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

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.

Code Replacement automation

Code Replacements can be VERY useful for software like Photo Mechanic to speed up the captioning process. Often, a code replacement text file contains a team roster, positions, etc. Shortcuts are then used as ‘codes’ which are replaced by the actual text. Unfortunately, creating these text files can be tedious if you type them out manually. This may involve lots of typing or even copying & pasting. Nonetheless, additional formatting is often needed to get them into a format to work with Photo Mechanic.
Thanks to Maxwell Kruger, he’s made this process MUCH easier! Using an MS Excel file he provides on his web site which contains custom formulas, it’s possible to copy & paste a team roster and have it automatically formatted for you.
Here’s a link to his web page outlining the process. It’s fairly straightforward, and Maxwell does a good job explaining how the formulas work in case you need to modify them (I had to do this based on my roster being in Lastname, Firstname or Firstname Lastname format)
Here’s a Quick Start Guide (PDF file) to get you going – Code Replacement Automation
Here are some sample MS Excel files (one for Lastname, Firstname and one for Firstname Lastname)
CR MASTER Lastname Firstname
CR MASTER Firstname Lastname