Wake Photography 101: Part 3 – Get Creative
This is the third installment of the Wake Photography 101 series. So far we have discussed photography basics like camera settings, lighting and framing. In Part 2 we went over various angles to shoot wakeboarding from. In Part 3 we will discuss different creative photo techniques you can use to make some unique pictures of wakeboarding.
Creativity (try something different): There are infinite amounts of ways a photographer can make an image unique. Here are a couple ideas you might want to try.
Blur: using blur can be an effective and different way to show the high-speed and intense action of wakeboarding. Slowing down your shutter speed significantly will leave the film/sensor exposed longer, thus picking up the motion of the wakeboarder. The key to getting a good frame, though, is to pan at the same speed as the rider. That way the rider is staying at the same spot in your frame while the shutter is open. The background will blur and the rider will stay fairly sharp if you get it right. It is in situations/camera settings like this where lenses with image stabilization abilities (IS for Canon and VR for Nikon) can truly help keep the subject sharp as you pan with it to blur the background.
The photo above is a mixture of blur techniques and flash techniques. I didn’t pan the camera because I wanted the background to remain relatively clear, but I left the shutter open for 1 second so Keaton would blur through the frame. There was enough ambient light from some work lights to light up the rail and light up Keaton enough to show the streaking of his red and white shirt, then the firing of the flash froze him in that one instant inside of the one second exposure. Read below for more on flash.
Silhouette: the silhouette is common, but can still make for a very powerful image. Personally, I’m a sucker for silhouette shots and I shoot them often. As you might know, when shooting directly into the sun your pictures can end up with lens flare — the big circles of light running across the frame. To prevent this while trying to shoot a silhouette you should use a high f-stop like f16. Keep in mind that if you’re shooting at f16 and still trying to freeze the action of the rider, you’re not letting in much light, so you’ll most likely have to bump up your ISO to 400 or higher.
Flash: using a flash can provide for some very cool, unique images. Flash can be especially great just before sunrise and just after sunset, so there is still light in the sky, but the flash is the main light source in the image instead of the sun. A flash or multiple flashes can be used in so many ways that I can’t even scratch the surface of it all with this article. The best advice with a flash is to understand how it works and affects an image, then get out there and fool around with it. My favorite way to use flash is usually from the tube with the sunset in the background. Meter your camera for the sunset so it will show up properly exposed in the photo, then just let the flash fill in the action of the rider. A note on flash: light freezes action, so if you’re shooting with a flash you don’t need to be shooting at super fast shutter speeds to freeze the rider in the frame (in fact, most cameras only sync with flashes up to 1/250 sec.)
The Background: A cool background can make a good photo extraordinary. When I’m shooting photos I’m constantly checking the background of the image to make sure it isn’t a distraction from the rest of the picture. Backgrounds can make or break a photo. As you’re riding around your lake, river, bay, or other body of water check out the shoreline and look for things that would look cool in the background of a photograph. Or, if all you’ve got are big houses that make for messy backgrounds and take away from the action of the rider, try shooting the opposite direction so you’re looking out over the rest of the lake, rather than right at a bunch of houses. The farther you are away from the shore you’re looking at in your camera, the smaller it will be in the photo (and the higher the rider will look above it).
The foreground (layers): Using layers in your photos can be a great way to bring different visual elements into your photography. Often times it means shooting through or around something. Those items can be used to help frame your subject within the photo itself. One of the most common ways to do this in Florida is to shoot from the reeds along the shore next to a rail, but layers can be found almost anywhere. You could shoot with a wide angle lens to show people in the boat watching the rider, or if you have a chase boat with a tower, shoot through some of the spaces/gaps in the structure of the tower and frame the rider inside of that. Don’t always think just about the action and what the rider is doing when you’re shooting wakeboarding or wakeskating, think about what else is around you that can be used and worked with to enhance your photos visually.
Equipment: despite what you may think, this should actually be the least of your worries. Just like the brand or year of a board doesn’t make a wakeboarder, neither does the brand or year of camera equipment make the photographer. Work with what you have and master it until you feel making an investment in camera equipment is the right thing to do. Obviously you might be limited from some things if you don’t have specific items (i.e. a flash for low-light situations, or a water housing for tube shots), but that isn’t preventing you from making great pictures with the equipment you do have.
Typically wakeboarding photographers will have a range of lenses, a couple of camera bodies, a couple of flashes, and some other gizmos in their bag of tricks. But, this is their office so to speak and what they make their living off of, so they need to have all of it. Here’s a fairly typical camera bag for pros.
Camera – I shoot with Canon EOS 1D MarkII N bodies, but there area wide variety of SLR bodies that will do the job.
16-35mm f2.8 – this is a wide-angle lens. I use it for tube shots, when I’m floating in the water, or on land up close to an obstacle/rail.
28-70mm f2.8 – this is a midrange lens. I don’t use it as much as my others, but I do use it when doing extremely close chase boat shots (i.e. 6-10 feet from the rider).
70-200mm f2.8 – this zoom lens is the workhorse of most pros. It can be used from chase boats at all angles, from within the towboat, or pretty much anywhere else.
300mm f2.8 – this is probably the least needed out of everything in a pro’s bag, and isn’t found in everybody’s (including mine; I use a 300 f4 because it’s a lot smaller and easier to travel with). It is great for shooting from land, or if you want to shoot really tight from a chase boat or in the towboat. The blurred shot of Matt Crowhurst in the beginning of this article was shot with a Canon 300mm f4 L IS (Image Stabilizer) lens.
15mm fisheye f2.8 – fisheye lenses provide unique images and can be really cool when used correctly. They are often used with tube shots, both in front of and behind the rider. They can also be used on land when up close to objects like rails.
50mm f1.4 – this is the “standard” lens in 35mm photography (i.e. it’s about the same view as the human eye) and is popular among almost all pro photographers. I use mine regularly for lifestyle and portrait stuff. It’s faster, so shooting in low light is easier.
Flash – flashes are great for low-light situations, or adding different affects to images by using them off the camera with remotes.
Light meter – These aren’t as essential anymore with the advent of digital photography (because now you can literally just look on the back of the camera to see if you got the shot), but they are still good tools to have for the serious photographer as most are more accurate than the light meters built into cameras, which are often fooled by dark water or well-lit hillsides. A light meter is practically a must if you’re shooting slide film.
Water housing – a must if you’re going to try shooting from a tube or as a sitting duck. Cameras and water don’t mix, if they did we wouldn’t need water housings. Although Rodrigo Donoso became famous for using a couple thick, freezer style Ziploc bags and just cutting a hole for the lens to stick out a bit. It works, but can be risky.
Tube & Water housing – a good tube is essential for tube shots. Don’t inflate them all the way as you want it to absorb some of the rollers you might encounter, rather than springboard you off. I enjoy the large, flat tubes without any holes in them so I can crawl around and even kneel or quasi-stand to get different angles. There are a variety of different water housings for cameras, from custom built aluminum or epoxy ones, to a more modes plastic bag style ones. I have shot with everything from the EWA-Marine plastic bag style to custom SPL aluminum and Aquatech epoxy housings and gotten great results from all of them (the shot of Nick Ennen was with a EWA-Marine housing that fit my Canon 1D and 550EX flash, the shot of Zane Schwenk was with an aluminum SPL housing, and the shot of Daniel Watkins was with an Aquatech housing that fit a Pocket Wizard remote that could fire my remote flash in the boat). It all comes down to what you want your camera to do while in a housing, how much control you want over it, and, of course, budget.
Have fun: Not much beats a day spent on the water. Warm weather, buttery water, hanging out with friends, listening to music, and riding are just some of the ingredients that make up the recipe we call wakeboarding. Hopefully with some of the tips and pointers written above, documenting all the fun with your camera can be a new part of the recipe. Remember to have fun. You’re not going to get magazine quality photos the first time you pick up a camera and take pictures of your buddies riding, but you’re probably going to enjoy doing it. The best way to get better at photography is to take more pictures. Film is cheap (it’s developing it that can be expensive sometimes). If you use digital your learning curve is even lower. Just keep shooting. Before you know it you might be reading your name in the corner of a full-page photograph splashed across the photo section of mag. Good luck and don’t forget to put the board on and take a set every now and then!