Saturday, July 13, 2013

Lines, Lines everywhere Lines

A key component of what is considered a quality photograph are the lines in the image. Baseball cards show this off to a considerable degree, and I think have been getting steadily better in this regard.

I think my favorite example of this meta-idea in 2013 Series One appears on this card:

I have started and scrapped this post several times in the last few months. I had grandiose plans to continue my own learning of photo composition by matching composition concepts to examples on 2013 baseball cards, but that proved un-workable from a time perspective, and an un-educated perspective on the part of this writer. I'd love to find a discussion of the photographic elements of baseball cards from an expert in the field.

I first started thinking about photographic composition quite a long time ago when a hobby photographer friend of mine gave me a print of this photo:

Of course, from a composition standpoint, the most striking thing about the photo is the lines and the vanishing perspective off into the distance. This isn't usually a component of baseball card images, though I suppose it could be for a rare shot taken from behind home plate, and I think if I look at enough baseball cards I will discover something along those lines (ha) eventually. Don't get too worried about me not looking at enough baseball cards.

Ever since I have wanted to learn more photo composition concepts and techniques to improve my own photography, but there is only so much time in a day, and I have this other hobby called "baseball fan." And to be honest, photography books and most especially the manual for my robustly feature loaded digital camera just put me to sleep. Websites on the topic digest a little easier, and I have learned a few things along the way.

OK, let's refresh our look at Angel Pagan's card again, now that it has already scrolled off the top of your computer screen:

Of course, this card has an advantage over other cards in the photo-comp department in that it is a horizontal card. I don't think there has ever been a purely horizontal card set, has there? Anyone? Bueller? I'm sure there have been plenty of all vertical card sets. I don't understand why there aren't more horizontal cards, they are generally quite popular cards. Maybe secret Topps experiments on orphans in the Mexican desert who knew their beisbol, but had never seen baseball cards, didn't go well or something. Definitely something I will continue to explore in the future. What set has the most horizontal cards?

One of the first new things I learned from websites this year about photo composition is something called the "Rule of Thirds," which has something to do with it not necessarily being a good thing to perfectly center the subject of the photo to make a really good image. Baseball cards have to throw that rule out, I think. There isn't space available to give away a third of it in the interests of artsy concepts.

Coincidentally, the Pagan card there has a set of thirds built right into it, but Angel is in the middle one; good bye rule of thirds. But I think that's OK. This is because I also read some great stuff about vertical lines, and horizontal lines, that I mostly can't remember. Something about one of those two signifying strength, and the other being calming to the viewer and suggesting stability. I don't know how that works too well yet.

But this card has them all. You gots your vertical lines, your horizontal lines, and most importantly, your diagonal lines. And that's where this card gets good. Not only are there great diagonals, but they are present in two directions. It's easy to get one diagonal on a baseball card photo; lots of times the team lettering is on a diagonal for an easy score for the photo editor, courtesy of the professional designer the major league team hired to do their uniforms.

For the top-left-to-bottom-right diagonal, we have Angel's lower leg and the uniform stripe on it, his left arm, and best of all, his fingers, all harmoniously parallel. For the lower-left-to-top-right diagonal, we have his upper leg and uniform stripe, his right arm, and though not perfectly parallel with those two elements but still quite pleasing, an entire baseball bat. Seeing a whole baseball bat on a baseball card is not as common as you would think. Neither is a classic pure white bat - those are a minority in the game now. You'll see those on my baseball cards some other night.

The lines set up a great sense of motion for the card, which is best captured by That Necklace (another uniform meme I am tracking some, stay tuned) AP is wearing. The necklace is inertially hanging straight down and hasn't started moving with Pagan's body yet. Truly a SNAP-SHOT of frozen motion.

But motion clearly due to continue, imminently. Knowledge of baseball also helps enjoy this card, as most baseball fans can tell quickly that Angel just laid down a bunt, which makes for a fairly rare baseball card image. A nice slow play that is now going to turn into a very fast one, instantly. This combines well with Angel's facial demeanor. Smoooooth. Why, laying down a bunt looks to be as easy for Angel Pagan as falling off a log.

I think this card will prove to be my favorite in Series One this year, if not for the whole year. I don't think I've found one in Series Two to match it yet, nor to match my pre-release favorite. If I were to make a Top Ten Cards From 2013 Series 1 & 2 one day, I'm sure most of them would be horizontal cards.

But I do like plenty of the vertical cards, like this one:

Fowler's card features many of the same line elements as Pagan's card, and this time the Nike swoosh even adds to the flow. This is mostly because it is another bunt card, though it takes longer for that to sink in on this one. I like it, even though it is a bit of repeat. There are only so many ways to photograph a baseball player, and this is a really good one.

And of course the photo there has the unexpected circular element of the "vest," specifically the piping around the end of the arm. One of the strangest of uniforms, but one my research tells me is quite popular in Colorado. Uniqueness does have it's virtues. I had thought this was a Throwback uniform and put it on a page of all the Throwbacks in Series One, but this was wrong. I also missed several cards in that hand-selected subset and came so far from batting 1.000 on it that ... no link for you. To be a Throwback example of the vest, if would have to feature purple sleeves. I read on this sleek silver slab in front of me far too much lately that those will probably never be seen again. You be the judge.

Fowler's card is a staple of the 2013 set in that it is mostly a torso shot. If the 'Sea Turtle' moniker didn't fit the framing design so well, I would probably refer to it as the Torso Set. I am sure a majority of the images are of a player, cropped in to show him from about the knees or waist on up, only. This has some advantages in scoring quick composition points with lines via the player's body parts. Lots of low-hanging fruit for the Topps photo editor in the world of baseball players. But it is starting to wear on me some, particularly for all the Pitcher cards like that. I might spend too much with this set building all my strange subset pages, not to mention the surprising time-drag of my Parallel Project.

One pitcher card that breaks that mold is this one:

I'm having a really hard timing picking a parallel of this one to use for my project. Wal•Mart blue would make a tasteful choice, but the pastel-ness of it makes me feel blah about using it for another of my favorite cards in this Series. I somewhat wish there was one available in the blue foil parallel used in the Opening Day set, but Mr. Burnett doesn't merit a special baseball card for the children. I expect this card to look great as a 'Blue Sparkler', what I call the cards from the Series 1 wrapper redemption program or the the Series 2 LCS giveaways. Cards from that parallel design with a background of blurred infield grass look fantastic.

But all that is not why I like this card. I like the straight white border version just fine. This is due to the great combo of the high socks and the long sleeves, all tastefully co-ordinated with the ball-cap, and of course part of a classic American baseball red-white-and-blue. It makes me hungry for both hot dogs and apple pie, though it doesn't quite make me want a Chevy. The electrical gremlin in my Ford truck is doing that just fine. Oh, sorry, wrong blogosphere.

And all those great red-sheathed arms and legs sticking out of a blue torso are just the beginning of this vortex of a card. Another snapshot of frozen time, but not a static image. Now if only Burnett was more a famous lights-out closer rather than a decent middle reliever — middle relievers never get much love from baseball fans and are the most faceless of players to the public...making them need good baseball cards more than the rest of the players. But of course if Burnett were a closer, Topps would go with their closer-celebrating-a-final-out-victory-whoop-thing meme that they have about beat into the ground. We get it Topps, we get it.

The late movement of the Burnett card that your mind puts into motion summoned up for me an image you might need to buckle up for:

PLEASE NOTE THAT IS NOT A nazi SWASTIKA. That is a "reverse" or "left" swastika in that it looks like it might be about to spin left. Though it is actually darn hard to describe which way a swastika is going. Probably because your mind's eye is going around in circles, somewhat like it is when looking at the Burnett card.

The Swastika is actually an ancient symbol used throughout human history always as something positive. Spinning around this Wheel of Life, and all that. Here we go round in circles, here we go round and round. Until of course some evil folks infamously co-opted it at the start of the second third of the 20th Century. The whole history of it is here, if you have never known that.

The image parallel is not exact to the card of course. I'll bet you didn't expect to open a blog page about baseball cards and find an all too familiar image of an unlucky ancient symbol of luck, but then I didn't expect to have that image pop into my mind when I opened that pack of baseball cards. It's just what happened. You can't make this stuff up. Can you?

So we've gone from lines across a baseball card to a baseball card that makes me dizzy. Perhaps appropriate for a game played with a straight bat and a round ball. Be careful with those baseball cards. They might make it unsafe to operate heavy machinery.


  1. I'm into photo too and really you can get perfect set, perfect light, perfect theme but if you don't work the composition of all the factors and actors in the photo it won't work.

    About an horizontal set I can think of 1994 Select.

    Hope to see more posts about this theme!

  2. Angels' feet, torso, and head each occupy a third of the vertical lines of the image. Contrary to what you stated, this image is a PERFECT example of the rule of thirds.

    My $0.02