Thursday, April 29, 2010

Covering the Bases

Baseball is the only field of endeavor where a man can succeed three times out of ten and be considered a good performer. - Ted Williams

Like many enterprising PJ students before me, I spent a student loan check on something other than tuition. It was 1982 and a semester of study at the University of Wisconsin cost five hundred dollars so I figured I had at least a Grand to burn! I'd been struggling covering major league baseball with a 500mm f5.6 mirror lens -- the optical equivalent of a coffee can packed with a little glass and a few reflective filters -- and was constantly reminded that there were no excuses for not having the proper equipment. So I dropped my loan on a 300mm f2.8 and a set of extenders then promptly cut class to make a mad dash to the ballpark to test it out!

Looking back I believe that that long lens was the single most important equipment purchase I ever made, for without it, there's just no way I would've been able to capture the images or cover the events it allowed me to. But over the years I've learned to get by on less, a habit that became especially critical when I had to invest in a brand new digital system! While it's true that there is no substitute for fast and long glass in sports photography, you can still get the job done without it if you remain aware of your equipment's limitations and maximize the lenses you have.
To prove my point, I covered the Chemeketa vs. Clackamas Community College baseball game (the field trip for my photo class) with an 18-135mm f3.5-5.6 lens. Obviously the access and restrictions at Chemeketa are considerably less problematic than at a major league game, so this was the perfect opportunity to apply my theory.
The gameplan was simple: concentrate my efforts on the areas I tend to avoid when covering the game with an extreme telephoto lens like first base, third base, and the dugouts, and pay more attention to features and other non-action related photos. Ironically this particular game was devoid of action -- except for the rain delay, it was a pitcher's duel -- so the best images came from the infield anyway. The picture that told the story of this game was the winning pitcher and the coach and weather shots served to round it out, and they all were taken with that 18-135mm lens!

Yes, baseball can be effectively photographed without an obscenely long lens IF you always remember to completely fill the frame with the lens you're using, and except for second, to focus on Covering the Bases!
(Note: for a more detailed discussion of baseball coverage, please see First or Third? in the March 2009 Archive).
Baseball is ninety percent mental and the other half is physical. -Yogi Berra