Dave Black is the man!!!! (or “How I learned a year’s worth of sports photography techniques in two days”)

Sports photography legend Dave Black has been down here at the Kelby Training Online Studios this past week taping a class on using off camera flash for shooting action sports portraits. He was doing some amazing stuff all week (his class is going to be SICK!!!!! If you use off-camera flash, his stuff is going to blow your mind!!!!).

By the way: I know many of you already know Dave is an amazing instructor (ask anybody that saw him at Photoshop World), but when he’s not teaching, and just being a regular guy, he’s just as amazing. I got to spend some time with him this week—Dave even went to church on Sunday with my family, and he spent the day with us just hanging out, talking sports [my poor wife], sharing stories, but mostly laughing. He’s one of the most fun, genuine, and just great guys out there. He’s “the real deal.”

A Night to Remember
Anyway, one night at dinner I asked Dave for any tips he had about an upcoming Major League Baseball shoot I had coming up for Southcreek Global Media. Of course, he had a ton! I’ll tell you the exact same thing I told Matt Kloskowski when I came into the office the next day: “I learned more about sports photography last night, than I had in a year!” (It’s WAY more than I can fit in a blog post, or two, or 10!).

I had a bunch of questions about setting up a remote camera for shooting sports, and Dave convinced me to put together a remote rig  (shown below) and take it with me to my next MLB shoot (which was two days later—The Rays vs the Twins this past Saturday). He told me to mount it near me, just so I could get used to shooting a remote, and then once I was comfortable with it, then start to find cool places to mount it (like in the catwalk above the domed field, which they do allow if you get there the day before, or very early for the game, and you’re not afraid of crazy scary heights or intense heat. I was out on both counts).

The Remote Set-up
Brad put together a Manfrotto Super Clamp with a Manfrotto Variable Friction Magic Arm attached to mount and had a Nikon D700 with a 300mm f/2.8 lens attached. On top of the camera sits a Pocket Wizard attached to the camera with a 10-pin connector. That way, I could fire the camera in (High-Speed Continuous shooting mode) from where ever I was (there are four shooting pits at Tropicana Field, one before and after each dugout). I started with it just a few feet above my head, aimed at 2nd base (I used the auto focus to focus on 2nd base, then I switched to the focus button on the lens to Manual so the camera wouldn’t accidentally change focus while firing).

Above: You can see the position of the camera a little better here. The photo pit is below and to the right of the camera). To position or check the camera, I had to either climb up on the railing to adjust it (can’t do that during game play), or make the long trek up to the top of the that section, back down to the camera, and then back up and down again. Tip: when you re-aim the camera at a new target, make sure the focus is on the money. I switched to catch the batters, but the guy I focused on wasn’t fully in batting position, and I had about 100+ photos of batters, all just a little bit soft. Lesson learned.

Above: Here’s one of the shots I caught with the remote camera. I was shooting my 400mm at the batter, and out of the corner of my eye I saw the play developing at 2nd base, and I hit the fire button on the 2nd Pocket Wizard in my left hand, and caught the shot you see here (and a whole series of this play) with the remote camera.

The part of actually getting used to shooting with the Remote didn’t take long (I totally dig it), but now the challenge is timing and finding cool places to put the remote (where I won’t get in trouble—they have rules where you can put them). I’m covering a few more games for them in the next week or so, so I’ll get more opportunities to work on my remote scheme. But, I want to thank Dave for encouraging me to do it, and to Brad for making everything work together. :)

Above: I saw one of my shots from Saturday’s Rays vs Twins game featured on the home page of Southcreek’s site (seen above). Sweet!!

Catch Dave Today on “The Grid”
Dave’s our in-studio guest on today’s LIVE broadcast of “The Grid” (at 12:00 noon EDT) and our first topic is “Can you make a living shooting sports photography.” It’s gonna be a great show!!! We’re also talking about what we want to see in the next round of DSLRs. Here’s the link (send us live comments during the show via Twitter: just add #thegridlive to any tweets, and we’ll see ’em).

One Last Thing!
While Dave was already here doing classes, we also got him to do a separate class on Light Painting (for those of you who follow his excellent “Workshop at the Ranch” tutorials [link], you know Dave is one of the leading educators when it comes to light painting, and is a true master of this very cool genre. If you don’t know what Light Painting is, follow that link. You’ll be hooked!

  1. Wow, very cool. Great story, Scott, and I love that shot of the action at 2nd. I’m looking forward to seeing Dave’s class at KT. As a Little League dad/coach, maybe I’ll be able to pick up some off-camera flash tips for those evening games. That is, if it stops raining…Matt, if you’re reading this too, you’d be loving the spring we’re having out here…or not having, as the case may be…;)

    1. Hi dzit:
      I believe it was 1,600 ISO at f/2.8. Later in the day, I changed it to f/5.6 just in case. I would lose a little depth of field, but I think what I’d pick up in sharpness would make up for it. Like Dave said: the wire service would rather have sharp focus than a little more depth. That was enough for me. :)


  2. Great stuff. I love working with remote cameras. I shoot squash (the racquet sport) and only select locations have a place where I can hand hold a camera. Having a remote setup and learning the timing really changed the game for me. Because of the locations of the college national championships this winter, I captured many images without having to fight other photographers for locations.

  3. Scott, Awesome post! I really love the shot of the play @ 2nd base. In the future can you post something about the business side of being a photographer at a major league sporting event. Are you representing a publisher or freelancing and what do you have to do to prepare for the game? Thanks a bunch and keep’em coming…

  4. Scott,

    My wife is going to hate you; every time you showcase another cool piece of gear, or a new technique, she KNOWS she will be hearing about it until I get it. For some reason, she keeps hearing about some crazy Elinchrom setup for studio shooting. Not sure where I got THAT idea from…… ;)

    Fantastic blog, as always.

    – Kev

  5. I saw Dave Back in Orlando at PSW. Man, he was just amazing. What a great photographer, motivational speaker, and all around great guy. He had me in tears at the closing ceremonies…along with everyone else.

  6. I missed Dave at PSW (I saw Jay Maisel instead), but his speech at the closing ceremony was very moving. I’ll be sure to not miss any of his classes in the future if I have the chance.

    Baseball shooting is tough, as there is not a lot of action, but a LOT of anticipation (where is the ball going, is there a play on the bases, timing the shot for the swing of the bat, different speed pitches, getting the background right, etc.). Looks like Dave’s tips really helped you nail some great shots. Baseball is my favorite sport (football is a close second), and I’m always looking for interesting photos of the game.

    Will you be posting more pics, Scott?


  7. Great stuff and thanks for sharing about Dave Black, Scott. LOVE the 2nd base shot, great capture.

    I cover the Redbirds, the St. Louis Cardinals Triple A team here in Memphis, youre welcome to come shoot them with my anytime, Scott. I have a standing 2nd shooter photo pass always with me and the stadium is phenominal!

  8. How much planning is required for the remote setup? I’m not mentally ambidextrous enough to think to take a picture while I’m looking for another one. But if you did try it out, I imagine a slowly developing sport like baseball or soccer would be the way to go.

  9. Sounds like good information. When will the class go live? I have really enjoyed my subscription to Kelby Training and even wrote about it on my website to let others know. Great content, but I want more photography classes! I think I’ve seen all of them now….

  10. Back to Dave Black. I was trying to find the advantage of using the bundled speed lights over single strobes. Can someone lead me to a link to find out?

  11. Scott,

    When I shoot remotes, I put the second remote on the camera so it fires everytime I fire automatically. When I see a play happening in the remote’s “area”, I just start pressing the shutter button while I’m moving my camera to shoot the same scene from my location. (does that make sense??)

  12. Super shots, and great tips from Dave. You seem to be a natural at sports photography, Scott. I’m looking forward to the Grid Live today and hearing Dave Black’s take on making a living as a sports shooter. Could you ever see yourself, Scott, doing this for a living?
    Break a leg with today’s show! (seemed appropriate for the subject) :-)

    Trev J.

  13. I was thinking you could also use the remote control setup in a nature setting where you don’t want to “spook” the creatures. Great post. Looking forward to the class.

  14. Great stuff as always. Very good use of remote cameras, i´ve tried it a couple of times but i have not found the really good angles yet.
    And it is like you said, the focus needs to be spot on, otherwise you will get a lot of soft or bad images.
    Great to see, is there any area that you dont find yourself comfortable with?
    You always come out on the other end with really good stuff in the end. :)

  15. I saw Dave speak at Photoshop World Orlando last month, and I agree, he is very cool. I was surprised at how entertaining he was and informative. When he broke down a little in tears during his short speach at the end of PSW, it started to make me cry too, cause I related to what he was saying.

    Keep him around on the team.

    – Chad

  16. Planning on the trip to Vegas for PSW this year, as I have only been to the ones in Orlando! Hope he is there! Tell me more about the remote setup! The cord that plugs into the camera? What? Where? And do you just fire it with another transceiver PW?

    1. Hi Zac:
      It’s a small cable designed to connect to the pocket-wizard’s “Camera/Flash” input on top of the pocket wizard itself. The other end goes into the 10-pin connector on the front of your camera body (where you’d plug-in a cable release). Then, you press the test button on the 2nd pocket wizard, and it fires a burst of shots on the remote camera.

      Hope that helps. :)


  17. Can’t wait for the light painting tutorial with Dave Black. I have been light painting for years and think he really rocks. I have one of the original “hose masters,” so that tells you how long I have been doing it. You probably don’t even know what that is do you Scott? Well maybe you do.

  18. Hi Scott,

    I thought of you when the news came on at midnight here.

    Will you be running a seminar in London timed for the Buccaneers v Bears game in the autumn? We should drag you out to Windsor, Cambridge or Brighton for a historical photowalk’

  19. Scott, the opening image from the game with the batter swinging, is that straight out of camera? It looks like you may have added some contrast and clarity to him to get that look on the jersey. Just curious if I’m seeing what I think I am or if you managed that straight in camera.
    Thanks as always, I love the sports tips.

  20. This is great twist on your usual sports post. You have a great thing going on the blog here teaching what you have learned and then teaching your implementation and further insights from pre to shoot to post, and on a variety of shoots.

  21. Scott, Great shots, I can’t believe that was your first outing with remote shooting, well done. I’ve never shot remote, don’t have the kit yet, but I was wondering, whether you could also hook up a wireless transmitter to transfer the images directly to a laptop (does the WT need a router ?) or maybe over v short distances use an eye-fi card to an ipad ? There’s a number of blogs about eye-fi and ipad , here’s one http://thedigitalstory.com/2010/07/eye-fi_card_ipad_and.html I’ve read one recently where you can do it directly without a router. Just a thought.

    You guys really need to hop on a plane and do some stuff in the UK and Europe, us UK NAPP members are feeling neglected. We don’t have the same level or pros doing workshops over here, people like Dave Black, yourself or Joe McNally would be awesome :-)


  22. Hi Scott,

    I also shoot baseball, and various other sports for Southcreek.
    Remotes in sports photography, are a standard part of the business.
    You can’t physically in more than one spot at a time, but remote cameras give you that advantage of at least appearing to do so!

    Great capture at second base!

    However, one thing I question is the actual placement of the camera, actually sitting on top of the barrier. That area is still technically “In Play” as any player chasing a fly ball can get to it. How about putting the camera clamped lower, essentially upside down, underneath the metal bar, instead of on top. It becomes a safety issue, for both the player, and the camera.

    One video that I watch constantly is this on the Sportsshooter site. Everytime i’m going to work on a remote, this is a good checklist to have. Be it Baseball, Basketball, Soccer, Lacrosse, etc.


    Hope all goes well.

  23. Hey Scott,

    Looks like I’m a little late to the party. Just wanted to say thanks for the great books,online info and this post on camera remote set ups. I purchased the magic arm and remote trigger set up 3 cameras and shot away. Had a little learning curve on getting the right remote for the camera is needed for the shot but after a few games i was shooting like 3 photographers. I set one camera on 2nd base from 3rd and the other with a 600 4.0 from out field for my lefty’s and slides at home. I set off 1st and got second option photos of 2nd and home and all my right hand batters. Thanks for sharing ,

    John Cole http://www.proactionphoto.com/

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