I like to research before a shoot. I look up where the sun will be in the sky in relationship to the location I am shooting. If I can’t scout the area out in person, I consult the internet for images and satellite maps. However, my most valuable resource for baseball photography is my neighbor, Renee. She is not a professional photographer, but she is one of the most observant people I know. Her sons have been in baseball for years, and if I ask her about any field, she can tell me what the barriers are like, how deep the outfield is, and if the dugouts are going to be of any use to me.
I had been accustomed to shooting with both eyes open, watching the pitch come toward the batter, and trying to fire as the ball crossed the plate. My results were very inconsistent, and I took a lot of shots when the batter never took a swing.
She, on the other hand, told me she never even watched the ball. She kept her attention completely on the batter. She said the batter usually does a little wiggle right before he takes the swing, and she uses that to time her shot. Despite the fact she shoots with an entry-level DSLR with a low burst rate, she was the one getting the coveted bat-on-ball shots.
I tried it her way the next time. Although I didn’t always see a wiggle, I did see the value of concentrating on the player instead of the ball. I found that I greatly increased my percentage of shots with the batter in full swing, and the ball was usually somewhere close to the bat. I still kept both eyes open, but it was in order to keep an eye on the pitcher, to see if he was going to nail someone trying to steal a base.
Finally, the bat-on-ball shot wasn’t so elusive anymore. Thanks, Renee!