The windup and the shot



My attempt to photograph a major league pitch en route to home plate began when I visited a friend in Salt Lake City in July. I had a 600 mm lens and played with capturing pitches between the mound and plate at a minor league game in Utah, experimenting in search of fresh sports images to capture.

This photo was shot at an Orioles game late in September - the first I covered after the Utah experiment.

At first, the effort didn't work. The delivery by the Orioles' starter kept placing him behind the batter in the viewfinder, and the umpire positioned himself in such a way that you couldn't see the ball. But Boston's David Wells was pitching off-speed. With his delivery, the umpire and batsmen stood in different positions, so that the baseball dropped right through the camera's frame with the pitcher behind.

Many think that a photographer has to fire a flurry of shots on a fast motordrive to get the ball in the frame. But actually there is a greater opportunity to capture the baseball by firing a single frame per delivery.

After a few pitches, I could time when the ball might drop into the viewfinder, so the situation changes from chance to anticipation.

If you would like to try something like this next season, but can't get access to a spot behind home plate at a major or minor league game, try shooting softball or nonprofessional hardball with a smaller lens, such as a 300 mm or 400 mm.

Set the camera on the highest shutter speed you can manage (at least 1/2,000th second), use the camera on manual and prefocus somewhere on the pitcher's side of home plate, then adjust the focus as you see how sharp the ball looks.

If you're close, keep your focusing point where you have it, as the ball winds up at different areas and similar distances as each pitch is thrown.

Here are the technical details on this shot: Nikon D2H digital, 120-300 mm f2.8 Sigma set at 300 mm, 1/2,000th second @ f/3.2, ISO 400.

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