Serena, Shadowplay, a Surprise

Even if you’re not a tennis fan, by now you’ve probably heard of the “Serena Slam”.

The “Slam” referred to Serena Williams’ dominance in women’s tennis this year by winning first the 2015 Australian Open, then the French Open and finally Wimbledon. The only “major” or “Grand Slam” tournament left for her to win this season was the U.S. Open going on this week in New York.

Sadly, it was not to be.

Italian Roberta Vinci stunned Serena in three sets in today’s semifinals 2-6, 6-4, 6-4.

I’ve photographed close to 60 of Serena’s matches over the years and at the Australian Open, I decided to serve up my photos a bit differently.

Reducing Light to Form – Serena Williams plays fellow American Sloane Stephens in the glaring summer sun at the Australian Open.
© Ken Hawkins /

Australian January summers are the hottest and most glaring I’ve ever experienced. The playing surface on enter court at Rod Laver stadium has been known to be well over 120 F.

Serena’s match was the first of the early afternoon rounds and at 1 p.m., the sun is high and intense and the shadows deep and angular.

Definitely not the best time of day to be photographing much of anything.

Reducing Light to Form – Serena Williams plays Sloane Stephens in the Australian Open.
© Ken Hawkins /

Having made a requisite number of full color frames from the first three games to file with my agency, I began to shoot the remainder of the match exposing for the highlights only – reducing the image to – a Jay Maisel calls it – gesture and light. In this case, I thought of it as the pure form of the sport.

Lastly, in post, the color in the images was dropped to black and white (RGB), creating the strong and elegant form driven imagery of the tennis star.

This technique wouldn’t be appropriate for just any athlete…but for Serena – her form is instantly recognizable.

So here’s the surprise.

If you take a look at the final image in this series – Serena’s hand tossing the ball into the air, you could infer that she likes that manicured look. Well, yes … and more … to the extent that this multi-multi millionaire tennis megastar is actually a certified nail technician in the State of Florida where she took over 220 hours for her certification. And did I mention that this fashionista had to wear a baggy blue medical scrub while in class?

Serena’s definitely an original.

While I’m not sure if she has her own nail salon, I’m thinking that it’d be tough to get an appointment with her…at least until after the U.S. Open.

Reducing Light to Form – Serena Williams’ ball toss at the Australian Open.
© Ken Hawkins /

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