Stay with the play

In sports photography, it’s important to “stay with the play”, shooting all the way through, from the action to the emotion. This animated GIF illustrates this as a sequence of 35 consecutive shots in the same play.

The animated GIF file was created at

The power of a RAW file (and Lightroom)

Here’s a ‘before and after’ comparison of the same file. It was taken at a zoo, behind very thick glass (thank goodness). There was a bit of glare, very heavy fingerprint smudges, and I couldn’t shoot straight on. Do you get the idea that these were ‘less than ideal’ conditions?

Nonetheless, I wanted a photo of this lion, so I persevered. I sat down for a low angle, and I waited while he closed his eyes, opened them, nodded off again, and finally woke up and looked somewhere in my direction.

I didn’t realize how poor the shooting conditions and exposure were until I saw the original photo in Lightroom. But since I shot in RAW file format, it contains a TON of color, tone, and other data in the digital file, so I decided to see how far I could push the post-processing.
I was actually surprised that I was able to salvage an acceptable photo based on what I was working with. So to you new photographers out there, if you shoot in RAW, it’ll be alot more forgiving to you in post-processing, and you’ll be amazed at the results you can get!

Capture a frozen ball in baseball

There’s a “trick shot” in baseball photography called a Frozen Ball. The photo is shot from behind home plate as the pitcher throws the ball. The shot captures the baseball in perfect focus while blurring out all other composition.

Here’s how to do it

  • You can use any telephoto lens, although the deeper the focal length, the more pronounced it’ll be
  • Focus on a spot between the catcher and the pitcher, but closer to the catcher (i.e., look for a tuft of grass that stands out)
  • Adjust the aperture to keep the pitcher more/less blurred (f2.8 – 4 range)
  • Set your lens to manual focus to avoid AF changing this focus spot
  • Watch for the pitch and then shutter burst away!
  • It could take a few tries, but a successful capture will grab the baseball in focus as it passes through the focal plane you set earlier

Post-processing (optional)

To really make the baseball have separation, you can use a program like Adobe Lightroom to increase the clarity and/or sharpness to draw your eyes to the ball.

A&E – Action & emotion

One of my goals this year is to capture a better balance of what I call “A&E” – action & emotion. The action part is alot easier for me. I see it, I shoot it. The emotion takes more effort. But if you notice sports photos published by major outlets (ESPN, Sports Illustrated, etc.), there are probably just as many if not more emotion shots than action shots (these are my very unscientific findings).

Often, the emotion happens as a reaction to a play- teammates celebrating, coaches reacting with a referee, etc. Getting these shots means I need to shoot through the play and beyond. As a sports photographer, you’re taught to “shoot through the play”. This helps you get the whole play, from beginning to end. Capturing the emotion means you have to not only shoot through the play, but beyond, all the while looking around for the reaction to the play.

Take a basketball play for example. While the ball moves around the front court, you follow the action until the shot is taken. Once you’re done with this, you may immediately cut over to the team bench to capture the emotion of teammates celebrating a made 3-pointer. It can make your head feel like it’s on a swivel!

When shooting on a deadline for a publication or a wire service, I’m often tempted to check my shots right after the action so that I can tag the ones I want to consider to be used for publication. Doing this makes it easier to cull them after the event because I can narrow it down to just these tagged images. However, doing this means that I often miss the emotion because my face is in my camera chimping. Being patient and shooting through the play longer and searching the area for emotion takes more effort, but is definitely worth it. Rather than review & tag the photos right after the play, I try to keep my eyes open more for the emotion, and try to wait for a timeout to review them then.

Here are a few examples of my A&E from basketball games.