I have more iPhone images than I care to admit of my son’s ponyball games. And while I do love the ease and ability to snap just one or two pictures with my convenient phone, there are times when I really want to capture the moment with my “big girl” camera. But the last thing I want is for my picture-taking to take away from anyone else’s experience in watching their own children at bat. In order to make sure that I get those images I crave, as well as stay out of the way of the players and parents, there are a few things I keep in mind.
Tip #1: Shoot with your longest lens.
This is obvious, but when photographing sports, the longer the better. In cases where your child plays a sport on a field like in baseball, having a longer lens will allow you to get closer up without having to literally be closer up. If you’re hoping to focus just on your child alone (as I did for the following images) a lens with a long focal length can help you achieve that.
But don’t worry at all if a lens like this isn’t in your bag. Capturing the entire field can be just as effective, and can really document the entire feel of the game. Decide what it is that you want to capture, and then tote along a lens that will help you do just that.
Beyond the Fence
One of the trickiest things about photographing at the ballpark is that pesky chicken wire fence. It’s like a lattice barrier between you and that perfect shot. But that doesn’t always have to be the case. There are many ways to either incorporate it into the tone of your image, or to lessen its impact if that’s what you’re attempting to do. Here are a few things to try:
Tip #2: See how the lines can impact your story.
As parents on the sidelines, this is often our literal view of the field. Documenting that is a great way to really bring you straight into the scene, making your viewer feel like they’re an actual spectator. The ballpark is full of great lines and geometric shapes, so feel free to play around with them in your compositions.
Tip #3: When there isn’t much in the scene, let some of that fence show through.
Much like a texture added later in post processing, the repetition and pattern of the fence can bring an otherwise common image to an entirely different creative level.
Tip #4: Select your focal point.
This can be tricky when we’re shooting through a fence at a great distance. If you are right up against the fence, you can effectively shoot through the holes so that it doesn’t look like there is a fence at all. But most of us can’t just go up and stand at the fence to take pictures when a game is going on. Instead, choose your focal point just beyond the fence (in between those spaces).
For the following, I selected my son’s helmet as my focal point. My camera did get grabby and wanted to go back and forth between the fence and what was beyond it, but if I kept steady enough, I was able to keep the focus on him. If all else fails, go ahead and flip to manual focus to ensure that you’re focus falls on the subject you want it to.
Tip #5: Shoot wide open.
The wider your aperture, the narrower your depth of field. As a result, that fence in front of you is going to be much less noticeable.
Waiting until your subject is a distance away from the fence will also lessen its visibility. If your subject is leaning on the fence, then it will obviously be quite apparent. But if your subject is up to bat, then they should be a good enough distance away to keep that foreground fence out of the limelight.
Tip #6: Watch for fence glare.
Metal fences with sunlight on them can be more noticeable since they are reflective, so see if there is a way to shade the area you want to photograph. In the following image, a spectator stood up at the moment I snapped the shot, and they effectively shaded the fence where my son was positioned, making him stand out so much more than the full sun capture.
Tip #7: Use a Fast Shutter.
Though not as continuously fast paced as other sports, baseball definitely has moments of intense, quick action, and in order to capture that, it’s essential to have a fast shutter that can effectively freeze the moment. Unless you are intentionally seeking out motion blur to convey movement, choose a shutter that is going to lock in the moment. From the bat connecting with the ball to it sinking into the catcher’s glove, keep that shutter high to document those important plays.
Tip #8: Use Continues Shooting Mode (or Burst Mode).
When your child is up to bat or pitching on the mound, it’s so handy to be able to hold down the shutter and capture image after image quickly. Shooting in continuous mode is great for this, as you’ll be able to freeze each individual movement, but can also string them together to see the motion as a whole in a series of images. You can also make some pretty fun gifs with them too.
Tip #9: Document more than just the plays.
Baseball is more than the score at the end of the game. Be sure to capture all that makes up this great American pastime. From sunflower seeds to bubble gum to the dugout to gear and bats and balls, there are so many details to document that add to the emotion and the fun. Look for ways to photograph these elements and incorporate them to your collection of memories.
(Safety note: Whenever you are at the ballpark, you run the risk of being in the way of foul balls or flying bats. This is one reason why shooting behind the fence is a good idea. If possible, have another person available who can be near you as you photograph in order to deflect any balls that might come your way. With your eye up to the lens, you won’t have the whole field in your view, so make sure to have another set of eyes that can watch the game in its entirety as you snap away.)
Megan Squires, California
CMU Instructor | CM Mentor
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Although Megan started dabbling in photography when she purchased her first DSLR in 2005 it wasn’t until 3 years later that her journey took a deeper meaning and has defined who she is as a photographer. In Folsom, California, where she lives with her husband and two children, Megan uses her Nikon D4 and an assortment of lenses to photograph in her bright, clean, and classic style. On her days off she loves to sip a can of diet Coke after a morning of sleeping in. Follow that with a little antiquing and you’ve got quite the day for Megan. She is also the instructor for CMU’s Shooting 203: Natural Light with Atmosphere and Shooting 102: Mastering Manual Exposure workshop.