Let there be light

July 25, 2008

It’s after 9:00 pm on a Sunday night, Centre Court, Wimbledon.

I am up on platform B with about 15 other photographers. This position often produces the best celebration photos as players turn and face their family and coaches seated above us upon match point.  But match point is no guarantee tonight.

Despite the thrill of what is taking place before our eyes (later to be called the greatest Wimbledon final ever) we are all extremely fearful of the two scenarios we face. Firstly, and most likely, as darkness falls, will the match be suspended until Monday morning?  Or secondly, will this match actually finish on time, making our big match point photo an extremely difficult technical challenge due to insufficient light.


Rafael Nadal returns the ball to Roger Federer in their finals match. Picture by Kevin Lamarque

Television plays a cruel trick on photographers. TV can raise the light levels in their coverage making it appear to be lighter than reality. When I tell people now how dark it was out there, they say, “It looked okay on TV.”  Not so. It was dark.  Fortunately I had borrowed new Canon Mark III cameras from Canon Professional Service for the finals. These cameras allowed me to handle dim lighting situations much better than the older Canon MARK IIn’s I had been shooting previously.  This switch proved crucial.


Roger Federer returns the ball to Rafael Nadal during their finals match.  Picture by Kevin Lamarque

It is after 9:00 when Nadal breaks Federer to go up 8-7 in the fifth. Can he hold serve? We are pretty convinced at this point the match will end. Nadal has served well all five sets. And Nadal now is at my end of the court, good luck considering the light. I can now use a shorter lens. But it is a zoom lens, not the sharpest piece of glass in my kit. Success in capturing the big moment seems a 50/50 chance at best. Not a great way to feel about match point!  I have pushed my camera to its limits, 3200 ISO, shutter at 250th and lens wide open at 2.8.


Rafael Nadal returns the ball to Roger Federer during their finals match.   Picture by Kevin Lamarque

Tension builds in the crowd and in the photographers stand. Many photographers lose faith and put flash units on their cameras to ensure an image. The only problem with this move is that flash photos look unnatural, especially in tennis. Match point. As Federer dumps a forehand into the net, Nadal falls onto his back in celebration. I quickly switch from a vertical to horizontal and shoot away. As Nadal comes up, I see his face and know this is my image. I look at the screen on the back of  my camera and breathe a huge sigh of  relief.  


Rafael Nadal reacts after winning his finals match against Roger Federer. Picture by Kevin Lamarque

Had I failed to get the image sharp, I would have been extremely disappointed but glad that  Reuters staff photographers Toby Melville and Allessia Pierdomenico were also on court producing fabulous photos from other angles ensuring Reuters provided striking images of this historic final. It was a great team effort.


Rafael Nadal celebrates after defeating Roger Federer in their finals match. Picture by Alessia Pierdomenico


Rafael Nadal celebrates defeating Roger Federer in their finals match.  Picture by Toby Melville

Wimbledon has always been a challenge to photographers due to the fact that the frequent rains wreak havoc upon any well intentioned schedule of play. It is quite common to have matches finishing as players can barely see the ball or have matches that carry over to the next day.


Rafael Nadal returns the ball to Roger Federer during their finals match. Picture by Kevin Lamarque 

There are no lights at Wimbledon as yet. Next year the retractable roof will be completed on Centre Court. This means that a match can proceed unimpeded by Mother Nature. Additional fill lighting will ensure that darkness will not bring a premature end to a match. 

This year was truly the last old-fashioned Wimbledon, at the full mercy of the weather and setting sun. Will anyone miss the long rain delays? I think not. We all hate to see traditions die, but a retractable roof over Centre Court is long overdue.


Rafael Nadal poses with the trophy after winning his finals match against Roger Federer. Picture by Kevin Lamarque

I leave Wimbledon, as always, with memories that will last a lifetime. It is my 13th year of coverage here, and with any luck, I will be back for another.


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How great to know the name behind these fabulous phots. Thanks for sharing the threill with us and thanks for immortalizing those beautiful moments.

Posted by zola | Report as abusive

interesting article….