Modern Sports Photography and the Excellence of So Many Photogs

Final out of the 2010 NLCS, Ryan Howard stands at home after watching strike 3.

This is an excellent shot, not for any other reason than what’s in it. It encapsulates the agony and ecstasy in sports in one single glance. It is one of hundreds of thousands of shots taken that night and if we call it the best shot of the season, it is one of tens of millions of shots.

Taking 1000 photos a night and publishing <20 isn't uncommon, and digital photography has a lot to do with making that easier and cheaper to do than it was 50, 20, heck even 10 years ago. Photogs can take 10 shots per pitch and have memory cards that can hold thousands and thousands of photos as raw jpgs. They have lenses that can zoom in on the facial expression of the right fielder.

The rest of it depends on where the photog chooses to take these shots. Most photogs are barricaded into one small seat next to the dugouts for the entire game, so it becomes a luck of the draw type thing. Every photog in that stadium had shots of Howard standing at home plate like that, one just had such a good angle he got in Howard's huge mug with Wilson/Posey celebrating like that.

Zooms on most of these cameras are so extreme, you can get detailed shots of faces. On top of that, these are basically the best of the best photos and they're not from one specific photog.

Neil Leifer is basically the father of modern sports photography and he started with rapid fire cameras and telephoto lenses (obv. with film). He'd take a roll of film and rapid fire about 15 shots for one moment. He'd check out the negatives like so:

Then he'd look at them with a magnifying glass. From that he'd circle the best ones and those would get developed/run in the paper:
Yogi Berra, 1960 World Series
(This is my all-time favorite photo; Yogi Berra hitting a home run against the Pirates in the 1960 World Series.)

It’s a similar process today, except you can see the full photo almost immediately. I think some photogs even have uploaders on their cameras that send their photos to a remote computer. There’s a race to see who can get their photos up the fastest.

Leifer did a lot to expand boundaries of sports photography, but now there’s a lot of rules of what a photog is allowed to do in a ballpark. It’s kind of sad, but necessary when so many people want a piece of the pie.

Also photogs really love taking low-angle shots. I don’t know why, but when you look at spring training photos this February/March, count how many are non-game-action low-angle shots.

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1 Comment

Filed under miscellaneous, MLB

One response to “Modern Sports Photography and the Excellence of So Many Photogs

  1. DodgersKings323

    Yes! And it ruins the layout of the site! (Firefox) 😛
    Most are low-level but my favorites are panoramic type landscape shots, i gave Soohoo the hint sometime this year then he got a nice shot of Coors Field and Matt Kemp in the dugout 🙂

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