Decisive moments in white water

A camera club outing to Lee Valley White Water Park gave me an opportunity for another sport/action set. On the day, the only activity scheduled was white-water rafting as team-building for a large accountancy firm. Because the water channel and weirs are artificial, there are set-piece dramatic opportunities, although viewpoints are some distance from the water and there is a lot of background and foreground clutter.

Images in this set were made with a Pentax K-1 and a 70-200mm f/2.8 zoom. Most of the images were shot between f/2.8 and f/4 to use shallow depth-of-field to concentrate on the subject and reduce the clutter.

I started with the preparation and briefing area, which is surrounded by a first floor terrace, giving almost all-round viewing access. The principal problems are that there are just too many elements and that the predominant colour scheme is red, which does not fit with the predominant blue of events on the water.

This set illustrates some of the problems to be avoided. Visual clutter is noted above, best dealt with in most cases by tight framing. In places , the crews are instructed to hold their paddles vertical, which gives boring shapes, not as dynamic as when they are actively paddling. Where two rafts are close together, there is confusion of shapes. Water splashing, despite being the whole point of the activity can also obscure the boats and crews.

This sequence, shot in burst-fire mode, shows a boat passing through a weir section. The ‘decisive moments’ are shortly before the plunge, with expressions of anticipation and anxiety on the faces, or as the boat emerges from the spray. However, at the end, the crew are more randomly arranged which is often not photogenic. In the two middle images I feel that the white water hides too many important elements. On examination of the whole day’s contacts it appears that the bow of the boat is particularly important.

Here, I am exploring the effect of focal length to give some variety. Broadly, there are three ‘scales’ of zoom which seem to work: (a) filling the frame with a single boat, (b) framing very tightly to concentrate on the faces of some crew members or (c) showing a complementary but blurred ‘wider picture’ background. If I select this theme for my eventual assignment, then I will use a variety of framing.

Small changes between images can make a difference. In the second image the boat is oriented pointing directly to camera, which shows the helmsman/instructor to advantage. Also in the second image, the starboard front crew member has started to actively paddle and has a more determined expression.

The activity carries managed risks. In this case, a boat had nearly overturned and has spilt most of its crew. The sequence shows them in the water near the boat, and then being swept away downstream. The large image is the best compositionally as the boat forms a strong diagonal and appears to ‘enclose’ the people in the water. In the later images, they are more disconnected.


This image illustrates the difference between ‘peak of the action’ and ‘decisive moment’. The helmsman has been catapulted clear of the boat and is at maximum height. However, the crew have not noticed, so there is no reaction, and the airborne figure’s face is turned away from camera.


This is my favourite image of the day and is a real ‘decisive moment’ as all of the composition elements have come together well. The boat is emerging from a splash  with several faces visible and reacting. The paddles make a good arrangement and the helmsman is upright, attentive and clearly in control.

I believe this venue shows promise for Assignment 3 but I do not have enough variety of images. If I am to use it, I will need to revisit when there is white-water kayaking scheduled and combine the two activities into a single series.


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