Wednesday, September 06, 2017

The US Open Through The Wrong Lens

There's no denying that a day at the US Open is a photographer's dream. With a little planning and patience, you can position yourself remarkably close to world class athletes playing a delightfully unpredictable sport. Best of all, no press credentials, absurdly priced tickets or eccentric gear is required. Going into our forth year of attending the Open, however, I did have one itty bitty concern.

Consider these snapshots:

I think these are solid photos, and they're capturing the number one player in the world doing his thing. But alas, I feel like I've captured these exact photos for the last 3 years. Did I really need another photo of Rafa Nadal hitting a winner? (Shira's answer: yes, you idiot.) I decided, I didn't.

To encourage taking unique photos this year, I dispensed with my 300mm zoom lens and depended exclusively on a fixed 24mm lens. I considered leaving the DSLR at home altogether and making this challenge about using my cell phone. But, I already shoot so many photos with my cell phone that wouldn't be all that unusual. Also, the DLSR would give me the opportunity to control not just shutter speed and ISO like my LG G6 does, but also aperture, which should give me an entire degree of freedom to work with.

Ultimately it boiled down to this: a DSLR with a 24mm lens at a sporting event is just wrong! This made it perfect for my purposes.

After a full day and a half of shooting pictures I had a much better idea of what this 24mm lens setup could be ideal for. Naturally, it worked well for landscape type photos where I could capture the scene:

With the building of a new Louie Armstrong stadium, and newly constructed Grandstand and roof over Arthur Ashe, there was plenty of interesting architecture to shoot. Not to mention, there's New York in the background. At night the grounds are lit up, which also makes for fun shooting opportunities.

The 24mm lens also did solid work shooting portraits:

As I mentioned above, the seating for the matches can often be quite close. So close, in fact, that I was able to get away with a few action shots using the lens:

The last series in the above was taken during a practice session and shows just how close to the action you can get.

I even managed to take one notable close up photo:

Where the lens truly shined was in capturing off court candid moments. I basically got to play the role of street photographer, looking for interesting subjects and attempting to capture fleeting moments:

I especially like the first photo in the group that shows Madison Keys moments before she walked out on the court to play. With a telephoto lens in hand, I'd never have captured that photo (though I would have hoped I could have been quick enough on the draw with my cell phone).

One has to ask: was the experiment a success?

On one level, no. My favorite two photos of the time there were these two shots by Shira, both of which used the telephoto lens:

The former photo captures an impossibly timed shot of del Potro slipping and losing his racket. The latter tells the story of an impressive shot by the faces of the spectators.

But of course there was more to my experiment than taking the best pics. I got a crash course in street photography and was reminded what a single fixed lens and camera body can accomplish. And most importantly, I took new pictures this year, striving to tell the story of the US Open without merely showing impressive tennis shots. So yeah, I'll call it a success and I'm certainly glad I gave this challenge a go.

I'm incredibly fortunate that I've managed to get to this world class sporting event so many times. As for next year, we'll see. Maybe I dispense with the camera altogether and just bring a sketch pad? Now that's some serious pressure.

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