• Sam Gilman

A Look Behind Lens

baseballEBM sat down with Iris Drobny who took us through a day in the Life of a Sports Photographer

Do you only photograph baseball or do you photograph other sports?

Most of all I do baseball but I try to do fencing and I had a little vacation to handball but baseball is the most time.

What type of photography were you doing before baseball and do continue to do that as well?

I learned photography and have taken photos at weddings, done portraits and I’ve done commercial shoots of things like milk and sugar, everything really.

What made you get into the sports side of things?

My oldest son started baseball 12 years ago. The first time they won a game I made a group picture for the boys and they were so excited. The coach said to me, ‘Oh wow! This is sharp. Are you going to do more for us?’ and I said yes. It’s grown over the years and now I take almost everything for Stuttgart.

How did your son get involved with the game?

It’s an interesting story. Years ago we had the European Football League (American rules football) here in Germany and we drove to the Frankfurt Galaxy. My husband met, by accident, the female coach from the Stuttgart Reds. He said, ’Wow there’s baseball in Stuttgart?

This is exciting. Nobody knows this.´

He went to see a game with my oldest son. On the way into the game my son noticed a guy breaking a car window and stealing a couple of CDs. They called the police and went to the field. This was the car from the same coach. The police came and they found the man. She was so excited that she gave my son a Reds cap. This was his first Reds cap. And she said, oh well, come to practice. Okay, that’s it. Since then we are in the Reds family.

Your photos look like what you’ve done goes beyond learning the craft of photography and really you’ve found a passion for the art through baseball.

I think it’s a growing process. Yes, first as I started I had to understand the game. This is not so easy for a German. Baseball is very hard to understand if you don’t grow up with it so I watched the games. I learned the secrets of the game, where’s the ball going when a person is at bat. You have to observe the game, and the players. I’ve learned a lot. I don’t know everything about it but, I think, I know so much that I can see some things that other people don’t see. I think that this is an advantage for me, as a photographer, to know what they will do. And, sometimes, I can read the signs from the coach.

Why was it important for you to know the game before you could photograph it?

I have to make sure that I have different pictures than other photographers. To do this, I have to understand the game. When I invite another photographer, and he normally photographs handball or ice hockey, he says, ‘Oh well, you don’t know what they are doing on the field.’ The advantage for me is that I do. I understand so much that I know what they have to do so I can suspect what they will do and take the camera to the point where I think the game will go. Sometimes I’m right.

You seem to have captured the essence of baseball photography pretty succinctly. Did you look to any other baseball photographers’ works to get an idea of what you should be looking for or how to frame the game?

I follow MLB photographers on Instagram. It is important to get better and better and not be at the same level all of the time. To grow, and to be better, we or I, have to look. I love the pictures from the Chicago Cubs and the San Francisco Giants. They always have really, really cool things. Sometimes they edit pictures and this is exciting for me. This is an example of where I want to go. I want to be as good as they are.

Walk me through your average day at the park.

I look at my camera the day before - is everything okay - the batteries full and everything alright? Day of I’m at the field an hour before the game starts and, the important thing, looking at the weather forecast. I check the camera once more then I say hello to the umpires. This is very, very important so that they know I’m on the field. Then I look where can I be when they play the national theme to take pictures.

When it starts I try to photograph every player at bat because they always want to see how they look. Sometimes they have problems with their feet, and how they stand there, and you can only see it in a picture. This is important for them so I try to have every player at bat and then I go into the field and try to make interesting pictures.

Then, in the break, I eat very fast and come back and change places. After the seven hours at the game I travel home with almost 1000 pictures. I put them on the computer, look through them fast, very fast, because I deliver to newspapers. You have to choose five very good pictures for the newspapers and edit them in a small way, and send them.

When I’m able to, I take my time and look at the thousand pictures in quiet. But then it’s almost 12 or 1 or 2 in the night and its not so easy to be able to make the next double header on the following day so yes, I often find myself sleeping in front of my monitor. The next day I try to choose the pictures, crop them and put the text in and get it onto the website. Then, the next game is waiting and then the same thing every double header. After this I sit down in front of my computer and try not to sleep.

You take a thousand photos and your top five go to the papers. The other 995 photos?

Not every picture is perfect. This is impossible. I try to choose, after this five, between 70-100 for the galleries for the Stuttgart Reds and for my homepage so that every player can see something from him. Also the other teams, not only the Stuttgart Reds.

Maybe ten of those I think are worth editing in a special way so I do a little bit more with them. I like to make the players in these pictures feel a bit special. I really like the rituals with the batting gloves, the caps, the bat and the trousers. Everyone has his own special thing and I try to bring this into the picture.

What are your biggest challenges in capturing what you need without interfering with the game?

I’m always in the middle. I’m in the dugout during the games. I always try to be very, very concentrated in the game and you have to be careful because the ball is too hard. I try not to get this ball in my camera or in my arm or shoulder or whatever so you have to be careful. You have to be very concentrated and you have to be in the game.

What is it like being in the dugout and not getting involved with the dugout?

In the home dugout this is not so easy. I’m like this mixture between mother and friend and photographer and being there for the frustrated players. I’m sometimes the dustbin.

In the other dugout I think a lot of the players know me but they are not able to speak with me because I am a woman. Some of them have a real problem but not everybody and I know players who are the same age as my son. I saw them grow over the years. This is very, very nice, to see them grow. I think this is not so easy in the dugout. It’s always interesting but sometimes it’s too much because of the manners, you know?

Because you’re watching boys your son’s age acting ways you wouldn’t want your son to act?

Yes. I don’t want to see this but it’s always funny.

Do you feel like it’s a different experience for you because you are female?

Yes. Absolutely.

How so?

It’s an advantage and a disadvantage at the same time.

Tell me one of each.

When you are good enough for the baseball Bundesliga and you are a female the coaches love you. I always try to have a good rapport with the coaches and to the umpires. It’s easy for me because, this is a bit embarrassing but they like when I laugh, you know what I mean? They like it and they like me because of it (I do too actually, she has a laugh as big, open and embracing as her smile).

You’re able to get away with a few more things than the men?

Yes. Absolutely. But the other side is, I think, some people think ‘Oh she’s a female sports photographer, does she know anything about this? She doesn’t play. Is she able to do this? Does she know her camera.’ You have to prove all the time that you are able to do the work but I think this is okay because I can show that I can do it.

Do you envision yourself continuing to do this past the time that your son plays?

Lucky me I have another son who is younger.

So you don’t have to decide for a while?

Yes, but then I will see what I will do. I love the game and I have a lot of fun at the games and with the players and everybody around. I don’t want to stop. Maybe when I’m so old I only can go with a cane you know?

Any last thoughts?

I hope to do this for a couple more years, always learning more and more about baseball things, being different from other photographers, trying new points of view and trying not to bore people with my pictures. We should love what we do and I definitely love it! I was never in America, so maybe one day I want to take pictures at a Cubs Game in Wrigley Field. But not to forget, first of all, I’m a normal Baseball mom.