My first five years of sports photography...
...was spent creating stock imagery. Nothing fancy, nothing out of the ordinary, just capturing a guy standing at home plate or out in the field. Easy enough. That's stock imagery. Outside of paying the bills it was more of a grind for long-term satisfaction than it was for instant gratification. These aren't the push to social media type of photos. These are the build a catalog of every single ballplayer who touches the field and does anything that resembles playing the game of baseball type of photos.
The reason I'm even thinking about this topic is because I'm boosting my portfolio and decided to search through hundreds of games over the past 7 years and I'm finding that as a stock photographer there's not a lot that really pops out at me. Sure, I photographed some big names and it's cool to see those in the portfolio but it's not the action or angles that create an aesthetically pleasing image. That wasn't my job. My job was about bringing a 300mm or 400mm lens to the ballpark and capturing the same images from different angles. If I planned to shoot portraits before the game I would bring the 24-70mm or the 70-200mm with an on-camera flash, but 90% of trips to the ballpark I would walk in with one camera body and one lens. Below is a sample of some of the stock imagery I'm talking about and you'll see why I chose these images and why I really enjoy stock photography.
There's nothing remarkable about the above images. No diving catches, no sliding into home plate, no bat-on-ball. These are your plain-Jane stock images. The photo of Bobby Witt, Jr. is after he recorded his first hit in his first professional game in the Arizona League with the Kansas City Royals affiliate. I've seen the Kyle Tucker image in a publication called Baseball America. The photo of Jo Adell has been used on MiLB.com. The photo of Alek Thomas has no significance other than the person, time, and place.
However, each one of these images were used on Topps brand baseball cards.
One thing I get asked frequently is "If you're just taking photos of baseball players doing nothing spectacular, what makes your images better than the next guy's?" There's a few reasons why my images might be selected over someone else's. The first reason is because the images are sharp. They're in focus in the most critical areas. For Witt, Jr. and Tucker's images, they're sharp in the eyes. For Adell and Thomas, you don't see any motion blur allowing companies to make clean cutouts if they're doing a special design (see above).
Something I mention frequently when talking to newer photographers is that you don't want to submit images that are out of focus. If you're doing a portrait and the camera focuses on the ear, don't use it. Take several shots while you have your subject. I have at least three images of Kyle Tucker in each pose, probably five different poses before settling on a few to submit. Alek Thomas' batting sequence contains about ten different images over a span of a few pitches. I created an opportunity to make sure I was able to submit the sharpest image possible.
Editing is just as important as creating a clean image in camera. Sure, you can do everything in your power to produce the perfect image with perfect white balance, perfect highlights and shadows, but there are other things you still might need to correct. The first thing you might need to do is crop. Cropping with extra space at a 3x2 ratio allows the end user to create a print at several different sizes like 4x6, 5x7, 8x10, etc. When I first started taking photos I would crop for 8x10 only and found myself running into trouble with prints when I was printing them for my office gallery.
The second part of necessary editing is straightening the horizon. I will repeat that because it's the number one thing I see when I look at sports images on Instagram and Twitter. STRAIGHTEN THE HORIZON. It makes the image look better and the end user doesn't need to fix when they're trying to finish a project. Sometimes this is really easy to figure out. Using the images above as examples, I used the vertical poles in the handrails on the Jo Adell photo and the vertical wall of the dugout for the Thomas image. There's a lot going on with the Witt, Jr. and Tucker images but again, I used vertical lines from the background.
When creating your frame in camera, do your best to put the subject in a usable position. If you're shooting with a 300mm or 400mm try to keep the subject in the center of your viewfinder. Use both vertical and horizontal orientations to give yourself options. I've seen on occasion where a photographer won't account for a pitcher's arm going wide on a delivery and the hand/ball are way too close to the edge of the frame making the image almost unusable in any capacity. I've seen this repeated game-after-game for some aspiring photographers and it's one of those simple mistakes that can be learned from. If you're shooting with a 70-200mm or a zoom that allows you to capture the environment, that's a little different but since we're strictly talking stock photography in this post, I'll save that for another time.
If there's a topic you'd like me to discuss in the future, feel free to contact me on any of my social media accounts. I can be found on INSTAGRAM, TWITTER, and FACEBOOK. Let me know your thoughts on this post and let's all agree to keep getting better. I know I'll never stop. Will you?