually tickled me was seeing former British Prime Minister John Major steadfastly refusing to join in on a Mexican Wave, despite his wife Norma’s enthusiastic acceptance. Come on, John. You can relax now. It’s all over.
The problem with the weather at Wimbledon is that since the roof was built a few years ago, the classic rain picture has been made somewhat redundant. There used to be such a high demand for it when rain stopped play, that photographers had to spring into action at the first sign of moisture to record every moment of the court-coverage and umbrella erecting. Now, there’s always play happening somewhere and even in biblical floods, Centre Court will continue to churn out the tennis. The result is that while most photographers still can’t help themselves (me included) when the brollies come out, it’s just a case now of sheltering with the editors in the media centre until play can resume.
Compared to other international tennis tournaments, the options for photo positions at Wimbledon are apparently fewer, but what we lose out on in choice, we make up for in lack of advertising. With branding kept to a real minimum on both court décor and (optimistically) the players, it allows us to get cleaner shots. Advertising is a pain. A massive pain. It’s horrible. Nobody pays attention to it and all it means when it’s there, is that both photographers and then editors will do whatever they can to crop it out of the final frame. The luxury of solid neutral backgrounds isn’t something to take for granted.
Saturday was Women’s Final day. With Serena Williams going up against Agnieszka Radwanska, the odds were stacked in Serena’s favour from the start, not just due to Williams’ skills but also a respiratory illness that her opponent had picked up. With very little threat of an upset, Williams cruised through to win. The general consensus among photographers was one of relief as Radwanska just doesn’t celebrate in any way, shape or form. We’re there for pictures and unfortunately shooting a Radwanska match was a demonstration in frustration, as she totally fails to acknowledge any points apart from the slightest of fist-pumps every few sets. With Serena clambering over the seats to reach her family and jumping into the air for photographers, the right woman won. 😉
With the day of the Men’s Final upon us, it was interesting to see the mood change in the media centre. After nearly two weeks of jovial banter, teasing and laughter, the run-up to the final, saw quiet moments, huddles in corners and tactics meetings. While you may wonder what tactics you have to consider, I can assure you that there are a lot of variables within the coverage. Positions, angles, transmission, runners, lensing and card management all need to be discussed and considered before the team heads out onto court. Having the luxury of choice, I opted to shoot from court-side for the grand finale. After a strong start by Murray, Federer just switched on the relentless overdrive and out went the Brit. Ah well. Next time.
So, for another year, that’s Wimbledon and dusted…
Next stop, the London 2012 Olympics…