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SportsShooter.com: Member Message Board

Photographing Baseball: How to get the perfect Bat on Ball P
Sean King, Photographer
Aurora | IL | USA | Posted: 1:57 PM on 07.15.14
->> When shooting Baseball I find that I waste way too many frames guessing when the hitter will swing. Are there any suggestions you guys may have to getting that perfect bat on ball photo?


-Sean King
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Brad Mangin, Photographer
Pleasanton | CA | USA | Posted: 2:09 PM on 07.15.14
->> Sean- it is all timing- it is one frame- not the motor. It is the first frame I shoot when I try to do this. Some batters are much easier to get than others. Some have a consistent hitch in their swing that makes it easy to time. For instance back in the day when I was shooting film and did not have a chance to look at my results immediately I always had good luck with Jeff Kent because he had a specific hitch. However his teammate Barry Bonds was hard for me because he had such a quick bat.

Good luck!
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Wesley R. Bush, Photographer
Murfreesboro | TN | U.S. | Posted: 3:01 PM on 07.15.14
->> Has anyone here experimented or used a sound-trigger arduino to try to catch it? I may try if anyone is interested.
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Doug Pizac, Photographer
Sandy | UT | USA | Posted: 3:33 PM on 07.15.14
->> Double ditto to Brad's "it is all timing" to nail the photo.

The best quick-learn tutorial is to shoot batting practice using SINGLE frame mode. First, you'll get chance after chance to hone your timing and second, you'll learn the anticipation signs each player gives when his swing starts -- a dip in the shoulder, a drop of the chin, a lifting of a heel, etc.

The same timing goes for golfers hitting out of a trap. By watching for the little shift in the arms when the club hits the sand, by the time you press the shutter the ball will be emerging from a nice blast of sand. I did a PGA golf tourney this past week and every bunker shot was captured on the first frame.

Don't know about using a sound trigger. By the time the sound is recognized followed by the lapse before the shutter opens the ball is already off the bat. You would also need a boom mic or a tube to isolate the hit sound. Intuitive timing however would put the ball on the bat.
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Mark Loundy, Photo Editor, Photographer
San Jose | CA | USA | Posted: 4:01 PM on 07.15.14
->> Wesley, Ditto what Doug said. You'd need to put the trigger mic on the player. At typical camera-to-subject baseball distances, the sound would not travel quickly enough to trigger the camera before the ball was long gone.

--Mark
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Simon Wheeler, Photo Editor, Photographer
Ithaca | NY | USA | Posted: 4:40 PM on 07.15.14
->> From first base side I watch the batter with my left eye through the camera and at the same time watch the pitcher through my right eye outside the camera, holding both images in my head. Then I time releasing the shutter slightly after the pitcher releases the ball. It works fairly well. I've made a few bat on ball photos and a couple of ball embedded in shoulder photos. I only shoot about 10 games a year so I don't get to practice much.
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Michael L. Stein, Photographer
Smithtown | NY | USA | Posted: 5:06 PM on 07.15.14
->> Brad:

Just curious to your thoughts, if any, on Joe Morgan's "chicken flap". Dave Winfield's swing. Also, Mike Hargrove's routine between every pitch, with regards to the question of bat on ball.

Regards,

Michael
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Wally Nell, Photographer
SAN DIEGO | CA | USA | Posted: 5:33 PM on 07.15.14
->> Totally timing, like Brad said. One frame. Same with tennis shots, with the ball on the racquet, timing, first frame...
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Brad Mangin, Photographer
Pleasanton | CA | USA | Posted: 6:35 PM on 07.15.14
->> Michael- I am not old enough to have shot Joe Morgan or Hargrove and did not shoot much of Winfield.
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Will Powers, Photographer
Denver | CO | USA | Posted: 10:01 AM on 07.16.14
->> What is "perfect?"
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Wesley R. Bush, Photographer
Murfreesboro | TN | U.S. | Posted: 11:53 AM on 07.16.14
->> The shutter lag of a pre-focused 1D Mark 4 is 0.049 seconds. That's fast enough for me to be curious. It may not be plausible for professional baseball, but possibly little league or high school if the microphone is close enough? If I get a chance, I'll do some tests with my daughter at the ballpark up the street or head to the batting cage. If I do, I'll post the results here, if only to see how far off the bat it is by the time it's captured.
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Keith Birmingham, Photographer
Pasadena | CA | USA | Posted: 1:58 PM on 07.16.14
->> Sean,

Shoot a entire baseball game without motor drive. Better yet, stand and watch a few innings without shooting and see the moments, then shoot, it will be liberating. Baseball is timing, really like most sports. Use your instincts, wait for those moments. Shooting baseball like managing the game is mental and doing your homework. Slow down your process and concentrate on the game at hand.

Think about what is going on at that moment, what could happen in the next at bat. Look at the batter, look at the field positioning. Is the pitcher a strikeout, ground ball , fly ball pitcher. Does the batter have power to all fields, pull or light hitting. If you study the game a bit you will find your sports photography will be taken to the next level.

You will find that you will not only get bat on ball, but baseball off the finger tips of a pitcher or that peak moment of a dive where the baseball just enters the glove, the expression of little boy or girl in the stands.

Baseball is a passionate game for both the player, fan and even a few photographers. If you do a little homework the love of the game that will take you to the next level.

I know this is probably more then you expected to here and from someone you don't know, but baseball means more then I can really express and I just love to see great baseball photography. Good luck.
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Randy Sartin, Photographer, Assistant
Knoxville | TN | USA | Posted: 4:15 PM on 07.16.14
->> Well here's something totally silly...I can get ball on (or within an inch or two of) bat pretty consistently when shooting horizontal. And practically never when shooting vertical...I don't know if I see something better/think different/whatever when shooting horizontal or what.

And yeah it's all timing. Our own Patrick Murphy-Racey had me do the single shot thing at a basketball game a few years ago and it really helped me a lot, still do it from time to time.
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Jeffrey Nycz, Photographer
Warsaw | IN | USA | Posted: 5:29 PM on 07.16.14
->> Did an exploding baseball using the Nero sound trigger. Camera was on a tripod at nearly ground level and photographed at night in a large field. Used an Einstein strobe that was actually triggered by a Canon 550EX. The 550EX was connected to the Nero sound trigger and pointed at the rear of the strobe. The ball was carefully cut along the seams, hollowed out with a dremel tool, filled with bird seed and glued together. The ball "exploded" and was captured about 2 inches off of the barrel of the bat. Only the batter, bat and ball was illuminated, the background was total black.
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Jeffrey Nycz, Photographer
Warsaw | IN | USA | Posted: 5:36 PM on 07.16.14
->> I find the timing on bat-on-ball photos difficult at the professional level due to the varying pitch offering and batters adjusting to pitches when fooled. If the pitcher throws a fastball and the batter expects a fastball, it's much easier than when the batter expects a 90 MPH fastball and receives a 78 MPH change up. I generally use the sequential high speed mode more for capturing the broken bat photo rather than the bat-on-ball photo.
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Wesley R. Bush, Photographer
Murfreesboro | TN | U.S. | Posted: 7:36 PM on 07.16.14
->> @Jeffrey
I was about to question your use of a 550ex to trigger the Einstein until I looked up the flash duration of those Paul Cs. Man, what a difference it is compared to my Alien Bees. Einsteins are much, much faster and act more like a speed light than a studio. Glad I checked.
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Scott Rovak, Photographer
St. Louis | MO | USA | Posted: 1:32 AM on 07.17.14
->> In 30+ years, I have one perfect ball on bat, I have had several close to this one, but only one I consider to be perfect. It was my first frame, as it always is. As the above mentioned photographers have mentioned, it is all about timing. And seeing how Brad Mangin is one of the best baseball photographers of our generation, he would definitely know what he is talking about.

http://scottrovak.zenfolio.com/pujols_smashed/h1C1A5298#h1c1a5298
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Brad Mangin, Photographer
Pleasanton | CA | USA | Posted: 2:00 AM on 07.17.14
->> Nice Scott! That is a VJ frame of I ever saw one!
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Will Powers, Photographer
Denver | CO | USA | Posted: 9:02 AM on 07.17.14
->> Scott, That is what is meant by crushed.
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Dennis Wierzbicki, Photographer
Chicago | IL | USA | Posted: 9:48 AM on 07.17.14
->> Scott, what a great shot!

Here’s one I got back in 2007, that was “mistakenly” shot at 1/8000s as the result of the day being cloudy/sunny/cloudy/shadow/sunny etc. at Miller Park in Milwaukee, and me having chosen to be in AV mode to compensate for the rapidly-changing light. At the moment Ramirez took his swing, the sun came out full and my shutter speed shot up to 1/8000s.

http://www.pbase.com/dmwierz45/image/80218360

A crop of this shot is here:

http://www.pbase.com/dmwierz45/image/81845694

You can even read the name on the bat and ALMOST read the writing on the ball. The Canon 1D MkIIn and EF 400 f/2.8L IS was a dynamite combination.

IMO, if you want to get a ball in your frame, it requires practice, a decent level of skill and good timing. Beyond this, in my opinion, getting ball-on-bat is mostly a matter of being lucky. You can maximize your chance of being at the correct shutter speed to get a sharp shot of compression IF you are lucky enough to have your shutter fire during the .0005 of a second that the ball is actually in contact with the bat. This is a VERY short of a period of time, and I don’t think any human being can actually TIME the ball on bat collision. (Reference: Dr. Robert K. Adair, “The Physics of Baseball”). Keep this exceedingly short duration in mind when considering if an audio cue trigger could capture the ball on bat. In addition, you’d have to have the audio trigger tuned to ONLY the sound of the ball hitting the bat, and again according to Dr. Adair, the frequency of the ball/bat collision varies considerably with myriad factors like how “squarely” the ball is hit, impact velocity (combined pitch and bat speed), length of bat, diameter of the bat’s barrel, type of wood the bat is made of, where along the length of the bat the ball strikes, etc.. Adair offers that the sound and frequency of the ball hitting the bat is used instinctively by outfielders when making their first steps to track down a fly ball, BTW.

What I do is watch the batter's eyes and his/her hands, and use these as cues. Brad is right on with his comment that some batters are easier to read than others. I recall shooting Bonds and having the same issue Brad mentioned regarding his amazingly quick bat. Doing this maximizes the occurrences of capturing the ball being in the frame, and can get most of the balls in frame when shooting batters at the MLB level, but beyond that, getting the ball on bat is (again, IMO) mostly good fortune.
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Sean King, Photographer
Aurora | IL | USA | Posted: 7:24 PM on 07.18.14
->> Thank You for all of the tips and wisdom. I suspect there is well over 100 years of experience combined in this forum. I cannot wait for my next baseball assignment. Covering the Cubs Single A team here in Kane County, IL has been fun.
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Josh Merwin, Photographer
New York | NY | | Posted: 7:40 PM on 07.18.14
->> Honesty, just pay Brad to do it for you and enjoy the game with beer in your hand!

You got some great advice, have fun!
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Ed Wolfstein, Photographer, Assistant
Burlington | VT | USA | Posted: 7:41 PM on 07.18.14
->> My own favorite came in Colorado, when the Nats visited the Rockies way back in '06. http://ed.photoshelter.com/image/I0000SWNMa0s1pA4
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John OHara, Photographer
Petaluma | Ca | United States | Posted: 1:47 AM on 07.19.14
->> I was doing this when Brad was a teenager in the stands. He is correct. USE BOTH EYES !!!!! RIGHT EYE ON THE PITHER, left eye in the camera if your on 1st base side, When the pitcher releases the ball, PUSH THE BUTTON. If it is a fast ball, by the time you think about it and the signal gets to your finger, the ball will be in the strike zone. Then it is just good luck. I got Bonds #600 and #700 that way. TRY IT , YOU'LL LIKE IT ..
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Michael L. Stein, Photographer
Smithtown | NY | USA | Posted: 5:38 PM on 07.21.14
->> Brad:

Ooops! Age aside, I mentioned Morgan, Winfield and Hargrove as this trio were all distinct characters in the battery. Guess I'm a little older than you. :)

Michael
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Matthew Hinton, Photographer, Assistant
New Orleans | LA | USA | Posted: 6:54 PM on 07.21.14
->> The Nikon D4 when put in silent mode from live view shoots 24fps in cH mode but it's only 1920×1080 or 2.5 megapixels (D1 size) and only jpegs so you couldn't do much cropping. I think some mirror-less cameras can do fast bursts as well. But the high frame rate still probably wouldn't guarantee getting the bat on ball.
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Dennis Wierzbicki, Photographer
Chicago | IL | USA | Posted: 8:14 AM on 07.22.14
->> Matthew, according to Dr. Adair (see my post above), the ball is on the bat for something like .001s . I misquoted it above at .0005, which is actually the length of time for the majority of the transfer of momentum (time rate of change of kinetic energy) to occur.

http://www.freewebs.com/anskyboy2/Physics%20of%20Baseball%20(Adair).pdf

This implies a minimum frame rate of 1,000fps would be required to "guarantee" catching the ball on bat, which is WAY beyond the capability of any DSLR (and squarely in the range of super slo mo cameras). Any slower frame rate and you'll be just as likely to capture the ball just before and just after collision with the bat in consecutive frames.
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Matthew Hinton, Photographer, Assistant
New Orleans | LA | USA | Posted: 6:33 PM on 07.22.14
->> Read the third sentence Dennis.
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Dennis Wierzbicki, Photographer
Chicago | IL | USA | Posted: 7:48 AM on 07.23.14
->> Matthew, I did: only providing math/physics back-up to your conclusion.
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Blaine McCartney, Photographer
Cheyenne | WY | USA | Posted: 11:01 AM on 07.24.14
->> For me, IMO, the ball on the bat isn't as important as seeing faces.
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Wally Nell, Photographer
SAN DIEGO | CA | USA | Posted: 11:43 AM on 07.24.14
->> Blaine, I agree. Getting the ball on the bat is a technical skill, and it takes a while to get it down. But once you get it down, all your pictures look the same, and it needs something more.
With tennis I used to concentrate on getting the ball squashed onto the racquet and eventually started to achieve it on a regular basis. But you know, the emotion on the players' faces seemed to be 'happening' either just before they hit the ball or just after... Go figure! So I changed my range of sought after images of a player to a few with the ball on the racquet, with other images mixed in with different angles, and of course different timing of shots; and my coverage quality improved by leaps and bounds... (Pun not intended, it just came out!)
I would think with baseball, mixing up your shots is as important as getting the ball on the bat.
My 12 piastres...
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Paul Alesse, Photographer
Coram | NY | USA | Posted: 9:11 PM on 07.24.14
->> I haven't read all the responses in detail, so forgive me if this has been mentioned, but besides timing, two other factors come into play... focal length of lens and the angle you're stationed at relative to the focal plane. If at 90 degree angle completely perpendicular to the travel path of the ball, it becomes all that more difficult to capture the BOB. The difficulty is further augmented by the focal length of the lens you are using.

I mention this because the shooting location will often vary from field to field, especially in youth sports. As you move further up the foul line for instance, that 90 degree angle is diminished, and at the very least, you can capture the "illusion" of BOB and increase your "ball in frame" ratio significantly.

Other than that, you rely on the batter to help you out. Besides telegraphing their swings with a hitch or other timing mechanism, better hitters will meet the ball out in front in what hitting instructors often call the "perfect power triangle".

One other thing that comes into play as well... sometimes you get into a rhythmic groove. And when that happens, it's like drawing face cards and aces in blackjack. You just hit a stride where you are in perfect sync with the batters and one tap time BOB several times within a game. Then there are games where you leave scratching your head wondering if the game was played with an invisible baseball all night long.

A few summers ago... I had a game where the planets all aligned at the same time with shooting angle, a youth player whose timing just jived in perfect sync with me coupled with his perfect swing, and some blind squirrel luck. Got these two frames with in a few innings apart from each other.

http://www.playballphotos.com/images/2011_Baseball_Regionals/47946_PVA.jpg

http://www.playballphotos.com/images/2011_Baseball_Regionals/71933_PVA.jpg
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Bradley Leeb, Photographer
Champaign | IL | USA | Posted: 9:22 PM on 07.24.14
->> Let's play, "would you rather..."

...have CLOSE to bat on ball walk off home run

or

...PERFECT bat on ball 6-4-3 double play to end the inning?
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Sam Santilli, Photographer, Photo Editor
Philippi | WV | USA | Posted: 11:34 AM on 07.25.14
->> Sean, this may sound nuts, but to anticipate a batter swinging, watch his eyes and breathing. I shoot T-ball thru Pro level AA...and over the last 20 years I have been training my eyes and shutter finger to sync up with the batter's eyes. Eyes on the batter pop or narrow, be ready to fire the shutter. If you did not play baseball, I would also suggest you get a fist full of quarters and head to the batting cages and take a few hundred cuts over a week or two. Timing, as mentioned in all the posts above, in batting and photography is key. If you can get inside the head of the batter, you will have a distinct advantage on getting the key swing shot. You have to think like a batter in the box. Count/men on/look fast adjust curve/etc. "BOB" is nice, but depending on your market, not the end all of swing shots.
BTW..."waste way too many frames"....only if you are shooting film. Baseball is not a game on the clock. You have ample time between batters, inning changes, and pitching changes to chimp thru the images and edit keepers from the back of the camera...especially "A" games with a promo or side show event between every inning!
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Patrick Murphy-Racey, Photographer
Knoxville | TN | USA | Posted: 8:48 PM on 07.27.14
->> this might sound crazy but sometimes I will shoot a little 60P video of a couple swings of the guy I need. then I watch it frame by frame and look at the stance of his feet, knees, legs and try to figure out where his lower extremities are when he makes contact with the ball. After watching even one at bat you can usually spot a "hitch" or unique thing each guy does, and that will get you in the ballpark (pun intended). I set my motor to single frame when shooting batters and at tennis for sure. It just always works out better for me that way.
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Wesley R. Bush, Photographer
Murfreesboro | TN | U.S. | Posted: 10:42 PM on 09.09.14
->> I took my daughter to the baseball field and tested some sound-triggered shots with a 60D and a trigger trap mobile. Even with a locked up mirror (which I figured may help), the ball was about four feet off the bat by the time the shot was taken. Granted, there may be other non mobile-based triggers with less of a lag, or maybe the sound itself doesn't even come off the bat until the ball is gone anyway. Whatever the reason, it's WAY too slow to catch BOB, and this is a 7-year-old taking daddy lobs.
Just wanted to update for anyone interested since I had a chance to try it out today.
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Thread Title: Photographing Baseball: How to get the perfect Bat on Ball P
Thread Started By: Sean King
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