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Tha magnificent X One Design Centenery fleet at Cowes Week

A trying time

Fighting through the bombsite otherwise known as my office, tells me I’ve been busy. Three weeks build up of ‘letters pending’; cameras, lenses and bags airing on the floor; a ‘to do’ list growing exponentially and papers in piles waiting to be filed. Those that receive my Twitter feed will know that I’ve been up and down the south coast covering sailing events for much of August. Cowes Week, one of the UK’s largest participatory events and the ISAF Weymouth and Portland International Sailing Regatta a preparation event for the 2012 Olympics. Having successfully passed the accreditation necessary for both events, I had to make the most of it. Cowes week I have covered many times before, but W&P was a first, a one off for them and me. So why was it such hard work? Logistics primarily. For Cowes, it means catching the train just after 6:00am to make the bus to get me to the hydrofoil to get me to Cowes in time to sign in for the press boat. Then out on the water for 4-5 hours then the return journey; editing and getting the pictures on line before supper, bed and start all over again. It was similar for Weymouth, other than a drive of between 90 minutes and a frustrating 2hrs 20 on one occasion! (It’s alright improving one section of road but what about the others? –rant over. )

At W&P there was another difference. We were out on the water for longer; on ribs as opposed to ‘boats’; and I took more images meaning more time editing etc. Ribs in themselves are tiring. Being bounced around, having to maintain balance when travelling at up to 38 knots on a choppy sea between marks tests your strength, muscle fibre, propensity to avoid swallowing copious amounts of salt water and skill in keeping ones camera equipment just moderately moist as opposed to submerged! Having covered sailing events both along the south coast of England and France, the Jurassic Coast of Dorset as a backdrop, brought a unique and welcome sight. All too often I am faced with cranes, concrete factories, urbanisation and those damned chimneys at Fawley to consider in the composition. Okay, Falmouth isn’t bad but the Purbeck coastline takes the honours in my view.
With crews from all over the world at Portland to test the waters and fickle winds it was time to test my skills as well. It is all too easy to take the proverbial ‘record shot’, something I bang on about on my workshops. When repetitively shooting ostensibly the same picture it is very easy to squeeze the shutter as the next boat or subject comes along without putting due thought into the image. I know because I have. Then all you are left with is an image that anyone of a thousand photographer could take. As in most things the more you put in the more you get out. So I try and plan what shot I’m after. Thinking how can I add impact? Sometimes it works and sometimes they are abysmal failures.
The mega burst rates of the 1DS or D3s available mean that a lot of photographers rely on the motor-drive, releasing the shutter in the hope that at least one frame will be right. At 10 frames per second I can see the merit of this, particularly if shooting Jpeg, and is definitely something to consider. With all those highlights, white sails and black wetsuits however, I want to maintain my dynamic range so still shoot RAW and process the images individually. Hmm, who is right? The decision is personal.
Speed is interesting with faster shutter speeds being required when shooting on the bucking RIBs than the rolling ‘boats’. A constant checking of focus after each sequence of images is a habit like checking the histogram that becomes an automatism after a while. This was something I repeatedly hollered to those that joined me for a ‘Day on the Water ‘during Cowes Week, photographing aboard the chartered launch. Check, check, check and then you know as opposed to assume that you’ve got the image.
With the 140+ entries to the X One Design class in their Centenery year at Cowes, the usual antics of the Extreme 40 catamarans plus the myriad of other classes there was a lot of checkind to do!

As we know, winds and nature can be fickle taking no account of the events taking place. As such, both events had on occasions too much and too little wind. My first visit to W&P gave delayed starts due to lack of wind and later the following week, postponed starts through too much wind and a likelihood of gear failure. The same was true at Cowes Week with some races being cancelled due to the wind strength.

For action however, the stronger winds grab my attention more. Seeing Ben Ainslie mastering his small dinghy through crashing waves and strong winds in the open sea is a wonder. Capturing it on camera on a writhing rib kneeling down over the inflation tube in a bath of seawater to get a low angle shot is something else entirely. Both require a skill obtained through practice – Ben won Gold convincingly, I need more practice.

However, he like me knows that you have to continually strive to get better. It isn’t easy. Try different shutter speeds. Try different angles of view. Experiment. Stand outside the box and be individual. Realise and accept that not everyone will like all your photographs, but take merit in the fact that you tried to push the boundaries. You tried different approaches to your photography in the quest for images with impact. Persevere, I do.