Baseball can be among the most maddening of sports to photograph. Entire games can be played with very little action at all, while other games will be chock full of great fielding plays and other images waiting to be captured. As with all sports, knowing the game is as important as knowing how to make a photo. Knowing what plays will happen on different areas on the baseball diamond helps you be ready when those situations arise. Before we get to those situations, some basic settings. As always when shooting sports, I tend to shoot nearly wide open, usually at f/2.8 or f/4. I then set my ISO high enough to give me a shutter speed of at least 1/500 and more likely, 1/1000. Which lens I use depends almost entirely on what level of baseball I’m shooting. When shooting little leaguers, a 70-200 or 70-300 will probably be pretty adequate, while for high school and above you may need something with a focal length of 400mm or more. My drive speed is always set to continuous high when shooting sports, so I can fire continuously during peak action. This helps ensure that I will get the peak action.
Baseball games lend themselves to a lot of different types of images. The opportunities start long before the game on the field starts. Batting practice presents some great portrait opportunities, as well as candid moments among players, so it’s always worthwhile to get to the game early. You’ll see players stretching, horsing around amongst themselves, taking batting practice, and fielding practice. If possible, and if you can get on the field, it’s always a good idea to become familiar with the players, and to let them become familiar with you. You’re more likely to get good images when their guard is down. This is a great time to get moments between coaches and players, players on opposing teams, and teammates in a more relaxed atmosphere.
Once the game starts, the portrait ops don’t stop, but they take on a much different air. Players expressions will be all business for the most part. Since you generally can’t be on the field during the game, you’ll need a longer lens to capture these images.
As for the action, the game starts with pitching, so you’ll want to be sure you get some shots of the pitchers. Depending on where you are, There are several ways to do this. Start with a full length shot that gets the pitcher’s entire body in the shot. Then move on to tighter shots. If the pitcher’s back is to you, you can get a nice shot of his arm raring back ready to fire a fastball, with his name and number emblazoned on the back of his jersey. If allowed, a shooting position behind the pitcher is ideal for a shot of the pitching motion coming right at you. Usually this can be done during warm-ups if you clear it ahead of time. In the pro’s some teams allow this between innings while others do not. Find the team’s photographer and check with them. One other fun shot to try is to pan the pitcher’s motion using a slow shutter speed. This shot will depend both on your ability to keep the panning speed steady, as well as the pitcher’s motion. Some pitchers move their heads around a lot. Others, the motion is all in the arms and legs. Those that keep their heads steadier tend to be better subjects for this type of shot.
The other end of the pitch is of course, the batter. Generally, right-handed batters are best shot from the first base side, while left-handed batters are best photographed from the third base side. However, from the opposite base, hitters’ follow-through can be captured beautifully. If a hitter puts the ball in play, it can be difficult to try and find the fielder if you were initially focused on the batter. If
you want photos of fielders, it’s much better to know the batter’s tendencies and try to predict where he will hit the ball.
If a batter reaches base, this sets up situations with plays at the bases- particularly second base. A runner at first could attempt to steal second, which makes a great play at second base. This will always look better from the first base side, but can also be captured from third base. Knowing which runners have a tendency to try and steal will help with anticipating the shot. In addition, a runner on first base with less than two out sets up the possibility of a double play. If trying to anticipate a play at second, it’s a good idea to prefocus on second base. If the play happens in that general area it will be much easier to achieve focus since the fielder will be right in the place you’ve prefocused on.
Capturing outfielders will be hit or miss if you’ll pardon the pun. There is generally enough time to swing the lens to the outfield and find focus when the ball is hit there, but often the action could be beyond the reach of the lens. It never hurts to try.
Baseball can be a lot of fun to shoot, but it takes some patience, and a little bit of study and understanding of the game to get really good shots.
Table of contents
- ADVANCED GUIDES
- Play Ball! Covering Your Bases Shooting Baseball