Go behind the scenes with the Getty Images Sport team of photographers and editors as they cover the US Open
Upon arriving at the Billie Jean National Tennis Center, I meet Justin Heiman, Getty Images Senior Field Photo Editor, at the South Gate of Arthur Ashe Stadium. We proceed to the Media Photo Center where the entire Getty Images Sport team gathers to map out the schedule for the day.
Led by Senior Staff Photographer, Matthew Stockman, the entire team receives their official responsibilities and assignments in terms of which courts to cover and when. Mike and Justin, our photo editors also check everyone’s cameras, adjust settings and talk to the team about any technical nuances they need to address before heading out for the day. I notice a lot of smiling and joking around, which sets the tone for the day.
Shoot 1 – Al Bello:
Starting at Court 5, one of the outer courts at the stadium is nice because we get close to the action right away. Al Bello, who’s been covering the US Open since 1997, takes out his 400 mm Canon lens and gets to work. He is constantly experimenting with unique angles, shadows and interesting details that make each shot intriguing and special. There’s a lot of tranquility in the way Al works when he’s shooting up close, so I let him be and just observe the genius at play. I enjoy the tennis too and love watching my countrywoman, Daniela Hantuchova battle it out with France’s Alize Cornet. It’s pretty hot out there and you can tell the players are feeling it too by their movements.
In between games, Al interjects to tell me about what he’s concentrating on, such as details on players like the flip of the hair, as seen on Daniela below. He also talks about the importance of shooting a player with the sun behind them to avoid shadows in the face. “You always want a clean shot with no shadows,” Al says, and I hear the other photographers reiterate this throughout the day.
After Court 5, we head over to Arthur Ashe stadium (upper level) and check out Sloane Stephens play against Sweden’s Johanna Larsson. Since we’re up high and at a totally different vantage point, Al points out that he’s now looking to capture shots of the players as they stretch their limbs to return challenging shots. It’s almost like watching a dance, keeping an eye out for dramatic movements. “You won’t catch a facial expression here,” Al says, since we’re up high and also because most of the players are wearing hats or visors to protect them from the sun.
Deciding he’s got enough material to run his photo card back to our editors, Al and I return to the Media Photo Center. It’s a busy scene when we come in, as some of the other photographers such as Streeter Lecka and Elsa Garrison have returned too and everyone is conversing and talking about what they’ve shot. It kind of feels like a busy locker room, full of banter and fun discourse about the players and the general shooting conditions.
There’s a lot of screens, as you can see – computers and TVs – that display the matches and the photos that are coming in. Some of the photos stream in real time from the photographers’ cameras right onto our portal and others have to be uploaded through cards. Picture Editors, Mike and Justin Heiman (yes, our very own Bryan brothers of photography) spend all day in this room editing, sorting, and tagging all the photos you later see on Getty Images and in various digital and print media. On an average day, they look at about five to six thousand photos, out of which they discard more than three fourths.
Shoot 2 – Elsa Garrison:
Looking forward to shadowing our female staff photographer, Elsa and I head out to Armstrong and Grandstand stadiums to cover two women’s matches. We get to chatting a bit and I find out that Elsa was the first Getty Images female photographer to be hired, which is huge. In a male dominated profession, she stands as a strong force and a positive influence for creative women. “I get a lot of comments when people see me with my lens,” she says. “How did you get this job? That’s a big lens for a little lady,” they say to which I reply “I went to school for it, I’ve worked hard, and I’ve earned it.”
We get all the way on Armstrong’s promenade level and I watch Elsa work her magic. Also mentioning the importance of shooting players who are backlit and thus eliminating shadows in the face, Elsa focuses on clean shots, expressions in the face and body as well as playing around with shadows cast on the court during this part of the day. “I love getting a dramatic shot of a player looking like they’re emerging from that shadow. It makes for a great shot but it’s hard to get.”
In between breaks, we head over to Grandstand stadium to relieve Staff Photographer, Julian Finney so he can take a little break and get something to eat. Working as a team, it’s clear to me that no one gets left behind, and the guys really support each other. When we run into Julian, he looks calm, collected, and satisfied with his shots, so we can go on and continue to cover our assigned courts, until we head back to the Editing Room again to drop off photo cards.
Shoot 3 – Mike Heiman:
After just a few short minutes of hanging out in the Editing Room, Managing Editor, Mike Heiman drops the exicting news that we’re heading to “The Dugout,” which is the area closest to the court at Arthur Ashe stadium and which you often see on TV. I couldn’t believe how up close and intimate you get with the players, and I have to admit that it felt oddly voyeuristic, as you get to make direct eye contact with them. This happened a few times with Maria Sharapova on court, and it was strange but also very cool.
Unusual things happen sometimes, such as photographers having malfunctions or confusion with equipment. Happy to assist, Mike helps an Italian photographer from another agency adjust his lens – once again exemplifying the kindness and team effort everyone takes part in, regardless of affiliation.
Shoot 4 – Julian Finney:
Towards the end of the day, I spend time with Staff Photographer, Julian Finney who’s here from Great Britain. Julian’s style is pretty unique and meticulous, as he also focuses on players who make “good shapes with their bodies.” You’ll see just what I mean, as we go up back to Armstrong and shoot the very exciting, Dimitrov/Harrison match. “Dimitrov is one of my favorites and his game reminds me of Federer – very smooth and effortless,” Julian says, and I concur, quickly being impressed by the young Bulgarian player.
And then we go courtside. My feet literally touch the court at Armstrong, as we climb over the tall divider, Julian telling me to “mind my back,” in his calm, even keel manner. We’re as close as can be now and it’s the most amazing, magical feeling to be down there, eye level with the players. The light is beautiful and soft, and Julian is happy with the conditions and the opportunities this gives him to take unique, close-up shots.
At this point, it’s nearly 7 p.m. and I’ve been out with the team for nearly nine hours. I say goodbye to Julian and then head back to the Editing Room to say my goodbyes and thank yous to everyone else. Gracious and generous with their time and knowledge, I can’t express in words how much our Sports team has enriched me and given me a new-found respect for not only this tournament but sports photography in general.
For more real time tennis action from the Getty Images Sport team, follow them on Twitter