(Editor’s Note: This is one of a series of stories featuring players, tournament officials, sponsors, volunteers and others involved with this year’s Winston-Salem Open.)
By John Delong
For Fred and Susan Mullane, there’s never a dull moment in the summer.
The highly-respected husband and wife tennis photographers recently spent 18 days in Paris covering Roland Garros, and after a brief return to their Murray, Ky., home, they’ll go back across the pond later this month for another fortnight in London shooting Wimbledon.
The rest of July will be spent hopping around from Boston to Washington to Philadelphia to Kansas City to Sacramento and on and on as the official photographers for World Team Tennis.
August brings two more weeks in New York at the US Open, but not before – you guessed it – nine days in Winston-Salem as the official photographers of the Winston-Salem Open.
It’s a hectic pace for sure, but it is a lifestyle they thrive in, excelling at a profession they love and covering a sport they know inside and out.
"We met at the Tennis Hall of Fame," Susan said. "To say tennis is our life is an understatement."
Fred, a pretty good player in his day who still has a profile on www.atpworldtour.com, has been shooting tennis since the 1970s, when he was working in event marketing for Philip Morris and shot the Virginia Slims Championships. He also shot golf for Golf Digest for 17 years, but has gravitated to tennis over the years and now estimates that 90 percent of his work involves tennis.
Susan holds the distinction of being one of only a select few photographers who shot all three days of John Isner’s epic 11-hour, 5-minute marathon against Nicolas Mahut at Wimbledon two years ago. She heard the match was heading to a fifth set, thought she would wander over to Court 18 to shoot the final few games, and wound up with all the dramatic shots of the historic 70-68 fifth set.
Together they form the company Camerawork USA, and their portfolio can be seen at
www.cameraworksusa.com. They have another website, www.tennishorts.com, which combines their photography with blogs by noted tennis journalists Alix Ramsay and Sandra Harwitt. They also have a contract with the International Tennis Federation, and they also do exclusive shoots for such events as the Chris Evert Pro-Celebrity Tennis Classic and the Smash Hits charity event hosted by Elton John and Billie Jean King.
Susan is also the photo editor for Tennis Life Magazine and works for US Presswire, which is owned by Gannett and is the primary source of photographs for USA Today and several top newspapers. Fred has done extensive work for Sports Illustrated and the Tennis Channel.
"One of the first hires the tournament made after I got to Winston-Salem was Fred and Susan," said tournament director Bill Oakes, whose association with the two goes back two decades. "They are well-respected and well-traveled, and for our tournament they are much more than just photographers. They are a great marketing tool for us in talking to players, agents, sponsors and the like as they travel the world. They love the tournament and they are a great asset for marketing the tournament."
Make no mistake, shooting tennis is an art form, with the colors and light and shadows changing throughout the day and the players’ emotions running the gamut. And knowing the game, and the idiosyncracies of the players, is hugely important.
"I know people that have shot all different sports and then they come into tennis and find it difficult to shoot," Susan said. "You have to know the sport and you have to be able to watch somebody for a few minutes and say, ‘OK, this is how he plays.’ If you don’t really know the ins and outs of the sport, if you haven’t played the game, people shooting it find it more difficult because it’s not innate to them.
"Most of the time, I know the player. I know what Andy Roddick’s toss looks like. I know what John Isner’s game is. (Alexandr) Dolgopolov, (Ernests) Gulbis, we’ve shot these guys many times and we know what to look for. I think that makes a difference, and I think that’s what we bring to Winston-Salem. It’s not a slap in the face to any photographers in Winston-Salem, it’s just that there are very few actual American tennis photographers out there."
Susan estimates that she shoots 2,000 frames over the course of a day, and eventually she winds up editing that down to about 150 keepers. Editing, in fact, is the most time-consuming job of all. She spends three hours editing for every one hour she is at courtside shooting. It’s not just about picking the best pictures, either. There’s all kinds of labeling that must be done – player, tournament, date, opponent, result – on each picture.
Their work as official photographers for the Winston-Salem Open carries added requirements that she doesn’t necessarily have at Wimbledon or Roland Garros.
For the Winston-Salem Open, the two shoot every facet of the tournament, not just the action on the court. That means shooting USTA Chick fil A Kids Day activities, the Ladies Day brunch and fashion show, sponsors parties and other special events. Fred even shot Dimitry Tursunov last year as he was test-driving one of Flow Audi’s Audi R8.
When they’re courtside, they take a different approach than if they’re at one of the Grand Slams.
Remember, they’re working for the tournament – and that means getting Presenting Sponsors BB&T, Flow Companies and Champion and all the event sponsors as much exposure as possible.
"When we’re shooting as the official photographer, we’re shooting different," Susan said. "We’re shooting to get Flow, BB&T and Champion in the background. When I’m shooting not as an official photographer, I’m trying to get a picture without signage in the background. There’s a big difference. When you’re taking the trophy shot you’re wanting to make sure you get the logo in the background, whereas you would normally shoot without the logo. It’s just a different mentality."
"Other photographers do beautiful work, it can be spectacular, but they’re serving another master," Fred said. "You will only see Champion, Corona, BB&T in our photographs, because everyone else is trying to keep it out. We end up shooting from where we want because of that. The other photographers are like, ‘We don’t want to be here because we keep getting that sign in the background.’"
Because of their respect for Oakes, the Mullanes vow to keep coming back to Winston-Salem as long as the tournament will have them.
"If Bill wants to have a tournament in Outer Mongolia, we’ll be there," Susan said. "That’s how much I think of him. If he told me he wanted to start a new business collecting trash, I would say, ‘OK, we’ll do the pictures, or we’ll help you pick up the trash.’"
For sure, though, this is not like collecting trash.
"We just love the Winston-Salem tournament," Fred said. "I mean, there’s just not another event like it. It was just so nice last year. It was a nice group of players. The court was spectacular. It was amazing the way it was set up. And the people were so great. And it wasn’t just the staff. It was the volunteers, the security people. Normally the security people, their arms are folded and they’re all stern, and in Winston-Salem it was like, ‘Hi, how are you doing? Are you having a nice day?’
"You don’t get that at the US Open, or even at Cincinnati. So I think what makes the Winston-Salem tournament different are the people that are working there, volunteering there, and attending. I mean, we met people that were fans and I gave them my card and sent them pictures. It’s just different than anywhere we go."