Get Into the Swing of Things With Long Lens, Fast Reflexes

The photography column, which runs each Saturday in Orange County Life, is intended to help both the serious amateur and weekend shooter. Questions and ideas are encouraged. Write to Robert Lachman, Chief Photographer, L.A. Times, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, Calif. 92626

It’s baseball season, which means it’s time to dust off the telephoto lens, test your reflexes and sharpen your shooting eye to capture the boys and girls of summer.

You may want to photograph the Angels or you may set your sights on Little League, T-ball or Bobbie Sox softball. The elements are the same; only the size of the players and the speed of the ball changes.

Equipment is an important factor when shooting baseball. A telephoto or zoom lens is a necessity to bring the action closer. When you take a close look at the field, you can’t help but notice there is a lot of real estate to cover.


Your 80- to 200-millimeter zoom lens will help. Lenses between 100 and 400 millimeters are best, depending on which area of the diamond you’re going to shoot.

Photographers covering an Angels game for The Times or Associated Press would usually have two cameras with motor drives. They would use a 200-mm. lens for close action and a 400-mm. for the plays around second base and the infield. A 600-mm. lens is used for covering the outfielders and for tight shots of the infielders.

Your first consideration is shutter speed. You need to be at least at 1/250th of a second to stop the action. If you shoot at a slower speed you must use a panning technique to eliminate the blur. Panning is moving the camera lens at about the same speed as the action moves before your eyes.

If your automatic camera has a shutter priority mode, use it, setting it at a shutter speed that will stop the action. Generally, depth of field is the least important consideration. You should only worry about keeping your main subject in focus.

Picking the correct film is also very important. A typical maximum aperture for a telephoto lens is f-5.6. With this in mind, choose film with a speed (ASA or ISO) of 200 or 400 to provide a fast enough shutter speed to stop the action during the day. For shooting at night, choose ISO 1000 or 1600.

Using a tripod or mono-pod is imperative with longer lenses. You need help supporting your camera when the telephoto lens exceeds 300-mm. It’s important to squeeze the shutter button gently so you don’t shake the camera, even though the action in front of you may be fast and furious.

Following the moving subject and shooting pictures at the same time is the most difficult aspect of shooting great sports pictures. Photographing football or soccer players running toward you takes a lot of practice.

It is also important to anticipate where the action will be. It is unlikely that you’ll be able to move the camera and focus quickly enough to catch the great dives in the infield or spectacular catches in the outfield.

Despite all the attention automatic-focus cameras are getting for shooting sports, be careful. Don’t be fooled by the advertisements that feature professional tennis, basketball or baseball players first being photographed and then using the camera themselves. You’re looking at a still video picture. If you catch the fine print at the bottom of the screen it says “simulation.” There is more to it than point and shoot if you’re looking for great sports photos.

Camera companies are making advances, though. Canon, with its new automatic focus 300-mm. f/2.8 that utilizes an ultrasonic motor built into the lens, is as quick as it gets and will focus in low light.

According to William Kendall, senior technical representative of Canon in Costa Mesa, “It works best with the action moving laterally; with a player running straight it’s harder for the camera to focus.”

Ron Taniwaki, Nikon professional services branch supervisor, says: “We don’t (make one). There is no professional auto-focus camera on the market. They don’t have the speed or versatility.”

Automatic focus is great for portraits and snapshots but don’t rely on it for sports. It won’t focus fast enough.

While everyone looks for the great action photo, it’s the photos with emotion that you remember. The thrill of your first home run, your first win or a tough loss are better captured with non-action shots. Look off the field, you’ll be surprised what you see.

If you’re planning a trip to Anaheim Stadium you may want to take along your camera. According to the Angels, cameras are allowed but you must leave the tripods at home. As a rule, your telephoto lens will work the best. The game will last for more than two hours so there is plenty of time for photography. If you’re trying to get close-ups of your favorite players, get to the game two hours early and shoot closer to the field during batting practice.

There are some dangers, however. While you’re concentrating on your daughter at shortstop, you may end up with a whack on the side of the head from a line drive off the bat. Make sure you pay attention. Always keep an eye on the ball.

Shooting from behind a fence will help eliminate the problem. If you have a telephoto lens, shooting with the lens as close as possible to the chain link fence will make the mesh disappear.