Baseball, baseball, and more baseball! I love it! I am spending a lot of time photographing baseball these days and I could not be happier! The thrill of trying to capture the action as we make photographs at sporting events is not only an awesome challenge but it’s a whole lot of fun, too!
In the past month I photographed a high school District Championship, a State Playoff game, and a weekend tournament where my son’s team took first place!
All of this provides me with plenty of opportunities to learn how to be a better sports photographer. Most times I feel like I am getting better, but sometimes the growth is minimal or even nonexistent. There is a certain degree of luck that goes into this style of photography. I feel fortunate to have coached baseball for 11 years and I am a student of the game, so this definitely helps. But all that I know cannot prevent an umpire from stepping between the action and my camera! I also find myself envying those photographers who have the 400, 500, and even 600mm lenses. I think to myself, “Boy if I could have one of those lenses, my number of keepers would go up drastically! The grass always appears greener on the other side of the fence, doesn’t it? Some day I do hope to purchase one of those powerful zoom lenses, but in the meantime I will just keep honing my photography skills and try to get better and better at this craft. Besides, I can think of nothing I would rather do in my spare time!
The other week I was very pleased to secure a media pass for the District 11 Championship that was played at the Iron Pigs stadium in Allentown. This pass allowed me the privilege of photographing from the photo wells beside the dugouts, which was a dream of mine for a long time. The icing on the cake was when the Pleasant Valley Bears defeated Parkland 5-0 in that game. I photographed Pleasant Valley throughout the year and got to know the team quite well. I witnessed their strong offense at the plate, their aggressive base running skills, and their stellar defense. There were several games where the opponent wasn’t even close. It was obvious that PV had a good team and they made a great run at the end to win the Mountain Valley Conference and then the District 11 Championship. And they did it in an impressive manner!
It was hard not to cheer too loud from behind the camera. I understand that my photographic privileges allow me access to the very edge of the playing field. I also spend time very close to the opponent’s dugout. I do not want to discredit this special photographic privilege , so I try to keep my mouth shut. This was not an easy year to do that! These boys can play baseball and watching their coaches manage the game and the boys was a pure pleasure! They had an incredible year and I was honored to be there behind my camera to tell the story photographically.
I did learn a few things and re-learned a few more that I had forgotten. Here, in no particular order, are a few of them.
First, the background to a photograph can be completely distracting. At Pleasant Valley’s field, the view from the first base side and the home dugout looks directly toward the school bus terminal. Yep, yellow buses are everywhere! Talk about a distracting background! It is terrible. I actually limit my time on this side of the field for this reason, but I do like the first base side for some shots at first base, attempted steals, and, of course, the home dugout to capture the player’s facial expressions and banter that sometimes occurs.
Second, I really strive to show the action by capturing the baseball in the frame of my photo. This is not an easy task. My Nikon D300 does a great job to help me in this endeavor, and the MB-D10 Vertical Grip increases my shots per second to 8. The distance from the pitcher’s mound to the batter is 60 feet 6 inches. An 85 mph fastball gets there in a hurry! So even with my camera capturing 8 frames per second, I still need some good timing and a little luck, but when the baseball is clearly in the frame, I love the action it portrays!
Third, I love trying to show the base running action. This is a detail lost by some teams and even coaches. I remember a coaching seminar I attended many years ago that was led by the head baseball coach at the University of Kentucky. His entire talk was about the importance of getting on base, getting over to the next base, and then getting home. It was an impressive session and I learned a lot of fascinating details I never ever thought of before. They say that baseball is a game of inches. Well this is true for sure, but baseball is also about paying attention to details. And the team that does this consistently is definitely going to be more successful. There is no doubt about it. Immediately after that coaching seminar, I went up to that coach and thanked him for such an impressive presentation. We got to talking and I mentioned how I was trying to coach our team on the little things that make a big difference. He then offered to send me his PowerPoint (TM) presentation by email. A few days later the coach kept his word and I was able to learn even more to help me coach our team on the finer points of base running. Well, several years later and this is still paying off for me! Whenever Pleasant Valley had a base runner, I tried to anticipate where the action would next take place. I did not always get it right, but by having some basic understanding of the details of base running and trying to always be ready helped me get some nice photos of a runner stealing a base or a catcher throwing a runner out at the bag. Man, I just love those shots!
Fourth, try to get the player’s or coach’s face in the photo. This not always easy especially if you are photographing a right-handed batter from the third base side of the field. But faces in the frame make for a much more lively photograph. I imagine this is even much more difficult when filming football games since players wear helmets, but even at baseball games it can be a challenge. Also, facial expressions can depict the demeanor of a player and even the general sense of how the game is going. Oh, yeah, and don’t forget to photograph the losing pitcher with his head in his hands. That tells a story, too. I do have a guiding principle I always try to adhere to: never embarrass a player or a coach. Baseball is probably the most difficult game to play in all of sport. A very good player is going to fail 7 times out 10 at the plate. He will be hitting .300 at that rate. So, I try to never publish a photograph that shows a terrible swing or a batter who missed the ball as it goes into the catcher’s glove. I also try not to depict an error in the field when a player bumbles a grounder. Now there are times when a coach can learn a lot from a player’s failure, especially with photographs that break down a hitter’s swing or a pitcher’s delivery to the plate. And my son is a catcher so I do try to focus on all catchers during a game and this will include some strikes that get by a swinging batter’s bat. But I never purposely try to demean or embarrass a player with my photographs.
Fifth, I recognize that I have a whole lot to learn. Even with being around the game of baseball much of my life, I still learn all the time. I cannot begin to tell you how many times I’ve heard the PV coaches say something I never heard of or even thought of before. I even learn from opposing coaches as well. Baseball is a fascinating game and I recognize that I have much more to learn before I can truly capture the game perfectly. And I just love the game and the challenge of trying to tell the story of the game with my camera!