5. Anticipate where the action will be.
We’ve just referred to the “critical moment.” Those of you familiar with the works of Henri Cartier Bresson know he thought that every great photo resulted from capturing, what he called, the decisive moment. Let’s refer to it in baseball as the critical moment. While we’ve said you can’t always capture the critical moment, you certainly should try. And this means anticipating where the action is likely to occur.
If you want to take some classic baseball photos of a runner who’s on first, either set yourself up near first base (to get shots of pick-off attempts) or near third base (to get the runner if there’s a hit). If your subject is the batter, either get as close as you can to the batter’s box (so you can have a good angle to record the mighty swing) or close to first base (where you can grab a shot after he or she connects with the ball…or strikes out). What about that “over-the-umpire’s-shoulder” shot from behind home plate that we mentioned earlier? It’s a great position for using a long lens to capture the pitcher’s grimacing facial expressions as he delivers the ball (or watches it sail over his head), but not a great position to capture the batter’s face. A bit off to the side (toward first base) is better for this.
What do we mean by anticipate? We mean that you should aim your camera at the point where you expect the action to be, and preset the focus for that area. (If you’re using a quick-reacting autofocus camera, you may not have to deal with this.) Let’s say there are runners on second and third. The big play is most likely to be at the plate, so it makes sense to train your camera on the plate, set focus (and, as we explain in a moment, exposure)…and wait for the action to unfold. If you’re right, and there is a play at home, you’re ready to capture the critical moment. But don’t take your eye away from the camera after you shoot the first shot. Be ready to shoot a second…and a third. Anything can happen. The ball might be dropped by the catcher. The runner may exchange a photogenic “high-five” with the on-deck batter. The manager may come storming out to protest the call. Be ready!
One other advantage of anticipating where the action will be, involves exposure. (If your camera offers quick-acting auto-exposure, you may be able to rely on it when you shoot.) Typically, one thing you have to consider during day games is that one part of the field may be in bright sun while the rest is in shadow. If you anticipate the action at home plate which is in bright sun, you can set your exposure for the bright home-plate area in advance. If you don’t anticipate — and your camera does not offer quick-acting auto-exposure — your exposure may be way off.
Another important baseball photography tip: Where you have a choice of shooting action in a sunny area or a shadow area, opt for the sun. You want to shoot at the fastest possible shutter-speed to freeze the action. Deep shadows may call for a slower shutter-speed that won’t stop the action. Of course, if you have no choice the first rule is: Go where the action is!