By Sara Houlison
Wimbledon. Arguably the biggest tennis tournament of the year. And my very first editing assignment for epa. Being British and having watched the Wimbledon Championships on the television every year, I was ecstatic to have been offered the opportunity to head back over to home turf for two weeks as one of epa’s two picture editors for such an exciting sports event.
At this point I am primarily a news editor on the picturedesk in Frankfurt and have spent the past two years working on news stories playing out across the globe. From time to time I am also tasked with editing sports and arts, culture and entertainment material too. But I knew the job of a photo editor in the context of the Wimbledon Championships would be an entirely different ball game, pun intended. This realisation came when my job title changed from ‘picture editor’ to ‘media support’ on my grounds pass, which left much room for interpretation as well as a few jokes from our four-strong team of photographers.
My initiation into the world of assignments involved getting a 400mm lens over from Germany as part of my hand luggage. This type of lens is huge and weighs close to 4kg. In fact, it needs a special case of its own that is the size of a small suitcase. As it was x-rayed at the airport, one of the security personnel dragged it off the conveyor belt and gestured for me to go over. ‘It’s a lens!’ I protested. ‘I know’, she said, ‘but it has to be checked more thoroughly’. I fished around for the little key that opened the lens case and opened it up in a room away from the main security area. A man conducted the thorough check, which seemed to consist of him scanning it with some sort of paper, before telling me I was free to go with my lens. Logistics are important for any assignment and my lens-carrying abilities played only a minor part in the operation of getting all of the kit that we needed over to the Wimbledon Championships.
The first day of editing was an intense one, as a couple of full-time sports editors had warned. We were covering between 20-30 matches per day to begin with, shared out between our photographers, and were looking for a tight selection of solid action pictures to illustrate each match. Unlike at the desk in Frankfurt, I would see every photograph that was taken, hundreds of files at a time, either after downloading them straight from a card or having them wired directly from the courts by our photographers. I soon realised the trick to coping with the enormous volume of pictures was to sift through everything as quickly as possible, keeping an eye out for the key moments and action that stood out, dragging them into my ‘to edit’ folder. Once satisfied with an initial selection of photographs for a match, each picture would be polished as part of our post-production work, captioned and immediately sent out onto the wire. If a photographer was still filing from a match, their folder would have to be reviewed again. And with a high number of matches going on simultaneously, special care had to be given to make sure players were correctly identified.
As the tournament progressed and players were knocked out, we covered matches in greater detail, sending out more pictures as we moved onto the quarter and semi-finals. Reactions from the players and their coaches became increasingly important as emotions ran high and the finals were in sight. We were looking for clean action, complete with unimaginable facial expressions, falls, tennis balls hovering in unusual spots, as well as ‘cellies’.
I’d like to point out here some new terminology I learned during my time at Wimbledon. I’m sure all of the following terms apply to other assignments where editors and photographers are in close working quarters too:
Celly (n. sing.), cellies (pl.) – a celebratory shot. Ultimately, everything that happened during the tournament led up to infinite cellies of Petra Kvitova and Novak Djokovic lifting their winners’ trophies at the end of their respective finals. Mid-match cellies typically show players celebrating a point or winning a set.
To hose it down (vb.) – an instruction for a photographer, meaning to exhaust every possible angle multiple times to ensure that nothing is missed. Even a seasoned tennis editor would struggle to find a missing angle if a match had been truly hosed down.
Tight spot (n.) – the small space allocated to a photographer and his/her equipment in the pit by the side of a court. Otherwise, a tricky situation requiring a creative solution.
Of course, it’s wasn’t all about the cellies or hosing down the tennis action from a tight spot. The atmosphere at the Wimbledon Championships is special and calls out to be photographed. Strawberries, Pimms, Henman Hill, or ‘Murray Mound’ as it is hopefully being referred to nowadays, court covers being pulled on and off during rainy spells… The list of opportunities for features goes on and makes Wimbledon such a unique event, attracting a sizeable crowd of VIPs and celebrities. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge attended, as did footballer David Beckham and his wife, fashion designer and ex-Spice Girl Victoria Beckham, Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour, 2013 Wimbledon Championships winner Marion Bartoli, actors Bradley Cooper and Colin Firth, to name but a few of the famous faces who followed the action from the Royal Box on Centre Court over the course of the tournament.
After Djokovic finally finished off Roger Federer in their five-set bout and all the cellies had been sent out, he threw signed tennis balls into a crowd of adoring fans. It was time to pack our small office of laptops and monitors into a tight spot, or rather a compact box to be shipped back over to Frankfurt. Wimbledon was all over for another year. As far as first assignments go, this one was special, leaving me with some unforgettable memories from behind-the-scenes and allowing me to work with some of the finest photographers around. In classic Wimbledon style, I raise a plastic cup of Pimms to all of them.
Do you like this story? Follow us on Facebook to stay in touch for more insightful stories from behind the scenes.