Freezing the Ball: Catching the Pitcher’s Pitch


There’s nothing more satisfying that capturing a photo you’ve wanted to get for a long time. For me, it was freezing a ball tack sharp between the pitcher and the batter with both out of focus. On Thursday I shot the Blaine vs Lynden Christian varsity boys baseball game for The Bellingham Herald. There was not a lot of action on the field, so I concentrated on the pitchers.

Total Concentration

Blaine pitcher Brandon Watts (12) pitches to Lynden Christian third baseman Colby Flint during the first inning on Thursday afternoon Mar. 30, 2017, at Lynden Christian High School in Lynden, Wash. Blaine defeated Lynden Christian 12 to 5. (© Paul Conrad/The Bellingham Herald)

Blaine pitcher Brandon Watts (12) pitches to Lynden Christian third baseman Colby Flint during the first inning on Thursday afternoon Mar. 30, 2017, at Lynden Christian High School in Lynden, Wash. Blaine defeated Lynden Christian 12 to 5. (© Paul Conrad/The Bellingham Herald)

For this week’s musing, I have tips to freezing the ball from a pitcher with only the ball in focus. In 2005, I saw a photo that won NPPA’s Best of Photojournalism sports feature contest. It was a baseball in focus with the pitcher out of focus. Not hard to do once you figure out how it’s done. I’ve written tips about photographing the pitcher before: Catching the Pitcher: Tips for Better Baseball Photography

The first thing you need to understand it is ultimately a “spray and pray” photo. As fast as cameras are, using the option of setting the camera to a predetermined focus spot and allowing the camera to sense the object then trigger the shutter, just does not work. The ball will be in the glove by the time the photo is taken.

Down the Pike

Lynden Christian pitcher Peyton Robertson (7) throws to Blaine during the fourth inning on Thursday afternoon Mar. 30, 2017, at Lynden Christian High School in Lynden, Wash. Blaine defeated Lynden Christian 12 to 5 extending their undefeated season. (© Paul Conrad/The Bellingham Herald)

Lynden Christian pitcher Peyton Robertson (7) throws to Blaine during the fourth inning on Thursday afternoon Mar. 30, 2017, at Lynden Christian High School in Lynden, Wash. Blaine defeated Lynden Christian 12 to 5 extending their undefeated season. (© Paul Conrad/The Bellingham Herald)

With that being said, this can also be an exercise to help you improve your timing. Because your timing will help you capture the photo. And the key to your timing is watching the pitcher during the windup and release.

Tips:

  1. Your shutter needs to be at least 1/2000th.
  2. Your aperture should be at f/2.8 or f/4.  F/5.6 will work if need be.
  3. Your lens should be at least 300mm to allow for a more compressed scene.
  4. Your focus point should be about 1/3rd the distance from home plate to the pitcher.
  5. Pick your composition. Every battery is different. You have to pre-compose before shooting any photos
  6. Have a lot of patience.

Almost Got It

Lynden Christian pitcher Peyton Robertson (7) throws to Blaine during the fourth inning on Thursday afternoon Mar. 30, 2017, at Lynden Christian High School in Lynden, Wash. Blaine defeated Lynden Christian 12 to 5 extending their undefeated season. (© Paul Conrad/The Bellingham Herald)

Lynden Christian pitcher Peyton Robertson (7) throws to Blaine during the fourth inning on Thursday afternoon Mar. 30, 2017, at Lynden Christian High School in Lynden, Wash. Blaine defeated Lynden Christian 12 to 5 extending their undefeated season. (© Paul Conrad/The Bellingham Herald)

Here are the Tips in Detail:

1.  To stop the ball, you need a fast shutter speed. The minimum should be 1/2000th to cut motion blur. Even though the ball is coming at you, you will still get motion blur so the fastest shutter is required. Adjust your ISO if needed.

2.  Having an aperture at f/2.8 or 4 is ideal. 5.6 is OK IF you adjust your ISO to keep your Shutter faster than 1/2000th.

3.  Having a longer lens helps in two ways: you use the entire frame of your sensor, and your tighter on the battery. The battery is the pitcher/catcher/batter combo. (More after photo)

Where to Focus (approximately)

X marks the spot. Or close to where you want to focus.

X marks the spot. Or close to where you want to focus. See below for reasons.

4.  Focusing 1/3rd of the way from the batter to the pitcher does several things:

  1. It keeps the batter and pitcher about equally out of focus. Think about how depth of field works: at any f/stop, the DOF is 1/3 before and 2/3rds after the focus point.
  2. You can watch the pitcher windup and release thereby giving you time to anticipate when the ball will arrive at the focus point. This takes patience and timing. Each pitcher and pitch is different.

5.  With each pitcher/batter combo the placement of the players is different. You have to pre-compose your shot and then with timing, you’ll be able to get it.

6.  Patience. You’ll shoot a lot of duds before getting your timing down and capturing the shot. But now that we have digital, you can burn those pixels and get your shot.

And photography, like math, is not a spectator sport. You have to practice, practice, and practice more.

Favorite Shot

Lynden Christian pitcher Peyton Robertson (7) throws to Blaine outfielder Julian Gonzalez (8) during the third inning on Thursday afternoon Mar. 30, 2017, at Lynden Christian High School in Lynden, Wash. Blaine defeated Lynden Christian 12 to 5. (© Paul Conrad/The Bellingham Herald)

Lynden Christian pitcher Peyton Robertson (7) throws to Blaine outfielder Julian Gonzalez (8) during the third inning on Thursday afternoon Mar. 30, 2017, at Lynden Christian High School in Lynden, Wash. Blaine defeated Lynden Christian 12 to 5. (© Paul Conrad/The Bellingham Herald)

To view more of the images from the game, visit the gallery Blaine defeats Lynden Christian 12 to 5.

To view more of my work for The Bellingham Herald, visit the page My Work for the Bellingham Herald.

Looking for a Bellingham wedding photographer? Need portraits for school, work, family? Look no further!!! Fill out my Contact Form and let’s chat about your wedding and portrait photography needs!!

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Paul “pablo” Conrad

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Paul Conrad is a Bellingham wedding and portrait photographer living in Bellingham, north of Seattle, WA, in the Pacific Northwest. He has won awards in news photography, features, sports, portraiture, and documentary. His work has been published in newspapers and magazines throughout the United States and in Europe. He is available for assignments anywhere in the Pacific Northwest. Although his specialty is photojournalism covering news, sports, and editorial portraits, he also is skilled in family portraiture, high school senior portraits, and weddings.

His clients include Getty Images, Wire Image, AirBnB, The Bellingham Herald, and many local business in Whatcom County. Previous clients are Associated Press, the New York Times, L.A. Times, Denver Post, Rocky Mountain News, and many others.

All images are © Paul Conrad. For commercial and editorial use, contact me with my contact form, or via email here.

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