So you’re heading out with your camera, you have got your gear and have an idea what settings you’re going to try out on location. Great! However have you thought about where you are going to locate yourself?
When I talk about location I am referring to you and your camera, where do you need to be? What is safe and what will get you good results?
Hopefully I can shed some light on the situation for you.
The first bit of advice I have for every photographer, you’ve made your purchase and are in love with your gadgetry, so get it insured.
Most decent photography insurers will insure your camera, lenses, flash guns etc for a reasonable price depending on the value of your kit. Why is this so important? Well, if you are like me and every other water sports photographer and you’re constantly around water, we always want to get closer to the action and suddenly: splash – you’re in the drink! I always said this wouldn’t happen to me but working at Holme Pierrepont Whitewater Sports Centre in Nottingham every weekend for three years, it was inevitable it was going to happen at some time.
I went in with a Canon 7D and a L series 28-300mm lens (sorry Dave at Rapid Focus). Luckily the gear was insured. I have many friends who have lost cameras in the Nile and other locations so you are better safe than sorry. My advice is to look for an insurer that definitely covers water damage and replaces new for old.
Now the sensible bit is out the way, it’s time to have fun. Obviously if you are heading to a white water course check that you don’t break any of their rules before getting started. Most will insist on where you can and can’t stand and some (most) insist on use of a buoyancy aid or vest of some description. If you’re hitting the riverbank I guess you have to make a decision based on where you are stood. I always carry a buoyancy aid in my boot just in case.
In my last article I mentioned getting up close and personal to the action and shooting with a nice wide lens – this is still one of my preferred options when trying to capture freestyle action. It relies on you being able to get right out to the edge of the water and securing a good footing. In this location I often like to get down low and lie on the bank sometimes hanging my camera over the edge to get even closer. From there it’s hard to see what your camera is taking, so shoot nice and wide and time your shots (always worth a few test shots to ensure your settings are correct).
If you are close to the water’s edge, try and find something to anchor to or hook your foot around. If you are really concerned then maybe secure yourself with a sling on your buoyancy aid – I find a decent hand or shoulder strap helps too. I use a Joby UltraFit hand strap as I prefer this to a shoulder strap but used to wrap a strap around my wrist a few times to secure my camera. Now this is a great technique for certain shots but what happens if that’s not the shot you want?
Always look to alter your location, can you get a better vantage point, other photographers are always looking for new shots something to make them stand out, so do the same. Is there a fence you can climb? Can you get a higher vantage point? I like to mix up my location during a shoot and hills provide a great shot looking down on the action – a mix between taking photos from an upstream position and downstream position can give you very different viewpoints on the action. Try to avoid shooting into the sun as your camera will struggle to calculate the correct exposure often resulting in poor images. Have you tried both banks if possible? If looking over a big drop or waterfall have you tried taking shots from above? Below? Midway down the drop? Further down stream looking up?
The key is to mix up what you are doing and always keep looking for a new location. Take inspiration from other sports photography. Ski and boarding photography is superb, so do some research and see what maybe hasn’t made it over to the paddle sports world yet.
Post processing can often be seen by purists as cheating. Is it cheating or is it taking on board the advantages of modern technology? I think there are many small changes you can make to your photos to really make them stand out. Here are a few basics tweaks that will quickly enhance some of your shots.
I use Adobe Lightroom, I find it the best suite for editing photos along with Adobe Photoshop, however, most software will also complete a most of these of these post processing tweaks.
Let’s face it, sometimes you copy your photos on to your computer screen and they don’t look as incredible as you first thought. Most of the time the image may be under or over exposed (too dark or too light) and most software will have a slider that you can alter the exposure to compensate either way. This can often bring back some of the image that you thought had been lost.
As most of the time your camera is trying to meter a scene and make adjustments sometimes you will lose a lot of detail. Around kayaking often you lose the detail in the water with a quick adjustment you can pull back some of this detail by adjusting the highlights slider. Likewise with the shadows slider often we lose detail as our camera is having to find a balance. Again play around with this slider and see your lost detail return from out of the shadows.
Often here in the UK, conditions can be a bit grey and dull and our beautiful green grass looks not quite so green! Our lovely gear might have faded and the colours again don’t look as sharp as they once looked. The vibrance slider is another great tool to add a bit of va va voom to your shot.
Most packages will offer a sharpening tool, this will add a slight amount of crispness to your image. Again use this wisely you can overdo it! The more you add the noisier your image can appear. I usually aim to sharpen between 25-30 in Lightroom.
Image noise is usually caused when shooting at the wrong exposure, over sharpening or when shooting at higher ISO’s. Sometimes on a DX body you will have to ramp up your ISO to get the shutter speeds you require and the higher you go the more noise you will see in your image (this is the grainy effect). Most software will offer a noise reduction slider this will remove some of the grain you see in your image but be careful the more noise reduction you use can make your image a lot softer potentially causing a loss in detail. It is all a careful balance.
There is no right or wrong thing to do when editing your photos, I guess you have to look at it and decide if it looks natural or have you enhanced your image and made it look highly false. Even then it’s a dark art photography and very subjective. My advice to anyone is to open up a few of your old images that you were once happy with and play around with a few of these controls. If you start to see your images improve then you’re onto a winner.
Sharing is caring
Your photos are no good sat on your computer for no one to see, but then again you can share too many. A good way to host your images is to pick a social image sharing site such as Flick or 500px. These websites allow you to upload and share your images with the world.
Advantages of using these sites:
Back up of your photos. If you want access to your photos anywhere in the world you can quickly pull them up to share with friends. If you have issues with a hard drive your photos are often backed up and you can download the original images.
Tag your photos. You can tag your photos this means using hashtags such as #kayaking a hashtag is a way users can find your images, so someone searching for kayaking will find your new images. Think of it as a way to filter what you want to see.
Groups. There are a few groups amongst Flickr for kayaking ‘Whitewater kayakers’ ‘Action Photography’ and many other groups are set up by users for like-minded people to share their goods. A great way to see what others are doing and show off your work.
Albums. You can also set up your own albums, maybe by location, event names, or simply by dates. Albums allow people to browse your images with ease. Also allowing you to share an album of a recent event you have attended.
Like any sites most ask for a fee for more features such as statistics and more uploads but Flickr has a free version with limited uploads. Check the small print and it will explain what you get. I pay for a pro account for about $24 – it’s not a lot really for what you get.
I hope my articles have given you an insight into paddling photography and how to get yourself up and running, producing some great new images and share them with the world! I would love to see what you come up with so feel free to tweet or share your new photos with me.