The boys of summer are back. Baseball season for high school is in full swing along with softball and track & field and other athletic events. So far the games I've covered have been high scoring and I'm hoping that trend continues. It can be interesting to watch a pitching duel but that often means less on field action and more reactions in the batters box, the pitching mound or in the dugout.
When photographing baseball timing is critical and reactions have to be quick. About 10 years ago I remember a mentor telling stories about what the photographers in the dugout at Cincinnati Reds games did during breaks in the action or rain delays. The photographers would have duels. They would race each other on who could pick up their camera and get second base in focus the quickest. Or maybe it was the center fielder or maybe some one in the stands. The point wasn't to be able to focus on a single spot but to be able to handle any situation. They had to instinctively know how to use their camera.
This was in the days when photographers had to manual focus a camera in a split second. They had to know if they needed to pull the focus forward or backward. Go the wrong direction and you'll lose the moment.
Today many photographers rely so much on auto focus that the skill of being able to quickly manual focusing on a subject isn't as honed. There are still times when today's $6,000 pro cameras can't pinpoint accurately nail a picture in focus. Throw the camera into a poorly lit room or place something like a screen, mesh or an old warped glass window in front of your subject and it will continue to hunt for focus or land on what you don't want in focus.
At the same time, auto focus has not only allowed amateurs to capture better images but it has also allowed professional photographers to continue to perform even when their eyesight starts to diminish. And it also gave them a little more time to concentrate on the subject or the right moment to click the shutter.
As a photographer I often hear something like the phrase, "Wow I bet that camera makes nice pictures." And as person who has put a great deal of effort into learning to create and capture images, I would love to respond with, "Do you compliment a chef for the nice whisk he must be using?"
But that statement about the nice camera has a little bit of truth to it. The camera does help a professional create a photograph. It has some advantages that the cheaper cameras don't. But the camera is just a tool. You have to learn how to use it. Learn it's limitations, and learn where it shines.
Knowing how the camera will react in a given situation and knowing how to compensate for it comes from hours, days and months of taking photos. It comes from taking hundreds if not thousands of good photos, bad photos, boring photos, accidentally taken photos, and photos you wish you could blame your dog for taking but instead blame the neighbor's cat.
All of these baseball photos in this post were taken in the last couple weeks using auto focus with a Canon 7d with a 70-200mm lens and a 1.4x extender. It's quicker, more accurate and sharper than my previous camera. And when I first got the camera and lenses I spent hours with them before going on an assignment. I photographed lots of things around my place and took some walks with it in nearby parks and took photos of friends and family.
In years past when I've had cameras fail and gotten another to replace it, I had to get used to the new camera. Sometimes it was a little more sensitive to light. Sometimes the focus didn't quite act the same. Sometimes the LCD display had more contrast. Sometimes images seemed more saturated or tinted with an overall color cast.
The key to it was knowing how the camera would react, how to compensate for it, and knowing how to make it sing when it was off key.
So the point I'm trying to get across is that if you want to be a better photographer and take better pictures one of the first thing you need to do is step away from the computer. Put down that Joy of Photography book. Put away the apple iPad or your Android phone, and go take pictures. Grab a friend and take a walk in the park or down your neighborhood street. Learn the camera and its limitations. Experiment with it and see how it reacts in different lighting and different distances from the subject. See what f2.8 does and what f22 does. Take photos of the same subject with different settings, from different angles, from different distances.
And when you get back look at the photos on the computer screen. Check out why a photo looks the way it does. What you did differently from one shot to another.
Oh, and read your manual from cover to cover. You can skip the stuff that is in a foreign language though unless you feel like it all is a foreign language. Part of learning what the camera does is learning what the camera can do. If you don't understand something in the manual then play around and experiment. Take a photo with the mysterious setting on and off. Look at the photos and see if you can visually see a difference or watch how the camera reacts.