Rob Huelsman talks about his progression from shooting sports on film through to digital, and how a visual deficit has affected his photography
A visually impaired sports snapper looks back on two decades of shooting high-speed action
Back in the days of film, I approached the Cincinnati Cyclones Pro Hockey Club to learn to shoot hockey. They began giving me press passes to selected games, and – as the years passed – season-long access.
I first used a Nikon FE2 with an MD-12 motor-drive, in the 1994/5 season. I learnt to pre-focus and pan, and was producing good images, but not consistently enough. As autofocus became more reliable I upgraded to a Nikon N2020 (F-501) and N8008 (F-801), but autofocus was still a developing technology. When Nikon introduced the N90s I saw an immediate increase in my hit rate.
The digital switch was of great benefit as I have a visual deficit; now it is much easier to find out if my images are good in-camera
Those bodies served me well until I entered the digital era, with the arrival of the D70 and D80. The digital switch was of great benefit to me, as I have a visual deficit; I was born with cataracts in both eyes and have since lost the sight in my left eye. Now it is much easier to find out if my images are good in-camera without having to wait days; I can shoot and check as I go, which gives me a lot more confidence in my images.
After the D90 was introduced I upgraded once more, and my final digital upgrade came in the form of the D4s, which I bought two years ago. I found it to be an investment that gives
me the ability to elevate my work further the more I use it.
Getting into the swing
My goal in composing baseball shots is to capture the ‘ball on bat’, or as close as possible to that moment . I try to include as much of the opposing catcher as possible. The challenge is reacting to the batter at the start of his swing. Timing is everything, as a late start mistimes the sequence, often leaving the ball past the batter or in the catcher’s glove.
This soccer image  was especially challenging, due to recent eye surgery leaving my vision somewhat blurry, to say the least. I relied on instinct from years of shooting different sports, as well as my Nikons’ AF abilities, to nail this image. I love the diagonal composition of the goalkeeper framed by the other players. Thanks to my D4s’s super-fast burst mode of 11fps, I was able to choose the image that best captured the peak of the action, with the goalkeeper in flight snagging the ball in mid-air.
Professional hockey is fast and action-packed  and you can’t just follow the puck, because so many things occur ‘behind the play’. The autofocus and continuous shooting on the D4s are so incredibly precise that I can always rely on my Nikon kit to get the results I’m happy with.
1 Baseball Nikon D4s,300mm f/4, 1/640 sec, f/13, ISO400 2 Soccer Nikon D4s,300mm f/4, 1/800 sec,f/4.5, ISO5000, 3 Hockey Nikon D4s, 300mm f/4, 1/1600 sec, f/4, ISO3200