Slow Shutter Shot of Softball Pitcher

I think this might be my first tip or tutorial for 2012….and it is August.  Anyway, I shot the Arvada West girls softball team against Boulder yesterday and near the end of the game I played around with some slow shutter speed shots of the Arvada West pitcher.  Here is a little tutorial and a couple images.

When shooting a sport like baseball, the standard thinking for photographers is fast shutter speed, the faster the shutter speed (or at least 1/500th of a second) will freeze the action.  But what if I want to blur the action?  Sounds kind of opposite of what you would want, but that was exactly what I was going for with these shots.

For most of the game I was at either 400 or 800 ISO and anywhere from 1/800th of a second to 1/2000th of a second shutter speed with the lens wide open at 2.8.  In the last half inning of play I moved to behind the backstop to shoot through the fence facing the pitcher for some head on shots.  Once I grabbed what I wanted I switched over to some slow shutter speeds to capture her in motion, to make the image, while a still photo, look like she is moving.  To do this you need to slow down your shutter speed.  To capture the image and correctly expose it, I had to switch my ISO down to 100 speed.  This allowed me to drop the shutter speed down some, but not enough for what I wanted.  So, changed the aperture from 2.8 up to F8.  This allowed me to take my shutter speed down to 1/13th of a second.  Now, two things to know when shooting at this speed.  One, use some sort of support, like a monopod to help stabilize the camera.  It is all but impossible to hand hold a camera with a long lens and expect images to be sharp.  And yes, while shooting at the moving subject with a slow shutter speed, very little will be sharp, but as you will see below, I did get something sharp.  The second thing to remember is to shoot in bursts.  Especially with a pitcher in Softball or Baseball, you will have a lot going on, from wind up to the stretch to the delivery.  I will usually take 5 to 10 photos of one pitch.  Out of those 5-10 photos, I am hoping for one good one, and a lot of times they end up being junk.

Here is the photo I took with the above settings, which I would call a missed shot.

Slow Shutter Speed Shot of Arvada West Softball Pitcher
ISO 100 Shutter 1/13th Aperture F8.0

As you can see, my position to shoot this was pretty good, but the shutter speed was too slow.  Many pitchers hold their heads pretty still in parts of the delivery, but this pitcher was not still enough at 1/13th at this point in her delivery.  Also, it was too slow causing too much of a blur from the ball going from in front of her to the top of the frame.  It just did not look good.  But when I do slow shutter speed shooting, I try a few different shutter speeds and hope one works out the best.  In this case, I changed my shutter speed to 1/20th of a second and dropped my aperture down to F6.3.  What I came up with was a winner.

Slow Shutter Speed shot of Arvada West Softball Pitcher
ISO 100 Shutter 1/20 Aperture 6.3

Now, you can see the pitchers face is relatively sharp for all the movement she is doing, her plant foot toes are kind of sharp, and there is movement from her kick leg and pitching arm.  Now, am I happy with the shot?  Yes. Could I have done it better?  Quite possibly.  Going to 1/30th of a second, I might have been able to get her face real sharp and the arm and ball might have been clearer to view, but overall, I am really happy with the shot.

Both shots were taken with a Canon 7D and a Sigma 120-300 F2.8 lens.

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