Sunday, October 31, 2010

Shooting the Series

With the SF bay area in the middle of an incredible World Series, I thought I'd give you a little behind the scenes look at what it takes for news organizations to produce all of those great photos you see in the papers and online.

I've been fortunate enough in my career at the SF Chronicle to shoot a few, most notably the 1989 "Earthquake Series" between the Oakland A's and the SF Giants. I was at the first base shooting position when the shaking started…but that's a subject for another post.

Most baseball stadiums have permanent shooting positions for photographers. The prime positions are along the 1st base line and 3rd base line. From these positions, with a wide assortment of lenses, you get a great view of the player's dugouts, the infield, the outfield, and the fans in the stands. There are also sometimes positions behind the backstop which gives the readers a great look at the pitcher. Two other common positions are upper deck boxes, allowing for an overhead view of the action and finally, a centerfield position, where a long lens of 600mm or 800mm is necessary to catch the infield action. For the World Series, Major League Baseball tries to accommodate the news organizations and more shooting positions are generally offered.

Not every bay area newspaper gets credentialed for the series however. Depends on their circulation. Bigger newspapers get more credentials. The smaller papers sometimes get 1 or most often, none, having to rely on wire photos for their publications.

During regular season games, the Chronicle and most large bay area newspapers will staff the home games with just 1 shooter. Generally when I was shooting these, I'd choose the 1st base or 3rd base positions with a 400mm 2.8 and a 70-200mm 2.8 as that allowed me to not miss anything. And if I did, each game was staffed by an Associated Press photographer so their photos were available to the Chronicle. For an event as big as the World Series, nearly the entire photo staff of the Chronicle is involved.

Not only did we generally staff the 5 shooting positions I outlined above, we had a shooter roaming the stadium, looking for interesting feature photos. Also involved was a photo editor who was holed up in the press room, where he/she would watch the game on tv, getting play by play stats from game statisticians and editing the thousands of images that are delivered by a runner who gathers the cf cards from all the shooters after every inning. After the images are culled, cropped and captioned, they are transmitted to the Chron's ftp site where yet another picture editor looks through them all and determines which ones make publication. Only the very best ever see print in the newspaper or online. As a shooter you always hope yours make it!

For the away games, the Chronicle cannot afford to send half a dozen shooters, especially during these economic times, so generally two go, along with an editor. The two shooters position themselves at 1st and 3rd base as those are the best overall positions. Again, if they miss anything, the Chron has access to AP, Reuters and Getty photos. You hate it when you miss a shot and have to pick up the paper the next morning to be reminded of what you missed. Makes you try harder the next game!

As a shooter, it's an exciting time. Big sporting events bring out the best sports shooters in the business and it's fun to compete shoulder to shoulder with them all. SI, Sporting News, USA Today, and of course the local shooters. After the game, you look online to see how you did. To see if you got beat with a great image one of your peers found or even better, if you shot something unique that everyone else missed, even SI. And of course, if there was a play of the game, you wanted to have it, peak moment, clean and tack sharp - and have it better than your peers. It's a friendly competition and brings out the best in us all.

It's fun to watch these games from the comfort of my living room couch. No worries - no pressure. Would I rather be shooting the World Series again? You bet!  I miss the fun and excitement.

Go Giants!

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