Five Mistakes to Avoid When Photographing Tennis


Gael Monfils, US Open, photo © 2011 Chris NicholsonWith the US Open having wrapped up in New York yesterday, I thought I’d share some of the lessons I’ve learned in my 16 years of shooting this game. If you’re interested in pro-sports photography, you can put these tips to use—just about everyone in the U.S. lives near a pro tournament, and tennis is arguably the most accessible sport for a ticket holder to photograph. Additionally, these tips apply to shooting players of all levels, so bring the camera to your area club or public court, too.

While you’re out there, here are five things to watch out for. If you can avoid these mistakes, you’ll be on track to make some great tennis photos.

Waiting to See The Ball

Timing tennis action photos is not as straightforward as the uninitiated might imagine. The ball is traveling so fast, that if you wait to see it in your viewfinder, you’ve already missed the photo.

Andy Roddick, US Open, photo © 2011 Chris Nicholson

Instead, try using a timing technique to help you anticipate when to fire the shutter. One of my favorites is to watch for the player’s muscles to move as he or she is about to swing. That will tell you that the player sees the ball coming, so you’ll know it’s coming, too. Then fire the shutter—fast!

Also, use your camera’s LCD to play back and see how your timing is. If you’re exposing your image too early or too late, you can adjust during the next point. You’ll soon be getting the ball in almost every shot.

Letting the Player Get Between You and the Ball

Unless it’s for a great creative reason, you hardly ever want the player’s back to the camera. When it comes to action photos, that means you generally want to shoot forehands from the player’s forehand side, and backhands from the backhand side.

There’s an easy way to remember this: Keep the ball between you and the player. Then he or she will always be looking at least somewhat toward you when hitting. And that will usually make for a more dynamic photograph.

Putting Down the Camera Too Early

Sports is about more than who wins, and sports photography is about more than shooting the action. When the point is over, keep your camera focused on the player.

Novak Djokovic, US Open, photo © 2011 Chris Nicholson

Especially after long or important points, you can make excellent photos of the athletes reacting. They laugh, they yell, they smash racquets, they pump their fists. Sometimes the joy and frustration they exhibit can show more about a match than a hundred photos of great backhands and volleys.

Ignoring the Follow-Through

Many photographers are so focused on getting the ball in the frame, that they forget that nice photo opportunities also exist at other moments of the action. A perfect example is the follow-through.

When a tennis player hits the ball, the stroke is not over. Continuing to swing after contact is an important part of sound mechanics, right to the point of holding the racquet over the shoulder. It also provides a nice moment for the photographer—the player poised between bursts of action, the racquet neatly resting behind the head, eyes focused on the ball and opponent outside the frame. If hair or clothes are flying, even better.

So just like a good tennis player, remember the follow-through.

Neglecting the Background

One of the first lessons a developing photographer learns is to pay attention to the background. But even pros can forget that lesson when shooting sports. You concentrate so much on following and capturing the action that it can be easy to neglect how the background looks.

Janko Tipsarevic, US Open, photo © 2011 Chris Nicholson

And in tennis, it can look pretty bad. Busy crowds donned in light clothing, bleacher railings, stray racquet bags, towels, water bottles, ballkids—all of these can muck up the backgrounds of your tennis photos.

For the best result, find an angle that allows you to aim toward the backscreen. The even background will look nicer in your photos than most of the other backdrops you can find at a tennis venue.

Chris Nicholson is the author of Photographing Tennis: A Guide for Photographers, Parents, Coaches & Fans.


Thank you for a very good article.  One question that I've yet to see addressed in articles regarding shooting tennis games - CAMERA NOISE.   Maybe it's not that big of an issue.  Maybe the players are totally focused on the game.  But a Tennis venue (to me) feels to be a very intimite setting... where NOISE travels.  Is this warranted concern?  Whether courtside at the local college venue or in the stands at Indian Wells - I like to shoot my camera in burst mode, I will often shoot in rhythm with the cadence of the game.  Thoughts?

Shooting and taking photographs in a field means we should be a professional photographer; otherwise in most of the occasion we missed the timing and action to produce a unique limelight. A professional photographer is able to produce good snaps around the ground doesn't matter with what type of sports he or she involve. Here we have found something good about how to photograph tennis and what types of mistake we should avoid while taking pictures during a match; the best part to shoot that is how the tennis ball touches the racket.

Dear friend 

    i  read  yor ariicale . This  can  help  more  improve  my   tennis  sports phots  ,  Thank you   friend and  god  bless  you 

           Best regards 


I'm a real rookie; but have got Centre court seats at wimbledon on Fridat. Facing into sun.

nikon slr d3200 

should i focus on speed and ignore everything else! Help!

You wouldn’t want to ignore everything else, but you will want to use fast shutter speeds for shooting sports.  Shooting in bright light during the day, this shouldn’t be too hard.  If the sun is going to be across from you, you will want to remember your lens hood to minimize on lens flare.  Other than that, just experiment and have fun.  As the article states above, you can always look at the LCD to see what is working and what isn’t.  If you aren’t comfortable with adjusting exposure (aperture/shutter speed) manually, the camera does have a sports mode that you can try.

I took so many pictures trying to have the ball on the strings when they hit. The timing is all but luck. After a day of shooting I came home and I did in fact have about 30-40 shots of the ball on the strings....the problem with these shots is the hitter ALWAYS looks, for a better word, SPAZ. Either their face or or free hand or position is soooo awkward that, with the exception of using it for stroke analysis, the picture is not useable/complimentary. The shot with the ball approaching or during the follow thru are good.

You should think about your use of  word; do you know anything about what oxygen starvation at birth causes? 

Photography is not that easy as we think it is. Yes, it is true that we all can take photos but not all of us had the skills, ability, and the knowledge on how to take photos while capturing the important angle and make every photo so live. This post is very useful but still every knowledge should put into practise. Thank you for sharing.