Photographing tennis can be challenging. The players are farther away than they would appear to be so a zoom lens that can get out to 300mm is not a bad idea. Since you’re not allowed on the court during the match you need to shoot through the chain link fence, which is not a huge problem as long as you’re using a wide aperture and you make sure that the lens is centered in the middle of one of the holes in the fence. The lens needs to be pressed up against the fence, so to protect your lens it’s best to remove your stock lens hood and replace it with a rubber one. This hood from Mamiya is perfect if you have a 77mm filter size. It’s really sturdy and has a deep mounting ring that prevents the front element of your lens from touching the fence and getting scratched. Thanks to Scott Kelby for the lens hood suggestion.
One curveball this year was the trees on the west end of the court – they grew. A lot. So if you’re shooting an afternoon match you need to shoot the first two courts on the west end as quickly as possible before the sun sets behind the trees. It’s not a bad idea to take some shots of the players warming up because they’ll be in the shade before you know it and you’ll end up shooting dimly lit players against a bright baseball field background – not a good thing. I shoot from the parking lot side because the background is less distracting than shooting into the parking lot towards the cars, houses, telephone poles, etc. Even so, the sun dropped behind those trees so quickly that I ended up shooting the last few players from the baseball field side hoping they would occasionally step into the remaining sunlight. That didn’t work well. Stupid, stupid trees.
As far as exposure settings, since the lighting was tricky (very contrasty with either very bright backgrounds – the baseball field, or very dark backgrounds – the handball courts) I switched between center-weighted metering for players in sunlight, and spot metering for players in shade. Aperture was f/5 and the camera was on auto-ISO to give me a minimum shutter speed of 1/1600. This did a good job of exposing the players but the lighting was very contrasty and most shots required a lot of post-processing to clean up the blown out highlights and open up the shadows. I tried to get at least four to six usable photos of each player on the court.
The key with tennis is to try to get some variety in the shots. Not just backhands, forehands, and serves, but a few shots of the players taking water breaks, high-fiving, etc., and some shots of the coach interacting with the players (tough to catch when they’re on opposite sides of the fence). This puts a little variety in the gallery.
If you have any questions on photographing tennis, leave a comment or send me an email and I’ll get back to you.