Monday, August 30, 2010

Still More Light Shows!

Canon 30D
Canon 24-70mm f.2.8L
Shutter Speed 1/2000
Aperture f/6.3
Focal Length 30.0mm
ISO 100
Natural Light...LOTS of natural light!

In response to Jay'me's awesome fire pic I decided it was finally time to post a wake boarding shot. I say finally because I have literally taken more photos of wake boarders than anything else. I have probably taken 5000 shots of wake boarders and I honestly haven't had a good one to show until now. It's remarkably difficult to get a good action shot that has interest, unless of course the target is your child or some other loved one. This time out was different.

First, I had tremendous backdrops, full of fantastic clouds and forest vista's. Second, the light was really harsh but plentiful. Furthermore, it often was coming from dead straight ahead and behind the subject, something I'm still learning to deal with (but it certainly was plentiful!). And lastly and most importantly, I had taken 4500 shots before this and managed to learn about a teaspoon of technique. So off we went down the Fox River early in the morning and off I went shooting 5 frames a second in a desperate rush to fill my CF card!

Once I had the images ready for editing, I was immediately drawn to the patterns in the water. I had 4-5 shots that were just begging for some attention. Before I dive into the editing I should share a bit more on the techniques and equipment I employed. Probably the single most important piece of equipment I used was the lens hood. The purpose of the hood is to minimize flare, which happens when stray light (non-image forming) hits the lens and creates artifacts in the image. Sometimes you want flare. It can be a fantastic artistic tool. Other times, you'd rather avoid it because it has a tendency to de-saturate images. I wanted to keep as much detail as possible so the hood was a must. The lens I used has a particularly large hood and top-notch optics, 2 things that I absolutely adore.

The second technique I used was to always keep an eye on the horizon to ensure a level shot. It really chaps my hide when I get a great shot but the image is skewed. You're only option it to straighten and crop and that sometimes leads to unwanted composition. It's just plain best to get in the habit of checking the horizon, and that's especially true on a boat.

Third, I set-up my camera for auto-shutter (5 frames a second) and set the focus to manual. The action happens so fast you just can't time it perfectly. As for the focus, it may be hard to believe, but it's much easier on manual focus for something like this. And it's easy to understand why. The rope is a fixed length and as long as you sit near it's anchor point, you will always be the same distance from the subject. So, focus once and forget about it. And you completely avoid the headache of your camera choosing to focus on background subjects and blurring the foreground (in this case the wake boarders). It's odd to mention this in light of the above picture as I clearly focused on the water. But I only took about 3 of these and the rest were focused on the wake boarder.

Lastly, I had to constantly adjust exposure as the lighting was constantly changing. The in-camera metering is only so good and when you have the sun blazing right into your lens you have to compensate and over expose a bit. It's something every camera struggles with and it's crucial to good images when lighting is tough. I just used the exposure compensation function on my camera and shot in aperture priority. This allowed a certain amount of control but left the shutter speed up to the camera. The conditions were just changing too quick for me to shoot in full manual.

Okay, so on to editing. The back lighting proved vicious in it's intensity and yet the patterns it created in the water were stunning. I knew I had to over expose while shooting but that meant compensating for contrast while editing. So, the first thing I did was convert to black and white. I find blown highlights can be quite dramatic and B&W really emphasizes that for me. Next, I overdid the contrast to bring out the patterns in the water and obscure the detail on the wake boarder. The boarders name is Jim and he's a great guy. But for this image, the star is the water (sorry Jim - next time it's you buddy). After getting the contrast right I sharpened more than I normally do. This works because the water is so complex and fluid (pun absolutely intended) and the artifacts sometimes created by over sharpening get lost. Still, you always have to be careful not to overdo it. Once that was done, I saved it and edited several others. This is the image you get. If you want to see the others, drop us a line and I'll gladly share.

So now, I get to wait 3 days and see what the Chicks' have lined up. Isn't this a blast? Time to rock out Brandi! Thanks for all of you checking out our humble little spot on the web and keep giving your feedback. We just love hearing from you.


  1. Someone throw me a line, I'm drowning.
    Stunning as always.

    Question for you, when you shot the wake boarder (Hi Jim!) did you change your aperture or did you just change your focal point? With 5000 photos on this topic under your belt I'm sure you've shot with something closer to f12 or better. Thinking about what that would do to a shot like this. I'm finding my world is stuck on "wide open" and I'm trying to think about closing things down a bit.
    Yes, I obsess.

  2. Fantastic !
    These last few weeks I have been looking at patterns in nature. The fabulous grasses are going to seed presenting interesting shots. As I opened your post I saw another totally awesome pattern. I can honestly say, I have never scene so clearly what is happening just behind the boat. What a show (Sorry Jim). I love B&W!. Color maybe distracting? It really helps us to focus and this emphasizes on the pattern. This looks like blown glass and with the spray against the dark trees finishing off the graduation from large bubbles to little droplets, it's like an artist doing pointillism.
    I'm going to come back to this post many times to read of your techniques until I fully understand and can use them myself.
    Again Scott, Thank you !!!

  3. @B - I do sometimes stop down the lens but what happens is I get way too much background in focus. That is particularly annoying when I'm trying to highlight the wake boarder. In this case, I could have stopped down a bit but the sweet spot for this lens is right around f/6.3 -f/7.1 (giving the sharpest image). Of course, these aren't even full stop numbers and are in fact fractional stops. I have my camera set-up for 1/3 stops. I set it that way years ago and just haven't changed it. I like the extra degree of control. Anyway, I wanted the water really sharp so wide open wasn't an option. At the same time I wanted to de-emphasize Jim so stopping down a lot was out. Combine that with the sweet spot part and that I needed a fast shutter speed and this is what I settled on. Still, with the subject relatively close and the light plentiful it would be interesting to see what the effect would have been. Next time I'll give it a try and see what happens.

  4. @J - Thanks again Jay'me for your always insightful eye. I'm learning just from your comments! And always let me know if you have any questions on my ramblings. It's been late at night when I post recently and that sometimes leads to some muddled thoughts. Alright, peace out!