Mobile photography at the Australian Open

Australian sports photographers are embracing mobile photography by documenting the Australian Open not only with traditional SLR cameras, but also smartphones.

Australian sports photographers are embracing mobile photography by documenting the Australian Open not only with traditional SLR cameras, but also smartphones.

This isn't the first time that mobile phones have been used to document a major sporting event. At the 2012 London Olympics, photojournalist Dan Chung covered the games for The Guardian using only an iPhone and a range of editing apps.

Cameron Spencer, a staff photographer at Getty Images, has taken a different approach with his own smartphone photography. At the annual tennis grand slam event, he has used a mobile device to supplement traditional on-court photos with his behind-the-scenes views of the Open.

"There are so many people that dress up and come from around the world [to the Open]," he said. "With your smartphone, you might be walking around outside and you have a huge lens over your shoulder, and you might see someone dressed up in an Australian flag or some great Brazilian fans and you might pull them aside and ask to take a quick picture with your phone.

"With a smartphone, you can take a pretty instantaneous or candid shot, or grab someone and do a quick portrait and they won't think twice about it or change their persona because they have a huge camera pointing in their face."

(Credit: Marianna Massey/Getty Images)

It's not only the form factor of the smartphone that allows Spencer and his colleagues to take more intimate photos. The images that these devices produce also makes the photographer think in a different way about what they are trying to capture.

"When we're shooting with smartphones, we are thinking in square format as opposed to the shape of a 35mm frame ... you're thinking like you would with traditional medium-format cameras, like a Hasselblad."

The look and feel of film photography is also emulated through specific apps, as Getty's photographers embrace Instagram and Snapseed to edit their images. Most of the team is using an iPhone, while there are some Android models from HTC and Samsung in the mix, too.

"Most people just photograph using the normal camera [app] and then we put it through an application like Snapseed or Instagram," said Spencer. "Saying that we're not posting our imagery to Instagram, but you can apply filters or frames."

When a professional sports photographer steps into the pit at an event like the Australian Open, they are looking for particular shots to capture on their SLRs with telephoto lenses. Iconic images are considered to be those that cover the big forehand and backhand shots, and the emotions from the players when they win or lose a set.

(Credit: Marianna Massey/Getty Images)

"With a phone, you don't have the rapid fire or long focal length to get in close, because obviously you're not allowed on court ... you're looking more for different pictures that will supplement that hard action that we capture on court. Recently at the Melbourne Cup, we did a feature on fans and fashion on the field. While we had all our pro gear to shoot, there was so much stuff going on off the track, it was great walking around with a phone to photograph the beautiful people dressed up in suits and dresses with their amazing hats. It made a really nice set of pictures."

Spencer admits that having a theme to work with really helps determine how and what to shoot. "Marianna, one of our photographers, has just been grabbing people as she sees them walking around the village square and the garden off-court. Whenever she sees anyone involved in the tennis, whether that's a linesman or a broadcast cameraman or a ball boy, she's taking these quirky pictures of people as she sees them. It showcases a nice little selection of characters that contribute to the event."

Merging traditional photography with a mobile device is becoming more common, with tools available to mount SLR lenses and other accessories like binoculars on phones. Spencer has never been tempted by this, though, preferring to keep the two sets of tools separate.

"It's a kooky concept, but the sensor in a phone is never going to match the sensor in a pro SLR," he said. "The idea of a phone is that it's so unobtrusive, it's always in your pocket, you might not be walking around with all your pro gear with you — it sort of defeats the purpose of having a small camera if you have a huge SLR lens mounted on the front."

 

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