UPDATED: Stephen Strasburg+baseball=103mph!

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A few months ago I posted this blog on a assignment I did for ESPN the Magazine on college pitcher Stephen Strasburg. It was a successful and fun shoot but the story got cancelled. A few months later the story was resurrected so I figured I would post an update showing how the story ran and the pictures they used.

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Here is the original blog from 2 months ago:

A few weeks ago while reading Yahoo news I came across a story about a college pitcher named Stephen Strasburg who was being heralded as a future hall of famer even though he was only 20 years old and playing for San Diego State, a nice school that is far from a college baseball powerhouse. To make things even more interesting, the article mentioned he is already represented by super agent Scott Boras. Ok, sounds like an interesting story, I’ll click.

After reading the story and hearing all the hype about the kid being a can’t miss superstar I started looking at the San Diego State baseball schedule to see if perhaps he would be playing here in Phoenix anytime soon. No such luck.

About 10 minutes after finishing the yahoo story on him I came across another story about him on espn.com raving how he was one of the greatest baseball prospects in history. And to finish it off to show you how hyped this kid is here is a story from SI.com.

Ok so enough with all the hype and back to how the shoot came about.

While setting up a remote for a NCAA basketball game in Phoenix I received a call from an ESPN Magazine editor seeing if I was available to go shoot Strasburg for a story the magazine planned on doing. “When is the game you want me to shoot”, I asked?  ”Tomorrow”, said the editor.

Even though I knew I was scheduled to do some editing work I took on the job. Based on everything I had read in the previous few days on Strasburg, I REALLY wanted to shoot him. If he ends up becoming half as famous as everyone seems to think then these images of him in college could have some nice value down the road.

Less than 12 hours after getting all the logistics of the shoot and arranging travel I was on a flight early Friday morning to Fort Worth, Texas where I would be shooting a road game against TCU.

One of the stipulations for me agreeing to the shoot was I had to fly home the same night so that I would be able to get some sleep before shooting another NCAA basketball game early Saturday afternoon.

My flight back to Phoenix was scheduled to leave Texas at 1010pm. With the baseball game scheduled to start at 6:30pm I would only be able to shoot 4-5 innings before hauling ass to the airport to get home.

Once in Texas I grabbed my rental car, a quick lunch and was off to the stadium.

I got there around 4pm and picked up my pass on checked out the stadium to see what the photo access would be like.

The first thing I was told by the media director was that there was no field level photo spots and I could not be on the field at all, not even during batting practice or pre-game. Lovely!

Thankfully it was a small little stadium and I was allowed to shoot from anywhere in the crowd that I could find.

ESPN had been declined when they requested a few minutes to do a portrait as had Sports Illustrated and everyone else who had asked so I was hopeful to come up with some candid portraits of him in the dugout or on the field before the game. My first chance would be when he arrived via bus with his teammates.

I hung out out front of the stadium and waited for the bus to arrive. Once I spotted him heading my way I got all ready to shoot some shots, I quickly found out he was either, A. Camera shy, or B. Hated photographers because as soon as he saw me with a camera he pulled his hat down low over his face and looked nearly straight down as he walked past me. Check out the lovely shot below.

Nikon D3, 80-200mm, 1250iso, f5.6, 1/1250th

Ok he wanted to play hardball with me eh, I was up to the challenge and became hell bent on getting the shots I wanted needed for my client.

After the parking lot failure I waited near the field for my next shot at him as the team came out for batting practice.

There he is, I spotted him as he was walking towards me on his way to the outfield.

And once again he also spotted me.

Nikon D3, 400mm, 640iso, f5.6, 1/640th

Ok this means war dude!

Evidently (like a lot of athletes) he didn’t realize that I am there to do a job and if he would just look up or give me something then I would get what I need and then leave him alone.

He joined a group of players in the outfield corner and began playing a game where they slap the baseball around the circle with their gloves. It looked like a game of hackey sack, but instead of using their feet, they used their gloves.

Nikon D3, 70-200mm, 1250iso, f5.6, 1/1250th

It was pretty funny watching them play their little game and whenever one of them missed and allowed the ball to hit the ground they had to turn their ball cap sideways.

I picked up my body with the 400mm lens on it to try and get some closer photos of him reacting.

Nikon D3, 400mm, 1000iso, f5.6, 1/1000th

Nikon D3, 400mm, 1000iso, f5.6, 1/1000th

Nikon D3, 400mm, 1000iso, f5.6, 1/1000th

Hall of fame player Tony Gwynn manages the San Diego State team so I was sure to get a photo or two of him as well in case they wanted to include something of him in the story.

Nikon D3, 400mm, 1000iso, f5.6, 1/500th

The San Diego State players headed off the field to get dressed and ready for the game.

I got at the edge of the dugout with hopes of getting something of him as he got suited up.

I actually got a photo that clearly showed his face before he saw me and turned away.

Nikon D3, 70-200mm, 2000iso, f4.5, 1/800th

That photo had me happy but of course I wanted more.

He put on his jacket as he prepared to head to the bull pen to warm up.

Nikon D3, 70-200mm, 2000iso, f4, 1/800th

After that shot I quickly changed positions to try and get a good off camera flash lit shot of him walking to the bull pen. There was part of the fence that was open for groundskeepers to enter the field that allowed me to get ground level and hopefully prevent him from looking down and covering his face.

As he walked out of the dugout he saw me and quickly put his head down.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 200iso, f10, 1/250th with SB800 flash

I got as low as I could but this was as good as it got as he passed by.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 200iso, f10, 1/250th with SB800 flash

Once out in the bullpen he began stretching in preparation of throwing.

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Nikon D3, 70-200mm, 250iso, f2.8, 1/1000th

The backgrounds in the bullpen from my shootign location were pretty cluttery when I was standing up shooting so in order to clear them up a bit I resorted to laying down on the ground with the camera pushed up against the chain link fence in order to get a slightly better angle.

When he started off throwing slow his face looked close to normal.

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Nikon D3, 400mm, 640iso, f2.8, 1/1000th

His face became not so normal when he would throw his 100mph fast ball. He started to look like some type of creepy leprechaun!

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Nikon D3, 400mm, 640iso, f2.8, 1/1000th

After shooting a few pitches from that angle I looked around for something different to do. The name of this game was get as many different angles of him as I could for my client. I noticed a hill alongside the bullpen so I climbed up that and noticed a cool wide angle shot to take with a group of fans who were against the fence watching and taking photos with their camera phones.

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Nikon D3, 70-200mm, 800iso, f2.8, 1/1000th

After a few shots from that angle I decided to go down to the fence and shoot through it with a wide angle lens.

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Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 250iso, f2.8, 1/640th

I moved spots a bit and pushed the lens right up against the fence in an attempt to make it disappear altogether.

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Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 250iso, f2.8, 1/2000th

That may look like horrible photoshopping (burn tool/dodge tool) but I assure you that the dark edges are due to the fence in the foreground. Come on, I’m not that sloppy with my toning!

Zoomed in even closer as Strasburg left the bullpen to head back to the dugout.

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Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 250iso, f7.1, 1/250th

I walked back behind home plate and found an empty seat in the front row directly behind home plate. It would be a perfect spot to shoot him pitching from. I made sure to remember to shoot vertical images as well as horizontal because you never know if the client is going to use a vertical for a full pager or a horizontal for a double truck (two pager).

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Nikon D3, 400mm, 1000iso, f2.8, 1/1250th

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Nikon D3, 400mm, 1000iso, f2.8, 1/1250th

After fooling around with shots including the blurred batter in the foreground I made sure to shoot the standard (aka boring) shot of him pitching with nothing in the shot other than him.

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Nikon D3, 400mm, 800iso, f2.8, 1/1250th

For the next inning I wanted to use the radar gun that was mounted to the wall right next to me for a shot. The goal was to have the gun showing 100mph or higher. There was only one problem…..

Did I mention that there was a 30mph wind that was blowing into the pitcher. Check out the flags in the below photo.

Nikon D3, 70-200mm, 2000iso, f4, 1/8000th

With that wind it was going to make my goal of a 100mph radar reading a bit harder. Sure enough the fastest I got during my one inning trying the shot was 99mph…..pansy.

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Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 500iso, f8, 1/250th with SB 800 Flash

Looking at how the photo came out I don’t even know why I wasted an inning trying for the shot. Its garbage. Even if it said 105mph it would still be worthless.

Lets move along!

For the next inning I shot from the third base side to get some side shots of him pitching.

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Nikon D3, 400mm, 1250iso, f2.8, 1/1000th

The sun was getting lower in the sky and the clouds were starting to look cooler so I put Strasburg in the bottom of the frame and attempted to get some of the nice sky in the shot.

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Nikon D3, 400mm, 800iso, f2.8, 1/1000th

The background was too cluttery, the sky was too blown out and the shot was complete crap. FAIL.

It was time to find a new angle.

While TCU was pitching I went up high in the grandstands to scout some spots. I found a nice overall view but I hate it because of the giant net that covers the whole crowd.

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Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 500iso, f2.8, 1/1000th

I decided to stay in that spot to get Strasburg pitching. But instead of doing the wide angle shot that would be ruined by the net I shot with the 400mm and was able to eliminate the net from the shot altogether.

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Nikon D3, 400mm, 1600iso, f2.8, 1/800th

I got what I needed from that spot so I moved down field level on the first base side.

From this angle I would have his back and the shot would be worthless so I just took a quick wide angle shot since from this spot I wouldn’t have the net in front of me.

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Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 500iso, f2.8, 1/800th

Look at the temperature in the lower left corner of the scoreboard.

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Nikon D3, 70-200mm, 4000iso, f2.8, 1/800th

Now factor in the 30mph winds and that takes the windchill factor to 32 degrees. God I wish I had packed a jacket right around that time!

I looked into the dugout to my left and spotted Strasburg sitting all alone in the corner. Click.

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Nikon D3, 70-200mm, 4000iso, f2.8, 1/400th

Time was running out before I had to get my ass on the road to the airport so I began making my way back to the third base side (where my rental car was parked).

I decided to try another wide angle shot from the elevated position. But this time I screwed a star filter onto my lens to add the cheesy star effects to the stadium lights as Strasburg threw a pitch.

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Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 1250iso, f2.8, 1/640th with Star Filter

I went down on field level at the third base side and did another star filter shot but this time I zoomed in more and shot vertical.

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Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 1600iso, f2.8, 1/640th with Star Filter

I was pretty happy with the shoot and was needing to go but I decided to try one more shot to fill out my variety for the shoot.

I tried to shoot a triple exposure shot.

With the Nikon cameras you can put the camera in a mode where three shots will be taken but instead of it being three individual photos it puts them all together on one frame. It is a tricky shot to do and I can never seem to do them right.

Attempt one.

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Nikon D3, 400mm, 2500iso, f2.8, 1/800th triple exposure

That shot was horrible because I followed him with the camera as his body moved which resulted in a giant glob of worthlessness.

For attempt two I would leave the camera in a stationary spot and allow him to move through the frame.

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Nikon D3, 400mm, 2500iso, f2.8, 1/800th triple exposure

That came out better but there still wasn’t enough separation between the first two shots of him. Try again.

Attempt three

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Nikon D3, 400mm, 2500iso, f2.8, 1/800th triple exposure

Bleh, same type problem. I was really cutting it close with not having enough time to get back to the airport to catch my flight so I gave it one last shot.

Attempt four.

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Nikon D3, 400mm, 3200iso, f2.8, 1/800th triple exposure

I was pretty happy with that shot. I had good separation and good body positions in the three images. I wish the background had been cleaner but there was nothing I could do (unless I brought a giant black sheet to put in the background, hmmmm)

Normally the blog would end here but then you would miss out on all the travel fun!

So I pack up, haul ass to the airport, drop rental car off and make it to the airport an hour before my flight. Woo hoo.

Houston, uhh Fort Worth, we have a problem!

Due to the high winds and weather in the area my damn flight had been cancelled!

Spent about 45 minutes dealing with customer service to get my flight changed to the earliest possible time the next morning so I could make it to my shoot (NCAA Elite Eight) in time for tip off.

I would end up on a flight with a 7am departure. So that would mean a 530am wakeup call at the hotel I was gonna stay at. Ok so 530am wakeup call isn’t that terrible right?  When you factor in that I was used to Arizona time then that makes it a 330am wakeup call. OUCH!

All went well and I made my flight home in time for my shoot.

Got the images edited and sent to my editor who was really happy with the images.

Then he hit me in the face with some bad news.

The story had been cancelled!   UGH

Such is the life of a professional photographer!

Clips:

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13 Responses to “UPDATED: Stephen Strasburg+baseball=103mph!”

  1. Kyle Pochek says:

    Mark,

    The fourth attempt to do the multiple images was waorth it. That was by far my favorite shot from this story. Great work as always.

    -Kyle

  2. ekc says:

    just wanted to say that i love your blog and the time you put into each of these.. keep up the good work!

  3. Real Baseball Intelligence (RBI), a leading resource in the evaluation of amateur baseball talent and draft coverage, has ranked Stephen Strasburg the #1 prospect for the 2009 MLB Draft. View his free scouting report (with video) at withthefirstpick.net/stephen-strasburg

  4. Daniel says:

    Sorry the story was canceled. That really sucks.

    I’ve been really enjoying reading your baseball posts. You have been giving me a lot of ideas of how to shoot baseball (I am new at it). Thanks, and I’ll look forward to your posts in the future as the season gets going.

  5. Nolan says:

    Hey Mark, do you anything special when you are shooting pitchers head on, with respect to the autofocus. It seems like the depth of field can be so shallow that the pitcher’s waist can be in focus but not the head (or vice versa). What’s the secret? I love your blog by the way. I saw you at an Angels spring training versus the Dodgers and I was totally stoked.

  6. Tim O says:

    Mark — another great post. I like your style dude — It’s really cool how your commentary carries through the shoot.. This is one of the most unique looks I’ve ever found online — Keep it up it’s great.

  7. Damian says:

    He will be injured in 2 years and never amount to anything but a drunk deadbeat dad.

  8. Atlsat says:

    Great set, what was ESPN Mag thinking? Strasburg story ran in Friday’s USAToday. Your photos are better! Awesome blog, thanks for sharing your photos and technique.

  9. Nice work – as always! Had to laugh a little when reading the comment for the radar shot :-) Bummer that the story was canceled. I agree that the triple exposure effort was worth it. Still – might get an even better result by stitching together separate images in post..?

  10. canaan garcia says:

    nice story i read the whole thing. I really like the way you put all the effort into your story and wanting to do your job right.

  11. [...] Here is a great article on one photographers Stephen Strasburg experience. [...]

  12. Bill says:

    Mark – Looks like your trip paid off after all. I just opened SI and saw your shot of Strasburg highlighed in the article.

    You’re becoming a regular in SI.

    Congrats!

  13. I say this time and again. But you do an excellent job of letting us go along with you on the assignment. Thanks.

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