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Archive for Sunday, April 29, 2012

Behind the Lens: Get photos off the fence and into the game

April 29, 2012

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This photograph, shown full-frame, was taken through a chain link fence using a telephoto lens and a fairly large aperture. This combination creates a shallow depth of field and made the fence almost invisible. Best results are with a fixed subject, long telephoto lens, large aperture and the lens right up against the fence.

This photograph, shown full-frame, was taken through a chain link fence using a telephoto lens and a fairly large aperture. This combination creates a shallow depth of field and made the fence almost invisible. Best results are with a fixed subject, long telephoto lens, large aperture and the lens right up against the fence.

I was covering a high school baseball game Tuesday night while pondering what to write in my column this week. It occurred to me that the very thing I was photographing would be of interest — or at least the method I was using to photograph the subject.

For parents of baseball or softball players, an impediment to photographing your kids on the playing field is the ugly backstop fencing between the field and the fans. As a member of the press, I get access in the dugout or on the field. If you’re a parent or fan, you’re left with a wall of metal mesh between you and the subject. Here’s a possible solution:

1) Take your longest lens or zoom your point-and-shoot to its longest telephoto position.

2) Set the aperture on your lens to its largest opening. Look for f-stops around f3.5 or 4.0 or smaller. If you’re using automatic settings, like on a point-and-shoot camera, use aperture-priority and select your largest aperture.

3) Walk up to the fence and place your lens directly on it parallel to the chain links. Center your lens over one of the openings in the chain link, not where the links intersect. Start photographing. (If your P&S lens is small enough, it may actually fit through the link fence, in which case this technique is not required.)

This is the best way to photograph specific players or bases where you can maintain the same framing on the subject, but it is not well-suited for following action on the field. Any movement of the camera, in relation to the fence, can affect the clarity of images.

When I use this technique I’m usually framing tight on a pitcher from behind home plate with my lens pressed right up against the fence. Results depend a lot on your equipment.

What is happening is that the telephoto lens and large aperture combine to create a shallow depth of field. This means objects near or up against the lens, like chain links crossing through the corners of your frame, are less perceptible. In some cases, evidence of the fence disappears.

No, you wouldn’t want to cover a whole game using this technique, but it can improve your chances of getting cleaner photos of your favorite players. At least it’s a better option than bolt cutters.

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