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Photographing Watersports

Photographing Watersports - With a breeze in the air head off to the sea or a reservoir to capture windsurfing and other watersport action.

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Category : Sports and Action
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Head to the coast on a sunny day or even to your local reservoir and you'll probably find someone skimming along the water, holding onto a sail fasted to a windsurf board or getting pulled along by a boat on a board. The pros make it look easy and their jumps, turns and sheer speed make watersports a great photographic subject.

Photo by Daniel Bell

Gear Suggestions:

If you're not up for getting your feet wet you'll need a long telephoto to bring the action to you. A monopod or tripod can also be handy but not everyone finds them useful, especially when you're panning at quite fast speeds.

For those of you who don't mind braving cold, British water get your wetsuit on to get right in among the action. Here, you can use a slightly shorter lens or even a fish eye to capture some unusual action shots. If you do want to head out into the waves please always think about safety and make sure you can be clearly seen by those on land as well as the sailors around you. You'll also need a waterproof camera or waterproof housing for your camera that doesn't like getting wet. If you plan on leaving your camera bag near the shore make sure it's fastened up and if you have one, put a waterproof cover on it to stop spray and water that comes off the windsurfers as they exit the water getting on your not so water friendly kit.


Windsurfing and other watersports tend to have quite a lot of pace and action which does mean there's plenty to photograph but as bad light, bad weather and the speed at which they move at makes life difficult, it can be tricky to get a perfect shot.

If you've not photographed this kind of subject before try to find a reservoir where beginners practise as these will be moving at a slower pace so will be easier to keep up with. If you do want to go after the pros you'll need to crank your shutter speeds up to freeze their movement and have your panning perfected before you arrive so you can keep them in shot.

If you want to add an extra sense of pace to your photos try selecting a slightly slower shutter speed and pan at the same speed your subject is moving at to blur the background. Always make sure you've filled the frame as unless there's something interesting such as a giant wave they're jumping, a tiny person in the middle of a mass of water's not really interesting and they'll be completely lost in the image. Watch out for wonky horizons too, although these are quite easily corrected in post production once you're back home.

Keep an eye on your metering when you're on the edge or out in the water as a bright sky and reflections off the water can confuse the camera into thinking it's brighter than it is and you'll end up with an underexposed image. Although, this can work quite well if you're trying to create a silhouette or you could just hang around a little longer and wait until the sun begins to set if you want to have a try at this type of shot. Talking of sun, if you happen to be out on a day when the light's really bad your images can look flat and lose impact. However, if you focus your attention more on showing the big waves and cropping in close to show the huge amounts of spray coming off the boards you can still get some decent images.

Not everyone will have the kit needed to capture action shots and as most of it happens way out on the water. If this is the case just re-think the shots you're taking and focus your attentions on shore. People entering/exiting the water, riders getting kit ready and putting wetsuits on are just a few of the things you can capture without the need for a long lens or getting your feet wet and they can be just as interesting as the shots of the the water.

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