America’s Pastime

America's Pastime 200mm, f/2.8, 1/3000s, ISO 100

There’s nothing as all-American as baseball or so they say.  Last night I had the opportunity to shoot at the Lake Travis High School baseball game with Pete Talke.  I jumped on this because in a few weeks I’ll be filling in for him as the “official” photog for one game.  One can always use a bit of practice for these things.

Photographing baseball looks easy until you try it.  I learned several things based on my experimentation last night and from shooting a little bit at Austin Aztex soccer games.  First, finding the “correct” exposure can be tricky.  Most of the shots are high dynamic range situations — think blazing sunlight off bleached white pants contrasted with deep shadows on the backside of a red and black shirt.  There is also the sun-lit scoreboard in the outfield contrasted with the early evening shadows which are beginning to cross the infield.  Since bracketing exposures for action images wasn’t really an option, it came down to a judgment call — picking an exposure which balanced some blown-out highlights with getting enough detail.  I found that I was generally able to get away with aperture priority mode and the camera did a decent job with the shutter speed (which was well within the range I wanted to keep it).  Occasionally I used manual mode if the lighting was such that the camera couldn’t get it right.

Another tricky area is focusing.  I found that pre-focusing in manual focus mode worked better for capturing the batter in the batter’s box.  When using auto focus there were some shots which inadvertently focused on the opposite dugout.  I also missed a very cool action sequence where a runner nearly got picked off at first when he took a generous lead.  I was shooting from the first base side and captured a sequence where the runner was diving back to first as the first baseman attempted the tag — great shots with clouds of dust everywhere.  However, my focus happened to latch onto the outfield fence in the background.  Bummer.  Next time I’ll pre-focus there as well.

I had a great time, especially since I wasn’t under pressure to produce and could just experiment.  The shot above was taken during warm-ups.  I liked the combination of action and the American flag in the background.  Many frames were taken of this scene because I was attempting to all at once capture (1) the throwing motion, (2) the ball in the air, (3) the players not being in (very) awkward positions, (4) the flag blowing in the wind.  Unfortunately I didn’t get exactly what I wanted in any frames (I wanted the player earlier in the throwing motion and the ball lower in the frame).  The final choice of a frame was a compromise and the main factor was that the flag showed best in this one while the other elements were “OK”. I added more skew to the angle because I found it more interesting.  I wanted to crop slightly differently but decided not to so I could retain the “345” marker in the left side of the frame.

As for processing the image, I decided to experiment there as well.  First, I flipped the flags to blow to the right rather than the left (artistic liberty right?).  Then I added two textures (inspired by Pete’s images), masked in different contrast layers in areas of the frame, and did a little dodging and burning on the ball itself to get the look I wanted.  Hope you like it too.

Texture info…arbitrarily picked the first two I saw which were at all interesting.  These are used under creative commons from “pareeerica” on flickr.


5 responses

  1. That is REALLY cool. Great job!

    April 6, 2011 at 10:40 pm

  2. Love that shot Micheal. Really tells the story well.

    Another fun thing to try is prefocusing midway between the pitcher and the batter while standing behind the batter (behind the fence of course), and then fire off a shot when the ball passes through the focal plane:




    April 7, 2011 at 2:41 pm

    • Oh yeah — that’s a great shot! It’s on my list to try for the next game for sure.

      April 8, 2011 at 6:38 pm

  3. I love the moment, including how the ball has crossed the plane bisected by the flag pole. The textures work great, and also the off-angle.

    April 8, 2011 at 10:05 am

    • Thanks, Mark. I’m hoping to improve some of these things my next time out but I did end up liking this shot.

      April 8, 2011 at 6:39 pm

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