Diamond and the Rough

September 9, 2011 

In the wide world of sportraiture, I have always struggled with baseball. The culture of the diamond makes it hard to single out the gems on a team. While I am far from an expert, my theory is that baseball teams depend on depth more than any sport. You could have the best pitcher in history on your team, but he's only going to throw in a minority percentage of your games. This means teammates often jeer at whomever I'm photographing.

I was reminded of this during the Dust Devils' media day when Leonardo Reyes messed with Isaiah Froneberger while I was shooting head shots of all the players:

Coincidentally, I had to make a portrait of Reyes for an early season feature on the longest tenured Dust Devil. I chose the locker room since everybody was out on the field doing interviews and I wanted to show the locker he'd be using for the fourth consecutive year. Unfortunately, as soon as I set up the lights, the whole team came rabble-rousing in, this being the best I could muster in the suddenly overcrowded room of taunts:

I don't like the weird bit of shadow from his hat that falls over his left eye, and with a bit more time to futz around, I would have liked to hit his locker with some focused light to make it pop.

When it came time to do a feature on designated hitter Jordan Ribera, I bounced some ideas off writer Jack Millikin, who liked my idea of setting up a portrait in which Ribera would blow up a baseball with his bat. Jack helpfully tore the stuffing out of one of his baseballs and we thought packing it loosely with its own guts and scoops of flour would yield a good effect. After some test runs with Jack,

I figured out where I wanted my lights and that I needed to alter my angle to close up the separation between bat and ball. Unfortunately, neither of us realized that Ribera is a lefty during our test runs, so I had to hastily and constantly fiddle with the setup in reverse, never quite getting the effect I wanted. Here's the three-light setup, which shows Jack's pitching position as well:

I wanted hard, edgy light, with two on him and one aimed about where the ball would be hit. Since I was underexposing the ambient light, I was banking on the flash mostly freezing the flour burst. What I should have done is had a big, soft light with an edgy accent, since the two lights on Ribera created hard shadows from his hat and arm.

Even more unfortunate was that Ribera had just suffered a pulled groin and was walking with noticeable pain. It felt like the curse of the spotlight had made a preemptive strike, which nearly canceled the shoot, but Ribera was very obliging, doing multiple takes so I could get options throughout the swing:

We ended up using this one about a month later after he got healthy again:

The next set-up feature shoot was for the Dust Devils pitching staff, which at the time had tied a Northwest League record for shutouts. Jack had originally requested the whole pitching staff, but I was nervous about handling that many people for a portrait during the tight timeframe of pre-game practice. He picked out six to feature and I liked his idea of working a scoreboard with nine innings of zeroes in the background. For some reason, I didn't stick with my gut after radio announcer Jason Schwartz, who was helping me wrangle players, asked if I wanted the whole squad.

It took the crew a while to get dressed in their game gear, which left me with only a few minutes before Spokane was due its batting practice. I decided to arrange the top six in front with the rest of the pitchers flanking them. I told them to do whatever they wanted — either playfully tossing a ball, looking tough or smiling — and had the six go into pitching motions. The chatter of that many baseball players together was tough to yell over and they all exploded in a cacophony of derision each time I asked the big group to step back some more.

"We gotta stay away from the untouchables!" said one pitcher, though the actual point of having them step back was so they had enough separation to be seen — something that didn't even work out in the end:

I pulled Christian Bergman aside for a future playoff feature shot and settled for the easy go-to pitcher shot I've done way too many times. This time, I tried to punch up the lighting a bit, though, and worked to do it quickly as well:


I should have stuck with the concept a bit longer (a depressingly recurring theme in my portrait shortcomings), to get that ball perfectly in front of the sun and adjusted the light on his face a little better.

As with our football previews, it was nice to have a chance at producing better photos for the Dust Devils features this year. It didn't always work out, though, and I had to settle for offering this static game play shot of Tim Smalling for another story:

It's the type of photo arrangement that was all but exclusive before, and while we can usually get something with a little more action or emotion, sometimes the baseball crapshoot comes up snake eyes when you're looking for a specific player. The funny thing is, my favorite Dust Devils shot of the season so far was from Tuesday's playoff win against Boise.

Catcher Ryan Casteel incredulously challenged the umpire after after Boise batter Zeke DeVoss spun around to avoid a close pitch. A strike would have ended the seventh inning, but Meyers called it a ball. Boise went on to load the bases with a tying run at the plate before the Dust Devils closed out to preserve a 5-1 lead:

What could have been a pivotal play ended up being an emotional highlight of the evening and I think it captures the intensity of the playoffs. This accusatory shot from the same sequence was a close second, though:

It would make a good feature shot for a Casteel story, but with the season nearly over, I picked that shot to go with the game coverage. You'd think it would be frustrating, after all the fussing, planning and lighting, to have a lucked into my favorite shot by just happening to be in the right place to snap this exchange, but it's that kind of magical spontaneity that makes me love this job so much.

Links and stuff

Photographer Ed Kashi has an exhibit called "Eye Contact" that just opened in Brooklyn featuring photographs of him getting noticed by subjects he was photographing candidly. Lens has an interesting interview with Kashi in which they discuss the nearly universal photojournalist's pet peeve — something I less eloquently wrote about a couple years ago.

Apparently Burning Man, a celebration of art, culture and freedom of expression, doesn't feel that should apply to photography. I've never been, so I wasn't aware of this policy, but if this dated-looking post from 2003 is to be trusted, it's been going on for some time. Here's a nice blog post by Reuters photographer Jim Urquhart about covering Burning Man for the first time. While his photos don't really show anything different from the annual event, it's interesting to read his insights and thought processes about approaching the assignment. Thanks to Brent Rust for passing that along.

Wondering what your photo rights are? Check out this guide by the ACLU.

~~~~~

kyau@tricityherald.com
(509) 585-7205
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