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Water, Water everywhere – A day on the Solent during Cowes week

Water, Water everywhere – A day on the Solent during Cowes week
- plus how to photograph moving yachts, (objects), when you are moving as well!

Well what a day that was. A truly unique, experience. Best summed up by one of the guests who wrote, “Overall the workshop can only be described as brilliant and something I will remember forever. “ Okay, that cost me a few bob, (not really), but the sentiment was echoed. Good light, a bit of a blow later on and a spectacle of mammoth proportions. I had chartered a 40 foot motor launch for the day and a limited number of guests, just 6 to allow us plenty of room, spent the day with me photographing the yacht racing during Cowes week. The day started with us watching the mayhem at the start of the regular races off Cowes with our skipper holding his own with the other photographer and spectator boats amongst the racing yachts jostling for position. Then, just after 11am, the two Americas Cup boats, Oracle for the USA and the British boat Origin started their extremely close pre start tactics before setting off for their one off race around the Island. And we were there!

A couple of weeks previous I had spent a splendid day on the press boat covering the long inshore race courtesy of the Panerai Classic Yacht Regatta. These beautiful yachts, most from a bygone era, majestically yet speedily raced around the Solent for over 6 hours. Again good light, good cloud and enough wind to make it interesting, gave me the ingredients for some great imagery. This regatta was less frenetic with a quieter Solent but swopping between two cameras – one with telephoto and one with standard zoom – on a bucking Rib at 12 knots alongside nigh on 80 tons of hull and enough sailcloth to cover a small town, was still challenging photographically.

So, about the photography. We know that if things are moving, we can either freeze frame them or create movement.. One thing or the other but definitely not in between. Be deliberate. Stop the movement with a fast shutter speed or show movement with a slow speed. Using a tripod to keep the camera steady is not an option on a boat however. On the run out to Cowes, the main question asked by the workshop guests was just how do we photograph the yachts when we’re moving as well as them.

Here, the yachts are moving not only horizontally, but vertically with the waves. Now, if you’re on the land shooting the yachts, a speed of 1/320th second may suffice. Add in a bit of panning and you can increase that a bit further, to around 1/125. But here, we’re moving as well. Being jostled around in the wake of the other boats, trying to keep balance. It’s a recipe for a very uneven horizon and extremely strange compositions if you’re not careful!

Some photographers set their shutter speed to 1/1000th second and let the camera sort out the aperture. Me, I work round the other way. I usually use F5.6 (half frame) or F8 (full frame) and make sure the speed is above 1/500th second. This isn’t a hard and fast rule, but I like to control the depth of field first, make sure the speed is acceptable second and adjust the ISO to give me the necessary speed third. All I’ve then got to do is compose, make sure I’m balanced by keeping my legs akimbo absorbing the ups and downs of the boat movement and then release the shutter. Easy peasy - I wish!

We then add in the bright white sails; sunbursts reflected off the chrome; white surf and waves crashing over the bow and the difficulty compounds.

Couple with this we have the water. I had warned the guests to wear layers of clothing and bring waterproof clothes for both them and their cameras. Plenty of advice was given and constantly replenished. Then this wave came. I got wet. The crew on their flybridge didn’t, but helped us enjoy the moment by laughing uncontrollably. One of the guests, Kathy had appeared all morning in different garb having brought loads of layers. It turned out to be a good thing as she got drenched. She quickly changed into her waterproof clothing which she donned for the rest of the day. Lesson learnt.

Later, we ran out to The Needles to catch the Americas Cup boats returning round the Island. We anchored in Alum Bay and ate lunch, sheltered from the building breeze. Having ‘stuck our nose’ out beyond the Needles a couple of times, these two racing machines thundered down the western approaches with us at full chat alongside.

Reviewing the images taken by all, some magnificent exposures had been captured. Off Yarmouth, many of us caught the moment that Origin, skippered by Ben Ainslie, blew its spinnaker. The huge gargantuan foresail was torn in two like a tissue. A thoroughbred racing machine needs careful handing and alas on this occasion, just like the original Americas Cup in 1851, the USA won.
Nevertheless a truly great day’s photography.

I’ll be running similar events in 2011. Numbers are very limited to ensure good photo opportunities, so end me an Email me here if you would like to be offered a place. This year the cost was £165 per person. With vat and inflation increases this is likely to be around £180 next year. Likely dates are Tuesday 9th August 2011 and possibly the Round the Island Race on Saturday June 25th 2011.