Tuesday, September 26, 2017

My Favorite Shots From Indian Wells

Tennis is one of my favorite sports, and my wife enjoys watching it even more than I do. So last year, I took her to Palm Springs, CA to watch the first two rounds of the BNP Paribas Open tennis tournament at the Indian Wells Resort. This event attracts all the top players on both the men's and women's tour, so much so that it has often been called "the Fifth Major" of the tennis season. Given that we both love tennis so much, I thought going to the tournament would make a great early anniversary gift.

It would also give me the opportunity for photograph some of the best tennis players in the world. Indian Wells is an awesome venue. It has a 16,100 seat stadium court and 11 other match courts as well as six practice courts. And the entire property is very easy to get around; not nearly as spread out as Flushing Meadow.

It's a great day for tennis. Here we go!
The best time to get good photos of the players was when they were practicing. The practice courts posted a schedule of who would be using them throughout each day. This made it very easy for me to map out where I needed to be in between the matches my wife and I planned to see.

So for this blog post, I thought it would be fun to share some of my favorite shots from the tournament. I am a Nikon guy, and my camera is a D5300 SLR. I brought three lenses with me, but the one I would be relying on the most for the action photography was my Nikkor 70-200mm. It is perfectly suited for events like this. And the weather was absolutely perfect. For settings, I usually went with shutter priority and let the camera select the aperture and ISO. Anyway, here are the shots I selected. I have also provided a little back story for each one.

This is a shot of my wife Winnie with the Stadium Court in the background. As you can tell, the weather was just about perfect. Being in the desert in March, it does get a little cool at night, but during the day the temperatures were reaching at least 80 degrees. Winnie is definitely ready for the day, and she was letting everyone know with her "Fifty Shades of Tennis" t-shirt. It got several nods of approval from other tennis fans throughout the day. The matches started at 11:00 AM and usually wrapped up around 11:00 PM depending on the length of the scheduled matches and the weather. I took this shot with my 18-55 mm Nikkor lens shortly after we arrived on the first day. So while there are not many people in the background, it didn't take long for the crowds to show up. In fact, I am pretty sure they set new attendance record for the tournament.
Nice concentration shown by Madison Keys during
her practice session prior to her first round match.

You may recognize the player to the right as Madison Keys. She made it to the final of the U.S. Open just a few weeks ago before coming up short against Sloane Stephens, another young American star. Here, Keys is getting in some practice prior to her first round match, which was later in the day. I was not able to get right next to the practice court, but the 70-200mm zoom still allowed me to get pretty tight. Up until this trip, most of the action shots I had taken were indoors at my son's basketball games, so it was nice to be outside in the natural light. I experimented with different shutter speeds by starting low and working my way up. Here I used 1/250s. That seemed to be good enough to freeze the player, but the ball is just slightly blurred. It's traveling over 100 mph coming off Keys' racket, so that wasn't totally unexpected. Eventually, I settled for shutter speeds in the 1/1000s - 1/1250s range. The reason I like this shot is because of the concentration and focus being demonstrated here. Madison's eyes are still totally focused on the ball even after it is well on its way. When I first started playing tennis, my eyes would always go to where I wanted to hit the ball just as I was making contact. This resulted in a lot of mishits and unforced errors. If I could execute shots with this kind of concentration, I'd be pretty happy.

Here is Rafael Nadal of Spain getting in a few
serves before taking the court the next day. 
Later that afternoon, we saw Rafael Nadal warming up a few courts down. So I wanted to see if I could get a few shots of him serving. I had every intention of changing my shutter speed after taking some shots around the tennis center, but something distracted me, and I left it on the previous setting. You can tell because the ball is blurred even though it is barely moving as Nadal begins his toss. I was a little disappointed at my lack of attention to detail since I didn't notice the mistake until after I finished shooting. But it was a great lesson learned. After that I double checked my settings every time I got near a practice court so I would be ready. It didn't take long for me to get another great opportunity.

I finally got the shutter speed I was looking for
while watching Eugenie Bouchard of Canada
get in some practice. 

Precision and power are on display as Eugenie Bouchard sends a
blistering backhand down the line during a practice session with her coach.
The next two shots are of Canadian star Eugenie Bouchard. She was a finalist at Wimbledon in 2013, and we were planning on watching her play later that evening. I set the shutter speed at 1/1000s and let the aperture and ISO adjust automatically. Again, you can see the total concentration as Bouchard follows through on her forehand. This shutter speed is fast enough to freeze the ball with no blur at all. The same is true of the shot below. Here, Bouchard's power and precision is on display as she hits a scorching two-fisted backhand down the line that has no chance at being returned. It is probably my most favorite action shot that I took over the course of the two days that we were there. The one thing you cannot get a full appreciation for is just how hard these athletes hit the ball. It just sounds different coming off their racket.  My wife and I spent at least 20 minutes watching Bouchard practice with her coach, and she was absolutely punishing the ball. It also carried over into her first round match later in the evening. She won it handily.

The biggest reason for taking Winnie to the tournament was so she could see the Williams sisters in action. It was their first trip back to Indian Wells in more than 15 years, and the crowd gave them each a rousing ovation when they played their respective matches. Venus played first. She was little rusty and was not able to get out of the first round. At the time, I thought she was just about finished with tennis, but clearly this year, she as proven that she is as competitive as ever. Not many champions can say they made it to two Grand Slam Finals this late in their career. Venus is 37 years old.

Serena Williams played an unseeded German player in her second round match after receiving a first round bye. This was the last match we watched on that second night. We were headed back home the next morning. Of course Serena did not disappoint. Since it was an evening match. There was no flash photography allowed during play. However, there were photo opportunities on the change overs. We were sitting in the first few rows of the loge level behind the baseline. After Serena won the first set, I took out my camera and quickly switched the settings to automatic. Then I just zoomed in tight as she was seated in her chair toweling off and preparing to go out and play the second set. If I had to guess, I would say that I was  about 100 - 120 feet away from her by line of sight distance. Since I had set everything to automatic, I was not able to shoot multiple frame per second, so timing was everything. I kept the camera trained on Serena for at least a minute. The whole time I was saying under my breath, "Please, look up here just once. That's all I'm asking. " And then this happened. . .

Serena Williams on a change over just after winning the first set of her
second round match at the 2016 BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells, CA
There were literally thousands of fans on that end of the stadium, and it seems like she is looking directly at me as I took this shot. The timing couldn't have been any better. Patience really does pay off if you want a shot badly enough. A minute later, Serena was back on the court. She won the second set easily to advance to the third round.

So those are some of my favorite shots from the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells. If you would like see more from that weekend, feel free to leave your email address in the comments section and I will add you to my Shutterfly list. In the meantime, I hope you have enjoyed what you have seen here. And I would really like seeing some of your favorite  shots. They don't just have to be sport action photography either. It's always a great learning experience for me to hear and see what others like to shoot as well. Until next time. . .

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