When I got my first camera with automatic settings decades ago, I was kind of excited to try out the sports mode. You know, the little running man icon. Since then, through a succession of more advanced cameras, I’ve come to the conclusion that Running Man and I will never think alike. Running Man often picks a medium to wide aperture, a fast-ish shutter speed, and sets the ISO at whatever it takes to make that combo happen. But really, I can’t predict or agree with Running Man, so I said goodbye to him long ago.
Then I may have had a very brief fling with shutter speed priority. Shutter speed priority lets you pick the shutter speed (obviously) and ISO, and sets the aperture dependent on the amount of light. That didn’t work out. Having my aperture changing all over the place gave my pictures an inconsistent look with focus.
I say if you’re going to go with an automatic mode, use aperture priority. Just put the aperture on the widest setting (smallest number), and the camera will pick the fastest shutter speed it can given the light and your ISO. Just keep an eye on the shutter speed, because if it’s going too low, you’re going to have to bump up the ISO.
Having said all that, I almost always use manual mode for a baseball game. I am more conscious of my settings if I set them myself, and I don’t find it difficult to keep up because baseball fields are generally fairly evenly lit, and the action is fairly predictable.
So where to start?
I had the great pleasure of shooting the Diamond Elite team for the second year in a row. It started off as an overcast day. I often choose to shoot with my aperture wide open at f/2.8, but I put it at f/4.0 to give me a little more wiggle room on focus. My ISO was at 200, and I could use a shutter speed of 1/1250. It was enough to freeze a grounder.
But when the players were up at bat, I was able to move in fairly close, and I found 1/1250 wasn’t fast enough to freeze the pitch, although it was enough to freeze the player.
It got a bit cloudier, and I had to lower my shutter speed to 1/800. You can see a bit of movement blur in the fielder’s throwing hand, but the facial expression is sharp, which to me, is more important.
At this point, I decided to go back to my old standby of f/2.8 and increase my ISO to 400. The clouds lifted a bit as well. This got my shutter speed up to 1/4000, enough to freeze the ball.
The following photos have shutter speeds from 1/5000 to 1/6400. The slight blur on the ball is from focusing on the player instead of the ball, rather than too slow of a shutter speed. I admit I like a good dusty slide into base if I’m not the one doing the laundry afterwards.
I had to drop to 1/2500-1/3200 because the clouds rolled back in, but it was still fast enough to stop the grounder and the players. I love the intense look on the fielder’s face.
Here, 1/3200 was plenty fast to stop the pitch because the pitch was moving toward me instead of across the frame.
This is a shot through a fence, if you’re wondering. I like having teeth.
So how fast is fast enough when you choose a shutter speed for baseball? It depends on how close you are to the action, what focal length you use, and how important it is to you to freeze the ball. The picture at the top of this post is at 1/4000 second, and there is still motion blur in the ball because I was close and using a long focal length. For me, a sharp ball isn’t critical. Having a player’s face in focus is much more important to me, because I think the facial expression is what makes the shot most of the time, and one ball pretty much looks like another.
I love shooting the Diamond Elite team because the players have so much heart and you can see in their faces what they put into their game. I actually have no idea how the score turned out, because I was watching individual players rather than following the game, but in my mind, they were winners.