AFRL Awards 2019 Albuquerque New Mexico Event Photography

AFRL Awards 2019 Albuquerque New Mexico Event Photography

AFRL Awards 2019 then baseball!

I was very glad to photograph the AFRL Awards 2019 in Albuquerque, New Mexico! I was especially glad because I was the photographer for the 2018 awards, so whenever a client asks you to return and photograph an annual event, it is a source of pride for me. It was quite a different experience this year because of the venue changes for both the awards and the reception. The awards took place in the tech area of the UNM campus and the reception was in Isotopes Stadium! I covered a lot of ground with both my Nikons walking the couple of blocks between the venues and then all over and up and down the baseball stadium! Thank you for choosing me again this year as your event photographer!

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Action & Sports Photography Settings Tips from Aperture to Manual to Shutter Priority Exposure Modes

Florida high school baseball action shot using aperture priority - Nikon D300 Nikkor 80-200mm @ f/4 ISO 320 1/3200I am a self-taught photographer with a careful ear for picking up photography knowledge from a variety of sources.  If you browse my work you can see that you can teach yourself to make photographs that people will eventually pay you for.  However, I spend a long time grinding away teaching myself, starting with making thousands of images in Japan over a 6-month period when I first got a DSLR, then for several years back here in Florida.  I would not recommend this method!  That is why I have been offering 1-on-1 photography lessons to teach people in 2-hours what it took me 2+ years to formulate and define.  Taking a lesson or class from a competent photography teacher is a great way to jump start your shooting skills.

So the weekly photography tips I post on this site are part of sharing the practical photography knowledge I gained grinding through those years out in the field, and the knowledge I continue to increase by now shooting paying jobs as a full-time pro photographer.  

In this post you can see action and sports shots that span this window of knowledge.

The baseball photo above was made I believe on my very first sports assignment, so you can say it is the epitome of beginner's luck!  Looking at the settings I used for the shot I would definitely yell at myself for that now.  I was shooting action in aperture priority, probably never the best choice, had my ISO at 320 during daylight, and the shutter speed was way faster than it needed to be.  

Horse jumping in Venice Florida - Aperture Priority - Nikon D300 Nikkor 80-200mm @ f/5.6 ISO 400 1/1600Early on in my time in Florida I also photographed horse jumping a good bit.  You can see by my settings I was making progress, even though still using aperture priority mode.  My ISO was still above the minimum even during daylight, but if I recall at that time I thought I needed that very fast shutter speed of 1/1600th to freeze the action, and to get a good exposure I had to increase the ISO.  Clouds would come and go and settings often needed to be tweaked, but choosing aperture priority and letting the camera adjust the shutter speed on the fly was definitely not the way to go.  I should have been using shutter priority mode.

Triathlon cycling in St. Petersburg Florida - Manual Exposure - Nikon D300 Nikkor 80-200mm @ f/4 ISO 640 1/1250Now we are jumping ahead two years to when I photographed the St. Anthony's Triathlon in St. Petersburg Florida.  I was now comfortable and competent shooting action & sports in any exposure mode.  Why did I choose manual mode then?  At this time the cyclists were coming by in consistent light (no sun going behind clouds).  I was photographing them as they passed by the exact same spot on the road too, therefore there was only one set of settings that produced the best exposure.  So I locked those in with manual exposure mode.  Why did I use the settings I did?  Well the cyclists were going really, really fast so 1/500th was not freezing them, so I used 1/1250.  I used f/4 because that fast shutter speed required I let a lot of light in, but I wanted to retain some depth of field and better sharpeness, so I did not use the maximum aperture of f/2.8 of my lens.  So having aperture and shutter speed restricted by the nature of the subject matter, to get the exposure I wanted I then had to increase my ISO to 640.  This was not the middle of the day, but rather just shortly after sunrise.  As the sun went up, I could gradually decrease the ISO I was using.

Pelican in flight - shutter priority - Nikon D300 Nikkor 80-200mm @ f/5.6 ISO 200 1/1250In this pelican shot you can see my full progress in shooting action shots.  I was using shutter priority mode, had my ISO at its lowest setting, and set the shutter speed to be plenty fast enough to freeze even the bird's wing tips.  The camera was choosing the aperture for me on the fly, and getting consistent f/5.6 results allowed for very good sharpness and depth of field.

So now I would recommend using only manual or shutter priority mode for sports and actions shots.  If no lighting conditions are changing, then lock things in with manual.  If lighting is changing due to shifting cloud cover, or the subject moving across different foreground and/or background light, then use shutter priority mode.  

Of course the minimum shutter speed to use for any action shots, or any moving subjects, is 1/500th and you must also use AF-C (Ai Servo) focus mode.  Both of those are musts.  As you can see from my above examples, though, other settings and parameters remain variables, and there may be multiple ways to get the same shot, but some settings combos are much better to use than others!

High School All-Star Baseball at Al Lang Stadium

Seeing so many baseballs in one place fascinated me for some reason.It had been awhile since I photographed baseball, so I was excited to have the opportunity to photograph a high school all-star game in Al Lang Stadium (downtown St. Petersburg).  I had never been in that ballpark before so I did not have an idea of its size, which is of course larger than the usual public fields I have photographed other high school baseball games at.

Have to wonder what decade the name STREAKS was chosen in?This larger park meant I had to use ever mm of my Nikkor AF ED 80-200mm f/2.8D lens in order to get as close to the action as possible, despite being able to plant my monopod at the end of either of the dugouts.  More of a challenge to deal with was the fact that the park was totally exposed to the blazing afternoon Florida sun.  I was not able to get my back to the sun from any angle, so I had to really concentrate on getting focus locks in such challenging conditions.  

Not a scene of exhaustion, just one of stretching!After the sun, a huge shadow fell across the infield for the last few innings!  Manual settings were mandatory to try and get a decent exposure in the lower light and still freeze the action.  

The goal of baseball photography - get the ball in the frame while the batter swingsAnd I do not have that many actions shots to show for my 3 hours of shooting.  At first I did not know it was an all-star game, but I sensed the energy and interactions between the players seemed much less than other tournaments I had photographed.  These high school players came from all around Florida and did not know each other for the most part.  So the camaraderie was just not there.  Even though there were a lot of runs scored, the black team raced out to a 10-1 lead, they were all standing runs, no big home plate confrontations at all.  

They were not the only ones waiting for some action that afternoon.I have to admit my mind did start to wonder in the latter innings as the action really slowed down and I had already gotten all the essential batting, fielding and group shots . . . and then they decided to add a tenth inning!  

Fighting for 3rd base - Nikon D300 Nikkor 80-200mm f/2.8D @ f/4 ISO 500 1/640th EV +1.33 manual exposureFinally, in one of the final innings there was a decent play made for third base right in front of me.  As you can see the shadow had fallen across the infield, causing me to use some very unusual settings, least of which was cranking the exposure compensation up to +1.33.  

My first Tampa Bay Rays game at Tropicana Field

Tropicana Field home of the Tampa Bay Rays in its minimal glory.I joined the Saint Petersburg Chamber of Commerce in June of this year.  At the Chamber's new member orientation networking event they have a raffle where everyone puts their business card in for a prize drawing.  The top prize was a pair of tickets to the Rays game that evening.  They were playing the Toronto Blue Jays.  I knew I had won before the woman even read the name because of my business card's distinct color.  I was half stoked and half thinking, do I have time to suddenly go to a baseball game?

 A Tampa Bay Ray at bat against the Toronto Blue Jays in Tropicana Field.

I had heard that Tropicana Field was not a great baseball venue at all.  My first impression walking from the parking lot to the entrance gate was very positive.  Once inside I felt, "this isn't so bad.  The atmosphere is pretty good, lots of booths and different stuff going on.  Decent buzz."  

Lenses inside Tropicana Field have to be less than 12 inches long, not a problem from my 3rd row behind the dugout seat.

The Chamber has great seats, just three rows behind the visitor's dugout (along the third base line).  We were the first ones in our row and in the area, so had clean site lines and I was able to get unobstructed shots.  However, people filed in well after the first inning and it made getting any good shots nearly impossible.  

Scott Kamir was soon traded from the Rays to the Angels after this start.

I started to notice that Tropicana Field was actually not that nice of a baseball stadium at all.  There were lots of dark areas at the top of the dome, very poorly lit.  The neon and regular billboards overwhelmed the outfield view.  It soon felt very dreary inside the dome, despite the cheers of the Rays faithful.

People scramble to catch a home run ball in Tropicana Field.Still, as home runs started to be hit I felt excited.  I must confess also this was the very first major league game I attended.  I can make the claim to fame, however, of seeing Michael Jordan plan a spring training game years ago.

My first Little League shooting experience


This past weekend was my first paid sports photography gig.  I was hired to photograph two baseball games on Saturday and two more on Sunday for RBI Tournament Baseball.  The games I photographed were part of a championship tournament for 14-year old boys.  Some teams came from as far away as North Ft. Myers, a good two hour drive.  One team I covered in three different games, the Yard Dawgs, are ranked in the top 20 teams in the nation for their age group. 

Let me tell you, outdoor sports photography in Florida is hard.  Even in April, the sun is very strong and can beat you down.  I am still not used to the strength of the Florida sun at all having been in temperate northeast Asia the past 9 years.  The baseball games were only 7 innings, but still lasted over 2 hours each.  The first day I forgot my monopod at home, so I had my D300 with Nikkor AF ED 80-200mm f/2.8D lens hanging off my neck the whole afternoon and evening.  I brought my monopod the second day, but used it only for half of the first game.  I just did not like how it restricted my mobility. 

What did I learn from being on the field with these young baseball players? 

  • The umpire is called "Blue" in reference to the blue uniform they wear
  • The players call each other kid, and some coaches even say kid too.  The word is pronounced like this, "kiiiyiiid!"
  • You hear this constantly from the dugout batting, "Find your pitch and drive it, kiiiyiiid!"
  • When the count is 3-0 or 3-1 the coach actually says to the pitcher, "Throw him a pitch he can hit!'

Some teams are a lot more fun than others.  The Tampa Heat were the best to hangout around.  They have a pitcher, #9, who had me cracking up all the time.  Some teams are intimidated by their coaches, even I was!  I had to approach them to setup the team photo, but felt like a kid having to go ask his dad for permission to do something.  There were a lot of big comebacks in the 7th inning. 

I averaged about 450 shots per game.  This is the equipment I used:

  • Nikon D300 on continuous high
  • Nikkor AF ED 80-200mm IF f/2.8D lens, set to f/4
  • ISO 200 mostly because the Florida sun is bright
  • Velbon RUP-L43 monopod sparingly