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…

34 Responses to “The Wimbledon Championships 2012”

  1. Spotted you in the photographers shooting the presentation and was hoping you would post a blog. As always your photographs cover not only all the action points but tell a great story as well. My favourite is Tsonga’s Comet. Great capture of the female line judge – I thought she was quite remarkable to signal the ball out when she had been hit.
    Best Wishes
    Ian

    Posted by Ian Gillett
  2. Fantastic stuff, huge variety of shots and always some humour, low brow naturally ;)

    Posted by Miles
  3. (Things I would have said) “I wanna be Leon Neal when I grow up”. Brilliant images yet again. The portrait of Andy Murray away from court is the most ‘beautiful’ portrait of him I’ve seen, how d’you do that?

    Posted by rebecca michael
  4. There’s just one shot where my eye doesn’t get distracted by the ball. What ball?

    Excellent throughout, Leon.

    Posted by Sandeha Lynch
  5. These are Ace!

    (sorry it seemed the most appropriate description!)

    Posted by Jodie
  6. My favourites are the panning shots. Trust you to do something unusual at a huge tournament. x

    Posted by Kirsten
  7. @Ian Thanks, bud. Yeah, I think the “comet” was probably one of my favourites of the fortnight. I spotted the dust was appearing on serves from a certain position so gave it a go and managed to catch it on my third attempt.

    @Miles There are three things you can rely on in life; Death, taxes and low-brow humour within my blog posts.

    @Rebecca Ha! Well I’ve grown up into him and he’s not all that. ;) That Murray shot was just one of those moments where he was reacting to the photographers as he arrived. I think he thought he was through them all so was giving one of his rare smiles at the ridiculous fervour that was now surrounding him. I didn’t really think about it at the time as being that striking but I managed to get a handful of front pages with it so it must have surprised other people too!

    @Sandeha I couldn’t possibly begin to understand what you’re referring to. *cough* ;)

    @Jodie Cheers m’dears! After last year’s blog ( http://www.leonneal.com/blog/2011/07/05/umpire-state-of-mind/ ) I struggled to think of any new puns this time round and it was only as I watched them sweeping the dust away after the last match that I thought of “Wimbledon and dusted”. Thankfully, I’m not shooting it next year so I get an extra year to think of crap puns…

    @Kirsten Cheers m’dears! I can lay the blame for my panning shots squarely at the feet of the mighty Tom Jenkins from The Guardian. A brilliant photographer who I’d seen playing with the idea a few days before.

    Posted by tabascokid
  8. Nice work Inspector! Thanks for keeping us on the straight and narrow. Looking forward to working with you again…..actually going to the golf next week….wanna come? It will be lovely…rain, more rain, wind and even more rain! One for the hardcore!

    Posted by Kirkmeister
  9. Sorry bud, I’m washing my hair next week. You know how it gets in the rain too, all flyaway and uncontrollable. Otherwise, I’d be there. Honest. ;)

    Cheers!

    Posted by tabascokid
  10. Hi Leon, brilliant work! Just wondering for the panning shots what sort of shutter speed you work at? I love the effect and try it all the time but it can be hard to get! Also the bum pic is my fave ha

    Posted by David Fitzgerald
  11. @David – These were shot at about 40th/sec but it depends entirely on how fast your subject is moving obviously! So that’s two votes for more arses on the blog then… ;)

    Posted by tabascokid
  12. A fantastic set of images and blog …… One of the few I read these days…:-)

    Posted by Steve Jackson
  13. THAT’S NO MOON! Splendid stuff as always sailor, was particularly looking forward to this one :)
    Glsto next year then…?

    Posted by Carl Osbourn
  14. Number 14 and 21 have got to be the best shots for me. To see a classic image re-shot (well at least thats what I think you were thinking) in an event where one image slowly blends into another is I would have thought, alot harder then you think. Secondly photo 21. I have never seen a tennis ball connect with the racket at that shape before. Hawkeye / super duper slow mo eat your heart out.

    The rest are ok. ;-)

    Cracking post Leon.

    Posted by James Cannon
  15. @Steve – Cheers Steve. Always good to hear!

    @Carl – Excellent. Also good to note people take the time to savour the puns! Links can be worth a click too, sometimes… ;) As for Glasto, you betcha!

    @James – Cheers James. I can only thank whoever shot that original picture for allowing me to post it on here without being accused of perving. ;)

    Posted by tabascokid
  16. Loved this. And HEY! You got a Rafa shot this year (I know last year you weren’t covering him)! (I’m sad he didn’t make it farther, but oh well.)

    (here let me have a few more parentheticals)
    (((0)))

    Looking forward to your Olympic shots.

    Posted by Sara H
  17. I don’t know if there’s a technical glitch here but people are clearly talking about photos I’m not seeing. I get about a dozen shots down, there’s a picture of a woman scratching her arse……..

    …sorry, where was I again?

    Posted by Mark
  18. Seriously though, another fantastically inspiring set of pictures. The backlit shot of Tsonga is still my favourite but Murray crashing out, Federer at full stretch, the window shot at the press centre and those panning shots are all vying for second place.

    Posted by Mark
  19. (OK, third place after the bum cheeks. ;))

    Posted by Mark
  20. Glad to see I’m not the only perv who reads your salacious editorial Leon! I too like cheeky shot and the one of Andy looking bewildered had me chuckling (that animated gif is brilliant). Loads of favourites as usual but sad not see the East end of a Westbound Pippa Middelton…

    Posted by Neil
  21. Leon
    Just outrageously brilliant stuff. Perfect composition every time and the shot of Murray going down with the racquet in the air and the ball perfectly between the ball’s feet, genius.
    Cracking stuff mate.
    All the best, Patrick

    Posted by Patrick Eden
  22. @Mark – haha! Brilliant. Very funny, squire. Yeah, Tsonga is still my winner. Thankfully, there are no major sporting events coming up so I might have a chance in the comps next year. Oh…

    @Neil – Cheers Neil. Sorry to disappoint on the Pippa front but I’m afraid I’m one of the few men in the country that doesn’t understand her appeal. Sacrilege, I know.

    @Patrick – Wow! Thanks Patrick! That’s high praise! Much appreciated.

    Posted by tabascokid
  23. Hi Leon

    Great set of pictures mate, no’s 21 & 35 are super!! Being a red blooded male no 14 is rather nice too. You may recall a post I put on Facebook regarding Nikon D4, do you think it has been sorted now? Just thinking of getting one at the end of the summer.

    Posted by Clint Hughes
  24. Hey Clint, Cheers for the comments bud. Much appreciated! Regarding the Nikon D4, I think it’s improved by quite a considerable margin since it’s release thanks to a combination of tweaking, firmware updates and, frankly, getting used to the radically different colour display. Firmware v1.02 seems to have sorted a number of the issues I had. My only real gripe with it still is a greenish tint to the display but aside from that, I’m currently pretty happy!

    Posted by tabascokid
  25. Hey Leon,

    Long time no chat or chance to catch up. Good luck with the next two weeks. I bet its gonna be long days and hard work but you’ll come away with some top shots and stories. Keep that asda bag stuffed with bananas and max’s goodie bars…

    Si

    Posted by simon
  26. HI Leon

    I went to Calumet in Manchester yesterday to get a rain cover for my long lens & got to have a play with a D4. Put a flash card in & shot some stuff in the store & outside. The D4 had firmware ver 1.01 on. Quite impressed with what it produced to be honest. My 2 D3′s are 4 years old next month & still going strong, but 4 years old. Got a D3S earlier this year second hand & I love it. Just wondering if your still “happyish” with the D4′s.

    Regards

    Clint

    Posted by Clint Hughes
  27. @Clint – Hey bud, My feelings on the D4 are like something you’d find at Alton Towers theme park; one day I love them and they produce crackers but the next I’m left feeling let down by them. The latest firmware seems to have fixed a few issues but it still doesn’t feel quite “right” to me yet.

    Posted by tabascokid
  28. fabulous set of images Leon. I was extremely fortunate to be part of the media team at the brisbane international, I got my first taste at what the pro photographer goes through, so your story here really has so much more meaning now. My brief was people, but I did get to practice some tennis. It was the most exhausting week, and as I walked out, I swore never again, but knew if I was ever lucky enough to be asked again, I would say yes! Love your stories and images in your blogs.

    Posted by Tina
  29. HI Leon

    Just wondering how you got on with the D4′s at the Olympics. With Nikon NPS on site I was just wondering if things have been improved with any new firmware upgrades etc & what other pro’s have been telling you.

    I had an interesting conversation with a guy called Adam Fadgley at a pre season soccer friendly the other week. He got 2 D4′s in April along with a load of new glass. He sent the D4′s back as they were not fit for purpose. His latest 2 are proving better but he still has reservations about them. The rear screen does not show the true photos colour & he is still having a few issues using the matrix metering in certain situations. He showed me some “WOW” stuff too though that he had done with off camera flash. This review is one of the best I’ve read so far on line (apart from your own refections on the camera)

    http://www.ryanbrenizer.com/2012/05/review-nikon-d4/

    So many so called reviews I started reading I left after the first couple of paragraphs as it was so obvious that the reviewer was not a pro photographer & hadn’t used the camera in any real world shooting situations.

    The Olympics were amazing to watch on TV or on line as I did as I don’t own a TV. I was so envious I was not there but was kept busy doing the work for the Getty staffers who were at London 2012 so I suppose I can’t complain as the mortgage is paid for the next couple of months.

    Thanks Leon & look forward to hearing from you.

    Clint

    Posted by Clint Hughes
  30. @Tina – Thanks Tina! Yeah, Wimbledon is a hell of a fortnight and you certainly come away exhausted but usually with a decent set of pics to show for it! Glad you liked the post. :)

    @Clint – Tricky tricky tricky… What to say? If I’m being honest, there’s a reason that I haven’t reviewed this camera here yet and that’s because I don’t think it’s right… …yet. After two firmware updates and numerous recalibrations, tests and checks, I still don’t feel that I can rely on the camera to give me what I want. It’s so much better than my beloved D3s in many ways but at the same time, it’s just not “right”. I talked to Nikon a lot at the Olympics, as did AFP senior technicians and photographers so I’m reserving judgement for a little while longer. Sorry to be vague but I don’t want to make a statement that I then change shortly after. I was already caught out once by being interviewed on DPreview, saying how great it was going to be! ;)

    Posted by tabascokid
  31. HI Leon

    Thanks for that, I know exactly where you are coming from regarding making a judgement on the camera. I think I will stick with what I have got for now & just wait & see what happens regarding the D4. I got my fingers burned whilst I was using Canon 4 years ago when I got a EOS 1 D mk3 & it turned out to be a right bag of cack with the focussing problems, so well documented everywhere. I can’t afford for that to happen again so I will just leave the D4 for now. It’s a pity as after trying one out for half an hour in Calumet in Manchester I was very impressed.

    Cheers Leon

    Clint

    Posted by Clint Hughes
  32. Leon
    Did you get any feedback from colleagues using the new Canon 200-400 f4 zoom? I heard Canon were handing them out like candy ;-)
    All the best, Patrick

    Posted by Patrick Eden
  33. @Clint – No worries. It’s far from a bag of cack, as you say but I have just found it to be not quite right yet and if I was spending £5500 of my own money on one, I’d want it to be right.

    @Patrick – Yeah, there were plenty floating around at both Wimbledon and the Olympics. Looks a nice bit of kit!

    Posted by tabascokid

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