Highway to the danger zone

Recently I got an email from a reader who wondered how she could go about getting inside the fence on the field to photograph her nephew as he plays Little League baseball. I told her that as professional photographers we know the dangers of the game and are willing to risk them its a part of our job. We tend to have an agreement with teams and officials, sometimes unsaid, to be able to get out on the field and shoot.

Now, I know shooting through a chainlink fence can be annoying. Its diamond grid pattern can get in the way and it keeps you from getting closer to the action, but it’s there for a reason: safety.

In the past I have shot from inside the fence. When I started more than 30 years ago, the Stockton Ports minor league baseball team used to at Billy Hebert Field at Oak Park in Stockton. The longest lens I had was a 180mm which was way to short to shoot from outside the fence. The team allowed me to be on the field in foul territory to get my shots. I had to be aware and vigilant of the foul balls that might streaking my way. In my career I’ve had some close calls, but luckily, I’ve never been hit by a batted ball.

There are other hazards as well. Broken or thrown bats can fly from the hands of a batter and can cause serious injury. Overthrown balls missed by a first or third baseman can approach speeds at nearly those thrown by a pitcher. Finally, one can collide with a player running to catch a pop foul ball. You have to keep one eye on the action and another watching out for any hazard.

Eventually the Record acquired longer lenses. I now shoot with a 200-400mm zoom lens which allows me to be outside of the fence which is much safer. Still, one mustn’t let one’s guard down. I’ve seen a number of spectators injured by foul balls while sitting in the stands.

The fence can be mostly eliminated by using a telephoto lens and putting it right up to the chainlink. This makes it so out of focus that it renders the fence virtually invisible. Using a wide aperture minimizes the depth of field and enhances the effect.

At the Stockton Ballpark where the Ports now play, I often shoot from the stands through safety netting which surrounds the spectators in the infield area. The netting is like shooting through a fence. Beyond the infield the ballpark is surrounded by a low fence, about 4-feet tall, that you can shoot over. I also shoot from the dugout as well. It gets me closer to the action while affording me a decent amount of protection. Klein family Field where the Pacific Tigers play is set up similarly.

The various fields around the county where the high school teams play are all configured differently. Some have easy access while others its more difficult to get a good shot from a safe place.

Little league is obviously a much slower game than high school, college or the pros. But still, the ball can be hit hard and travel pretty fast. The teams and officials concerns are for the safety for everyone involved.

Also, there is the issue of other parents wanting to get photos of their own child who might wonder why can’t they be on the field too. The last thing the officials want would be several parents lining the field to get a picture. It would be untenable to have several people inside the fence.

If you have a DSLR, break down and get a telephoto lens ands shoot through the fence. It doesn’t have to be a professional model. Little League baseball tends to be played during the day in the bright sunlight, so you don’t need low-light capabilities and a consumer model in the 300-400 range will do. If you have a point-and-shoot or smartphone, those lenses are too short and getting inside the fence wouldn’t get you close enough anyway. That’s the time to sit back and just enjoy the game from the safety of the stands.

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  • Blog Author

    Clifford Oto

    Clifford Oto, an award-winning photographer, has been with The Record since 1984. Through the changes from black and white to digital photography, he’s kept his focus on covering the events, people and life of San Joaquin county. This blog deals ... Read Full
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