Sail picture for «teapots»
Theory and practice

Sail picture for «teapots»

Where from, what and how to shoot the sail? Tips for a novice yacht photographer from Ekaterina Zhilina.
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The founder of Matrioshka sailing creative agency Ekaterina Zhilina revealed to Itboat the secrets of a good sailing shot. This year's work by Ekaterina Zhilina was included in the list of 20 best sailing shots of the year of the prestigious international competition Mirabaud yacht racing image, and she was shortlisted in the national prize «Yachtsman of the Year» in the category of «Golden lens».

In sailing photography technique is important: shooting technique and safety. And the second one is even more important, because you don't know where to step and what to hold on to, you may not have a chance to get the right exposure. To get a full picture of the competition I shoot from the shore, water and air.

Shooting from the ground

The difficulty in taking pictures from the ground is that most of the competition takes place at a sufficient distance from the shore and you need to know for sure where and when the fleet will be passing through to catch these few minutes in the already planned frame with the right settings.

If the fleet is large, it is good to show a panoramic view at the moment the boats come out or enter the port, as well as catch a frame with the landscape of the area, so that in the end it will be clear where in the world you shot, because otherwise all the pictures will be only water and yachts.

It is also interesting to have fun at the dock, boat preparation, cleaning, briefings, communication of yachtsmen among themselves. Here you can catch many live portraits and details.

I advise you to wear comfortable shoes and look carefully under your feet and around you.

There is a chance to fall into the water from the pier, get a sail folded into the lens or be watered with a hose that desalts the boat and equipment.

RIB footage

The second highest level of difficulty after shooting from the shore is the exit by rubber boat. Even if there are no waves in the bay, do not hesitate: as soon as the boat goes away, there will be wild jumps on the waves with splashes and unpleasant jerks. It is desirable to use waterproof covers for equipment or aquaboxes, but I use them only in the rain.

In case of splashes, I have a splash-proof technique and a terry towel.

If water gets on the camera or lenses, I quickly wipe the equipment and desalinate it when I return to the press office. Tip: Seal the shoe with duct tape. Salt water will ruthlessly corrode your springs (like on my first camera) and neither a remote flash nor an external microphone will work.

There is no need to shoot the engines at full speed. No stabilizer can do it.

It is important to make contact with the boat driver. If lucky, he has an idea where to be during the race for a better perspective, where to slow down, will be able to warn about the acceleration and most importantly, will not interfere with the course of the competition. But if the driver is not lucky, you have to «drive». To do this, you need to know the distance and understand what will happen on it. Specify whether there will be a fleet race or a match flight.

In fleet racing, you need to capture the start, standing just ahead of the starting line, then on the top sign to shoot the production of the genaker, and on the bottom sign to take it out. On the bends, the whole action usually happens. In the last race, try to be close to the winners, they will be happy, hugging and shaking hands. These are priceless footage.

And in match-race, one-on-one race, you need a table with painted flutes. Without it, you will not understand who competes with whom and risk just hanging on the distance and count only on luck.

Remember to coordinate your actions with your colleagues on board. They may have a different vision of the process from your task. You are all on the «hunt» for the frame you need, so don't forget about professional ethics. But the most important thing is not to block the boat's movements in the race, not to create a wave or distract it. You can only walk from yacht to yacht long before the start or right after the finish. In no case you should interfere with the teams, because in case of their failure it will be your fault.

Yell something like «hey, boys, look at me» or «show me joy, show me sadness», I assure you, do not.

Professional yachtsmen know that «trading faces» is part of their job and will definitely react to the camera, unless they just lost the America's Cup of course.

In between starts, you can get close enough to the yacht. I have 2 cameras ready: one with a wide angle of 10-20 mm and the other with 24-70 mm. I try to go around the yacht from all sides, drive in front of it and stay for a forehead» shot «and walk along the board quietly, hanging over the water and grab the whole yacht at a wide angle. On the telephoto lens, I shoot the faces and details of the yacht.

Shooting from the board of the yacht in the race

The third level of complexity requires preparation. It is not for nothing that 90% of yachting photographers go in for sailing and sometimes even compete as yachtsmen themselves. When you shoot a yacht in a race, you need to understand the helmsman commands, racing situations, not to grab the running rigging, not to stand on schools and halyards.

On a yacht you will be at the stern. On some types you can hang on to a flyer, and on some types you can only hang overboard. On a catamaran you can stay at the mast under the boom.

I'm always in my knees on board. All the times I've neglected them, I've had abrasions, bruises and scars on my knees.

It's not scary or complicated at all when I have experience. Usually a photographer is instructed and given a life jacket before boarding a boat on the shore. But you should understand that you can easily fly overboard in broaching, or be knocked down by a bowsprit in case of a collision with the yachts on the full course.

For the first time on a yacht, I advise you to go without equipment, look around, get used to it and understand whether you are afraid or not, whether you understand what is happening in the race, what the team is doing and where you need to be at that moment.

The most unpleasant thing for me when shooting directly from a yacht is to switch from a rubber boat to a board.

I advise you to hand over the bag with the equipment first. Let go of the handle when it is clear that the receiver is already holding it tightly. Take your time. It's okay if you have to come to the boat again after that. When the rubber boat is level with the yacht, give your hand to the receiver or grab the cables. Do not step on the halyards or you will ride them like a wheel and land on board in pain. If you have to go on a rubber boat in case of heavy excitement, be prepared to jump, softening the landing with your knees. Throw in your equipment bag in advance, too.

On a yacht, I shoot at wide and medium angles. I take 2 cameras in the weather to 10 knots. Above is just one, with a 24-70 lens. On board, she takes good pictures of the team's work when turning and staging and cleaning the gennaker. There is also a unique opportunity to capture competitors' yachts passing close by. That's why a wide angle is the only thing you can do. I am taking the third 70-300 lens with me right in the calm. You can take portraits of crew members passing by.

Shooting from the air.

The fourth level of complexity and a rare opportunity nowadays is helicopter imagery. With the advent of drones real helicopters in the air to lift less and less reasonable.

Therefore, I will not focus on the subtleties here, and I will only say that here can be specifically bored. It looks like this: the helicopter takes off the side doors, I put on a trapeze and buckle up with a special fastener, then, having hung up a bit, I shoot on TV.

If you check the result on the screen of the camera, it will burst into my stomach and float before my eyes.

Try to take a couple of test shots, not yet hanging from the helicopter, and choose the settings you need.

In general, the settings in sailing photography are different and depend on weather conditions and your vision. Usually, as it is a sport and action, you have to shoot at quite a high shutter speed. This is if you want to freeze the splashes and capture the team clearly in the work. But there are situations when light grease or panning can show the movement and dynamics of the race. I set the depth of field to 2.8 when I want to blur the rear and, for example, snatch one boat or face. For general shots, it's 9 to 11. Don't forget that you shoot on water, where it's easy to get light. Keep an eye on the ISO or use the Polaroid filter.

You can view Ekaterina Zhilina's works on her website and Facebook page.

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