PhotoAnalysis: Sailing E-mail

Action photography is all about capturing moments and getting close enough to the action.  Your main goal is to transfer some level of intensity and commitment from the real world over to the still image.  In this picture analysis we look at a shot from a sailing competition to look at some of the challenges.


This photo, taken at a sailing race with only wooden boats, is by no means perfect, but it conveys the moment and intensity fairly effectively.  The facial expression, angle of the boat and choppy sea all help to give the picture a certain urgency even though there are a couple of drawbacks.

When it comes to action shots you're unlikely to get perfect studio results.  This image is trying to convey speed, effort, competition, involvement and so on, so the plastic sailboad with its sails drawn in the background certainly looks out of place.  You might also notice a couple of yellow lines on the left side, this is from a marker buoy floating to the left.  Both these elements are simple to spot when you look at the still picture, but not necessarily so easy to avoid in the heat of the moment.  Typically you would use photoshop to improve upon these aspects, i.e. cut them out.

You'll notice that there's a lot of white in this picture as well as dark mid-tones in the blue, grey and green areas.  This is reflected in the histogram by the wide distribution, with peaks to the left (darker colors) and right (lighter colors).  One element to avoid in particular when it comes to pictures of the sea are overesposed refections or water-spray.  This would show up as peaks to the right of the histogram. Using a polarizer filter will help you avoid the problem of over-exposed whites, but might require that you adjust your exposure one or two spots in order to retain the right white.  In this particular picture the whites of the sails and boat deck are probably one or two points too dark, if you shoot in raw this is easily remediated without impact on the quality.

Composition is always a challenge when you're doing live photography.  This particular image tries to align the boat and sails along the diagonal, giving the impression that the boat is coming towards us.  The face of the sailor is almost dead-center in the picture and has the focus.  If your subject follows a pre-set path, as in this case, I would recommend presetting the frame and then waiting for the subject to enter, this gives you more control over settings, especially in repetitive passings.

An F-13 aperture ensures that most of the boat is fairly well focused, while the back is sightly blurred.  You might argue that the F-stop should be lower, whcih would highlight the subejct even more.

Finally, when it comes to shooting action shots at sporting events and the likes, you really need a telephoto lens in order to shoot anything worth looking at later on.  The reason is quite simply that you need to get close, and often you're seated too far away for the possibility.  So a telephoto lens of 200 - 500 is usually perfect.




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