Thursday, July 26, 2007

MLB: Washington Nationals vs Colorado Rockies

On Sunday I shot my first Major League Baseball game. It was a ton of fun!

During the Spring I spent a lot of time at University of Maryland at College Park shooting the Terrapin Baseball team, as well as the Softball team. Baseball is a lot of waiting and is extremely difficult to cover. In most sports you can get away with 1/500th of a second shutter speeds, but in baseball you really need to be north of 1/1200th of a second. The action goes from nothing to extremely fast in a very small amount of time.

In my previous post I spoke about how important it is to be able to anticipate the next event so that you can prepare to capture it. This is still true in baseball, but it's slightly different. In baseball you don't know if the batter is going to actually hit the ball, and you have absolutely no clue where the batter will hit the ball assuming he does hit it! Just about the only anticipation you can do is to figure out "where the next play will be" and shoot accordingly.

If a man is on first then a possible play will be the first base player stealing second. Most of the time I'm covering baseball I'm reading the positions of the players and trying to determine where the next play will take place. It's pretty boring in comparison to basketball and soccer.

But today was pretty exciting for me because it was my first MLB game, and it was my first time shooting in Robert F Kennedy Memorial Stadium. Shooting a venue for the first time is very challenging. Awhile back I made the comment that you really have to be comfortable saying "I'm lost, can you please help me?" to complete strangers in order to get started in sports photography. Today that really rang true...

I haven't ever ridden the Metro to RFK, but I knew from Al that the proper stop was "Stadium/Armory." Walking out of the metro I didn't know where RFK was, but I was able to follow people in the correct general direction until I saw the stadium. But, once I reached the stadium I had to find the location where I pick up my media credential.

I walked to the Will-Call and asked and was redirected over to "Gate B". I walked from the Main Gate (Will-Call) past Gate A, and found Gate B. There was practically nobody at Gate B, but there was a little kiosk with an older lady inside. I asked her: "Where can I pick up my media credential?" She directed me back to "Gate A".

I walk back to "Gate A" and ask another lady in another trailer for the media table, and she says to walk past the "yellow pegs". I said: "what yellow pegs?" Her response: "you'll see them!" So I kept walking, eventually finding some concrete pegs sticking out of the ground that are painted yellow. But there's no table around them. I walk up to another person with a uniform on and ask for the location of the media table. She points me to a table about 30 feet away, and I finally get to a place where somebody has a piece of paper with my name on it.

I pick up my credential and ask the lady: "where's the media entrance?" She forwards me to a set of closed doors, and I walk inside to find some security people. There they scan my bags for bombs, and wave me on through. "Where can I find the media room?" I ask. "It's upstairs." I walk upstairs... Lots of stairs. I finally make it up what seems like 4 flights of steps and ask another guard: "Where is the media room?" His response: "You're at the press box. The media room is down in the basement." Back down the steps I go...

I pass the guard I had seen 5 minutes earlier and said: "Is the media room in the basement?" His response: "oh the media room? Yes, it's in the basement..." I sigh and continue moving downstairs. I exit the stairwell and pop out into what seems like a dungeon. It's basically a curved coordior the width of a 2 lane highway that's not well lit, is very damp, and there's equipment all over the place. Fortunately I find another guard and ask him: "Can you help me find the media room?"

"Walk around this corridor until you see the Visitors Locker Room sign and then turn right. The next guard will help you." So I start walking... It wasn't a very far walk before I encountered another security guard who was sitting outside of a door with a label on it. "Visitors Locker Room" the label said, so I walked over to the guard and asked: "Is the media room through here?" He nodded and opened the door for me to reveal another corridor. I ask him again: "where exactly is the media room?" He motions towards the right, where I finally find a sign on a door that says "Media Room." I've arrived... Finally...

I open the door to the media room and I see an IKEA style plastic table on the left and a bunch of chairs in the front of the room with a Nationals backdrop. A few video cameras are set up pointing towards the Nationals backdrop, and 4 people were sitting at the IKEA table. I gingerly walk past all of the equipment, cables, still cameras, and video until I reach the chairs. There I put down my backpack, camera, and take a deep breathe. It's quite a hike from the metro to here!

I didn't want to sit at the IKEA table because I didn't know if the seating was assigned or if the other "regular photographers" were waiting on a late arrival to come and take his regular spot. So I sat in the radio and TV reporter chairs and assembled my gear. As I put everything together I thought: how do I get to the field?

I stand up and leave the room, turning in the direction of the field not having any idea of if I'm going to emerge in left field or behind home plate. I walk out into the sunlight and find that I'm located to the left of the visitor's dugout, right along the 1st baseline. It was about 20 minutes before the first pitch so I walked out onto the field and took a few shots. I looked around for some other photographers and found a spot to the right of the visiting team's dugout. I climbed down into there and took a few test shots.

Eventually I ran into some other photographers and asked one of them where we could shoot from. Fortunately that photographer happened to be Greg Fiume. Greg shoots a lot of Maryland games and I've talked with him a lot. It was really a relief to see a familiar face. I didn't have any idea of when we change positions, or where we could relocate to when we change positions. Greg showed me the ropes and told me where to go and where not to go. He told me where I could camp and where I had to shoot and move on after an inning. I was so glad he was there!

Shooting a MLB game is completely different than shooting a NCAA baseball game. It's a LOT more exciting! There are also a lot more spaces to shoot from because the dugouts are actually dug out low enough to create a lot of shooting spots. During this particular game I shot from every on-field spot (left and right of the two dugouts) as well as from in the stands.

I used my 70-200/2.8 and my 2X TC and it worked pretty well. I shot in aperture priority mode because there were some clouds moving around. In retrospect I should've used Manual mode. I'm going to avoid using aperture priority mode from now on unless it's really variable outside. The meter just washed out a LOT of my shots. Greg remarked to me: "the light in here is playing tricks on my meter."

The 2X TC was necessary when shooting from outside of the dugouts, but when shooting between the dugouts and home plate the 70-200mm was sufficient. It also focuses a lot faster than when you slap on a TC. I noticed that most of the other photographers present were using 2 bodies: one with a 400mm and one with a 70-200mm lens. The 70-200mm is great for capturing the pitcher, the catcher, and the batter when you shoot from between the dugout and home plate. It's also great for capturing players coming off the field.

You can also kind of cover the infield with the 70-200, but you're starting to reach when you look towards 2nd base. The shortstop, 3rd basemen, pitcher, batter, and catcher are reachable from the left side shooting point behind home plate, but the pitcher can be a bit far away as is 2nd base. The opposite is true obviously from the shooting point to the right of home base: you can reach first base, pitcher, catcher, and batter, but 3rd base, short-stop, and 2nd base are a little far. The best places for shooting 1st, 2nd, and 3rd bases are from the spots outside of the dugouts.

There's also a GREAT location up in the stands along the 1st baseline. It's the handicapped spot, and there is a ton of room when there aren't photographers there. That spot is located to the "left" of the netting behind home plate so you can catch runners coming down the 3rd baseline and into home. It's great for when people hit homers. However, the on-field positions next to home plate are great for home run hitters as well.

I stuck with group-weight autofocus on continuous mode. I also kept the custom Image Optimizations, which included the "+2" sharpening. That seemed to work pretty well for me. My shots weren't spectacular, but they weren't too bad for my first time out.

I've said this a ton of times: it's really challenging when you're new to photography and you go to a new stadium to cover a team you've never covered before and you don't know all the rules of where you can and can't shoot from.

When I first shot the Majestics and Royals I didn't know where I could go on the field, and I resisted shooting the players on the bench for candid photos. But towards the end of the season as I got to know the coaches and players a little bit I moved around all over the place and shot anything I wanted to (except injuries). I went from like 12 "keepers" from my first game to over 100 in my last game for the Royals.

Al is hesitant to let me cover more MLB games because I'm short on my lens. He's really been talking up a 300mm lens and dangling the "if you get it I'll give you some more assignments" carrot in front of me. I'm definitely hungry for one, and I was thinking about it on Saturday during my coverage of the Majestics and Royals games. Maybe I'll talk to Julie about it and see what she thinks.


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