By the time the basketball tournaments were underway, folks were asking me about baseball and softball! Sorry I haven't had time to post anything until now.
The "rules" for shooting baseball are the same as for any other sport: combine action, emotion, composition, and light. Rarely do all of these come together in front of your camera though, so try for as many as you can. But the very first consideration is always safety.
SAFETY: Baseballs can be deadly. They hurt and leave bruises on your thighs and give concussions or worse when they hit your head. Bats do break, and pieces go flying. Make sure that you are out of bounds at all times, and be extra careful the closer to home plate that you are. Safety netting will slow the ball down, but will not be of much protection to you or your lens if you are pressed up against it and the ball comes your way. If you get access to the photo wells at Stadiums, be extra careful, as balls do come your way ... usually at 90 mph or faster. One of the best tools for self-protection is to use the dugout as a barrier between me and the ball; I literally hide behind it and use it as a shooting blind! NEVER go inside a dugout without permission. Falsh photography is prohibited, as it can blind the fielders and endanger them. If you are using remotes, they cannot protrude onto the playing area, even if mounted out of bounds.
ACTION: Fortunately, baseball is predictable as to where things are going to happen. Let's look at some of the specifics:
We know that the pitcher is going to throw the ball every time; we even know the direction he is going to throw it! Think about the particular view that you want of the pitcher though. My personal favorites are head on shots taken from behind the catcher. But you have to think of safety too: AT ALL TIMES, YOU MUST STAY OUT OF BOUNDS, Not just off the playing surface. If you are not sure about where that line is, ask me, a coach, or an umpire. Generally speaking, if you want to have access that is beyond where the other fans are able to go, you need permission from the umpire and coach at all levels of play. At tournament time, you'll need a press pass. Since you need to be so far away, that means that you will need a "long" lens most of the time. Yes, I have, and can shoot baseball with a wide angle, but if you are going to isolate a player or action, you need something like a 100-400, or a 300 2.8 or longer. For softball and Little League, you can get away with a 70-200.
Most of the time, batters are trying to get to first base. That gives you an excellent action opportunity to catch your favorite player running the bases. Try framing the kids running to first base vertically since most of them are taller than they are wide. The bonus here is that you can shoot them hitting, running, and sometimes sliding from the same location ... just behind first base! This position also gives a pretty decent view of the short-stop fielding the ball and throwing to first, and the second baseman tagging the runner. Be careful though, there are a couple angles where you might be in the line of a wild pitch to the first baseman!
(sorry I cheated ... this one is running to third base on a base-hit!)
Once you get to know a team, you have a pretty good idea of who is going to do what. As a photographer, you have to somewhat think as a coach does, knowing where everyone is and anticipating thier next move. That is particularly important if you are trying to get the shot of a player sliding into third, for example. When will they steal the base? When will they dive back to safety? When will the pitcher check a runner? Who is likely to hit to the left fielder? Knowing all of these things will help you learn where to be in order to get your shot.
Generally speaking, the positions for shooting are:
Unobstructed access points. It is always better if you do not have to shoot through something! Fences and netting do soften your image. That being said, if you have a fast lens and are focusing further away, you can shoot through the fence and not have too much of a problem.
First Base, Third Base, Home Plate. Knowing when to be at each of those locations is the trick!
In softball, remember that the field is shorter, and thus the play is faster even though the pitches are slower.
You might try something from the outfield, but unless you have an 800mm lens, you are only able to shoot the outfielders, and for them, I usually try to be somewhere along the foul line beyond the infield so you can still see thier face. If you do have that 800, you already know how to use it, and will get a more awesome batter shot than I ever will!
EMOTION: shots of players celebrating after a big play are always winners. Shots of emotion after losing can be extremely compelling, but be careful about sharing those. To add drama to ordinary pictures, get up or down. Getting a different angle is a simple trick to add mood. You add the feeling of power and strength by laying on the ground to shoot the slide into third base, for example.
COMPOSITION: All of the rules of composition still apply, and your shots will be more compelling if you are able to add compositional elements.
The easiest to apply is the rule of thirds ... simply wait for action to happen at the intersection of one of the power points in your viewfinder! Yes, that means that you are not always chasing the action, but rather setting up and waiting for it. Know what you want to capture. You will have far fewer frames to review at the end of the day, but what you do have will be much better shots.
Of course, the rules say that you have to have the eyes in focus, and ideally, you have peak action that includes the ball!
Here, the opponent's eyes are in the shot, and the runner's eyes are implied. Peak action and the ball make up for not having the runner's eyes. The conflict of the moment is great because the call has not yet been made. If you already know safe or out, the shot is too late!
Remove distracting elements. Many ways to do that! Use a fast lens, get low to the ground, shoot from above, change your camera position.
make sure the players have room to move in the frame.
LIGHT: As photographers, we already know what light can do for an image; the word photography translated literally means "light writing." Yet, most of our pictures fail to consider, let alone capture this essential dimension. But when we do .... the results can be stunning! One of the things to consider with Baseball is how to best take advantage of the light that you are given on the day the game is being played. Is it bright overcast? Is it hard mid-day light? Is it directional light? Can you be where you need to be to take the greatest advantage of that light? You might be treated to a sunset colored sky with stadium lights and a field full of activity or you might be given beautiful Rembrandt portrait lighting or you might get bright overcast. Use what lighting you have to your best advantage, because once the stadium lights come on, you are done unless you are at a major league field.
Finally, especially with younger kids, you might want to look for something other than the planned on field action. They can provide you with much entertainment whether they are playing the game or just being kids!