[Editorial Note: After reading the first version of this post, I decided that it needed to be rewritten. The content will basically be the same, just in a better flowing style. I hope the changes are an improvement. --Kevin]
I’m sitting here waiting on my computer to import and convert the images from the first of two SD cards from today’s baseball game. The lull has given me time to reflect on what I’ve learned in my journey into sports photography.
So far, I have shot a total of 10 University of Kentucky baseball games and taken over 5,000 photos during those games. While that is a far cry from what it will take to become a professional, I feel that with some time and experience under by belt it was time to give a status update.
What I’ve Learned:
It didn’t take me long to realize that my gear was a hindrance. Not all of it. But the most important part of it – my lenses.
Unless I’m shooting on a sunny day, neither of the lenses I have are fast enough for sports. The best lens I have (the Tamron SP 70-300 f/4-5.6 Di VC USD) only lets me achieve shutter speeds of 1/1000 of a second under the stadium lights – and that’s at 3200 ISO, which is very borderline for noise levels from my camera. In addition to that, with the shooting arrangements at Cliff Hagan Stadium, a 300mm lens isn’t long enough for outfield shots. What I’ve decided to do for all future ball games is to shoot three innings from on top of the home team dugout, three innings from on top of the visiting team’s dugout and the last three innings roaming everywhere else. That will at least let me get different angles and hopefully let me cover the action a bit closer too. (And the additional movement will maybe help my back – standing on a concrete for 3-4 hours is murder…)
My camera body, a Canon EOS 60D, which is by far the best camera that I have ever used, is an object of slight frustration – but only in two areas. The burst mode of 5′ish frames per second in a barely cutting it and the focus system isn’t really suited for sports. The simple truth is that I knew all of this when I bought my camera and I can’t do anything about it now.
I just have to tell myself that I’m not making any money yet and I’m simply going to have use the gear I have until I can afford better. (Take my gear out of sports and it works very well.)
Besides, I’m still learning to use all of the features that my camera has. For example, yesterday was the first time that I used my camera in AI Focus mode. It worked great – allowing me to get two of the greatest shots I’ve taken at a sporting event:
I also have to report that I have developed a terrible case of camera envy. Nearly every other photographer at these games has been shooting the Canon 1D Mark iV. Looking at the spec sheet, it really is made to shoot sports. It’s a beast of a body and has all of the features that my current camera doesn’t. If I had $5,000 that I could spend on a camera body, I would buy this 10fps beast in a heart beat. But that’s something that will have to wait until I start making money from my photos – if that happens at all.
One other thing that I’ve decided to do – I’m going to start shooting BOTH teams. To date, I’ve concentrated on UK. But in doing so, I’ve realized (thanks in no small part to this post on Scott Kelby’s blog) that I’m closing off an avenue for possible revenue – the opposing team generally can’t afford to hire a photographer to send with their teams. So maybe I can supply them with some photos that they otherwise wouldn’t have gotten. It’s worth a shot.
Off the Field Changes
Throughout the course of this little adventure, I’ve made changes to the way that I process and store my photos too. I’ve modified my workflow to include deleting photos – something that I had never done until I began shooting sports. I only store the photos with possibilities on my computer. At 25MB each, if I didn’t delete the non-keepers, I would have filled my hard drive up a couple of weeks ago. On average, I’m finding that I’m keeping about around 10% of the photos that I shoot and I only process and export about 10% of those. So all in all, I’m producing about 1% of the photos that I take. I think this has to change – either I need to take fewer photos or I need to keep many more.
It’s not that the photos I take are bad, it’s just that I have many, many copies of similar shots. I tend to catch each pitcher at least three different times through a full pitching motion. Each series like that is about 6 or 7 shots. Who needs 4 copies of the same action? Not me. So I pick the best one or two from the 20 or so and ditch the rest. Besides, it’s not like I’m deleting every copy that I have. I still keep an “import copy” of the RAW file on an external drive. That way if I accidentally delete the wrong photo, I can always re-import the original.
I’m also finding that I’m doing less to these photos in the way of processing – mainly cropping, noise reduction and minor exposure tweaks. These changes are also repetitious in nature too. A good example is noise reduction – I tend to apply the same noise reduction factor for all images shot at the same ISO. This is due to mainly the journalistic nature of the photos.
I do take a couple here and there that I tend to treat more as art – a panorama, a glove on the wall, and the pre-game baseballs for example. I think to set myself apart, I’m going to have to include more of these. It’s something I’m going to have to work on. Now that the UK baseball team is the No. 1 team in the SEC and No. 2 in the nation, the team is getting a lot more notice – especially from the media. Today’s game for example had (counting myself) 6 photographers shooting the game. That’s a far cry from last season, when the stands held a whopping 100 fans in the seats.
The biggest realization that I’ve had is that I like this type of photography a LOT more than I thought I would. I thought the repetitiveness of the sport would turn me off in a hurry. But catching Trevor Gott celebrating a strike out to end the game just once was enough to keep me coming back. I truly am hooked. There’s a big challenge here – doing everything that is needed for capturing photos in a fast-paced environment and still trying to capture the greatest moments of the game. I like it so much that I’m going to investigate the possibility of shooting other sports and the possibility of making money at it.
I know I have a ways ahead of me. I’m started late and I have things pulling against me – my gear, my back, my ‘real life’ – but I’ve got to give it a shot. How else am I going to feed my camera envy?
… and now back to processing today’s batch of photos.