Ron Vesely is the Chicago White Sox's team photographer.
What does a baseball team photographer do?
People assume that my work is just shooting the game, but I also handle all of the photography requests for the marketing, advertising, and community relations departments. In addition, I maintain the image library, and I digitize and/or archive everything, which includes scanning old prints and cataloging around 20,000 images a season. And I also handle all of the outside photo requests and pre- and postgame events.
How did you get that job?
In 1985 I was freelancing for Fleer baseball cards and Inside Sports magazine, and at O’Hare airport, coming home from spring training, the head of PR for the White Sox overheard me talking about my work at the baggage claim. He asked me to come in, I showed him my portfolio, and I’ve been working with the White Sox since.
What is a typical game like for you?
For a 7 p.m. game, I’ll get there at 2 p.m. and make prints for the special groups or guests. By 4:30 I’m on the field for batting practice, then I photograph pregame activities such as the ceremonial first pitch and National Anthem. Then I’ll trade my short glass for long lenses and go out to cover the game. What I try to capture at the game varies: I need good action shots of each player, and many different images of the game. So I try to get different angles beyond the standard first- and third-base photo wells by shooting from the outfield or from an elevated position.
What do you do in the off-season?
I used to do other sports photography—I’ve covered 11 Superbowls. But since the 2005 World Series, I’ve been completely devoted to baseball. The season runs from February to November, including spring training and the playoffs, and I’m extremely busy during those months. I shoot 81 home games, and when the White Sox are on the road, I work in town for Major League Baseball Photos (I’ve shot 19 World Series). In the months in between, I focus on archiving and postproduction.
What gear do you shoot with?
I use all Nikon equipment: the D3S and D3, and a full arsenal of lenses. My most versatile lens is the 200–400mm f/4 VR, which allows for great images even at night games. What I carry with me during a game depends on the type of shots I’m going for. At most I’ll carry three lenses (usually the 70–200mm, 200–400mm, and 500mm f/4). During the game I’ll use a monopod, and for all the pregame shots I use fill flash. During the game I shoot everything in manual without any flash, so I need to make constant adjustments from front- to backlighting.
What is the biggest photographic challenge with your work?
Being ready at all times for the peak moments—baseball can be a slow sport at times, and it’s easy to get relaxed and miss a play that unfolds suddenly. To be a good baseball photographer, you need to be a fan and understand the game.
What was one of your most memorable moments on the job?
The most important image I’ve made personally and professionally was of the first pitch of 2005 World Series. Sports Illustrated used the image for its World Series issue, and it’s my bestselling print. Covering my team in the World Series was a dream come true as a White Sox fan and as a photographer.