Sports photography is a whole different experience and requires a completely unique set of skills. This of course, doesn’t mean that you can’t acquire them. You require technique, proper gear and patience to learn how to use both these things. In time, you can master the art of professional sports photography. Baseball is considered to be one of the more difficult sports to capture on camera. This is because unlike football, basketball or soccer, there is no constant flurry of action on the field. There are times when things seem to slow down but almost without warning, the game can turn from a turtle’s dreamlike pace to a rabbit’s rushing sprint.
You also have the option of either choosing a major league or a minor league, but whichever you decide to opt for, keep in mind that timing is of crucial essence in baseball. You would have to be constantly vigilant and always on your toes. Also, beware of the lighting so that you may be able to capture a shot that shows the action instead of depicting shadows. Here are a few tips to help you get started or if you have started already, then get better at what you love to do.
Now, when I say "proper sports gear", it does not mean you have to buy a new photography kit from top to bottom and go bankrupted. It just means that you have to buy a properly working camera because the quality of shots would depend on the functioning of your camera. If you don’t have the budget, you can either rent a camera or get a second hand camera from some online store. After you have outgrown the old gear, you too can sell it and get an upgraded version.
A 70-200mm zoom lens digital SLR camera can work wonderfully for intermediate distances (ie If you are taking pictures of batters from 1st and 3rd base. If you want to get a little closer to the action and even to isolate an outfielder as he runs for the ball try using a 300mm 2.8 lens.
Zoom lenses definitely help, but don't forget to pack a 35mm or 50mm lens for some up close moments with players (photos in the dugout or before the game).
We've talked about gear, now let's talk about where to set up. If you are just getting started then a Minor League game might work best. Contact the club's PR Manager or Media Relations person and see if they will grant you a photo press pass. Explain to them that you are looking to build your portfolio. This pass will let you onto the field before the game with certain restrictions. You will also have the option of being in the photo wells during the game which is a great vantage point for the action on the field.
Now if you just want to go to the game and grab a few great shots of the players then forget about what I just said. Get seats as close as you can. Also get to the field as early as they let people in. Sometimes the best photos of the players is during warm up or batting practice. Then just wander around the stadium and grab shots when you can...beware of standing in front of other people when the game is going on...that is a good way to be asked to leave.
This is important when you are trying to master baseball photography. You can’t expect to sit demurely while fate lands a perfect shot in your lap. Understand the game and anticipate the moves of the players. This way, you would know when you need to be prepared to capture your shot of the day. This comes with practice and knowledge of the game. For the most part you can keep your focus at or near the infinite mark since most of the action is taking place more than 50 feet away (anything after that is usually infinite on most lenses). So all you have to worry about now is following and anticipating the action.
Lighting is important in all types of photography. It makes a good shot an excellent one. When you are in the baseball stadium, choose a spot that provides the best lighting. Plan ahead according to where there’s more lighting and where there isn’t enough. If it’s a daytime game, it may be warm but you will be able to shoot at higher shutter speeds which means you can freeze action and use a lower ISO. That translates to a finer grain on your photos if you ever wanted to enlarge the photo (ex onto a canvas print) there would be much less grain in the photo. Now, if it’s a night game, you might have the added bonus of the beautiful golden glow of a setting sun. But you will also be photographing under the lights. This is not a problem because with today's digital cameras you can just bump up your ISO to 800 or even 2000 and still get fast shutter speeds to stop action. Use this to your advantage.
Baseball is not just about the players, but also about the crowd who come to watch and support. They are the ones who display the most emotions and hence are ideal for photography. You can get many shots full of a variety of expressions. Make sure you click them when there’s a lull in the game. Also, take snapshots of the players who are sitting on the bench. They will be complete sellers, this is true if you are photographing Little League or the Major Leagues.
After you have got the shot of your favorite player and you want to make it into a poster sized print or print it on canvas I would suggest you chat with the folks over at Canvas Press (www.canvaspress.com). They have printed several large canvas prints of baseball players like Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg, and Mike Trout.
For more inspiration on photographing the game of baseball check out the photo book by Walter Iooss Jr called Diamond Dreams.