“It’s the most beautiful tennis tournament in the world”. This is how Nikon European Ambassador and sports photographer, Joel Marklund, describes Wimbledon. With no branding in sight, the annual tennis competition, held in London’s beautiful All England Lawn Tennis Club, is renowned for attracting the world’s top players to battle it out on its hallowed courts.
The moment Joel set foot there as an official Wimbledon photographer with his Nikon D5 in hand, he knew this was going to be a different experience for him as a photographer. With the limited angles photographers are permitted to work with at Wimbledon, the unpredictable British weather and changing light, shooting the Championships was far from plain sailing but Joel saw this as an opportunity to push himself creatively. The constraints compelled him to use his instincts, spot new opportunities, and use his narrative skills to capture the stories he found, both on and off the court.
“This was a definitely different to what I was used to. After the demanding context of Wimbledon, I now feel ready to take it further in my next assignment,” shares Joel. This assignment being the greatest sporting event in the world: the Games in Rio.
Working with the Great British weather: a lesson in light & shadows
Wimbledon is infamous for being subject to the whims of the British weather, which can change within a matter of minutes.
Joel revealed that the British weather is as much a challenge for photographers as it is for the players and crowd, saying “I’ve never had to think about the weather as much as I did when I was shooting Wimbledon.”
“A cloudy sky requires very different settings to a rainy backdrop or bright sunshine. Because of the weather, you need to work differently according to the light.”
Instead of feeling unlucky with the weather, Joel saw it as a chance to think differently. When games were delayed, or even called off due to bad weather conditions, he chose the rain as the story and the lawn as a focus. “It was fun to challenge myself, and the whole team worked really hard to be creative in every weather setting.”
“For example, in the middle of the day, when the light is at its brightest, the players often wear hats on court, to shield the sun from their eyes. This meant that I needed to shoot them in the backlight, with the sun behind them, in order to see their faces. In contrast, the midday light means that it’s more difficult to capture the background behind a player – so it’s finding the right balance to capture both in equal parts.”
He also used shadows to his advantage – “I knew that I could use the sunlight of the late afternoon, which creates fantastic long shadows, to take some dramatic images.”
It was this insight that created one of Joel’s favourite images of the tournament, the “Superman” shadow of Roger Federer as he celebrated making it into the semi-finals. On Wimbledon’s Instagram, it has already amassed over 39,000 likes.
Although Joel humbly put it down to a lucky shot, hard work and experience were more at play than good fortune. “If I saw an area of good light, I’d position myself in the right spot so I could use it as much as possible. That meant that when a defining moment came, I could capture the reaction in the best conditions.”
Creativity & angles: Wimbledon’s unpredictable moments
When the All England Lawn Tennis Club commissioned Joel to be an official photographer for the tournament, he was not only asked to capture the typical action on court, but also the unexpected stories he found around the grounds.
Searching for candid moments to add colour to Wimbledon’s image portfolio was a different way of working, versus the typical sports photography Joel is used to.
“Some moments you happen upon; others you search out. People think it’s easy to get unexpected shots at Wimbledon, but in the end, you have to work hard to find the best angles that will make great shots.”
For example, Joel captured a member of ground staff holding up a rain cover. His position at the time allowed him to capture the resulting image, which looked as if she’s wearing the cover as a dress. With his eye usually trained towards action shots, it was fun for him to find these fleeting, light-hearted moments during the competition.
Another story Joel played out on camera was the British underdog, Marcus Willis. The Cinderella story of the tournament, Willis was ranked 772 in the world before qualifying for the competition. In his first round match, he beat the world number 54 and then went on to play the Swiss tennis legend, Roger Federer.
Here, Joel shows Marcus being embraced by fans and friends alike after winning his first round match. Capturing a dream come true, Joel was awed by the emotion of the crowd, who had become as enthralled with the story as he was.
Fighting to win: capturing the emotion in sport
However, it wasn’t easy to capture the traditional action shots, either. Joel told us, “There are limited photo positions on court. You have to work really hard to find the great angles, because there aren’t a lot of them.”
His tactic was to start out from a relatively safe position, close to the court, to get some traditional action shots. From there on, he’d move to different positions and try to be more creative.
Another challenge, unique to Wimbledon, is that photographers weren’t allowed to use remote cameras, as they often do at other sporting events. “You have to rely on yourself as there are no back-ups; it’s just you and the camera in hand. If I was in the wrong place and the light wasn’t good, then I’d have missed the shot”.
Just one action image can reveal how emotionally invested the players are in their matches. This shot of Serena Williams (above) is a prime example. To achieve such a photo, Joel researched her previous matches to gain insight into her behaviour on the court.
“There are, perhaps, only two moments in a match when Serena Williams screams like that.” Without a remote camera, Joel had to use his intuition to get himself in the best position to capture it. “I had to be aware of what’s going on and where there might be emotion. Then I placed myself on court where I knew she’d be screaming towards me”.
The same goes for this year’s champion, Andy Murray. Joel knew that the British number one always directs his reactions towards the player’s box, where his support team and family are seated. “When Andy is playing; I want to be as close to the player’s box as possible, to capture his emotions.”
A peek inside Joel’s kit bag
Despite the intensely fast-paced action in tennis, Joel’s images were sharp and crisp. He used the Nikon D5 throughout the tournament, pairing it with the AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II and AF-S NIKKOR 400mm f/2.8G ED VR.
On the road to Rio
As Joel prepares for Rio 2016, he told us of his renewed passion and creativity. “As one of Wimbledon’s official photographers, whatever we shot, it had to be the best we could do. Everyone worked really hard to create unique images.”
“It’s something I’ve always tried to do, but I really liked having a client such as the All England Lawn Tennis Club who enjoyed and actively encouraged me to take those more creative images. It’s something that I will take with me in the future, as I head to Rio.”