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Does capturing that great photo involve a little bit of luck?

During a long drive back home yesterday after taking some photos at a baseball game, the question popped into my head. Is photography part luck? If so how much of it is luck and how much is skill? Now, I talk a lot during my photography workshops and sometimes random topics pop up depending on the questions asked, but I don’t think the topic of luck has ever come up which is a shame because it has to be considered.

Yesterday morning I drove to Hagerstown, MD to see the Washington Nationals’ newest #1 draft pick, Bryce Harper, in action playing for the Single-A Hagerstown Suns. If you’re reading this sometime in the future, hopefully you’re saying “Wow, they had that guy in the minor leagues?” I wasn’t there for very long as they were completing a suspended game from the previous day and then it started raining so they never actually played the game that I had a ticket for.  Although I wasn’t there long, I managed to get some cool shots including a pretty violent collision at home plate.

When I arrived at the game, I sat on the third base line. Since those are the seats I purchased, I figured I would hang out there and scope out the stadium to pick a better location. I chose the third base line since Harper is left-handed and I wanted to make sure I wasn’t taking photos of his back. This positioning allowed me to get a few shots of his first at bat.  By the way, he doubled and then scored when the next hitter doubled.  I thought the background of these photos were a little busy so I looked around the stadium and noticed a nice single seat up high behind the plate near the press box that wasn’t accessible to the public. If I knew this was going to turn into a blog post I would have taken a picture of it from below!


Bryce Harper at the plate.

I asked nicely and was allowed access; I think the big camera and lens help when it comes to getting access. Now, I literally had a bird’s eye view of the park.


A bird's eye view of the mound. Pitcher Paul Applebee

I had my 200-400mm lens so I could reach any infield player, but I didn’t use it much as I also had my 70-200mm and 85mm f1.8. I was playing around with angles seeing what I wanted the next time Harper came up and then it happened. Man on second and a hit to left field. I’ve been watching baseball my whole life so I knew what was about to happen… A play at the plate!  I had the 85mm on my Nikon D3s and just laid on the shutter button even before the player was in the frame. I wasn’t even watching the play since I knew I would be playing it back on my LCD. This is where the D3s earns its money. I didn’t have to worry about missing a shot or my buffer; I just held down the shutter button until the smoke cleared and the Suns runner was… SAFE!


Collision at the plate. 9 frames per second. Nikon D3s


Here's a larger version with helmets flying.

No matter how long you take pictures, it’s still fun; still a rush and moments like this keep you coming back. So how much of this was luck, skill, equipment? It’s all of the above. First, I shouldn’t say luck. Let’s say, right place at the right time. I happened to ask and be allowed access near the press box not long before the play happened. But, that’s one component and part of it was having the right equipment. I also brought a Canon 60D with me that has a much slower frame rate than the Nikon D3s so if that was the camera in my hand at the time, it probably would have been an 8 picture series with bigger gaps. And even if you have the D3s, you can miss your focus, have your shutter speed too slow, not have the camera set at the fastest frame rate, or something else that can lose your shot.

So, driving back, I couldn’t help but think that luck plays a part although you have to be ready to get that shot when it’s presented which takes us back to something I talk about all of the time at my workshops… PRACTICE!  I would say luck was on my side, but in Bryce Harper’s second (and last) at bat when I was perched up there ready and set to go…. he was intentionally walked and then I got rained on.  So much for luck.


Here's the boring photo of Bryce Harper getting an intentional pass.

Posted By Derek Davis | 3/7/2012 5:40:52 PM

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