In 2009 I got the opportunity to work on a photographic project I had on my mind for quite a long time. The idea is to capture in photos this very specific moment in baseball that is the hitting of the ball – hence the name of the work “The Hitting Project”. I want to show what comes in a player’s mind when he is about to hit the ball, when the contact is made. I’m focus on three timings: the waiting for the ball when the player eyes the ball, the movement until the impact, and just after it.
Hitting a ball pitched faster than 80 miles/h, hard as rock, with a wooden bat – cylindrical tool, is a very complex exercise. It’s not the gesture or the technical aspects of the movement (often …perfectible) that are underlined but the player’s expression, the look in his eyes, his face. We can see the player’s concentration in his eyes, the features of his face. And then when he hits, the face gets contracted, the look changes, the all body is preparing to the contact, the impact from the ball on the bat. The shock can truly be compared to a boxer punching or being punched.
In order to achieve this kind of project, you have to solve a few problems first. Taking pictures during the game is impossible. I need to be directly in line with the hitting, almost facing the player, so basically in the field. The batting practice is more appropriate. During the warm up, the player stands in the batting cage with a coach – behind a protective screen – pitching balls he is batting. We can then take several pictures of each player. Although, you have to be careful not to be hit by a ball on your camera or on your body. The thing is the protective screen is not made to protect a photographer sitting on the ground. For this first part of the work, I stood next to the pitcher, half protected. I’ve been lucky since I’ve only been hit once in the collarbone, no damages. For the second part, I stood a bit further, between the mound and the first base protected by a player and his glove.
During a training with the France Baseball junior team that took place in Cuba, I had the chance to start this project. I have to thank the managers of the team, Boris Rothermundt, Sylvain Virey, and Gerardo Leroux for their understanding and their help in preparing the shootings. A collaboration that goes way back enables me to have this kind of privileges. Thanks to their indulgence I stood in the batting practice for the session and they even let me continue after I’ve been hit by the ball.
The second part of the project happened during the European Championship for the players under 18 years old, in Bonn, Germany. Once again, Boris Rothermundt and Gerardo Leroux gave me the opportunity to enter in the batting practice to continue my project. Having the chance to be close with the staff is a given to be able to organize this kind of shooting.
My goal was to isolate the player focusing on the eye and the face so I used a light placed on the floor and heading to his face, set up on full power to over power the ambient light and make the background looks as dark as possible.
The set up have been made for black and white shots with a Canon 400mm f/2.8 L IS, on a Canon 1Ds Mark III. Settings changed between 50 and 100 iso, or 400 a few times, between f/5.6 and 8.0 or f/16.0 sometimes, and 1/250e or 1/320e, depending of the lights and the background.
Thanks to these two first sessions, I know now how I can improve the forthcoming ones. Together with Luc Piquet, member of the Senior French team, we are planning to create a protective screen more adequate replacing a small part of the net by Plexiglass. The meshes of the net can be too large and close to each other for me to be able to shoot through them, so the Plexiglass will be better. Besides, I’m also planning to put a black screen in the back of the batting cage to reach in an easier way the isolation of the subject that I’m looking for. And then I may use two lights to enlighten the player. I can’t wait to see the sun back to move forward on the project !