Problem: Have you ever gone to a play spot and shot roll after roll of film of your friend doing cool tricks, only to be disappointed with the film when you get it back? It seems that you just didn’t quite capture the energy of your friend’s moves. Instead, what you got was the play spot with your friend surrounded in foam. You know the kind of shot, where you have to point out the buried boater and assure the viewer that someone is actually in there.
Solution: Get closer! All too frequently we get captivated by how huge the feature is and how beautiful the natural surroundings are. We try to put on film the entire scene and shoot with a wide-angle lens. What your friend is doing in his playboat is what is truly dynamic.
Instead of standing back on shore, move to the water’s edge. Better still, zoom in all the way so that your friend fills the frame. Anticipate what your friend is going to do for the next move. Each boater gives off telltale signals on his initiation to each move. You should have a clear idea of what he is about to do before pressing the shutter. Also talk to your friend. If he is cartwheeling so that all you see is the bottom of the boat, ask him to throw in the other direction. This should allow you to see his face.
Example: This photo was taken of Billy Harris at Skookumchuck wave in British Columbia. During several hours of photographing him, I went from shooting with a moderate telephoto to this shot, with my 600mm lens. It was easy to anticipate when Billy was about to do a Donkey Flip. He would always bounce three times before launching. On the third bounce, I would let the motor drive take over. This is full frame and uncropped. It captures everything that happened that day: Billy’s high energy and aerial acrobatics, beautiful sunshine, and sparkling drops of water.
Jock Bradley is a veteran paddlesports photographer who lives in Seattle.