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Photo Technical

Capture the action of wakeboarding, skiing guests and crew – A59

Welcome aboard photo enthusiasts.  When leaving the helm last time I was just beginning to answer the last question given to me by Eng. Scott Fratcher, regarding taking the best water sports action shots.

To answer this question let’s review what is involved in taking a perfect (and there is nothing better than aiming for perfection) photograph, and this is accomplished by your ability to control or use the given light.  In taking most sports activities you are given the amount of light by the sun. Let’s say you are photographing a water skier on a sunny day, how should you think through the photographic process to get some great shots.

My thoughts begin with lots of sun means plenty of light and that means I can set the first exposure variable to overall quality of image to its best quality setting.  I am talking ISO (sensor sensitivity)…the lower the ISO (least noisy) the better the quality of the final image. The lowest ISO setting on most cameras is 100 ISO, so I would set it to this.  Now my camera light meter has its first marker by which to take a good in camera light meter reading.

With your camera “on” pressing the shutter button lightly half way down automatically activates the metering system.  It can easily be recognized as a horizontal scale with a center point and a -1 then -2 on the left as well as a +1 then +2 on the right.  Going to the left in this direction means you can be exposing 1 or 2 stops under, resulting in a dark photo, or to the right 1 or 2 stops over, resulting in an overexposed photo.

First note, only if your camera allows some control such a a manual, aperture or shutter priority setting will you see this scale.  On “auto” or “P” (program mode) it will not be displayed.  Also note, you can set your aperture or shutter to be over or under exposing even more, but you will not be aware of this following the scale.  Any a final note, remember for digital it is better to slightly overexpose, so meter slightly to the right of center, for the best exposure.

My next consideration after having set the ISO and by looking at my light meter is to ask myself…to achieve the best results for sports what is most important to consider – the shutter or the aperture? The Aperture controls the depth of field and the shutter stops (freezes) action.  Freezes action! By golly, what do we have in sports?  Lots of action. The best (sharp) results for sports is to first consider the shutter speed.

On a bright sunny day with your ISO set to 100 you can likely achieve a shutter speed of 1/2000 at (aperture) f/4.  This may or may not allow for enough sharpness throughout the depth of field for the sports activity you are taking, and you may have a faster shutter speed than you require.  You may want more depth of field, such as f/8 (2 stops higher-less light than f/4), which means to keep a balanced light reading you need to either change the ISO to 400 (2 stops more light than ISO 100 – not my first choice), or lower the shutter speed to 1/500 to allow in more light .These questions you have to ask yourself depending on what type of sports activity you are photographing and under what light conditions is it taking place.

For instance, let’s now say you are in a fast moving speed boat to photograph a water skier being pulled by the boat you are in, on a cloudy day.  Well, a cloudy day may get you to thinking about changing the ISO, but wait you may be able to leave this at its best quality setting.  Why? Because you on the boat and the water skier are moving at the same speed.  Therefore, even though water skiing is fast action (and it is from side to side now, jumping waves) it is not as fast if you were standing on a fixed platform.

You will have to account for side to side movement in making a shutter speed decision.  If you truly wish to freeze all details you may want to set the shutter at 1/1000 and on a cloudy day hope your lens goes down to an aperture of f/2.8, a very shallow depth of field.

But my advice for this shot is to move your camera with the skier as he/she goes wave jumping from side to side, setting your shutter speed at 1/500 or 1/250, possibly lower, and raising your aperture accordingly (in this cloudy day case, f/4 or f/5.6, respectively, etc.).  You not only add some insurance on the sharpness of depth of field as the skier moves closer and away from you, this will also somewhat blur out the ski water spray giving more of an impression of speed.

These same considerations can be given to wind surfing and wakeboarding, etc. Essentially I am expressing a photographic thought process that should be applied in some form to any photograph you plan to take.  IN the meantime I’ll take permission to come ashore…