The shot clock ticks down, the ball leaves the shooter’s hands and lands perfectly into the hoop as the buzzer sound is drowned out by deafening cheers. We’ve all witnessed those electrifying hair-raising moments that course through your body, and conveying that myriad of emotions through photography is no easy task. Recognising the rare opportunities that line up in a game is what nets you those perfect shots, fuelled with emotions that drive a deeper narrative.
Dribbling balls on the court when she was in school, the basketball devotee now wields a camera courtside to the greats. Onvisa finds that the beauty of sports photography is not limited to the action, “but rather the story of the subjects of the photo”. Her personal favourite shots are “family moments like players embracing their loved ones.” While the world of sports may be teeming with dynamic movement, “meaningful photos are not just to merely freeze a moment, but it also has to give that instance of a deeper meaning.”
It is what goes beyond the surface, giving the viewer a surreal and intimate experience that makes sports photography distinct and different from the other genres in photography.
When preparing for events, Onvisa takes care of all her logistics the night before, including the cleaning of lenses, charging of batteries and clearing memory cards. For large-scale games, she goes the extra mile in reviewing past photos taken of the players and how their movements were captured. On the day itself, she’s on the grounds at least 2 hours earlier to familiarise herself with the court while surveying for any changes that may throw her off.
For equipment to photograph sports, Onvisa mainly uses the D5 with AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8E FL ED VR and the Z 7 with the NIKKOR Z 24-70 mm f/4S and NIKKOR Z 35mm f/1.8 S. The ability to use her Mount Adapter FTZ with the AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8 FL ED VR on the Nikon Z 7 to keep shooting, paired with the extractable screen display affords her more creative freedom through a greater range of angles. The compact size of the Z 7 puts her subjects at ease with its humble appearance, while still producing high quality images that are necessary for studio photoshoots or photos that need to be printed in large formats.
In terms of shooting conditions, shooting outdoors in the tropical climate of Southeast Asia can be challenging as one has to endure the heat and humidity. There are also some locations where there might be issues concerning lighting and white balance such as vividly coloured venues or flooring decals that are highly reflective. In other cases, some sports, like rugby, continue in all conditions of weather, meaning one must be able to adapt to any environment. To combat these potential setbacks, Onvisa recommends ample preparation in appropriate equipment, scouting the location as well as checking weather reports.
Onvisa’s experience playing on the court has also equipped her with a better understanding of the flow of the game. Yet, she continues to improve her basketball knowledge by studying the different playstyles and techniques of individual players and teams. Leveraging on this, she is able to more accurately predict the movements of the players and be prepared to shoot the crucial moments during the match.
In her pursuit to achieve that intense emotion on the court, Onvisa recognises that “the important thing is to know the story and the background” of the game being played. In low stakes situations like friendly games where neither team is taking it too seriously and the outcome is inconsequential, the shots may be more focused on the joy and fun of playing the sport. These more laidback nature and sloven plays are equally important in painting the scene with a brighter hue.
In stark contrast, high stakes games with the pressure piled high are where “there will be reactions of all different emotions arising all over the court.” Underlying narratives like underdog teams, championship titles or player expectations give a multitude of layers that make every moment and play much more impactful. Every presence in the stadium, from players, coaches to the viewers “has their own specific way of reacting to their high times.” Having a good grasp of this allows you to stay focused for that once-in-a-lifetime moment that will present itself, packaging the emotions and story of that entire match in that golden shot.
Being observant is what facilitates your ability to frame the best of both situations. It also allows you to capture the natural state of subjects giving their genuine reactions to their environments. Onvisa focuses on being an outside observer, as “being able to do that and read the situation in front of you to adapt and react is something that is very important.”
In the end, despite the brazen stereotype that sports is mostly about action, details are actually what matters most in sports photography. An eye for detail allows the photographer to well portray and exude the energy behind the brilliant and devastating moments.
With a love for both sports and photography, Onvisa Thewphaingarm always finds a way to convey the passionate emotions prevalent in high and low stakes games. Having been selected as an official FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 photographer, Onvisa has come a long way in this path and aspires to spread positive energy and meaningful stories with her craft.