EXCLUSIVE

GALLERY: The stunning Australian Open photography you have to see to believe

Fairfax Media photographer Alex Ellinghausen can usually be found stalking politicians in Canberra's corridors of power. But in January he swaps Parliament House for Rod Laver Arena and turns his lauded lens to two weeks of tennis. Here's what it's like to be courtside with a camera at the Australian Open.

What are you looking for when shooting tennis?

Roger Federer in action during the Australian Open final in Melbourne. <cite>Photo: Alex Ellinghausen</cite>
Roger Federer in action during the Australian Open final in Melbourne. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

I'm trying to capture the athleticism, the emotion of winning a game, the agony of losing a fifth set. A one-handed Roger Federer background or the Novak Djokovic stretch across the court, or the frustration in players when they make an unforced error. Different times of day give us different opportunities. In the daytime we've got that harsh Australian summer sunlight which traditionally is the worst time of day to photograph. But it creates these weird visual effects – you can play with shadows and silhouettes.

Where in the stadium are you based?

You can sit courtside - these are the best seats in the house. When you sit on the side with the umpire you are literally a couple of meters away from the player where they sit during the break. It's an amazing angle when you want to get sweat dripping off Rafael Nadal's nose. You're that close. The second position is the concourse, among the fans. The third position is this place called the catwalk, up on the roof where all the lights are. It's a fantastic position to play with shadows and lights and movement. It gives you a bird's eye view of the stadium.

Who are your favourite players to photograph?

I quite enjoyed photographing Nick Kyrgios. All his emotions were out there on the court for you to see. When he was playing well you could see it on his face, and when he was frustrated he didn't hold back either. He made it entertaining by just being out there. Most of the top 20 players are fantastic to photograph - you get to learn their mannerisms and their trademark shots.

What were your favourite frames of the fortnight?

The game that Kyrgios lost - he had a few issues with his temperament in that match, and it so happened that I managed to frame him up with the word "temper". My other favourite shot was the Roger Federer one-handed backhand. The poetry in his motion when you actually freeze frame it and capture it and let that moment linger - I think it's something quite special.

How did you start photographing the Australian Open?

I did it for the first time last year and it's purely because we had a break in Parliament. January is typically a quiet time in Canberra so I thought I wouldn't mind having a change of scenery, trying something different to politics. I liked the way a few of our US counterparts shot sport when they weren't at the White House, so I thought I'd give it a crack.

How does it compare to photographing politicians?

I'm finding shooting sport eerily similar to shooting politics, where there are multiple personalities and relationships you are trying to flesh out and explore. With sport there are the obvious moments like match point, the victory, the agony of defeat. But there are little things in between  - that little smile, that frown, little micro expressions - and they can come at anytime. During Question Time we watch these pollies really closely – we try to read their expression to gauge what they're thinking. I found I was applying these same skills.