Best Seat in the House
Photography, sports and life as seen through the lens of Seattle Times photographer Rod Mar.
April 8, 2008 11:15 AM
Posted by Rod Mar
One of the many tasks of my job is producing images for our preview sections.
As baseball season has rolled around again, one of my assignments while in Arizona for Spring Training last month was to make a photograph of Seattle's newly signed pitchers Erik Bedard and Carlos Silva, along with current Mariner Felix Hernandez.
The theme for our section was "The Great Debate", which was supposed to play off of this year's presidential elections.
Personally, while the idea of themes is cute for special sections, I'm not sure of the connection between baseball and presidential elections. Maybe it's something like, "every time a left-handed fastball pitcher wins the Cy Young while pitching for a team in the blue states, a Democratic candidate wins the presidency, but only if the Dow is above a certain number and the Cincinnati Reds win more games on grass than turf".
I've always loved those weird links that people use to predict the presidency.
But I digress.
I was relieved to find out that my portrait of the three pitchers didn't have to be themed with the rest of the section.
I'm not sure how I was going to take a Canadian (Bedard), and two Venezuelans (Hernandez and Silva) and somehow photograph them in a way that would tie in the American election process, but thinking about it now, mudslinging could have been involved.
As is the routine with these types of portraits, I only had a limited time in which to shoot.
I asked the Mariners for 15 minutes, knowing if they granted it I could be done in 10.
Tim Hevly, the PR director for the Mariners, is a great guy and happy to help, as long as he knows you will be true to your word.
My main challenge was finding a "set" near the workout facility and the stadium in which to shoot.
I spent the better part of a day scouting locations. I almost settled on a long hallway painted white with accent stripes in team colors. I could open the doors at the far end of the hall and let daylight stream in. Overexposed for the ambient light, it would have produced a glow. Add some flash from the front and it might have worked out.
Reporters like Larry Stone, our national baseball writer, are great to work with. Not only is he friendly and knowledgeable, he's also willing to help me as a stand-in model when I need him.
We did a few tests in the hallway, and I decided that the players would be too tall for the composition I was seeking.
I walked around some more and headed over to the stadium where I found this little "T-ball" diamond that is used for kids to play Wiffle Ball during games. I envisioned that with the proper height, I could shoot the three pitchers on the tiny field. I asked the guy in charge of the field if I could borrow it for a photo shoot (it was still four hours before game time), and he assented.
Here's what the field looked like:
I borrowed a ladder from the clubhouse guys, brought in some lights and did a quick set up.
Larry sensed my panic and was helpful enough to stand in for more tests. Originally, I tried lighting from beneath (also known as "monster lighting" because of the effect), but remembered that I'd shot Felix with a similar setup in a studio atmosphere only a couple of years ago.
(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 16-35mm/f2.8 lens, ISO 250, 1/250th sec., f13)
I raised the lights and the effect was pleasing, but not very dramatic. Still, the point is to show the players together and the setting and lighting would be fine. I only made a few minor adjustments to improve my balance between the flash and available light and to improve my depth of field.
(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 16-35mm/f2.8 lens, ISO 400, 1/300th sec., f13)
The last adjustment I made was to bring the ISO back down, which brought down depth-of-field as well, but I knew that f9.0 would be enough to keep them all in focus.
Tim brought the players over in a golf cart, and they were fine to work with. Felix was a little crabby until I reminded him that last time I shot him he started muttering "!vamanos! ! vamanos!" as soon as I'd shot the first frame. He laughed, Carlos Silva told him to be a pro and we started shooting, as I didn't want to waste their time.
(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 16-35mm/f2.8 lens, ISO 250, 1/250th sec., f9)
I shot a dozen or so frames in two different compositions, and then we were done.
I'd been working fast so the players could get on their way, but as soon as I finished, they immediately grabbed the toy bat and Wiffle balls lying along the fence.
Each pitched, and each took one swing. And each hit a homer out of the little t-ball field on their first try.
Big laughs all around, and then they were back on the golf cart and on their way.
By then, the guy who ran the little field came back and complained that the players had hit three balls over the fence and hadn't fetched them.
A photographer's job is never done. "Fetch, Photog, Fetch!"
All in all, this shoot went well. It was not for the cover of the section, but was for inside. This makes a difference in how I shoot and how much time I request. For example, I'm not sure the team would make Ichiro available for an inside photo (Ichiro is a cover guy!), but they might. I was very clear with the team about who I wanted, what the story was about, and where it would run. Some people argue that it's none of the team's business, but I think if they're giving me time, the least I can do is be up front about what I'm doing.
Felix Hernandez was fine, after we broke the ice. Erik Bedard has a reputation for not liking media very much, but he was fine to work with and thanked me for fast. Carlos Silva was a true pro, gave me what I needed and seemed to know that publicity is part of his job.
Being prepared and working quickly and efficiently is not only professional, it also ensures you'll usually get the athletes you want when you need them.
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