Knocking the stuffing out of the ball

Recently I photographed Kimball High senior tennis player Logan Staggs during a match in the Seniors Challenge Cup at the Oak Park Tennis Complex in Stockton. I shot it as I normally shoot a tennis match: Using a long lens (a 200-400mm zoom) and a fast shutter speed (1/1000th – 1/2000th of a second).


After downloading the photos to my computer when I got back to the office I noticed something peculiar about some of photos when viewing the thumbnail images. There seemed to be a smear on portions of those pictures. I wondered if there was a smudge on my lens that hadn’t noticed before. I checked the lens, but it was clean. Besides, if it had been dirty, then all the photos would have been affected. Then I thought that there might be something wrong with the sensor, which could be bad (re: expensive) news. But I went back to my computer and enlarged the images to get a better view and saw that it wasn’t a defect at all. Stagg’s swings were hitting the dust and fibers off of the ball itself. I hadn’t seen it during the match because the faint puffs lasted only a fraction of a second and then quickly dissipated.


In all my years of shooting tennis I have never seen this in my photos. Maybe I never timed it just right or the light was never right (the photos that exhibit the dust and fibers are all backlit) or maybe I just never paid attention to it.
The players two courts away from Stagg and his opponent were grunters, issuing rather loud bellows every time they made contact with the ball. The 17-year-old Stagg, who won the boys 18 singles division of the USTA Winter National Championships in Scottsdale, Ariz., in early January, was a model of silence in comparison, letting his fuzz-battering hits do the talking for him.

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  • Blog Author

    Clifford Oto

    Clifford Oto, an award-winning photographer, has been with The Record since 1984. Through the changes from black and white to digital photography, he’s kept his focus on covering the events, people and life of San Joaquin county. This blog deals ... Read Full
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