Decisive moments at a regatta

Over the past weekend, I was Race Officer at a regatta for Shearwater catamarans at my local sailing club (Isle of Sheppey SC). Seeing the possibility of an unusual (although not exactly unconventional) theme for the ‘decisive’ moment assignment, I took my camera along and finished the weekend with about 1000 images. I used a combination of single-shots and short ‘machine-gun’ sequences (usually 3-5 in a burst)

Let’s be honest, most of them are rubbish for reasons discussed in this posting but I will be able to find the required 6-8 images if I decide to use this event for my assignment. I have posted a subset in a Facebook album.

The main issue is the viewpoint. I spent most of my time on the committee boat, anchored at a fixed point, the start/finish line, but could not capture starts or finishes because I was otherwise engaged. Likewise, because it takes an hour or so of preparation to set up the racecourse, flagstaff etc. I was not ashore to photograph the competitors setting up their boats and launching, which would have given plenty of off-water decisive moments to complement the on-water action.

For instance, in this sequence early in the day, raising a mast has echoes of Joe Rosenthal’s famous photograph of the US flag being raised on Iwo Jima. The decisive moment in the sequence is the third image, before the mast is secured; the man is still holding it up, the woman clearly has the forestay in two hands with good arm positions, and there is eye-contact between them. Unfortunately, the background is cluttered.

Practical issues on the water (see below) include the rolling motion of the boat, the fact that much of the action takes place up to a mile away, and that there are assorted ropes and other obstructions.

Action immediately after a start has all the competitors moving away, and stern views are usually not as dynamic as bow-on shots of a boat moving toward the camera. Sometimes (larger image) it can work well, in this case making a sort of study of concentration.

It is possible to get good views of competitors closer to the committee boat. For the purposes of this assignment I would eschew single-boat ‘portraits’ and action images where the boats overlap too much, causing confusion of shapes.

There is a length of course, of about 200m downwind of the committee boat where there is good dynamic action and plenty of opportunity for decisive moments. Burst-fire or ‘machine-gun’ mode shooting is useful because the relative positions of the boats changes quickly, as do sailors’ positions and eye-lines. Compositionally, it is better for both sailors to be looking forward, in the direction the boat is moving. In practice, a good sailor will also spend a lot of time looking at his sails and at the tactical situation with other boats, or checking the precise moment to tack for a mark. These five images were taken in a single burst.

My favourite is the large image (which I have cropped slightly to remove the third boat) because of the eye-line and apparent concentration of the crew of the leading boat and the position of the trailing boat relative to the leading helmsman’s head and the trapeze wires.

I believe this event shows promise, but there are other ideas and outings to explore before firming up on the assignment.

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