Brad Mangin: Master Of Diamond Light

Baseball and photography have a very special year in common: 1839. Abner Doubleday invented baseball in the same year that Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre introduced the daguerreotype, the first practical way to preserve a frozen moment for posterity. The two have been inseparable ever since, with latter-day practitioners such as Brad Mangin merging the two at the highest level.

The San Francisco Bay Area-based freelance sports photographer discovered that his field of dreams was outside the foul lines. While Mangin has photographed sporting events from the Olympics to Super Bowls, it’s America’s pastime, now 175 years old, that still gives him the butterflies while his subjects are catching pop flies.

DPP: How were you able to combine your two passions, baseball and photography?

Brad Mangin:
My best friend from childhood Joe Gosen had taken photography as a sophomore in high school in Fremont, California, and he got me to take it as a junior in 1982. We had a great teacher, Paul Ficken. I was just a knucklehead high-school student, but Paul made it so much fun and interesting that by my senior year I had him three periods a day—an advanced class, an independent study and I was his teacher’s assistant. I also photographed for the yearbook that senior year. I grew up a sports fan, especially for the San Francisco Giants, but when you’re in high school, you don’t have long lenses or access to shooting Major League games, so I was just running film through the camera, photographing anything and everything.

Joe and I thought we would try to have a career in photojournalism, so we continued on to Ohlone College and worked on the weekly school paper. It was such a different time. We pasted up the paper. We made our own halftones. We would drive the flats to the printer every Wednesday night at two in the morning. We had hands-on experience at a young age. Joe ended up becoming a professional photographer, and for the past 13 years, he has been on the faculty of Brooks Institute.

DPP: When did you start focusing on sports photography?

Mangin: I interned at the Contra Costa Times in Walnut Creek during my junior and senior years at San Jose State, where Joe and I had transferred in our junior year to pursue journalism. When you’re at a paper, you shoot everything. After graduating in 1989, I got hired at one of the Contra Costa Times‘ smaller papers in Danville. When you’re the new guy, you shoot lots of nights and weekends, lots of high-school sports and Little League games. It was a great way to learn. I got to shoot some pro stuff, because we were in the Bay Area, and build up my sports portfolio.

DPP: Did you have a big break?

Mangin: In 1990, the famous sports writer Frank Deford started The National Sports Daily in New York, Chicago and L.A. They were opening up in new markets, and I knew they were coming to San Francisco so I submitted a portfolio. Frank had hired the legendary Neil Leifer as the Director of Photography, who hired me as the Bay Area staff photographer for the paper in June of 1990. I was 25 years old. For one incredible year, I photographed the NBA finals with Michael Jordan, the Super Bowl, the World Series and boxing in Las Vegas. It was an amazing experience, but because of money problems, the paper folded in June of 1991. But I had gotten a great taste of doing sports, which I really loved. I was then unemployed and had to cash some rainbow-colored unemployment checks until I got a small newspaper job, which I did until 1993, when I started doing work for Sports Illustrated. At that point, I thought I could go freelance shooting sports full time, which I’ve been doing ever since.

In sports photography, timing is everything. Mangin had his Canon EOS-1D Mark IV set at 1⁄5000 sec. to capture this perfect image of Buster Posey behind the plate.

DPP: Who are your main clients these days?

Mangin: Sports Illustrated and Major League Baseball. I own all my images so I’m out there for myself, as well. I shoot pretty much every Giants and Oakland A’s day game and early night game starts. A 6:05 p.m. start is incredible.

DPP: How so?

Mangin: There’s gorgeous bright orange sunshine on the mound for an inning or two. Every ballpark is different, depending on what part of the country you’re in and the direction the stadium faces. But in the Bay Area, if we get a 6:05 start to a game, we’re going to get some incredible late sun on the field. I’m a freak for light, especially because I’ve shot for SI for years shooting slide film, and you’re always looking to shoot that special picture. My picture of Clayton Kershaw with the rosin bag at AT&T Park is an example. I could take a picture at a baseball game at 1 p.m. and the same picture at 6 p.m., and the 6 p.m. shot is gorgeous and the 1 p.m. picture is in the trash can. The light is so bad. Until we get into September, when the sun starts dropping, it’s so directly overhead and contrasty. You have guys wearing caps so I have to shoot backlit as much as I can. The great light doesn’t start happening until about 5 p.m., when you can see a player’s eyes underneath the cap, then you can expose for that and you get the great light and the great colors. Ideally, there are places where you can shoot a player frontlit on the face and the shadow wraps around the stadium and the background goes black.

Any baseball fan will tell you that, more than any other sport, there’s something special about a baseball stadium. Mangin shows the full majesty of the Giants’ stadium on the edge of San Francisco Bay on a sold-out afternoon.

DPP: Your photo of Kershaw is a great example of this dramatic late-afternoon light combined with an interesting moment.

Mangin: His delivery is also very photogenic, with an exaggerated pause, the way he cocks his arm and finishes with a long stride. One of my favorite batters to photograph is Buster Posey. He has what might be the most beautiful right-handed swing in the game. The greatest hitter I ever photographed, however, controversy aside, is Barry Bonds.

In many ways, it’s Mangin’s use of light that really sets his photography above so many competent sports photographers. In dramatic directional light, the L.A. Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw avails himself of the rosin bag between batters.

DPP: The San Francisco Giants have earned multiple World Series Championship rings. What goes into covering locker room celebrations?

Mangin: It seems like the only time I use a flash is in a World Series locker room or after a divisional clinch. I make sure that once a year I put in a fresh set of batteries! I slow down the shutter to make the flash act more like a fill. I’m at around 1/60th at ƒ/4. I protect the camera with an AquaTech rain cover because there’s champagne flying everywhere.

DPP: What are your typical camera settings for covering the action on the field?

Mangin: I’m an old chrome guy. Shooting slide film meant always trying to shoot the slowest film possible. These days, I generally shoot my Canon EOS-1D X at ISO 200. For the most part, I
use a 400mm ƒ/2.8 or a 70-200mm ƒ/2.8. I hate distracting backgrounds and want my subject matter to pop, so I shoot everything wide open with the fastest shutter speed possible that will stop the action. I don’t want to see the distractions of the ads on the outfield fence or the fans in focus. During day games, and depending if my subjects are frontlit or backlit, I could be 1/2000 at ƒ/2.8 to 1/8000 at ƒ/2.8.

DPP: People think of baseball as relatively easier to shoot than other sports. But, in reality, action can take place anywhere on the field at anytime.

Mangin: It’s one of the more difficult sports to get a really special picture. The game can be so slow with nothing happening and then when it does happen—an infielder makes a diving play—it happens so quickly, you have to be on it and so often you’re late. When I started, it was all manual focus. Back then, the best of the best were the ones who could track fast action. The autofocus these days is so amazing. I could be at third base and track a runner going from first to third on a single, cutting the bag at second and running right at me coming into third, and most of the frames will be in focus. You have to be on it and have the hand-eye coordination to have that subject centered within locking distance of the focusing. Like anything else, if you do it a lot, it becomes second nature. I use the back thumb button working in continuous focus, which is a custom setting.

Mangin has been a pioneer in his use of Instagram, using the app for much more than just happy snaps. Here, in an Instagram photo taken with an iPhone 6 Plus, San Francisco Giants first baseman Travis Ishikawa kisses the ball that he hit for a walk-off home run to send the Giants to the 2014 World Series.

DPP: How are you doing Instagrams?

Mangin: With my iPhone. SI published six pages of my iPhone Instagrams in the "Leading Off" section two years ago. Last year my book Instant Baseball came out, starting with spring training, through the season to the World Series, and finally to the Giants’ victory parade. Close-up details work really well. I’m always looking for little things that say "baseball." It could be the grounds crew guys chalking home plate, a detail on a bat knob with the player’s number on it, the shot inside the Green Monster in Fenway Park with the scoreboard numbers. I did versions of that shot with both my iPhone and Canon camera.

DPP: What does Instagram do for you that you don’t get through traditional methods?

Brad Mangin’s Equipment
Canon EOS-1D X bodies
Canon EF 15mm ƒ/2.8 Fisheye
Canon EF 16-35mm ƒ/2.8L II USM
Canon EF 400mm ƒ/2.8L IS II USM
Canon EF 70-200mm ƒ/2.8L
Canon EF 1.4X III extender
Canon Speedlite flash
Gitzo carbon-fiber monopod
Apple iPhone 6 Plus

Mangin: For me, it’s the immediacy. It shows people what you’re doing when you’re doing it. I’ve gotten freelance jobs from it, with people hiring me to do social-media work. It’s good PR. There are tons of editors all over the world who follow photographers on Instagram. A lot of photographers use Instagram to send out pictures done with their real cameras as a way of promoting themselves. The legendary Walter Iooss sends out a lot of his greatest hits mixed in with his iPhone pictures. If it’s Michael Jordan’s birthday, he sends out some of the incredible Michael Jordan pictures that he did over the years. It’s a great promotional tool, and it’s free.

You can’t do action pictures with the iPhone, but you can do great still lifes and portraits. Oakland is a great place to do pregame portraits because it has the only dugout in Major League baseball without a fence in front of it. That’s fantastic for Instagram portraits or with my 16-35mm lens on my Canon—intimate beautiful pregame portraits of the players in open shade. It shows viewers a different side to these guys. Baseball isn’t just about the action. Anytime you can make a great baseball picture with a wide-angle lens is a triumph.

You can see more of Brad Mangin’s work at

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