Photographing Little League Baseball

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There is somewhat of a ritual that has taken place in our house for the last few years. During the last half of August, we watch what seems like 100 little league baseball games as teams from around the US and the world compete in the Little League World Series in Williamsport, PA.

I’ve been shooting baseball for a number of years as I followed my son up through the ranks
from little league, and now, this past season on the full size diamond. As shooting any sport, it’s always to your advantage to know the game. If you are always guessing as to what will happen next and where the action will be, you’ll always be late getting the shot.

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Baseball-Staying safe at first

I’ve shot from the dugout, from the 1st and 3rd baselines, from behind the backstop, from the outfield, and from the bleachers. Baseball is both predictable and unpredictable at the same time. You always know where the play will start (the pitcher has to throw a pitch), but from there anything can happen. The hardest shots are the reactionary infield action shots, whether it be a SS making a great stop, or a runner sliding into 3rd. You have the least amount of time to get these shots, so you have to be set up before it happens and anticipate.

Shooting batters or pitchers is much more routine. That makes it both easy and much harder to get a great shot. Easy because you know exactly where everyone will be. Harder because timing is everything. Anyone can get a shot of the pitcher standing on the mound, or the batter in the box. Getting the ball coming off the pitcher’s hand, and the facial expression that always comes from that effort, is a matter of hundredths of a second. A swinging batter making contact with the ball, and that corresponding expression may be an even faster instance.

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Baseball-the long stretch to pitch

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Baseball-quick hop out of the way

My shooting evolved over time as I’ve probably shot well over a hundred games, and thousands of images, at this point. Initially, shooting the pitchers and batters is the easiest, because you know it’s going to happen, as I mentioned above. You can get a shot of each player on the team, and you have lots of time to practice and work on getting the good shots, because there are so many pitches, ad so many swings of the bat. From there you move on to other areas of the field, and very quickly you find out how easy it is to get some really uninteresting photos of kids standing on a field!

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Baseball-going for the catch

Years ago when I started shooting these games, I would shoot 2 or 3 hundred frames per game. I had each batter, many of each pitcher, and lots of crap. As you shoot, you learn to watch the game, and make choices about what you want. If you want a great shot of the runner sliding into 3rd, you set up on the third base line, and shoot nothing but that for a good portion of the game. Likewise for other areas of action. You need to shoot the whole season to get a really great collection of action shots.

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Baseball-slliding into second

Don’t forget to keep an eye on things in between the action. Baseball is a very calculated game. Strategic thinking happening in the head of an 11 year old is a sight to behold! The tension of anticipation on the faces of players on the bench, or coaches can tell the whole story of how the game went.

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Baseball-in the rain

I enjoyed the smaller Little League field for shooting better than the larger field. I shot almost exclusively with my 70-200 f/2.8, and that gave me enough reach for pitchers and infield, as well as batters and catchers. Outfield was generally too far away unless you got behind the fence, but the action is so sporadic out there that I didn’t spend much time with it.

I did also use my 24-70 f/2.8 for some variety, and field overview shots. I would always shoot with the lowest ISO the light would allow, where I could still get a shutter speed of 1/1000 or faster. Shooting on Aperture Priority, I generally stuck with f/4, or close. Depending on how close you can get to the field, sometimes shooting at f/2.8 created razor thin depth of field, so the eyes of a batter would slide just outside the range as he swung the bat. Nothing is more frustrating than thinking you got that great shot, only to get home and see his eyes are out of focus!

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Baseball-After the game

Share some of your trials and tribulations of shooting sports in the comments!