As a baseball photographer, heading to spring training is a great experience and one I look forward to every year. One of my rites of spring is working photo day week. Shortly after training camps open, each team schedules a day where Major League Baseball, the team photographer, licensees and accredited news organizations can photograph the entire roster and staff, usually very early in the morning.
It’s the one and only day each year where this unique opportunity is offered, therefore it becomes a very important day for everyone involved. For scheduling purposes, the teams stagger their photo days to minimize conflicts so that no more than a few teams are scheduled each day. Space is limited, so naturally the number of organizations granted access is limited as well.
The actual locations where photo day is held varies from camp to camp. Locker rooms, dining rooms, hallways, batting cages, even shower stalls and bathrooms are transformed into “studios” for a few hours.
These locations more often than not come with their own unique quirks. When selecting lighting equipment, it helps to think small, compact, and minimal as the work space can be very tight. Quick and imaginative thinking is a virtue as well, since many times the space provided doesn’t make for the greatest photo studio setting.
Power can be difficult to pull, circuits overloaded, sunlight can stream in through windows or doors and ruin the perfect set without much advance notice. And don’t plan on using a built in slave to power flash heads on photo day! You will be very disappointed if unprepared. Hard wire or Pocket Wizards are required.
Experience in dealing with these unexpected twists and turns is something clients demand these days. That’s how photographers who have shot photo days before establish their value. There are no do overs. Everything has to be done right, no matter how difficult the situation is. It’s an extremely important day with no room for error.
4:45am wake-up calls are the standard for the week since most photo days begin around 6:45 or 7:00am. Note the word start. If you weren’t able to set up the night before, it means arriving on site by 5:30am or so to do so. Perhaps that’s why the nickname “hell week” is sometimes used when describing this week! That said, it helps to build in a little buffer just in case something unexpected happens. Like what happened to me this year on the morning of photo day number one at the Cincinnati Reds complex in Goodyear, Arizona. I was greeted at 5:00am with the site of a flat left front tire on my rental car! NOT the way to start any day for sure, but especially this day. I had an hour drive to Goodyear, and though I set up my set the night before I was concerned about making it on time. There is no way the Reds will delay the start to accommodate my inconveniences. I had to think fast since time was of the essence. Without hesitation I went back into my apartment and woke my roommate, a fellow White Sox staffer. After explaining my predicament I was able to borrow his rental car for drive over to Goodyear, but not after first dropping off my bleary eyed savior of the day at our complex in Glendale. Luckily, I arrived in Goodyear with ten minutes to spare! Eventually being able to enjoy a happy ending after an anxious start, this story is now just another photo day week memory to add to my collection of many. Being prepared to deal with equipment issues is something all photographers should be ready for (and I’ve had my share in the past, mostly due to my old Balcar strobes), but a flat tire? Gimme a break!
The early morning wake up call might be tough to handle, but arriving at a baseball stadium or complex before dawn is quite peaceful and serene. It’s one of the great perks to such an early morning calling. The experience is incredibly satisfying and one of the reasons I love working this week. It never gets old. I even enjoyed a tremendous sunset prior to setting up for Diamondbacks photo day at the new Salt River Fields complex last week.
As far as player mood goes, it’s usually pretty good. Sometimes getting a smile can be challenging (“it’s too early” is a favorite excuse) but I can live with that. For others, it’s just another opportunity to have fun! And to those players, I salute you!
Photographers need to work quickly. It’s essential to keep everything moving and prevent long lines from forming, which presents challenges for photographers who need to be creative with their poses. But working quickly is what separates the pros from the rest. When lines get long, people get cranky, whether it’s photo day or going through airport security.
Then just when you feel like you’re just getting warmed up, its over. Time to pack up your gear, make your edits, upload images and repeat the process the next day. It’s a little like groundhogs day, but with a baseball theme. But I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.
Now that it’s over and I’ve had a few days to catch up on my sleep, I’m now looking forward to the next chapter in what I like to call the life cycle of baseball. That, my friends, is Opening Day.