by Gary Stanley

White Ibis

Baseball season is just around the corner and the boys of summer are somewhere warmer than we are. They’re working hard to get in shape for the start of this new season. They call it “Spring Training.”

Now whether you are a baseball fan or not, you may be surprised to learn just how much photography and baseball have in common. Okay Gary, you’ve come up with some crazy notions before, but baseball? Talk about comparing apples and oranges here, how about apples and submarines. You’re right. On the surface they have nothing in common, but just bear with me for a minute.

While the actual game of baseball and the capturing of an image in photography are very different, the steps taken to get there are very much the same. Consider this: like baseball, we do most of our photography when the weather is warm. That’s from about April until sometime in late October. After that we all disappear presumably to hibernate with the bears – unless you’re lucky enough to live in Florida or Southern California that is.

Yes, I know there are quite a few of us who photograph through the winter. Many of us however, do a lot less photography when the winter winds begin to howl and the temperatures start to drop. Consider this: baseball players are professionals, right? What do they do after their long winters nap? They hop on a bus and head south for – you guessed it – “Spring Training.” Why do you suppose they need spring training? Because they’re a little rusty, and they need to get back in to shape BEFORE the regular season starts.

This is beginning to make sense now, isn’t it? Your camera has been in the closet for a while. You’re not sure if the batteries are any good. Did I wipe down my tripod after that rainstorm last fall? Oh, you know, I meant to get that lens serviced before spring. Boy, I bought that new digital camera this past fall, and I barely got familiar with it.

Well, my friends, that’s what “Spring Training” is for! It’s March, and it won’t be long before spring in here, the flowers start blooming, the trees get their leaves back, and the wildlife start having their young. How many more reasons do we need to get back into shape?

Here are some suggestions for doing just that, starting with your photographic equipment and ending up with your own mental and physical photographic conditioning.

The Tripod: Check and make sure all the nuts and bolts are snug, that the legs and leg locks all work properly. Wipe them clean with a clean slightly damp cloth to remove any dirt. Now check the head to make sure it is working properly. Wipe it off in the same manner. Avoid using any lubricants, as most manufacturers don’t recommend it. I have done so on a few of my less expensive heads and then wiped them down very thoroughly, but that was in desperation. You don’t want the head slipping when you have an expensive camera mounted on it.

Your Camera Bag: Get rid of any junk that doesn’t belong in there, like candy wrappers, used lens cleaning tissue, old batteries when you no longer remember if they are good or not. Also, go through the bag and do a quick inventory of your lenses, filters, batteries and so forth to make sure you haven’t misplaced anything. If your batteries need replacing or recharging, do that before you head out to shoot (in other words, while you’re thinking of it).

Your Lenses: Wipe all the outside surfaces (other than the optics) with a clean dry lint-free cloth. Be sure to extend the lens barrel and the focusing ring so as to get to all of the exposed parts. Using ‘canned air’ or a ‘Hurricane’ blower, blow off all dust on the surface of both front and rear lens elements. Make sure if you are using the canned air that the can is held upright at all times when using it. Don’t shake it either. You’re trying to avoid any of the propellants from getting on the surface of your lenses, and keeping an easy cleaning job from becoming a nightmare. Don’t use the cleaning liquids unless you have something more on the lens such as fingerprints. Then only apply a small drop to a lens tissue, and carefully clean the surface.

Your Camera: Hopefully, you use your camera often enough that the need to remove your batteries to prevent damage, is not an issue. Batteries have been known to leak, allowing acid (corrosion) to ruin your electrical system. Besides cleaning the contacts with an abrasive cleaning brush or eraser, my favorite trick is to use ammonia! Yes, you heard right. Just dip a Q-tip into a little ammonia and swab out the battery compartment, cleaning all the surface contact areas, quickly drying the area with canned air. Watch that you don’t get any ammonia in your eyes, and avoid breathing in the fumes (that should take care of any law suits!). Using this method, I have fixed everything from cameras, flashes, and even my daughter’s electronic keyboard.

Use your hand blower to clean any dust from around the body of your camera. Then use a soft cloth to wipe down the body. Be very careful around the opening where your lens mounts to the camera, especially if you use canned air. The mirror inside is prone to scratching and is very delicate. If your mirror is dirty, you may want to let a service tech clean it for you. The same thing is also a good idea if you are shooting digital and have a dirty CCD sensor or the like. Yes I clean my own, and if you feel comfortable doing so, fine, but please, be very careful, one slip can be quite expensive. If you are still shooting film, also use caution when you dust the camera’s film holding area. Be very careful around the shutter curtain, it only takes one slip there to put your finger through it.

Also be aware that the contacts or pins around the outside of the lens mount of an automatic or auto-focus camera can also be affected by corrosion. Remember, they transfer information from the lens to the camera. I carefully clean these contacts using ammonia as well. Keep in mind, that if you have electronic problems with your camera, and it is under warranty, think it through before performing any service that might void your warranty. It may be far less expensive to have a service technician clean your camera and lenses once a year.

You: Most of the time, my equipment is the least of my problems, it’s the creative rustiness, lack of physical exercise and my need to get out of the office that makes this part of my “Spring Training ” program most important. My wife Pam and I will usually take a trip to Florida and the Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge to do a little bird photography. We get out a do some healthy walking, get used to carrying our camera equipment again (big telephotos can be quite heavy), and we find this kind of “Spring Training” to be just the ticket to get us back in shape.

Even if you don’t have the time to take a trip, why not start a daily routine of walking, or go to a local park, zoo, or your nearest stretch of wilderness (city or country), to get some good exercise and practice time photographing before the season gets in to full swing.

Review Questions: As you begin your warm-up, ask yourself these questions: How am I doing with exposures? Am I selecting the right focal length lens for the shot I want? Am I trying different compositions, both horizontal and vertical? Am I focusing accurately? Am I trying any new creative techniques that might make my shots more interesting? Am I still paying attention to the importance of lighting? Am I aware of any distracting elements in my composition that might take away from an otherwise pleasing photograph? Did you take time to review how your camera operates (if it’s a recent purchase) so that you’re not fumbling around with settings when the picture really counts?

This is the kind of mental questioning that I do in a situation like this. I find that it keeps me creatively and mentally sharp no matter the subject. Now as my trip to Zion approaches, I’m more confident that I’ll be ready to capture some excellent images there as well. Also don’t be afraid to spend some time reviewing some of your favorite books or magazine articles. This can also help you to stimulate you photographically.

You’ll thank me (the coach) for talking you into showing up on time, getting in shape, and mentally being prepared. In the end when you hit that photographic homerun you’ll say: “I owe it all to my coach and Spring Training.”