To say I get bored shooting baseball from the same old photo positions is an understatement. In Chicago, this means setting up in either the outside first or third photo boxes. Yawn. Sure, you can play it safe and shoot from first and play the percentages in order to make the standard fail safe play at second photo, or you can park yourself in the third base photo well and make nice batting photos of right handed pull hitters, but there’s only so much safety I can handle! Shooting game after game from these locations eventually gets the best of me. It was time to venture outside the box and try and make something happen, hopefully something different. Different usually means taking risk. But with risk comes reward, so what the hell. It was time to gamble a bit and venture out of the same ol’ same ol’ and literally get outside the box.
Being the White Sox team photographer has its privileges, and one is that I have a little more leeway as to where I can shoot from at U.S. Cellular Field as compared to other photographers. That said, I’m always conscious of the fans around me, never wanting to put myself in a position that may possibly interfere with the fan experience. The fan always comes first.
Since we only have the aforementioned two photo wells at outside first and third, shooting from any other location provides a different, albeit refreshing look. So last weekend, when the White Sox donned their black uniform tops and sunny skies threatened to make the contrast unshootable, I had some game time decisions to make. It was an easy call, since shooting from first base was impossible due to the contrast and shooting from third base had become, well, boring. Time to roam.
One of my favorite non-standard positions is slightly off home plate toward the first base side. The Book (like baseball, photography has its unwritten book of so called “rules to follow”) says it’s a bad spot to shoot batters, but I wasn’t going by The Book this weekend. Time to take a few risks, and why not? I didn’t have any pressing news type assignments going on, so if I missed a stolen base here or a sacrifice bunt there, so what? This weekend I self-assigned myself to shoot different. To add some additional risk (I tend to call it additional fun) to the day, I decided to use my Nikon 200-400 f4 zoom exclusively on Sunday. Think within the scope of what that lens would provide. Game on!
So when Alexei Ramirez came to the plate in the second inning with runners on base, my position off of home plate gave me an angle to try and capture ball off bat. Tough angle, but going along with the spirit of my thinking for the weekend, why not? Bang. Alexei stroked an RBI double, and as luck would have it I did catch ball off bat. Nice start to the day. Mind you, I’m not talking a Pulitzer here, just something different. OK, two innings behind the plate, now where do I go? How about shooting from what I like to call “high home”? I headed up to the 5th level at The Cell and made my way half way up the center isle in the upper deck and took over a narrow spot just in front of a roof support beam (a perfect spot, I couldn’t possibly block a fans view from there). Not the most comfortable shooting position, but once again I was thinking about the reward, not what was involved in getting it.
Everything looks different from the upper levels of the ballpark. That is, unless you have season tickets up there! Then you probably wonder why all the photos you see are from a ground level perspective.
As I looked on from high above, the game took on a new look. Even a routine conference on the pitchers mound looked refreshingly different. Instead of the conversation between the pitching coach, pitcher and catcher being lost in the buzz of two teams and 30,000 fans, from up here it took on a feel of solitude and privacy.
The whole game took on a unique look. Nice clean backgrounds, just green grass, orange dirt and baseball. Ordinary batting photos looked a bit more exciting from upstairs. But what I was hoping for, the prize if you will, was a play at the plate. Sure! That’s what we baseball photographers hope for every game! You can shoot for weeks before even the opportunity of a play at the plate comes up, much less an actual play at home developing in earnest. But hey, today was my day to be patient and stay upstairs for more than an inning or two. Reward? Remember, you’ve gotta take a risk. Part of the risk is missing out on making the “routine picture” from the “regular spot” and wait it out. The hunt for a cool picture was on. I was ready. All I needed was the opportunity.
Perhaps I forgot to mention that there is one other element to consider when thinking reward. Luck. Sunday was my lucky day. The White Sox got something going in the fourth inning and then Paul Konerko came thru (read luck) when he hit a medium deep fly ball to centerfield with the speedy Juan Pierre on third (read luck again). Any other runner on third is held, but not Pierre. Third base coach Jeff Cox sent Pierre on his way as Dodger’s outfielder Matt Kemp let loose with a strong throw to catcher Rod Barajas.
Thankfully, the throw was accurate (luck) and a bang-bang play developed at home. Safe! For me, it was more “Yes”! The day was definitely going my way. For once. Shooting baseball has so many games where there are no pictures to be made, so just having an opportunity to make a nice action picture is a plus. How about a nice picture from a unique angle? Even better.
Even shooting from the concourse level can provide nice results. That’s how I started the weekend while shooting Saturdays game. The television platform on the first base side was vacant, so I grabbed my 600 and 1.4 teleconverter and headed on up.
At the very least, the backgrounds are nice and clean. I was able to see into places unavailable from field level, like the White Sox dugout. Or when A.J. Pierzynski chased a foul pop-up, I was able to see his face as he made the play. No such luck if I was at field level. The 600 with the 1.4 teleconverter combination added additional drama (fun). Tight is right unless you miss. Risk. Reward.
I felt quite satisfied coming out of the weekend with some different, exciting frames. When it comes to baseball pictures, different and exciting is what it’s all about. I hope I can continue the trend this weekend as I venture out to Wrigley Field as the Pirates visit Chicago. I just have to keep in mind one thing as I attempt a repeat. Risk.
It’s there for the taking.