- The Video Lesson
- Background Story
- Challenges on Water
- Bringing the Outdoors, Indoors
- Final Results
- GoPro HD
- Nikon D300
- Canon 7D
- Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 Wide Angle Lens
- Nikkor 70-200 2.8 Telephoto Lens
- HalfDome® nxt: medium
- OctoDome®: large
- StarLite® Lamp - 1000watt
- StarLite® Lamp - 500watt
- StarLite® QL
- Make sure you are close enough to the wakeboarder that you can get dramatic shots with them filling the frame, but not too close that you aren’t also able to capture the horizon and scenery. Most wakeboarders don't like images of themselves in the air with no reference point.
- Don’t place yourself too far from the rider or else your images will start to look like they were taken from the boat, which defeats the whole point of shooting close on a tube.
- Be prepared to have a lot of spray hitting your face and the camera. My approach to keeping the lens clean is to use saliva (I know, gross, but it works!) on the lens which helps repel water. Rain-X and other chemicals will actually create beads of water that will ruin your shots. It also helps to keep little Silica Packages in your housing to prevent moisture build up and fogging.
- You really need to hit the water at the right time of day. Usually the best sunlight is going to be from the side when everything has nice warm tones. I’ve found the best time of day to shoot is the first 3 hours of morning and the last 3 hours before sunset. Anytime outside of that is going to be too bright and too contrasty. Plus the water is usually full of chop around mid day which isn’t good for the riders. If you want to shoot in lower light, you'll have to use flash, which can be very difficult because you need an assistant with you on another tube and you have to deal with syncing around water.
The Video Lesson
The Background Story
I wanted to take things to the next level and really push my portfolio and decided to put together a shoot that has never been done before.
My whole thing is that I love commercial looking images. I like seeing pictures that really sell something. So for me to bring that to an extreme sport really allows me to showcase the athleticism of these amazing people together with the commercial side of photography and elevate those images up to another level that isn't just sports, but also a product.
Challenges on the Water
Photographing wakeboarders from a moving inner tube is not exactly easy. There's a lot of challenges that you will face that are not present when shooting telephoto from a boat or from the shore. Here are some tips that I can share that might make it easier for any photographer looking to take similar images.
The first issue you want to tackle is overall exposure. I shoot in JPEG format 80% of the time, but because you can’t easily change your settings on the fly, I would recommend switching over to RAW. This will give you the most flexibility in your editing if something is a little off. I would also recommend setting your camera to shutter priority mode because the most important variable in your exposure is going to be your shutter speed. A shutter speed of around 1/1600th – 1/3200th of a second should be a good starting point.
Now some might disagree with me here, but I would then advise setting your ISO as high as your camera will let you while still maintaining good image quality. The reason I suggest this is because you want your camera to stop down the aperture as much as possible in order to have a lot of depth of field. This gives the rider the most space to perform while still being in focus. If you can shoot at a lower ISO and a wider aperture and still nail your focus then go for it, but I’ve found that the auto focus feature in a camera really struggles with fast action and water drops on the lens.
Because AF is often useless in this situation, I find it best to prefocus the closest distance the rider will be and shoot somewhere around f/5.6 – f/10 to create a nice large depth of field. I have found that my images still look pretty clean, even at ISO 1600-3200, since the light is pretty bright when shooting wakeboarding. Finally, set your camera to the fastest burst rate you can get. Once you get your timing down, you will not need to fire off 8 frames a second, but initially it does help.
Here are a few tips that might make your life easier that I have found while on the water:
Bringing the Outdoors, Indoors
My idea was to suspend the wakeboarders using climbing gear so that I could position them into traditional wakeboard poses while lighting them with studio lights. The final element that would bring these photos to life was intense water splashing against a high contrast background.
The setup for this shoot was pretty complex. The first thing with which I had to test and experiment was the suspension of the riders. I was able to use a simple climbing harness fitted backwards and a few climbing ropes to hoist each rider up off the ground. [figure 4]
Most of the harness was hidden under the riders’ swim trunks, which greatly minimized the amount of editing I had to do in post. I also had a second rope attached to the wakeboard itself to help keep the riders in balanced horizontal positions. Holding these poses requires a lot of strength and is actually more tiring than doing the jumps in real time behind a boat.
The typical exposure for these shots was around f/11-f/14 @ 1/250th of a second and ISO 125. During Noah’s session, I started to drag the shutter around 1/60th of a second, since the video lamps, Photoflex® StarLite® heads, for the video crew were really strong. This allowed the water to blur just a little. It's an option, but I’m still not sure if I like it one way or the other. If you ever decide to do a shoot like this, that's something you can consider depending upon your own personal tastes.
The only other tricky element to this photoshoot was anticipating how the water would look when thrown at the rider. We used water hoses, small buckets, large buckets, mist, and different types of spray nozzles. Some of them had a more realistic look -- the kind you might see when wakeboarding -- and others were more dramatic. You really have to get your timing down to capture the water at its peak and be careful enough not to have your assistants throwing water directly into the rider’s face.
All in all, this photoshoot was a blast and everyone involved really came together to help produce a fun video and some fantastic final images. If you are a photographer living near water, I hope you can take some of these tips to produce your own images. If you are ever around the Charleston area, head over to Trophy Lakes where you can catch some of the best boarders in the Southeast riding the rails. You can also check out more of my work at PatrickHallPhotography.com
Written and photographed by Patrick Hall
Wakeboarders (in the studio and on the water): Dale Slear and Noah Simon
Videographers: Lee Morris, Anthony Spenser, Tripp Livingston, Mike Slear, David Keller, Bobby Altman, Mike Ledford, and Keith Bradshaw
Assisted by: Cameron Ballinger, Jordan Solomon, Max Schwarz, Mike Allen
Boat Captains: Matt Dubon, Hunter Wilson, Fabian Ashley
Boats provided by: Cole Gaither at Zero Energy Homes of SC, and Ross Atkins at GreenSpirit Hydrogardens
Warehouse Studio provided by: Dean Feltmann
Special Thanks: Trophy Lakes Watersports, CarolinaWatersports.com, 4Wake.com