Ten Tips To Help You Make Better High School Baseball Photos
As the winter comes to a close the baseball season will start to heat up. Monday I wrote a post with 10 Tips for better baseball photos you can read that post here. That post was aimed more at people shooting at the college and pro levels. With this post I would like to cover some more of the basics of how to cover a baseball game. A high school baseball game presents some unique challenges, but also offers some great access as well. These are not all inclusive tips, but they will help you get started photographing a high school game. Here are ten tips that I think will help you improve your high school baseball photography.
- Shoot through the fence – If you at a high school baseball field then the chances are that you have a lot of fence in between you and the action. One thing that a lot of beginners cannot realize that they can do is to shoot through the fence. The photo above was made shooting through a chain link fence directly behind home plate. The trick to doing this is to put your longer lens right up against the fence preferably centered on a hold. If you have your aperture set to wide open (a lower number) you can make most of the fence disappear. You can see some artifacts in the bokeh of the fence, but the fence does not show up over my subject. Shooting through the fence can give you more options as well as give you some cool photos that have depth to them.
2. Shoot with the sun at the players back to reduce shadows on the face – The hat on a baseball player can create a terrible shadow on the face of your players. One way to reduce that shadow is to shoot with the player backlit. That is to say that they sun is at their back. You can then have an even light on their face.
3. Vary your position – One way to change how your photos look is to move around the field. Because this is written more with the beginner in mind I thought that I would go over a couple of shooting positions and explain what I try and shoot from them.
1st Base Line
- Right handed batter
- Left handed pitcher
- Left handed batters follow through
- Fielding photos of the shortstop and the third baseman
- A head on view of the double play throw to first
- A runner’s dive back into first base
- The catcher throwing to second base (once an inning at least in warm ups)
- A good view of the runner scoring from third
- The batter running to first
3rd Base Line
- Right handed pitcher
- Left handed batter
- Right handed batters follow through
- 1st and 2nd base fielding
- 1st baseman fielding throws at first
- Double plays and steals at second base
- A good view of the catcher during a play at the plate
- A good view into the home plate celebration after a home run
- A view back into the batter more like the TV view we are used to
- Plays at second base
- Plays in the outfield
Behind the Plate
- A classic view of the pitcher head on
- Fielding plays by the infield
- Plays at the plate
Those are just a few possibilities from each position. Part of the fun of shooting a baseball game is finding new places to make photos from. These are a good starting point for you to work on though.
4. Don’t Forget the Jube – Jube is a term I learned somewhere for the jubilation of the moment. Often you will be so excited to see if you got the shot of the big play that you will be looking at the back of your camera right away. That is often when the best part of the play is happening. Follow the player all the way back to the dugout or their position. You never know when the big moment will lead to a big celebration. The jube is my favorite part of sports, and is why I shoot them to begin with.
5. Focus on the details – If you are shooting your son or daughter you most likely are putting together some kind of book for them. Focusing on the details of the field and uniforms are a great way to add to the memories that you are putting together. If you are shooting for the school these types of pictures work very well on social media as well. Shooting at a level like high school may also mean better access for you. With the details you can also focus on the interactions in the dugout and the clubhouse. Just remember to be cautious with what you put out in the public. If you post something that was meant to be just shared in private by the players you may lose your access.
6. Know the exposure triangle – I see photos from the baseball field all the time with images that have a bat or ball blur. At times the light will not allow you to have the shutter speed needed to freeze most action (1/1000th of a second). When you are shooting during the day though you have no excuse not to have the action stopped. The exposure triangle are the three elements that determine what your photo will look like. They are shutter speed, aperture, and ISO. Since this post is aimed more at the beginner I will go over each of the three. You can Google the exposure for a more detailed look at it. Below is a very brief description of the three with some examples of how they relate to shooting baseball.
- Shutter speed – For most sports you would like to have your shutter speed above 1/1000th of a second to stop the action. In baseball the bat and ball are moving very fast so I will go up to 1/3500th and 1/4000th of a second at times if I want to really stop the ball in motion. Your shutter speed is the amount of time that the shutter is actually open recording light. When you use a very high shutter speed then you are not getting much light into the camera. You then have to compensate for that with your aperture and ISO.
- Aperture – The aperture is the amount of light that you are letting into your camera. You can find the range that your lens will allow by looking on the side of it. Some lenses are a fixed aperture lens. That would be lenses that say f/2.8 or f/4 on the side for example. Other lenses can be variable aperture lenses. These lenses will vary based on what position the lens is in. The typical example is the f/3.5-5.6 lens. That means that the lens will be at f/3.5 when it is pulled all the way in, and at f/5.6 when it is extended all the way out. When shooting sports I would suggest shooting at the widest aperture possible. This will be the smaller number. Shooting at a wide aperture blurs the background, and at most fields you need to blur the background. The trade off here is that you have a smaller depth of field so you need to be more precise with your focusing.
- ISO – This is where things have come a long way in a short period of time. In the days of film an ISO of 400 (ASA then) was considered fast. Now you can have cameras that shoot at over 10,000 ISO without too much grain. That is the main thing here. You want to use the lowest ISO that you can to avoid the grain that comes with a high ISO. At times though you may have to trade off some grain to avoid motion blur in your images.
7. Shoot in RAW – For a new photographer this must sounds weird. What is RAW? RAW is a format that you can record to that will give you all of the data that your cameras sensor is collecting. When you buy your camera it comes set to shoot in jpeg mode. That is the common mode that most of us upload images to the web and print from. That jpeg is a compressed file that has been created by the camera. The camera has made some decisions for you as far as quality goes. The RAW file is the entire file as it was recorded off of the sensor. A good analogy is that the RAW file is the entire book War and Peace, while the jpeg would be the Reader’s Digest condensed book version. You still get the general gist of the book, but some of the detail is lost. When you are just starting out this is very important for a couple of reasons. The first is that if you mess up on part of the exposure triangle you can usually recover the image from the RAW file. You can regain a lot from an image when you are working with the RAW file. The second is that you don’t have to worry about white balance when shooting in RAW mode. You can change that later in post production. Shooting in RAW mode will also help with the nasty shadows that form under the brim of the baseball cap. A simple shadow adjustment in your editing software will clean those up.
8. Choose your background wisely – If you are shooting Major League Baseball for a wire service like Getty Images you will want to make sure that nothing distracting is in your background. For most of my photos I want a clean background that does not distract from the image. The photo above is an example of where you can include some of the background in your image. I included the scoreboard and the school to give a sense of place. In LaPorte, Indiana they play at Schreiber Field. It is a very nice field that is located next to the school. In helping create memories for the players I try and place a few elements of the field into my photos. Luckily for most high schools the outfield signage is not what it can be at a Major League or Minor League park. You have a nice clean fence and tree line that would look great in the bokeh. At some fields you can be shooting back at the batters or at a pitcher, and the background will be cars or people that can be distracting.
9. Know the team – If you are a parent photographing your son or daughter this is an easy one. You probably know the team quite well. If you are shooting for the school paper or another outside source you my need some details on the team. The photo up above of the player being congratulated by the third base coach was one that may have made the gallery, but definitely made the gallery when I knew the backstory of it. The player is the son of the head coach who is coaching third. This was a father congratulating his son on a home run. Knowing player tendencies or rituals also helps in making good photos of them. It also is good to know if any records or streaks are on the line.
10. Use back button focus – One thing that I wish that I had know when I started out was the ability to use a back button of your camera to set the focus. When you buy your camera it comes with the camera metering and focus set to occur when the shutter button is pressed halfway down. A full press of the shutter button will of course take your picture. Taking the focus off of that button and setting it to a button of its own lets you set your focus on a place, and leave it there. When I first started shooting baseball I would hear the familiar beep of the focus acquisition multiple times during an at bat. Now I set it at the start of the at bat, and it is good from there. Having the focus set to a back button also allows you to pre focus on a base. Say you know the guy on first is a runner and there is a good chance they will steal. You can pre focus on 2nd base to get the play there, or you can focus on the first base bag if you think he will dive back in after a throw. Pre focusing on a spot increases your chances of making a shot when the play happens quickly. Switching to back button focus has many advantages when shooting sports. You can look up how to change your focus in your cameras manual.