In a series of articles, X-Photographer Jeff Carter will be shooting at sports events in the UK and showing how to capture great images with the Fujifilm X Series without the need for a media pass.
Sports Photography as a Spectator – Water Ski & Wakeboard
I have had the pleasure of shooting many different sports in my career but a trick skiing event was a new one for me. As I am always up for a challenge, I traveled to Hazelwood Ski World in Lincoln with great anticipation.
Before traveling to Lincoln I did my homework, looking at other pictures available widely on the internet and I checked out the official British Water Ski & Wakeboard website for more information on the sport so I was as prepared as I could be when I arrived on site.
Competitors are known as riders and they perform a subjectively judged free-riding routine. The competitor is pulled behind a boat, a Malibu, which has the propeller under the boat and not on an outboard. The boat travels in a straight path on the lake in each direction. Riders are judged on the difficulty and proficiency of the moves executed, how big they are going, variety of moves performed, and on the creativity and fluidity of the routine.
At this event the level of skill was varied but all of the riders provided a great day of entertainment for the small crowd on the shore. The atmosphere was very friendly, with competitors and spectators alike interested to see if I had got some good shots of the action.
The competition takes place on a long lake with turns at each end. The start and finish of each run is marked by buoys on the water. At Hazelwood Ski World you are free to move around, with the far shore and each end open, so you have plenty of choice from where to shoot from. The difficulty is getting a head on shot and this is where a long lens, such as the XF100-400mm, is a good choice, especially if you have the 1.4x converter to increase the focal length even further. From the side you are much closer to the action and the XF50-140mm or XF55-200mm is a good lens to have, though I tended to stick with the short end of the XF100-400mm.
SHOOTING THE ACTION
With the boat traveling up and down the lake in a straight line you would think it would be an easy sport to shoot, but don’t be fooled. Getting a clear shot of the rider from the front is a challenge when you have a big powerboat in the way and when the action begins the water spray can fool the metering and autofocus.
The FUJIFILM X-T2’s AF system is brilliant but can be fooled so I set the X-T2 to ‘boost’ to improve the reaction time and also set the AF-C custom setting to ignore obstacles (set 2). This kept the focus on the rider for longer and not on the water spray that was kicked up by the boat and the competitor. I also selected the smallest AF single point and kept this on the competitor’s upper body to help reduce the risk of the autofocus system losing the lock.
The metering can also be fooled by the white water underexposing the final images if you are not careful. I use centre weighted metering to keep the rider as the main subject. However I only shoot in manual exposure mode, with the shutter speed dial set to T and the rear command dial used to adjust the shutter speed.
A new feature that was introduced on the latest firmware update was the ability to change the ISO on the front command dial. I first tried it on the canoe slalom event a few weeks ago but I have used this feature extensively since then. With the ISO adjusted on the front dial, the shutter speed on the rear dial and the aperture by the aperture ring on the lens, I can adjust all three exposure elements without having to take my eye from the viewfinder, so I can work quickly and efficiently when the light was a changeable as it was at the event in Lincoln.
With regards to exposure you can choose to either freeze the action with a fast shutter speed or slow things down to get a sense of movement in the water.
To freeze the action you will need a shutter speed of at least 1/1000 second. This will capture water as it is being thrown up by the competitors or the boat and you can also capture the intense expression of the rider.
With the aperture wide open at f5.6 and the shutter speed at a minimum of 1/1000s, the ISO is the factor that is adjusted to keep the exposure spot on in the camera.
For a more dramatic shot a slower shutter speed of 1/125 or 1/60 will give a lot of movement in the water and in the riders body. A slow shutter speed takes a lot more practice and is hard to get it right, so be prepared to bin a lot of shots in post processing but if you nail the shot the effects can be very dramatic.
GET IN POSITION
You have plenty of choice when it comes to a shooting position but check where the light is coming from and also the background. At Hazelwood Ski World a bright yellow JCB was parked at one end of the lake and I had to be careful to shoot from an angle where this distraction couldn’t be seen in the final image.
With any high action water sport back-lighting can make for a dramatic picture with lots of water spray frozen by the use of a high shutter speed. Look where the big tricks are being performed, see if you get the sunlight through the spray and find a dark background to highlight the water.
CHOOSING AN EVENT
The British Water Ski and Wakeboard website at www.bwsw.org.uk is a valuable source of information about the different disciplines within the sport and also has a useful calendar of events.
I would recommend contacting the organizers before traveling because some are on private land, which was the case for the Hazelwood Ski World event. However, if you ring or email the event organisers, they usually make photographers very welcome and most riders love the attention. Just understand that this is a competition and behave in an appropriate manner.
It may be tempting to use fill in flash but please check with the event organisers before doing so as it can be distracting for riders.
CAMERA AND LENSES
FUJIFILM X-T2 with battery grip
Telephoto Zoom – 100-400mm f4.5/5.6 or 50-140mm f2.8 with a 1.4x converter for frame filling images. A good alternative lens in the 55-200mm f3.5/4.8.
Use a 50-140mm f2.8 (55-200mm f3.5/4.8) for close action when working right on the edge of the course.
Standard zoom (16-55mm f2.8 or 18-55mm / 18-135mm) for wide action shots.
10-24mm f4 wide angle zoom lens can also be useful.
I also had the opportunity to shoot with the FUJIFILM GFX and GF32-64mm f4 and GF120mm f4 lens. This is a fantastic camera for capturing ambiance images from the event and I did shoot some action with it. While the 120mm f4 (95mm equivalent focal length) is not that long, I was able to capture some wider images of the riders in action on the lake. The GFX provides a very different image from those produced by the X-T2 and I can see me shooting with this medium format camera at other sports events in the future, especially when I can get in close to use the shorter lenses currently offered by the GFX system.
Shutter dial set to ’T’ (and locked). Shutter speed selected on rear command dial
Optical Image Stabilisation (OIS) on.
Metering set to Centre Weighted.
Autofocus – AF-C with camera set to ‘boost’ to improve reaction time.
AF custom setting on Set 2 (Ignore Obstacles)
AF Mode to Single Point – I prefer Single Point for more accuracy because of the water being thrown up or rocks.
Drive set to CH (8 or 11 fps)
Action freezing images – minimum 1/1000s with aperture wide open. Adjust ISO accordingly.
Panning images – 1/125s or 1/60s choose a suitable aperture and drop the ISO down to 200/400.
PREPARING FOR A WATER SKI & WAKEBOARD EVENT
Check the weather forecast and dress accordingly.
Take covers for your cameras. The X-T2 / X-Pro2 / X-T1 and the majority of Fujinon lenses might be weather resistant but I always cover the equipment when not in use.
Food and drink. There are usually facilities at most events but it is probably wise to take at least a bottle of water.
There are few rules with regards to shooting at an event but you must stay on the bank of the lake. Always obey the event officials and do not stand in front of any of the judges.
NEXT MONTH: Circuit Racing