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Giants Day Game + Bad-ass Lens + Awesome Seat = Sweep?!?!?

Obviously, I can’t have new material for you every night, although I will do my best to try. Well, don’t fret, my friends. The answer to nights like tonight is simply for me to go through some of my recent work prior to staring up this blog and share from the “archives.” Tonight’s featured archive comes to us from last Thursday’s San Francisco Giants day game against the newly renamed Miami Marlins. These are the same Marlins that came into San Francisco on a serious losing streak, yet we managed to make them look good. Although all three games were very sad, I can say that there was a huge positive that came out of the Thursday day game. AWESOME PHOTOS!!!

I was able to use a half day vacation at work to leave early enough to make it to the ballpark well before first pitch to stuff a hot link down my throat and focus on the action with the camera during the game. Not only was I lucky enough to pull this vacation request off at the last-minute, but I was also excited that I had rented one of my favorite lenses to date from my new favorite camera equipment rental house the evening before and intended to keep it through the end of the game. I’ll save my review of the rental equipment options for a later post, so stay tuned, my friends!!!

What is this favorite lens, you ask? The Canon 300mm f/4.0 L prime lens. Yeah, that’s what’s up!! This prime lens is one of Canon’s gems that not many people know about. This lens is tack sharp, relatively lightweight for hand-holdability all day long and with a crazy fast auto focus motor for instantaneous focus on the action. The latest model also has image stabilization on it with a built-in hood, but I was using a prior model that didn’t have the image stabilization. Did I care? Nah, it’s a waste for sports photography if you are trying to freeze action.

For some sports, shooting at shutter speeds of 1/500th of a second will usually be enough to freeze the action and get those awesome images that appear frozen in time. With baseball, ball coming at the batter at 90+ mph and swings of the bat to try to catch up with that happen much quicker. For a daytime game like this, I would usually shoot somewhere around 1/2000th to 1/4000th of a second. That is quick enough to freeze a hummingbird in its tracks!! Unfortunately, the day was a little overcast with light showers that hit right before first pitch and loomed almost the entire game. In this instance, I was shooting around 1/1250th of a second, but you’ll probably notice that in some of the photos there is a bit of motion blur from the movement. This isn’t bad at all. It all depends what kind of effect you are going for. If you intent is to stop motion completely, then the images suck with motion in them. If you intend for the motion to be there (or just want to pretend it was intentional to make yourself look better) then it can go to enhance the image with the implied motion. After all, baseball is all about motion, and quick motion at that.

Why 1/1250th of a second? Well, this was as fast as I could get the shutter speed while still retaining the camera in no higher ISO than 400 ISO to keep the images as free of noise as possible and the limitation of the “speed” of the lens I had on, which is the Canon 300mm f/4.0 L. This combination of setting produced good images (to my taste, at least), so I stuck with it. I did have a 2X extender with me to add a little additional focal range, and used it in some of the pictures shown below. What is a 2X extender, you ask? What a delicious looking question!! Please read on…

An extender is just what the name implies. It is an additional piece of glass placed between the camera body and the lens that essentially magnifies the focal length of the lens placed in front of it by a set amount. There are extenders that can be placed in FRONT of the lens attached to the camera, but those are crap. Since, I don’t like talking about crap, I’ll spare everyone the details. So, there are a few extender options made nowadays and by quite a few manufacturers. Typically, the lens manufacturer that makes the lens and the extender has taken the trouble to ensure optimal quality when using their equipment in unison. When mixing and matching brands, you can get very different results than what may have been intended. Extenders do what they say they do, but at a price. Depending on what kind of magnification you are working with, is the price you must pay. If you are using a 1.4X extender, you give up 1 f/stop with your lens combo. With a 2X extender, you give up 2 f/stops. If you used a 3X extender, you would essentially give up 3 f/stops. You would be crazy to use a 3X extender though. Just pay more money for a better seat, jackass!!

In the camera world, there are accepted f/stops that are the norm for rating apertures (speed) on a lens. If you are working with a f/2.8 max aperture lens and lose 1 f/stop, you essentially have a f/4.0 lens mounted on your camera. If you were working with that same f/2.8 lens with a 2X extender, you would lose 2 f/stops, so you would have effectively a f/5.6 lens. That sucks big time!! Even though you may have a bitchin’ lens in front of the extender, at 2X you essentially make that lens crap. And trust me, your images will show it. So, why did you use the 2X extender on the Canon 300mm f/4.0 that effectively made it a f/8.0 lens you ask? CAUSE I’M A JACKASS!!! A jackass that is constantly trying to push the image quality envelope in an effort to be able to inform others out there thinking about the same crazy crap I am so that they don’t make the same mistakes that I do. Learn, people!!!

What was my saving grace then? Well, for starters, it was a day game. Overcast conditions or not, natural diffused sunlight tops stadium lighting with night games any time. And if you remember what I mentioned in one of my earlier posts, diffused light proves to be awesome for not having to deal with hard shadows. Secondly, I was sitting in a totally awesome seat that I probably would not have been able to afford if I hadn’t gone alone and only needed one ticket. The added plus that I wasn’t expecting was to have the owner of the seat I was in sitting next to me. Not only was he a top-notch Giants fan, but he turned out to be a great seatmate and one that I would be grateful to sit next to anytime. Cliff, it was a pleasure meeting you and thank you again for the opportunity to sit in your seat. We’ll keep in touch, I’m sure.

Finally, I had the luxury of having a super sharp lens in the 300mm to start, so that as I slapped the extender on and off throughout the game, I knew that even if I had crap images in the ones that I used the extender with, I would still have very usable images that I could crop down with the fixed 300mm. And just as I thought, I was right. I did include a few of the images I took using the extender, but I must say that I had to do a LOT more post-processing in sharpening and contrast work to get them usable. Would I print any of them? Probably not! The images cropped from the straight 300mm lens proved to require very little post processing, which is awesome. A little cropping and we’re in business folks!!!

Although I could never achieve images from the seats that the pros get in the media pits, these seats that surround the infield in the first five rows will net you the best angles in the joint. If you wanted a slightly overhead view of the players, then club level seats in the same infield sections would be the ticket for you. I was seated in section 125 row 2 for these images listed below. Obviously, I’m talking about seats that either have been reserved for charter members that were season ticket holders from the Candlestick days and are only put up for sale on Stubhub for a profit. So, these are expensive tickets if you are used to sitting in the third deck reserve sections. But, this was a great “treat” that netted a few great images.

Speaking of images, I came home with over 1,400 images. Yuuuup!! Do the pros take that many pictures? Hell no!!! They usually show up with a mission in mind of who or what they are photographing that day. They probably go home with a few hundred shots, but I have enough capacity on my main memory card to hold about 1,400 RAW images, so guess what I’m gonna do?? Get my money’s worth and load up the memory card!!! When I originally went through them ALL to select the ones I wanted to share here, I probably had about 4 dozen images that I really liked. But, keep in mind that most of them were repetitive shooting of the same motions. For example, when Vogie was pitching, I got approximately 10 shots while shooting 8.5 frames per second of him pitching from the set position to the follow through on the kicking leg. Of those, I repeatedly got three images in his pitching sequence that looked real good. The other seven really didn’t have an “umph” to make them worth while. Every pitcher is different, and I happened to luck out with Vogie this time around. Batters are no different. If you consider that we go through the lineup three to four times in a game (depending on whether we are sucking or not), I usually come home with a least three at-bats for each position player. Of those at-bats, we might have a one pitch pop-up that totally sucks or a twelve pitch at bat that ends up in a strikeout with everything in between. The best part about photographing the batter is that it doesn’t take very much to make them all look like the just hit home runs!! If only that were true for the Giants…

Also, I don’t only shoot just the action happening during the game. I always have my eyes peeled for commotion in the dugout, interaction between players on the field, what Lou Seal (the mascot) is doing and even how the crowd in the stands is doing. I’ve taken some great shots at the ballpark that had nothing to do with the players. Some of my favorites are of Lou Seal and a few of the vendors that make the experience of going to a ballgame at AT&T an awesome one.

So, here I leave you with a collection of some of my favorite shots from this awfully played game I attended last Thursday, May 3rd, 2012, against the Miami Marlins. I even included two pics of the Marlins players to appease any potential Marlin fans that may read my blog. Thanks for reading my blog and I look forward to many posts to come…


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