I’m up in Cooperstown, NY this weekend touring the National Baseball Hall of Fame, and of course I’ve come across some West Point connections. Abner Doubleday is the king of Cooperstown — the inventor, so the myth goes, of baseball. He’s also a famous U.S. Army Civil War officer who graduated West Point in 1842 (he was at the Academy when he allegedly invented baseball in 1839, but folks around here like to believe the tale).
I came across a few cool West Point items on display in the Hall’s museum — an ashtray presented by West Point cadets to New York Giants Hall of Famer Mel Ott…
… which brings me back to the cadets. When I shoot sports, I always kneel or sit to get the best, cleanest backgrounds possible. That becomes especially important at West Point when the Corps of Cadets, in their dress whites or greys, can provide a great background to a frame.
I wanted to shoot my man Josh McNary, Army’s all-time sack leader, and get the cadets behind him — literally. I kneeled in the back of the endzone for this shot, getting Josh coming at me with the Corps watching during the 2009 Army-Navy game in Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field.
Many cadets bring flags and banners to hold during the game, so I tried to fit them in as well:
Shooting with a super telephoto lens, like my Canon EF 400mm f/2.8 L, can really blow out a background. The cadets’ greys, and their faces, blend into a nice warm mesh of color for portraits:
The backgrounds really give you a sense of where you’re at, especially if you’ve seen Army in person. So often I see photos from other photographers who are just too lazy to kneel or shoot from a lower perspective — in fact I would say the majority of shooters I see at games are standing.
I’ll kneel no matter what, even if it’s muddy. For sports like soccer or lacrosse, I’ll find a high-traffic spot and just sit down for an even lower angle. Laying down is an option as well, but difficult with big lenses I find. You’re essentially shooting downward when standing, leaving the grass as the background. A low angle can show you exctly who’s there, watching: