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A professional’s take on Adam Ottavino’s Instagram photography

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Ottavino has the eye of a photography pro

time to pack up

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“He captures that moment because he knows it’s history.”

That’s how photographer and baseball fan Craig Satterlee described an Adam Ottavino photo of Nolan Arenado on his first day in the major-leagues. If you haven’t checked out Ottavino’s Instagram (@adamottavino), you should. The account provides his 37,000 followers with an intimate look at life in baseball. Ottavino’s portfolio is diverse—baseball parks, plane exteriors, statues, food, landmarks, family, teammates, selfies, street art, footwear, baseball history.

He tells Zach Alvira that he’s experimented with art since childhood, encouraged by his parents. For Ottavino, photography brings together two passions, art and technology: “Every type of gadget or electronic item, I was always into. . . . Once I got an iPhone, I had a camera with me all the time and it made it easier.”

I talked with Craig Satterlee about Ottavino’s photography because I wanted to know what I wasn’t seeing. (A lot, It turns out.) Below are a few highlights.

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Craig Satterlee: For me, he does a lot behind the scenes, and he has a sense of baseball history. Then he shows not only the players but also his private life, which is just enough to let you know that he’s human. Because on the baseball field, he’s a reliever. You might only see him three or four games for an inning or two.

A lot of these portraits in the locker room are very intimate. Those are very well done, as well as any pro who has that access. I think he’s had some training, but it looks like he has a natural eye. Some people are just born with that. I don’t know if he gets that from looking at other people’s work and trying to imitate what they’re doing, but I don’t think so. You look through the camera frame, and it seems to come to him pretty easy. I call it a “lyrical composition.”

He’s he’s quiet in his images, but he has particular moments that he enjoys himself. And he’s from the New York area, so he’s been around the Yankees and the Mets and all the history, so he’s grown up with that and recognizes the fact that he’s immersed in it.

These are memories he’ll always have. They’re unique images. He’ll relish them for the rest of his life.

evil lair (Dec. 22, 2017)

evil lair

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This is different for him because of the fish-eye view. It’s a 360° view, and those are tough. But the feet-thing gives it a sense of place, and I see him picking up all of this information. As a photographer, you have to have the awareness of where you’re at and observing what’s around you, and he’s very good at picking up on all those things. Almost every image, he’s showing you exactly what he wants you to look at. One of the secrets to being a good photographer is directing the viewer’s eye. See how he darkens things? He’s vignetting.

dodger stadium (June 7, 2016)

dodger stadium

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These are great panoramas. He understands that as a baseball fan, you want to see the whole thing because these are like gladiator-type arenas for baseball. You see these big shots that pros do, but coming from him, it’s from a baseball player’s point of view. He’s recognizing where he’s at. These panoramas, there are three of them, and they’re huge. If he just did one shot of the whole thing, it would be hard to see.

big cheese (April 1, 2017)

big cheese

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I see that intimacy again–it’s real light in this room. Jon’s not annoyed because [Ottavino’s] there. Jon isn’t paying him any attention because he does it so much, and it takes a long time to get that feeling of trust where people aren’t watching you all the time. Jon’s not. He’s very relaxed. They’re both pitchers. To these guys, they’re probably like family pictures. The only thing this lacks is fill-in from the shadows. Ottavino’s just working with what the light is there. It’s true photojournalism in that sense.

chess club (August 30, 2016)

chess club

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It’s blurry except for the hand right that features what he wants you to look, so he’s directing your eye. See the Darth Vader-type guy? I like the angle. He’s very good about getting different angles. He has a natural sense of composition. You see that in all the stuff he’s giving you.

#rockies (February 24, 2014)

#rockies

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A lot of people will do black-and-white because the color of the lighting makes it look weird, but I think it makes the photo look more dramatic. It makes me wonder what he’s thinking. This picture is a little bit flat. The blacks aren’t black—they’re gray. But if he made them blacker, then he’d lose detail, so in his mind, he’s probably debating which is best. So, he went halfway. He knows what he’s doing.

Nolan Arenado on his 1st day in the Major Leagues 4/28/13 (April 28, 2013)

Nolan Arenado on his 1st day in the Major Leagues 4/28/13

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It’s slightly out of focus. That might come from what he’s shooting with and being close. It’s a little bit brutal. Arenado’s happy, but he’s trying to hold it back because it is his first day, and I think he wants it to be documented because it’s an important day for him.

Ottavino understands that sometimes as the photographer, you want to eliminate all the other stuff, and when you’re that close, you’re looking for brutal truth in the moment. That’s what he’s getting here. He’s also been in those shoes. He captures that moment because he knows it’s history. A professional photographer’s sense of emotional connection is different. Ottavino works with Arenado, so there’s an emotional connection.

There’s something about the face—the energy. I’ve been around so few like this, but they have the “it” thing, and it translates through the photograph. You know there’s something special about this person, and I don’t know how you define it, but I’ll bet that as a photographer, Ottavino is unconsciously drawn to it. There’s a tradition of shooting portraits like this where it’s so brutal. It relates to the past: This is historical because that’s how we view those old black-and-white photos, like of Babe Ruth. You want the rawness. You want the truth.

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In addition to the pictures, Ottavino is also exploring Instagram’s stories and occasionally answers questions in the comments. A recent post was a pic of his plane ticket to spring training, which is our ticket to what’s happening behind the scenes with the Rockies.