My friend Toni clearly has been frustrated with her digital SLR sports photography experience. She has an older dSLR, the Nikon D70s, and uses a Sigma 70-300mm lens for her action shots. Her image quality has been spotty, and she turned to me for help.
Sidebar: The Nikon D70 was my first dSLR five years ago. I absolutely loved it for a year and a half. Then I absolutely loved the Nikon D200 for two years. Now I absolutely adore my Nikon D300. I may be fickle, but at least I keep it in the same family!
One other thing about poor, innocent Toni: She’d never been to Buc-ee’s, the most-amazing roadside stop in Texas. Sure, it’s a gas station at its core, but it’s so much more! I waxed romantically about Buc-ee’s here. Let’s just say they have the most incredible bathrooms ever! Hand sanitizer dispensers in the huge stalls. Wonderful decor. And the store?!? Any place that sells Beaver Nuggets (aka crack in a bag) is heaven on earth!
It just so happened that our gutsy, neighborhood 11-year-old Little League all-stars that I wrote about here are playing their district games in a small south Texas town with something brand new, something so compelling that it makes the 40-minute drive there worth every second: A new, huge Buc-ee’s has just opened! Toni’s son Michael is on the team, and our friend Sue was itching to drive to see the new store. Oh, and watch some Little League baseball, of course!
So yesterday we made it a road trip and got to indoctrinate Toni into the wonderful ways of Buc-ee’s. Now she understands the temptation of Beaver Nuggets (not only can you not eat just one, you have to be careful not to eat the entire bag at one sitting) and the allure of the great bathrooms. I don’t think this will be Toni’s last trip to Buc-ee’s.
That was Toni’s first new experience. Her second? Getting to shoot baseball with my big lens! We put my beloved Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 lens, complete with a Nikon 1.4x teleconverter to give her more reach, on her D70s and let her snap away. The combination of the lens and teleconverter is heavy, so the whole kit and kaboodle was placed on my monopod. I wanted Toni to see that equipment can make a big difference in image quality. There’s a reason why the 70-200 is about $1,500 more than the Sigma. It’s one of Nikon’s gold lenses, a favorite of sports and portrait photographers.
Meanwhile, that left me with the Nikon 105mm macro lens slapped on my Nikon D300. Too much reach for some shots, not enough for others, it’s not my first lens of choice when I shoot baseball. But it is a great lens, and it forced me to rethink the way I shoot a sport that’s enclosed by fences.
I decided to shoot on both sides of the plate where I had enough access to put my lens hood on the chain-link fence and shoot in one of the gaps without blocking the fans’ view. It made for a tight squeeze, as I tried to time it so I was shooting the bat and the ball. Very challenging!
Normally, I don’t like taking many photos from behind the players. Faces tell the story better than backs. But I do like shooting from different angles, and it makes for a more-satisfying photo experience to try something new.
This was one of my favorite photos of the night. I like how it shows off Cole’s mohawk (a style all the boys are wearing), as well as his grip on the baseball as he prepares to throw it back to the pitcher. Compelling!
Probably the best photo for the team was this one of B, who hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the fifth to clinch a 10-0 victory for our 11s. Love that smile!
So did Toni like using the 70-200mm? Here she is telling her husband John, one of the team’s coaches, about it. Sometimes those new experiences can be relatively cheap, like those addictive Beaver Nuggets. But others like expensive photo equipment that lets you stand out from the crowd and capture great memories? Ka-ching, ka-ching!