© Ella Ling

Ella Ling

A day in the life of a tennis photographer


A day in the life of a tennis photographer. How our photo editor, Ella Ling, spends her time at Roland Garros. 

9am – Wake up, shower, dress, eat breakfast (when in Paris that equates to a pain au chocolat and a ‘café’).

10am – Walk to the courts. 5 minutes later and I’m there! Managed to find an apartment just around the corner this time. Perfect.

10.15am – Reach my desk, located in the ‘Salle de Presse’ underneath Court Suzanne Llenglen, say bonjour to my Swiss and Dutch neighbours and set up my laptop (and lock up my laptop, there have been a few thefts in the past, I’m afraid to say). Go to locker, remove equipment and put batteries on to charge.

10.30am – Take an Order of Play for the day and highlight (pink is preferred) all the players I need to shoot..by the end there’s hardly a jot of white left.

11am – Consume something bad for me (chocolate preferred) to boost energy levels, take a swig of Perrier (again, Paris only) and load myself up with horribly heavy camera and  lens combinations, the biggest and most obvious being the Canon 300mm F2.8L, complete with ‘Swarovski’-covered ATP logos (the words painstaking and meticulous come to mind)..at least no-one will steal the hood, and in a man’s world I felt the need to be, well, girly!

11.05am – Start of play and off I trot (trudge) to Court 6. Not the most glamorous of ways to start the day but Brit Heather Watson is in action, so needs must…she starts well and after a few acceptable action shots I decide to move on to Court 7, where Yanina Wickmayer is on her way to what seems to be an easy victory.

12pm – Another handful of games in the bag and off to Philippe Chatrier (Centre Court), where 2010 Champion Francesca Schiavone (aged 31) is playing someone ten years older than her – the infamous Comeback Queen, Kimiko Date-Krumm  of Japan (yes, that makes her 41). Doesn’t look like it’s going to be her day in the sun, however, as Schiavone races to the finish line. I stay for match point, catch a very smiley exchange at the net between the umpire’s chair, and run (walk at a fast pace) back to Court 6.

To my slight surprise, Heather has won the first set and is a game away from the match. I shoot the end and a delightfully happy Heather walks off court. I follow but only until the gate, as she takes a left and I take a right, back to Court 7. I enter to the sound of a loud cry, and see an incredulous Wickmayer berating herself. Taking a look at the scoreboard I realise why – she’s a game away from losing the match in the third!

1pm – Following match point celebrations, I head over to the giant scoreboard to see how the land is lying. Not good! Four pink names are playing simultaneously! I need to prioritise. I choose the player who is most likely to lose first, and run over to that court. Of course it’s Court 1, on the complete opposite side from 7 I make it with one game to go and sneak in at the back of the court, where there is an underground photo pit. Dark and dank but enables me to get a different angle, some unusual close ups of feet, and a real sense of how hard they hit the ball! I dread the serve coming down from the opposite end of the court – the trajectory of the ball always seems to end up aiming directly for our face (or lens which is even worse, think of shattered glass and skin, not a good combination). I survive the bombing and leave after that final game. Not a huge variety of shots in the bag, but at least I have something.

1.30pm – It’s a hot and sunny day and I’m already perspiring and starving, another wonderful combination. But no time for lunch (although always time for the French photographers for some reason.), play continues. Run back to the giant scoreboard and pray my three other pink names are still alive. I’m in luck. Or not. Depends on which way you look at it. They are all alive, which means a lot more perspiring will occur shortly. Again I choose the player who I think will lose first, and so the day continues in this vein.

3pm – Back over to Philippe Chatrier where defending champion, Rafael Nadal, is about to enter the court for the first time this year. Nadal is one of my main clients so I should shoot every one of his matches, although he is so strong on the red stuff that I can usually risk not shooting every point during the early rounds. I choose to take the courtside position for the walk-on so I can focus on his pre-match routine (again, the words painstaking and meticulous come to the fore), unlike any other player’s.

3.15pm – Finally the match begins. I’ll take a few games from courtside before moving up to the roof, seeing as it’s a sunny day. I focus on getting good, close-up action and in particular emotions. Anyone can shoot a forehand or backhand, it’s the little looks, reactions, ticks that I like to look for, to portray the inner soul of this tennis-playing machine..

3.45pm – Move up onto the roof, which isn’t as easy as it sounds when carrying 15 kilos of magnesium alloy and glass. Endless steps are interjected with a security control, where I must hand over my pass for a ticket allowing me access onto the very top of Philippe Chatrier. After finally reaching the mount, and taking a minute to recover my breath, I survey the land..it’s the same as the last 5 years, but still beautiful! I take out my extender (1.4X) and attach it to my 300mm lens – from such a distance from the court, I need a little more length to my shot when shooting Rafa on the opposite side of the net. When he changes end and serves directly below me, I remove the extender to fit his whole body, and shadow, into the frame – unless I want a real close up of the ball toss, for example.

4.15pm – One hour of play has gone, and so have I! Rafa looks like he’s cruising to an easy win, so I move on to my next pink name. Julien Benneteau. Not quite the same impact, but he shares a sponsor with Nadal at least, so I must shoot some action. Off to Suzanne Lenglen I trudge, stopping and starting to avoid the masses of French school children (and adults for that matter) who seem to have invaded the planet. Lose count of how many knocks I/they take. Just as long as the crystals remain on my lens hood and I won’t sue.

17.00pm – THE LIGHT.  As the sun starts to fall, anyone who likes and understands beautiful light, rushes to the gantry above Suzanne Lenglen, or the roof on Philippe Chatrier. That’s where the magic happens. The shadow on the court coupled with the remaining sun highlighting the player gives a wonderfully clean yet contrasting image. The piece de resistance is capturing a dive in this beautiful light. 99% chance it will not happen!

6.00pm – Move down to court level for a different take on the pretty light. This time everything is in the shadow, apart from a touch of sun on the players profile, creating a rim-lit effect. If you know how!

7.00pm – All over! Sun’s gone right down below the stadium and my motivation for the day is seriously waning. It’s time for food. That measly piece of chocolate did its job for the first hour, but since then (some 7 hours ago) I have been living on adrenalin. The muscles in my arms and back are screaming out for peace and energy so, against my wish of course(!), I trudge/walk as fast as humanely possible back to the safe haven of my desk, praying my lock hasn’t been attacked by a swiss army knife in my lengthy absence.

7.05pm – Dead in my chair and eating cold pizza from a piece of clingfilm – this is the glamour of the tennis tour. And I haven’t begun editing yet..

7.10pm – Matches continue on nearly every court, but I need a little break. Now that the sun has gone, I find it near impossible to motivate myself to shoot. I take a look at the scoreboard on the TV monitor in front of me, and evaluate the scenario. 2 matches that I need still. But both players are winning easily so I take the executive decision to stop shooting for the day, and begin the wonderful task of editing the 2,000 frames snapped during this long, arduous but ultimately satisfying day.

First step, remove cards from camera and insert into card reader. Open up Photo Mechanic, my editing software of choice, and ingest the images. Repeat with other card.  Three minutes later and all images are in one folder. Personally, I like to organise my images into separate player or category folders immediately, otherwise I will not want to go back and do it later. That’s another 15 minutes gone. Finally, I can start the task at hand..Selecting, deleting or just leaving for a later date. I must select images for various different clients, including Swiss Tennis magazine, a British sports photo agency and major sponsors in tennis (we keep our cards close to our chests in this industry I’m afraid, I learnt the difficult way!) and of course the one and only The Tennis Space!

8.00pm – Having selected the best and deleted the worst, I save the chosen ones into a new folder, ‘To Edit’.  Using Photoshop to edit, I get to it, cropping, altering levels, colour and sharpness. This is a long (longer than you’d imagine) task. I will not leave site until 21.30pm. And that’s just the first batch.

21.30pm – Enough is enough. Eyes weary and energy completely spent, I pack up my gear and remove the laptop lock. Around me sit a few busy (in the quietest way possible) Japanese photographers. I’ve almost become an honorary Japanese, sharing in their passion for not giving up until the job is done. They are the first in, and the last out. Without fail. Everyday and night. I’ve even become accustomed to giving an ‘otsukare sama dessss…’, their  nightly greeting and apology for leaving before the others!

21.40pm – Climb the final steps to my flat and my dreams of real food and a bed become reality. Ecstasy!

22.00pm – Continue with my edit. Until my eyes are no longer open..usually not before 1am, if lucky.

1.11am – Haven’t finished editing, but I’ve finished this diary!


Repeat for two weeks and you may get the gist of it.

Naturally tournaments differ in style, weather, people and working conditions, but this is a basic representation of how I do my job.

Still dream of life on Tour?

  • Idora99

    excellent! Keep up the good work! you have such a fun job! :o)

  • udon


  • GregC_Australia

    Great photo of you and excellent editorial Enjoy!

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_UQKMQUIRTJXCSTR23MTCFYFLJU nishant

    thanks for sharing…

  • Lester Rosebrock

    YES! I still dream of it!

    On a side note, if you have multiple camera cards to import a good way to speed up the process is to buy extra card readers. PhotoMechanic allows this. My desktop computer has 3 card readers, and it has greatly improved my editing time (which is a great benefit when editing late at night or on deadline.

  • Michael Vettas

    Ella, great insight, people see the glamorous side to our jobs never stopping to realize our day is never done once we finish shooting. I am surprised you are not ingesting with multiple cards like Lester suggested, and that you haven’t moved to Lightroom. I to use PM, but have 3 USB 3 card readers ingesting at once when I’m at an event.