Oct 17, 2020 | Sports

Tips For Photographing Your Athlete’s Softball Game Like a Pro

Ralph

Ralph

So you want to take your photography skills to the ballpark with you and capture those precious memories before they fade away, or more likely before the kids grow up and move away?  Good!  Taking photos of your children can be some of the most rewarding work you can do with a camera.  A great image that you captured yourself is always just a little more personal and special.

Something to understand about photographing an unpredictable action sport like softball is this: you will miss a lot of the action shots.  There are no two ways about this.  You will be lucky to be at the right place, with the right angle, with the camera pointing in the right spot and paying enough attention to capture even one-tenth of the action that goes on in a typical softball game.  Add to this the problem of miss framing the shot (cutting off a runner’s head) or having an autofocus failure (the autofocus locks onto the shortstop rather than the runner sliding into second) will also cause you headaches.  That’s just part of the game.  You will however get some amazing shots if you stick with it and keep at it.  Shots that no one sitting in the stands with a cell phone is going to get.  

I’ve shot photos of my daughter playing softball that now hang on my wall.  Now let’s work out how to get that done for you.

Technical Considerations

Equipment

First for the equipment.  You can take some stunning photos with whatever camera you have, no question.  If you have a cell phone or a point and shoot camera, you will be limited on WHERE on the field you can shoot from.  With a cell phone, most of your shots will be from the backstop behind home plate and to either side and first base/third base.  Those positions will likely net you the best chances for some action.  Also don’t forget to get some shots of non-action-y things like your child walking to the field, in the dugout and when they are hanging out with teammates.

If you have a point and shoot camera, it may be much the same or it may be different, depending on the optical zoom on your camera.  The more optical zoom you have, the more steady you will need to be.  If you have a LOT of optical zoom, you might need a monopod.  The more zoom you have the more the field opens up possibilities to you.

Canon 70D with 70-200
image of Canon 70D with 70-200

If you are going out with a DSLR or mirrorless camera with oodles of zoom glass, you are going to need a monopod.  Why a monopod instead of a tripod?  Well, the monopod will let you move your camera around, spin it left and right as well as tilt and pitch the camera as needed.  That is much harder to accomplish with a tripod where you have to unlock the head that the camera sits on because the base with its three legs is solid and unmoving.  With the head unlocked, the camera is less stable.  Tripods are great, just not here. 

With the DSLR and gobs of zoom glass you can move wherever you wish and still be able to get close enough to the subject to get good photographs.  One of my favorite spots is to sit outside the centerfield fence and take photographs of my daughter pitching with a 300mm zoom lens.  The monopod helps me line my shot up through the links in the fence.  There might be better setups, but this works for me until I find something better.

Software

Most likely you will want to do at least some post-work to your photos after they have been taken.  I like to tweak the framing of the photos, give the colors a nice bump and sometimes even straighten out a crooked picture.  I generally use Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop for 99% of my post-work after shooting with my DSLR.  Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop are currently available in a bundle for $10 per month for both pieces of software.  If you are running a point and shoot or a DSLR, this software is a must-have for making the changes to your photos that make them pop.

If you are shooting on a cell phone, you likely have adequate editors baked right into your photo software.  Another good editing program for cell phones is Snapseed.  Snapseed is a free app that allows you to make all the necessary edits to your photos.  You can tweak the brightness, color balance, crop, rotate, sharpen and much more from this free app.  If you are shooting on a cell phone, it is a must-have. 

If you find that you are wishing to remove things from a lot of your photos like power lines or poles, it might be worth spending a couple of dollars on another app called TouchRetouch.  TouchRetouch makes it very simple to remove some items from photos like power lines, power poles and the like.  It is very easy to use and one app I keep on my phone.

Storage

Next up is storage.  Your cell phone, memory card or laptop is eventually going to get filled up with all the photos you are going to be shooting of your little one.  Besides, hard drives fail, memory cards get lost or break and cell phone photos can be deleted.  Two of the best services I have found for storing photos, especially cell phone photos, are Google Photos and Amazon Photos.  Both services (I use both!) allow unlimited uploads of photos to their storage. 

iPhone 12 pro max
iPhone 12 Pro Max in Pacific Blue color on a keyboard of Macbook Pro with 16 inch display

From cell phones, this is very easy.  Just download the respective apps and photos that you take are automagically uploaded to their servers.  DSLRs and point and shoots have to upload manually, but that is no more than logging on to the service with your browser and then drag and drop.  Both services also allow you to purchase prints of your favorite photos and have them delivered to your home.  Nothing could be easier for lining your walls with photos of your champion.  You can even create galleries of your favorite photos to share with friends and family.

Techniques

Shoot with Your Most Powerful Lens

I say “powerful” as if it pertains to the zoom power of your lens.  A 100mm lens does not “zoom” in as far as a 200mm lens.  So use your longest or most powerful lens that will let you get closer to the action.  If you don’t have oodles of glass at your disposal, capturing all or part of the field can also be very impactful in images.

Also be wary of bringing too much oomph for your position.  My favored lens is a 75-300mm lens and it tends to be too much, even at 75mm, for shooting a runner sliding into third base if I am standing outside the fence on the third base side.  A lot of times I cut the runner in half because I am too close.

Avoid the Chain Link Fences

There are a few times where incorporating the chain link fences in your photos, as a part of the photo, works.  A lot of the time it is just an annoying pattern that distracts from the image.  I usually shoot right up on the fence and aim my lens through the holes.  You can however use the fence as a leading line with some creative angles for some great staged portraits.  The sky’s the limit here!  Use your imagination.

Use a High Shutter Speed

If you have the ability to select a shutter speed on your camera, use it.  I generally shoot at 1/500 of a second, which is fast enough to freeze all but the fastest actions on the field.  I still get a little bit of motion blur on hands when the girls are throwing the ball, on the feet when they are running and on the bat and balls when they are hit.  The little bit of blur helps to show action was taking place, rather than shooting a super high shutter speed and putting everything in a freeze frame.  Experiment with a little bit faster or slower shutter speed to suit your taste, but 1/500 is a great starting point.

Use Burst Mode

Most cameras will have the ability to take many photos in a rapid succession.  This is key to catching those epic moments like a great slide with the dust billowing at the runner’s feet or the ball rebounding away from the bat on a hit.  Sure, you can try to just time those with single shots, but you will miss.  A lot. 

Even with shooting a continuous high speed shutter, I will miss plenty because even then the shutter caught the instant right before and again right after the epic moment.  You can do everything right and still miss the shot.  Burst at least gives you a much better chance.  As a consequence though, you will be taking a LOT of photos.  Don’t worry about it.  I might shoot two hundred photos and come away with a small handful of really good photos. 

Conclusion

Taking photos of my daughter’s sporting events is some of my favorite photography work.  I have, over the years, been able to capture some truly epic images of not only her, but some of her teammates.  It is very rewarding for me and for other parents on the team.  I always try to get photos of other people’s children and share them with the parents.  If you are shooting a big rig and can get some great close ups, I urge you to share them with other parents who may not have that kind of gear or may simply not know how to use it or have the experience to get those shots.  Everyone wants great photos of their child.

More sports photography posts will be coming soon.  Please register so you will be alerted when they arrive!

Ralph

Ralph

Ralph is an avid photographer in his spare time. He spends a lot of his photography time shooting sports photos of his daughter, who plays softball and swims. He also has a keen interest in mobile photography.

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