Baseball is considered to be America’s Pastime, and therefore is one of America’s favorite sports, so it’s not surprising that many opportunities for magical moments can be captured when watching the game. On one hand, the game has been called slow-paced - there is no time limit, but at the same time, when the action does strike, it is often extremely fast. This means that anyone wishing to photograph this sport needs to be observant and have a basic grasp of how the game is played. The more you watch the baseball game, the more you will learn to anticipate the action and pick up what works and what doesn’t.
Use a Wide-Angle Lens
Explore the uses of a wide-angle lens. If you are sitting far back in a stadium, you can capture everything in perspective; the field, the players, the crowd. Try leaving your seat and taking a photograph from the highest point you can get to; choose a small aperture (f/5.6-f/16) for a deeper DOF (depth of field). The higher the number the sharper the image will be. Place your camera on a monopod (this will eliminate camera shake) when using a small aperture, as less light will be entering the lens. If space is not available, a beanbag and a secure seat can provide a stable rest. If you struggle to get a sharp image you can push the ISO up to 1600 although ISO 400 is a good starting point.
Zoom in for Details
Zooming in on the baseball players allows you to capture the finer details of the game-play and action. Depending on where you are seated, you will most likely need a telephoto lens (usually at least 300mm) to allow you to zoom in. Use shallow depth of field (f/2.8-f/5.6) to separate the players from the background. Zooming in close means you can also try to take portraits of the players by cropping tightly and shooting when they are in action to create interest.
Freeze the Action
Whenever you photograph sports, you need to be able to freeze the action. Baseball can be a fast sport (pitchers throw the ball upwards of 100mph), so choose a reasonably high shutter speed. Turn the mode dial to M (Manual) mode and use a shutter speed of 1/500th of a second to begin with. If the widest aperture doesn’t give you the desired shutter speed then don’t be afraid to increase the ISO. There will be more than enough light to use any number of combinations of shutter speed, ISO and aperture during day-games, and at night games the stadium lighting provides more than adequate illumination of the players and the field.
Pan to Create Motion
This technique takes a lot of practice to do well! And your specific positioning in the stadium is also very important, because that is going to determine what kind of panning shots are available to you (first base line, third base line or outfield). In Baseball you could pan a player as he runs the bases, but the moment you have to shoot will be extremely short. You will need to pre-focus your lens on the player before he even bats the ball. Keep your camera on the subject with your finger half way down to lock the focus and when ready, take the photo remembering to follow him as he moves. Use a slow shutter speed between 1/8-1/60th of a second.
Don’t forget that before you photograph baseball, you need to check that you are allowed to do so! You can call up the venue beforehand to find out. If you are photographing children, then it is essential to have the permission of the parents. If you plan to use the photograph in any commercial sense then you will need to check that you are permitted to do so. Don’t forget that the action does not exist solely on the field; look at the dugout, the coaches, and the man who sells hotdogs. Open your eyes to the atmosphere as a whole and you will be surprised at what you can capture.
The camera settings for baseball vary depending on the weather. The darker the day is, the slower your shutter speed will need to be. If you are concerned about this, don’t be afraid to raise the ISO to 800 or even 1600. If you are trying to capture movement, slow shutter speeds are the key and it is important to be constantly experimenting as you shoot because the light will change throughout the day, but 1/125s is a good place to begin.
You can photograph baseball with a wide-angle lens if you want to capture the atmosphere of the grounds. If you want to photograph the players then you need to invest in or borrow a telephoto lens with a minimum size of 300mm. A larger focal length will allow you to get super close. Again this is all dependent on where you are sitting in the stadium, so it pays to splurge on seats as close to the field as possible for the most dynamic shots (you might be able to get the pitcher’s face or the batter right when he swings). Ideally, a lens that is sharp (like a prime) and fast (around f/2.8) will be able to deal with sudden shifts in light.
Baseball provides an opportunity to capture some impressive images of America’s Pastime, but you’ll need to get good seats (i.e. close to the field), employ a telephoto zoom (at least capable of 200mm or 300mm), and be ready to shoot at the crack of a bat. That might be the only warning you’ll get when something exciting happens. Use fast shutters (1/800s – 1/1000s) to freeze the action, use panning techniques with slower shutters (around 1/8s or 1/60s) to add motion blur to a runner taking off toward base. You should be able to keep the ISO set relatively low, because the bright summer sun or the stadium’s massive lighting arrays should provide all the illumination that you need to get the great shots at the right exposure.