Darren CarrollComment

2018 U.S. Open

Darren CarrollComment
2018 U.S. Open

As sporting events go, the U.S. Open holds a special place near and dear to me. I grew up playing tennis on long island, about 20 minutes away from the national tennis center; when we were kids, my little brother and I would always head out to Flushing Meadows with the pro from our local club. Down the subway ramp from the SHEA STADIUM station, just far enough away from the entrance to KEEP it legal, we’d scalp a couple of general admission tickets for nosebleed seats in the old Louis Armstrong Stadium during the first or second rounds.

Back then, the ushers had a nice side business going, and a portrait of Andrew Jackson palmed deftly (by our pro, not by a 10-year old kid) into an offered hand would get you all-day access to what those guys knew would, for that day at least, be an otherwise unused front-row corporate box. A lot has changed in the intervening 30-plus years; barcodes on the tickets (and dare I say perhaps a renewed sense of ethics) preclude our little seating gambit from happening anymore; the courts have gone from green to blue, many of the outer courts have become show courts and the entire facility more fan-friendly. The National Tennis Center was rightly renamed for Billie Jean King; Arthur Ashe Stadium arrived, Louis Armstrong Stadium, relegated to second-tier status, had its second tier lopped off. Ashe got a roof, then Armstrong disappeared entirely only to be reappear this year, rising Phoenix-like from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s original Valley of Ashes, as a state-of-the-art retractable roof stadium.

But one thing hasn’t changed: the vibe of the U.S. Open. Unapologetically loud. Hard-charging. Crowded. Energized. Raw. In a word (well, 2 words): New York. Which is what makes it different. Which is what makes it fun.

 Monica Puig, Court 8, 1st Round Women’s Singles  Sony A9, Sony 70-200mm f2.8 GM-OSS, Sony FE 1.4x teleconverter

Monica Puig, Court 8, 1st Round Women’s Singles Sony A9, Sony 70-200mm f2.8 GM-OSS, Sony FE 1.4x teleconverter

 Kei Nishikori, Louis Armstrong Stadium, 4th round Men’s Singles  Sony A9, Sony 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 GM-OSS

Kei Nishikori, Louis Armstrong Stadium, 4th round Men’s Singles Sony A9, Sony 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 GM-OSS

 Joào Sousa, Arthur Ashe Stadium, 4th round Men’s Singles  Sony A9, Sony 400mm f2.8 GM-OSS

Joào Sousa, Arthur Ashe Stadium, 4th round Men’s Singles Sony A9, Sony 400mm f2.8 GM-OSS

The U.S. Open is many things, but subtle is not one of them. And that lack of subtlety translates into the pictures to be made there as well. The stadium courts are utilitarian, massive concrete structures whose walls are so tall, and seating bowls so steep, that, by 2:30 in the afternoon, everything is in shadow and there’s never more than a passing wisp of what could be called “beautiful” late-day light. The outer courts, while somewhat more exposed to that light and its possibilities, offer chain link and harsh aluminum bleachers and concession stands and lampposts and a dozen other things to work around to keep your backgrounds clean and the focus on the light, the color, or the player.

 Philipp Kohlschreiber, Louis Armstrong Stadium, 4th round Men’s Singles  Sony A9, Sony 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 GM-OSS

Philipp Kohlschreiber, Louis Armstrong Stadium, 4th round Men’s Singles Sony A9, Sony 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 GM-OSS

 Doninic Thiem, Louis Armstrong Stadium, 4th round Men’s Singles  Canon EOS 1DXm2, EF-L 70-200mm f2.8 II

Doninic Thiem, Louis Armstrong Stadium, 4th round Men’s Singles Canon EOS 1DXm2, EF-L 70-200mm f2.8 II

Photos at the U.S. Open, like the U.S. Open itself, aren’t about, can’t be about and should never try to claim the mantle of the gentility of Wimbledon, or the warm, red richness of Roland-Garros. No, photos here are about grinding out a picture, about making something happen—about finding that 15-minute sliver of time when the sun plays with the rooftop on Ashe at around 1:30, or the 11 a.m. baseline shadow show on Armstrong, and working with it for what little time nature gives you. Its about finding higher, cleaner angles or shooting wide open at f1.4 to blur out background distractions. It’s about hammering out facial expressions and rippling muscles and the impact of a ball on strings as the baseliners pound away point after point, and about keying on reactions to tell your story, because here you can’t rely on the pretty stuff to pull you through. Like the players on the hard, unforgiving DecoTurf, you can’t try to be subtle to be successful here.

 Serena Williams, Arthur Ashe Stadium, Women’s Singles Final  Canon EOS 1DXm2, EF-L 300mm f2.8 IS-II

Serena Williams, Arthur Ashe Stadium, Women’s Singles Final Canon EOS 1DXm2, EF-L 300mm f2.8 IS-II

 Nikoloz Basilashvili, Arthur Ashe Stadium, 4th round Men’s Singles  Sony A9, Sony 85mm f1.4 GM

Nikoloz Basilashvili, Arthur Ashe Stadium, 4th round Men’s Singles Sony A9, Sony 85mm f1.4 GM

 Venus Williams, Arthur Ashe Stadium, 1st round Women’s Singles  Sony A9, Sony 400mm f2.8 GM-OSS

Venus Williams, Arthur Ashe Stadium, 1st round Women’s Singles Sony A9, Sony 400mm f2.8 GM-OSS

 Kei Nishikori, Arthur Ashe Stadium, Men’s Singles Semifinal  Sony A7rIII, Sony 24-70mm f2.8 GM

Kei Nishikori, Arthur Ashe Stadium, Men’s Singles Semifinal Sony A7rIII, Sony 24-70mm f2.8 GM

 Roger Federer, Arthur Ashe Stadium, 1st round Men’s Singles  Canon EOS 1DXm2, EF-L 70-200mm f2.8 II

Roger Federer, Arthur Ashe Stadium, 1st round Men’s Singles Canon EOS 1DXm2, EF-L 70-200mm f2.8 II

 Anastasija Sevastova, Arthur Ashe Stadium, Women’s Singles Quarterfinal  Canon EOS 1DXm2, EF-L 70-200mm f2.8 II

Anastasija Sevastova, Arthur Ashe Stadium, Women’s Singles Quarterfinal Canon EOS 1DXm2, EF-L 70-200mm f2.8 II

 Rafael Nadal, Arthur Ashe Stadium, Men’s Singles Semifinal  Sony A9, Sony 400mm f2.8 GM-OSS

Rafael Nadal, Arthur Ashe Stadium, Men’s Singles Semifinal Sony A9, Sony 400mm f2.8 GM-OSS

 Kei Nishikori, Arthur Ashe Stadium, Men’s Singles Quarterfinal  Nikon D5, AF-S Nikkor 300mm f4D IF-ED

Kei Nishikori, Arthur Ashe Stadium, Men’s Singles Quarterfinal Nikon D5, AF-S Nikkor 300mm f4D IF-ED

 Jamie Murray and Bethanie Mattek-Sands, Arthur Ashe Stadium, Mixed Doubles Final  Canon EOS 1DXm2, EF-L 70-200mm f2.8 II

Jamie Murray and Bethanie Mattek-Sands, Arthur Ashe Stadium, Mixed Doubles Final Canon EOS 1DXm2, EF-L 70-200mm f2.8 II

I have the good fortune of working with an incredible team of photographers and editors at the USTA and USOpen.org. We’re all tasked not with just shooting action, but also of giving a feel for what it’s like to be on the grounds, taking it all in.

 Marin Cilic, Arthur Ashe Stadium, Men’s Singles Quarterfinal  Sony A9, Sony 85mm f1.4 GM

Marin Cilic, Arthur Ashe Stadium, Men’s Singles Quarterfinal Sony A9, Sony 85mm f1.4 GM

 Practice Court 4  Sony A7rIII, Sony 24-70mm f2.8 GM

Practice Court 4 Sony A7rIII, Sony 24-70mm f2.8 GM

 Arthur Ashe Plaza  Sony A7rIII, Sony 24-70mm f2.8 GM

Arthur Ashe Plaza Sony A7rIII, Sony 24-70mm f2.8 GM

 Chair umpire Tim Mevel measures the height of the net before second round play on Court 6.  Sony A9, Sony 85mm f1.4 GM

Chair umpire Tim Mevel measures the height of the net before second round play on Court 6. Sony A9, Sony 85mm f1.4 GM

 Serena Williams, 3rd round Women’s Singles  Sony A7rIII, Sony 24-70mm f2.8 GM

Serena Williams, 3rd round Women’s Singles Sony A7rIII, Sony 24-70mm f2.8 GM

 Court 17  Sony A7rIII, Sony 12-24mm f4 G

Court 17 Sony A7rIII, Sony 12-24mm f4 G

 Andreas Seppi, Court 5, 2nd round Men’s Singles  Sony A9, Sony 70-200mm f2.8 GM-OSS

Andreas Seppi, Court 5, 2nd round Men’s Singles Sony A9, Sony 70-200mm f2.8 GM-OSS

I have to geek out about something for a minute here. The folks from Sony Pro Support had a terrific on-site presence, and were kind enough to loan me a bunch of toys to augment my typical Sony kit. Thanks to them I had access to pretty much every piece of equipment I could ever want. But more important than that was the ability to try out something I’d never really made use of before. I’m usually known as a golf photographer, which means I spend my time shooting “action” pictures of people who don’t move very fast, and who tend to do some pretty predictable things when it comes time to prove their athletic mettle. Shooting tennis players is, shall we say, a little different.

And so it seemed like the perfect time to try out a feature on the Sony A9 that I’d never really had much use for previously: Eye-AF. As in, autofocus that tracks an eyeball. No, not your eyeball—that technology, to track where your eye is looking and adjust the focus point accordingly, has been around for decades, and to show you how well it works you only need to think about how many professional-grade cameras still have it as an option…still waiting for your answer…

What I mean by eyeball tracking is their eyeball. The subject’s. As in, the A9 can discern a subject’s eyeball, and, once locked in, stay locked on. Couple that with the A9’s ability to shoot (and track focus) at an astonishing 20 frames-per-second, and the results are pretty much life-changing. It can follow an eyeball as its owner runs across a court or charges the net. It can follow it through the net, through an opponent’s legs, lunging for a serve return, you name it. Honestly, when it comes to servo AF-tracking systems among the various manufacturers, right now it’s not a fair fight. Some examples of images made with Eye-AF engaged on the A9 are below:

 Vera Zvonareva, Court 4, Women’s Singles Qualifying Round 4  Sony A9, Sony 70-200mm f2.8 GM-OSS

Vera Zvonareva, Court 4, Women’s Singles Qualifying Round 4 Sony A9, Sony 70-200mm f2.8 GM-OSS

 Novak Djokovic, Arthur Ashe Stadium, Men’s Singles semifinal  Sony A9, Sony 400mm f2.8 GM-OSS

Novak Djokovic, Arthur Ashe Stadium, Men’s Singles semifinal Sony A9, Sony 400mm f2.8 GM-OSS

 Novak Djokovic, Arthur Ashe Stadium, 3rd round Men’s Singles  Sony A9, Sony 85mm f1.4 GM

Novak Djokovic, Arthur Ashe Stadium, 3rd round Men’s Singles Sony A9, Sony 85mm f1.4 GM

 Aliona Bolsova, Court 9, Women’s Singles Qualifying Round 4  Sony A9, Sony 70-200mm f2.8 GM-OSS

Aliona Bolsova, Court 9, Women’s Singles Qualifying Round 4 Sony A9, Sony 70-200mm f2.8 GM-OSS

 Rafael Nadal, Arthur Ashe Stadium, Men’s Singles Semifinal  Sony A9, Sony 400mm f2.8 GM-OSS

Rafael Nadal, Arthur Ashe Stadium, Men’s Singles Semifinal Sony A9, Sony 400mm f2.8 GM-OSS

 Lara Arruabarrena, Court 5, 2nd round Women’s Singles  Sony A9, Sony 85mm f1.4 GM

Lara Arruabarrena, Court 5, 2nd round Women’s Singles Sony A9, Sony 85mm f1.4 GM

 Anastasija Sevastova, Arthur Ashe Stadium, Women’s Singles Quarterfinal  Sony A9, Sony 400mm f2.8 GM-OSS

Anastasija Sevastova, Arthur Ashe Stadium, Women’s Singles Quarterfinal Sony A9, Sony 400mm f2.8 GM-OSS

 Barbora Strycova, Court 5, 2nd round Women’s Singles  Sony A9, Sony 85mm f1.4 GM

Barbora Strycova, Court 5, 2nd round Women’s Singles Sony A9, Sony 85mm f1.4 GM

 Kei Nishikori, Arthur Ashe Stadium, Men’s Singles Semifinal  Sony A9, Sony 400mm f2.8 GM-OSS  (I should probably note that this is an uncropped image)

Kei Nishikori, Arthur Ashe Stadium, Men’s Singles Semifinal Sony A9, Sony 400mm f2.8 GM-OSS (I should probably note that this is an uncropped image)

 Serena Williams, Arthur Ashe Stadium, 3rd round Women’s Singles  Sony A9, Sony 400mm f2.8 GM-OSS

Serena Williams, Arthur Ashe Stadium, 3rd round Women’s Singles Sony A9, Sony 400mm f2.8 GM-OSS

One of the most rewarding experiences of the entire tournament is my assignment to follow the champion around the grounds after the respective singles finals. It’s an opportunity to shed some light on things that would otherwise never be seen, and to preserve for the champion a little remembrance of the whirlwind of moments that happen after championship point.

All photos from here on in were made with a Sony A9 and either a 24-70mm f2.8 GM or 70-200mm f2.8 GM-OSS lens, and processed to black and white from the original raw files using Capture One Pro.

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(And finally…A brief note about The Setup)

 It may seem simple when you’re shooting with limited mobility, but it takes a lot of tools in the toolbox to shoot a U.S. Open. From “the pit”—i.e. the courtside photography positions—on Ashe and Armstrong, the team elected to shoot via an ethernet tether to facilitate transmission of of images back to the editors at usopen.org, the main outlet for our work. Due to some weird technical considerations, I had to use a Canon system for this, comprising a Canon 1DX Mark 2 and either a Canon EF 300mm f2.8 or EF 70-200mm f2.8 lens. For everything else—including non-tethered shooting from pit positions—it was all Sony, all the time. Shown here are an A7rIII body with a Sony 24-70mm f2.8 GM lens and an A9 with the Sony 400mm f2.8 GM-OSS. You’ll notice there’s no monopod. It’s so light I didn’t need one. Not shown but very much in evidence in my kit for the rest of the week: Sony 12-24mm f4 G; Sony 85mm f1.4 GM; Sony 70-200mm f2.8 GM-OSS; Sony 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 G-OSS, Sony FE 1.4x teleconverter, and a Sony HVLF60 flash. That foot switch in the bottom left corner is for triggering overhead remote cameras via a Pocketwizard.  Hunkering down for a 5-setter also took some provisioning, with a cup of Lavazza coffee, Evian water with Nuun electrolyte tablets (the red stuff is caffeinated, the green is unleaded), and can we talk about the culinary discovery of the tournament? The presence of the Pat Lafrieda Meat Company at the food concession areas was already one of the gastronimic highlights of a fortnight at Flushing Meadows. Burgers, steak sandwiches and tots always did a significant amount of damage to my meal allowance. But now they’ve thrown some pastrami beef jerky into the mix, too?. You never know when it’s going to turn into a long night…

It may seem simple when you’re shooting with limited mobility, but it takes a lot of tools in the toolbox to shoot a U.S. Open. From “the pit”—i.e. the courtside photography positions—on Ashe and Armstrong, the team elected to shoot via an ethernet tether to facilitate transmission of of images back to the editors at usopen.org, the main outlet for our work. Due to some weird technical considerations, I had to use a Canon system for this, comprising a Canon 1DX Mark 2 and either a Canon EF 300mm f2.8 or EF 70-200mm f2.8 lens. For everything else—including non-tethered shooting from pit positions—it was all Sony, all the time. Shown here are an A7rIII body with a Sony 24-70mm f2.8 GM lens and an A9 with the Sony 400mm f2.8 GM-OSS. You’ll notice there’s no monopod. It’s so light I didn’t need one. Not shown but very much in evidence in my kit for the rest of the week: Sony 12-24mm f4 G; Sony 85mm f1.4 GM; Sony 70-200mm f2.8 GM-OSS; Sony 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 G-OSS, Sony FE 1.4x teleconverter, and a Sony HVLF60 flash. That foot switch in the bottom left corner is for triggering overhead remote cameras via a Pocketwizard.

Hunkering down for a 5-setter also took some provisioning, with a cup of Lavazza coffee, Evian water with Nuun electrolyte tablets (the red stuff is caffeinated, the green is unleaded), and can we talk about the culinary discovery of the tournament? The presence of the Pat Lafrieda Meat Company at the food concession areas was already one of the gastronimic highlights of a fortnight at Flushing Meadows. Burgers, steak sandwiches and tots always did a significant amount of damage to my meal allowance. But now they’ve thrown some pastrami beef jerky into the mix, too?. You never know when it’s going to turn into a long night…