Photo Tip Tuesday – Shoot Wide Open

We can be creative with our photographs by paying attention to what we want the viewer to focus on in our photo. The goal is to use clear focus on the subject but not the competing surroundings or the background. How can we do this?

Shooting with a larger aperture, small numbered f-stop, say like f/2.8, will blur out the background nicely and keep proper focus on the subject. This is the best way I’ve found to do this and is what I use almost all the time in sports and wildlife photography.

Think about it… you’re shooting an animal that naturally blends into its habitat. This is, after all, what keeps it safe from predators–camouflage. Take a photo of a bunny and you will immediately see just how much it blends into its environment. This does not make for easy photography. By opening up our apertures, we are letting more light hit the digital sensor in our camera. But it also decreases the depth of field that is in focus in the photograph. Several factors contribute to this formula such as distance from the subject, but the effect results in a blurred background. This helps to keep the viewer’s eye focused on the main subject, which of course is our goal.

The next time you’re out on a photo shoot, take a photograph of a subject with your f-stop set at something like f/16, then switch the f-stop to f/2.8 or your lowest setting. Then compare the two photos. Do you see the difference?

Remember, shoot wide open to blur the background and keep the focus on your main subject.

Sports Photography – Sometimes It Just Clicks!

I enjoy sports photography. I like sports, I played sports, I coached sports, and now I photograph sports.

Sometimes, every once in a while, things just click in sports photography. Yes, need to know the game we are shooting, try to anticipate where the action will be next, obtain the absolute best shooting position–you know, the whole nine yards. Even then, when all seems to be going just right, a photo can be out of focus, or an umpire or coach steps right in the way of the action. I know because I’ve experienced this more times than I can count.

But then, every once in a great while, things just click in sports photography!

The above photo was captured at the Pleasant Valley vs. Northwestern Lehigh high school baseball scrimmage. The weather was gorgeous and it was a perfect day for baseball. Spring has about sprung, and the new baseball season is nearly under way officially. How could a sports photographer complain on a day like this?

One of my goals in sports photography is to try my best to get the baseball in the frame of the photograph whenever possible. This helps to show the action even in a still photo. It’s even better when the player’s eyes are focused on the ball and the ball is in complete focus in the frame. Of course, this just doesn’t happen all the time, but it is a worthy goal in my humble sports photo opinion.

On this particular swing, I knew the batter broke his bat. Everyone could hear it and one fan even said so to me. Yep, the bat was broken, but I did not realize I capture “the moment” until I was editing the shoot on my computer back in my office. Then, as soon as my eyes saw this photo, I knew I had captured “the moment.”

Let’s first talk about what’s wrong with this photo. First of all, it contains that dreaded baseball background–the chain-link fence. I hate these backgrounds. It looks more like a dog fence than something that ought to be in a photograph. Who let the dogs out anyhow? Secondly, the baseball is not in focus, not even close. Third, the catcher’s arm is cut off and appears to be floating in the air all by itself. Yuck!

But even with all that, I like this photograph. The player is in focus and the ball leaving the broken bat tells the story well and almost exudes action! As a matter of fact, when I look at this photo I swear I can almost hear the crack of the bat hitting that baseball!

Now the next photograph wouldn’t mean much without seeing the one right before it. But now this last photo helps to tell the story of this at-bat. And you thought you carried a big stick!

Panthers vs. Bears Basketball

The Panthers of Pocono Mountain West faced the Bears of Pleasant Valley for the Mountain Valley Conference Championship tonight in Stroudsburg.

The girls’ game was first and Pleasant Valley won in overtime. Then it was the boys’ turn. The Panther’s only loss this season was to Pleasant Valley, which was an upset. Tonight they were battling it out on the court again. The Panthers struck first and often. They ran off a big lead and never looked back. The Bears could not overcome the deficit and never led the game. It was a disappointing night for a team, which battled several injuries late in the season, including their all-star Nick Stanovick. The Panthers won big with a score of 82-49.

The Panthers looked strong off the glass, on rebounds, and on the floor. Their passes were crisp and sure, and their full-court press made for a difficult and frustrating night for the Bears. Both teams will play in Districts.

Wrestling – Stroudsburg vs. Pleasant Valley

This week featured an exciting Mountain Valley Conference match-up for the championship. Winner take all! For all the marbles! However you want to say it, this match was going to determine the winner of this years Mountain Valley Conference. Stroudsburg had the three previous titles and once again Pleasant Valley came in as the predicted underdog, even though they outranked Stroudsburg in the District playoffs.

Sadly, I was not able to photograph the Varsity match due to another commitment, but I was able to photograph the Junior High match. These photographs are just a sampling of the photos I captured at this match. You can view all the photos here.

I hope these photos reveal at least some of the excitement and enthusiasm that came out on this huge night. It was a night of noise, enthusiasm, excitement, and champions!

Batter Up!

The high school baseball season has begun and I shot my first game of the season this afternoon. It was refreshing and exhilarating to be behind the camera at a baseball game. This time I used my 70-200mm lens attached to  my D300 mounted on a monopod and I had my D70 around my neck with the 24-70mm lens. This combination worked pretty well and allowed me to capture most of the action.

It also didn’t hurt to have my MB-D10 Battery Grip attached to my camera, which gives me 8 frames per second! This really helps me when a runner is stealing second base or when an infielder is fielding a ground ball. This fast frame rate allows me to capture more of the action, which is critical in a baseball game.

The other critical thing is to constantly pay attention and anticipate where the action is next going to take place. This takes concentration and some luck. But having coached baseball for nine years certainly helps me anticipate where the action might take place next. Having two cameras on hand is helpful, too.

Batter up! The baseball season is in full swing and I couldn’t be happier!

My New Sports Portfolio

I have taken a lot of sports action photographs in recent years. I thoroughly enjoy the challenge of trying to capture the excitement of the plays on the field! The challenge is obvious because many variables are involved. Will I click the shutter at just the right moment? Will the shot be in focus? Will the ball be frozen in the frame with the player?

Of course, there are some things the photographer can control. Watch the background to keep it as uncluttered as possible. Have your camera ready for action at all times. Keep batteries charged and memory cards ready. Position yourself in the best possible location.

Last night I spent some time going through many of the baseball photos I took this year. I wanted to create a portfolio of my best sports photographs. Then I posted the resulting portfolio to my website. You can see the Sports Portfolio for yourself. Take a look at these photos and let me know what you think of them. Do they capture the action? Do they tell a story? Are they any good?

Basketball

Tonight I photographed the Pleasant Valley basketball game. They played a good game against Northampton. In the end they came up a little short, but it was fun to try to capture the action on the court.

Indoor photography can be tricky at best. Working without a flash I had to bump up the ISO. My Nikon f/2.8 70-200mm got exclusive use and performed beautifully. Fast lenses are a necessity in situations like this. I turned my white balance to florescent which seemed to work very well and render colors correctly.

The action was fast and furious at times. I positioned myself on the baseline, hoping for the action to come straight at me. It did!

I did learn a few things that I need to remember for the next game I shoot:

1. Remember to follow the players as they jump. Sometimes they jumped out of the frame!
2. Keep shooting after the play is over. Players reactions are sometimes very photographic.
3. Bring knee pads along. They will save my knees from becoming so sore.

Overall, this was a fun shoot. I can’t wait for the next tip-off! I hope to have some of these photos posted on my website soon. www.bobshankphotography.com

Baseball

Well, the Major League Baseball post-season is in full swing and the league championships have already begun. This gets met thinking about sports photography. I especially like to photograph baseball games. While some people think they are boring, I find baseball games to be full of strategy, intrigue, and excitement. Capturing the action and great plays on the field with my camera is a wonderful challenge that I just love.

James’ team had their tournament canceled due to the snow and rain, but they will play next week. Tomorrow I will try to post a few photos from last week’s tournament.