Fine Art Photography and Tennis at the US Open

To me, there are several comparisons between fine art photography and tennis.

While watching the US Open in person recently and following many of the matches online, it seems there are some similarities between the sport and the art.

While I’ve not been a player in many years, I’ve followed US Open and tennis on and off for many years (going back to watching Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe).   Frankly, I was a poor player.  Being “forced” to go to tennis camp, I preferred reading Dostoyevsky to playing the game.

But I think tennis provided a sense of observation that served me as a photographer.

Hand/eye Coordination

Perhaps the most overt parallel between tennis and photography is the necessary hand/eye coordination.  With tennis, you need to be constantly looking—and then hit; photography, you constantly look, then shoot.  Both require careful assessment of the world around you.  Granted, in tennis, the world is limited to the confines of a tennis court, but seeing is key with both.

Intuition Thinking

Responding to the world is similar in both tennis and photography since they require both intuition and thinking.  There is a concept of “muscle memory” which is where constant repetition of a physical act causes a nearly automatic action and reaction, and this is in play in tennis.  Constant practice causes an almost unconscious response.  When a ball comes towards you at 50-75mph or more, there is no time to THINK about how to respond—you just must RESPOND.  With photography, except for studio work, you need to act without thinking and be in an intuitive place of mind.  If you are photographing with a tripod I’ve found the need for an intuitive response to the things around me, even with long exposures.  With documentary-style photography, there is even more of the need to see quickly what you are witnessing and react.  If you think too much in tennis, you freeze; with photography, you make bad pictures.

Out in the Open Alone

Exhibition tennis like the US Open is played in front of people.  But usually, there is little interaction with them, except for applause and rooting.  The players basically ignore them to concentrate on their game.  Even though crowded stands can be feet away, when players rest between games the audience is ignored as if they are not there.  When photographing in the street or a group of people, it’s similar: you have to be present but also need to disregard the people around you.  The world may be swirling you but you need to concentrate on feeling and capturing the image, forgetting about the person that my be inches away from you to get the shot of the man across the street.

Perfectionism and the Self

As tennis pros like at the US Open, there is a drive for perfection, to get the point, to win.  With photographers, I dare say there is a similarity with the need to get the perfect shot, and to strive for perfection.  But there is also a sense with both tennis and photography that you are playing against yourself.

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