You hear the crack of a ball against Bo Jackson’s bat and, if luck is on your side, you get the picture. However, it takes a little luck, because as a professional photographer you may just as likely be focusing on the pitcher at that crucial moment.
Baseball is one of the most difficult sports to shoot because its long periods of inactivity lull you into a false sense of security. Then, in a split second, the third baseman makes a dive for a ball rocketing down the third-base line. Or perhaps the center-fielder and shortstop collide in the outfield.
There are things you do have control over--such as focus, exposure, composition and timing--but then you also have to worry about being blocked by the batboy, the umpire, the on-deck batter or the first-base or third-base coach.
The Major League Baseball All-Star game, which was played Tuesday at Anaheim Stadium, is a good example of the trials and tribulations professional photographers must go through on an almost daily basis. There were 748 members of the media covering the game, 70 of whom were photographers.
The preparation for the game was typical of what photographers go through to get pictures of an event in the next morning’s paper.
The day started about 1 p.m., even though the game didn’t start until 5:30 p.m. First there was the planning meeting attended by all photographers and film editors. Things such as messenger pickup for film, game-shooting strategy and the type of film to be used were discussed and decided on.
All the pictures were shot in color, even though most would appear as black and white in the morning newspaper. Kodak Panalure paper was used for making black-and-white photographs from color negatives.
A lottery was held to determine which photographers would shoot from what locations. The best shooting locations are the field-level spots on both sides of the dugout. Those locations provide the best shooting angle of second base, third base and home.
The photographers arrived at the stadium at 2:30 p.m. As usual, there were plenty of photo opportunities both inside and outside the stadium. For example, outside the stadium you could take pictures of vendors, tailgate parties and--on this July night--parking attendants wearing tuxedo shirts and ties. There was even a booth making personalized baseball cards.
Inside the stadium, the players were warming up and taking batting practice. There was little spontaneity because of the crush of photographers all trying to get the same pictures.
The talk at game time was about how difficult it would be for the batters at twilight. It’s no different for photographers who have to deal with half the field in sunlight and the other half in shade. You can’t just pop up a strobe and fill the picture in with fill-in flash. The action is too far away.
The big play of this night came early--Bo Jackson’s home run in the first inning--which is not normally the case. The best angle for this picture was the first-base photo well. It showed Jackson swinging and then watching the ball fly out of the stadium. There was a smattering of action the rest of the game, but it was clear that Jackson’s home run was the picture everyone wanted to see.
After the game, Jackson came out of the dugout to receive his Most Valuable Player trophy. It’s a moment that most athletes hate but most photographers want. In this case, Jackson stayed for about 10 minutes.
Baseball pictures look as if they are spontaneous, but they actually require a lot of preparation. Photographers get only one chance to shoot a picture, so they want to make the very best of that chance.
Even if it requires a little luck.