UK-born sports photographer, Ella Ling, has landed her dream job – following the ATP and WTA Tennis Tours around the globe to capture all the action.
Starting out as a freelance photographer, Ella now shoots for ShutterStock. With Wimbledon having just finished and the US Open about to begin, Inside Imaging spoke with Ella to ask her about life as a travelling tennis photographer.
How did you become a professional sports photographer, and what got you into tennis?
I’ve always loved tennis! I remember back in my teens, I would take my camera to tournaments and afterwards couldn’t wait to get the photos developed! It was so exciting getting back that developed roll of film. I also had a book on the most beautiful tennis images from professional photographers.
How do you plan for a shoot? What’s in your kit?
Sometimes, I think that some of my best or most interesting photos are the ones that aren’t planned. I always go in with an open mind and look for opportunities to take shots that are different from the dozens of other photographers at these events.
I use two Canon 1Dx’s and my go-to lenses are the Canon 400mm f2.8 mk3 and the Canon 70-200mm f2.8 Mk 2. I find these cameras and lenses the best as they allow me to essentially cover all my bases — so I can get great action shots as well as more full-body or ambience shots.
Do you ever conceptualise or anticipate images when photographing a certain player?
I find that the more I photograph certain players, the more I start to pick up on certain patterns in how they play and move. A great example of this is Nick Kyrgios, who is known for his cheeky underarm serve – or even Federer’s backhand which has so much power that it’s a dream to shoot.
When photographing an event like Wimbledon, what are the major rules, restrictions or limitations?
It all depends on the tournament. At Wimbledon, they are relatively strict with shooting positions. Generally, photographers don’t have the flexibility that we might have at other Slams and there are certain spots on each court where we aren’t allowed. This certainly restricts our ability to take photos in some instances, but generally, we have enough space to work with.
What are the biggest challenges of shooting a major tennis event?
Competing with other photographers to get that unique shot that no one else has. At big tournaments, like Wimbledon, there are a number of photographers all fighting for the best image. To overcome this, I don’t always follow the ball. By taking shots of the crowd, to taking shots of the opposition player waiting for the ball to land in their court, this helps to get photos that not everyone is taking. It also gets a good grasp on how the crowd is responding, giving viewers who aren’t at the game a sense of the atmosphere courtside.
What makes a great sports photo?
I think it’s about being able to capture the emotion of the moment itself. When taking photos of players I try to get a unique shot that no one else has – I love the photos I take of their passion and excitement on the court. I think it’s also very valuable to capture the crowd’s reactions, it gives people a more well-rounded view on the atmosphere of the game.
What’s your advice for an aspiring sports photographer?
Be prepared! It’s a very competitive industry with no guarantees. It requires a lot of hard work, patience and long hours – also making the chance of a social life virtually non-existent. But, if you’re serious about getting into the industry and are truly passionate, I’d recommend approaching different agencies or photographers and ask them if there are any interning positions available to begin. Good luck!