Thursday, July 25, 2013

Take me out to the ballgame! (a plea from your camera, part 2)


In Part 1 we discussed how to be in position to take great photos of baseball and softball.  This time we will discuss what you need to know to get your camera to give you the best quality photos.

1.  Focus


If you aren't sure that you know how to focus your camera, chances are you don't!  You MUST if you are going capture the action at the ball game.  Here is a tutorial I did to help explain how to be deliberate about achieving proper focus.  There are many good tutorials out there, but the most important source of information for you is your own camera manual.  Find.  Read.  Really!  Once you know how to focus,

2.  Decide how you want to play the fence.


Unless you are seated in the outfield, you most likely have a fence between you and your subject.  If you don't, find one, because you and your camera are in danger.  Photographers have differing opinions about the fence.  Some will suggest that you try to find a way to work around it, like maybe peering around the door next to the dugout, or sitting just beyond the infield where the fence ends.  I don't happen to feel that way, because the fence is a very real part of my perspective on life during the summer months.  I love to have an understated hint of the fence texture in my photos some of the time.  Sometimes I pull my chair right up to the fence and place my lens between the links (but NOT through it) to avoid the pattern, or just use that one open square as a frame, and other times I sit back a few feet and FOCUS through the links.

DSC_6845 - Version 2

Shooting through the fence works best if you use a good zoom (5x at least, preferably more), and are focused on something far away from you and the fence--the pitcher or beyond.  Here, Ben is playing catcher, so he is relatively close, making the fence stand out a little more--but his face is framed by the links, and I love it.



If you are planning to shoot between the links, figure out where you plan to shoot, and lock your focus (push your shutter button halfway down) on a player or base that is that distance away from you before the action begins.  For example, if you anticipate a play at second base, aim through the links with your viewfinder.  Set your focus on either the base or the second baseman by pressing halfway down, hold it there and wait for the play to happen.  If you keep holding down the shutter button, you can move your camera to capture any action that happens in or around that area--as long as the distance from you remains about the same.  There are several other options available, like manual focus, back button focus, and continuous focus, but this is a good place to start.


If you keep working at it, you will get some beautiful shots!  You will also have to delete quite a few, but it won't cost you a dime, and you will have PLENTY of opportunity to practice. (By the way, this works at the zoo, too, if you want a photo of an animal that is well beyond the fence or netting.)

3.  Use your "burst" or "continuous shooting" mode.


I sure hope you didn't put your manual away yet.  My favorite photos are pretty much always in a series, as the pitcher goes through her delivery, or when a play is unfolding.  Recently my son was involved in a play as the pitcher when he and the third baseman were trying to catch a player stealing home.  The catcher and several other players got involved until the runner was finally trapped and tagged out.



My camera is always in continuous mode, so I focused and just held the shutter down to keep firing until the play was over.  At one point I had to zoom out to get all the action, and then set my focus and start shooting again.



Notice how zooming out brought the fence back into view.  If you want to blur the fence out, you need to zoom all the way in.  However in this case, I was able to capture all the action by zooming out, and it was a very worthwhile tradeoff.



Keep shooting until the play is over and the umpire calls time!

4.  Don't forget the dugout and the fans!




When something good happens on the field, there is nothing better than having your camera ready to capture the celebration.  Don't forget that the celebrating is happening in more places than on the field.  Get the players, of course!  But then, check the joy in the dugout.  You can get both of those, and the parents will probably STILL be celebrating after that.


5.  Not all games are created equal.

When I arrive at a ball game, I typically sit down with the other families and enjoy some good conversations.  If the ball park and light are especially conducive to beautiful photos, I might go ahead and start shooting.  I keep folders of the best photos I have taken of each player, and sometimes I'm aware that I still don't have any shots of a certain player batting or base running, for example.  But if there is nothing special suggesting that this is a great opportunity, I will wait to take the camera out.  Here's why:  once you have gotten beyond T-ball, some games are games that you would prefer to forget.  I will almost always wait until our team has two runners on base with less than two outs before I take the camera out.  Then, if possible, I will position myself to photograph them running from third to home, or if not, then second to third.  I think it adds to their sense that good things are about to happen.

If there is a game with bad weather, poor lighting conditions, a lot of mistakes or frustrating calls, I tend to leave the camera put away for another day.  I also refrain from posting non-memorable moments.  If I take some great shots of a batter who, in the end, doesn't get on base through the whole game, it doesn't matter how good the photos are, the memory is a frustrating one.

6.  The details complete the story.






I don't photograph little details in every game, but each year I try to include some pictures of a bucket of balls, a cap and glove, the bats all lined up, and maybe some Gatorade and sunflower seeds.  It's all part of the package that together celebrates a year of team.  You know, the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat, but always, the joy of belonging.  Your camera wants to help you capture the story of your season.  Take it out of your bag and get started!  You'll be so glad you did.




Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Take me out to the ball game! (a plea from your camera, part 1)


It's no secret that I take a lot of pictures at the ball fields in the summer.  I have a blast doing it, because it helps me notice so many fun things about the kids (e.g. which ones stick their tongues out when they make a play), and also because it calms my nerves and helps keep me from yelling too much at the game.  I love to share them with the other families, and they are always appreciative, but I've noticed one big drawback:  the more photos I post, the fewer others seem to take.  I hate that, because I'd really like to see everyone who enjoys taking pictures having as much fun as I do.


The best news is that no matter what kind of camera you have, if it has a decent zoom, you can get some great baseball shots!  So, with no further ado... 

  Helpful Tips for Taking Great Baseball and Softball Photos

Today we'll start with the three most important things:  location, location, location!  If you go to the ball park night after night, it can begin to feel a little mundane.  It doesn't have to be that way!  You will have games in different locations with different kinds of backgrounds and lighting and weather.  This can make picture taking really interesting.  When you get to the field,

1. Check out the possible backgrounds.


For a few years our home field had a water park right behind third base. On hot nights I often wondered if this would be the night a base runner would run right off the field and head for the pool instead of rounding for home. They never did, but it made a cool backdrop from the right side of the outfield shooting toward home.


You probably won't have a water park in your photo, but it's quite possible that you will find some unique features at the field.  We've played in a few corn fields, and more than one construction zone.




It's fun to capture the character of the different fields, because they tell the story of your season.  That said, they can also be a little distracting.  I may or may not have missed a few plays while trying to balance this huge dump truck on top of my son's head.


If you really want to focus in on the players and the game--and maybe a photo you would frame--look for the trees you will often find behind the outfield fence, and you will have a great backdrop.


I rarely pass up a chance to sit up on a hill where you can shoot down for a different angle.



You can put yourself in many different positions during the course of a game, especially as your player changes positions.  Bring your own chair so that you aren't limited to the view from the bleachers behind home plate.  The location of the sun might affect your choice.  Taking the time to be intentional can mean the difference between good and great pictures.

2.  Pay attention to which side of the field your team's dugout is on.


I personally prefer to stay on the side of the field where our team and fans are.  It will vary from game to game, so I try to take advantage of whatever side we're on.



If you are on the first base side, you can sit at the perfect spot to get photos of the right-handed batters, and the base runners strategizing with the third base coach, or crossing the plate.  If you get lucky, you might catch a player sliding into home! I really like the angle I get when sitting on the ground to the right of home, or I at least get down as far as I can from my chair.



If you are on the third base side, you are in position to see the left-handed batters, and the runners coming from second to third (many times with a slide).  You might also get a great shot of the catcher making a play at the plate.



The left side is also the perfect place to see your player celebrating a hit or a walk with the coach at first base.  Smiles. Every. Time.


Many times the bleachers are directly behind home plate.  This is not an ideal location for photography, but if you want to photograph the pitcher, you can get some unique shots.



Got him to chase one!

3.  Know the game well enough to anticipate the action.  



You're in luck here, because in baseball or softball, the runners only advance in one direction.  Pretty predictable.  Know where the runners are, where they are headed, and where the play is likely to be to try to get them out.  If you know that, you can get in position to capture the action no matter where you are.




Now you know where to look and where to position yourself in order to be sure you capture some great action.  In Part 2 (click here) we will discuss the most important things you need to know to use your camera effectively.  You can do this.  I promise!