Thursday, August 25, 2016

Dungeons and Dragons

I always had this image in my head about what it must be like out there in the ocean when you are a big wave surfer.  The images you see in the media makes the hair on your back of your neck stand up. Like anything else that includes some dedicated athleticism I guess one will only really know when you are paddling out there yourself after years of training.  I had however the opportunity to go take pictures on a day when the waves were breaking at Dungeons, South Africa's biggest wave spot and counted under the best in the world for wave riding.

There seems to be two ways to get to Dungeons which is situated behind the Sentinel at Houtbay. Either walk across the saddle of Sentinel and paddle out, or take a boat out.  I was lucky to be on a boat. Just as well because I was there to take pictures, not surf.  We left from the NSRI slipway in the Hout Bay harbour and a 10 minute boat ride took us to where we could safely sit and watch the waves of Dungeons doing their thing. We weren't the only spectators, there were tourist boats, support on paddle skis, photographers on paddleskis and everybody else it seems that could get something that floats.  I was going to find out soon that taking a shot without a paddle ski or boat in the frame was going to be difficult.  Luckily sometimes an object in front gives you a nice perspective of the size of the waves.  I tried to incorporate the objects in such a way that it did not distract one's eye from the actual surfer, but that was not always possible. A lot of my images ended up in the bin.

So after the opportunity to shoot from a boat I can point out a few disadvantages of doing it from there.  The advantages are clear, you can get some of the best shots of surf spots where you would never be able to get that same angle from the beach.  What was a bit annoying on this day was the amount of traffic in the water.  Always a boat of someone in front of you.  Secondly getting the best angle is difficult, because you cannot drive around and look for the perfect spot to park your boat. The current moves the boat and the skipper had to make a turn every time to get back to position. There is not room for capturing unique images.  Everyone on the boat takes the same pictures from the same angles.  The end result is 20 people sitting with the same images.  If you cannot add any of your own creativity to your shots you are not standing out. Something which I never thought would be a problem was the size of my lens.  My 600mm at some points were too long and when the guys were surfing closer towards the boat you could not get them into the frame.  But then again, most of the action happened a bit further out where the 600mm was just perfect. Lastly is the bopping on the water.  If you cannot stand steady or rock with the boat you lose track of where the surfer is and sometimes you get sky or just water. But this only happened for the closer up shots.

Despite everything mentioned above, the pro's outweigh the cons.  It is amazing out there on the water. The images are breathtaking and the whole experience was just something you want to do again. Below are a couple of the shots from the trip.  For more images of Dungeons and other surf spots please visit my facebook page.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Just add water

Lately I have been taking most of my surf photos from the beach.  I have a GoPro which I used for water shots, but apart from being very easy to handle and carry around, the wide angle lens requires one to be very close to the surfers.  For wave photography that is not a problem and actually quite comfortable to carry around and diving through the waves with little effort, but I wanted to do better surf photography and ended up getting myself a water housing for my Canon 7D.  The housing I bought is a local brand from Brother Housings based in Durban.  I cannot really compare it with other water housings as I have not really used anything to compare it with.  So this is an actual first experience report on using a water housing and specifically the Brother Housing. I will make a few comparisons with the Go Pro as well.

The housing itself feels quite sturdy.  I have always been very skeptic about any water housing and the damage it might cause to the camera, especially an expensive DSLR in sea water. The first day I tied a weight to it and left it in the pool overnight to see if it might leak.  It passed my pool tests, but I guess when one gets hit by waves it might be a different story.  Well after yesterday's shoot and having to do quite a few duck dives, everything still seems to be fine. 

I found the housing and camera very heavy to carry around in the water, especially compared to a GoPro. I stayed in for about an hour and after the session it felt like my right had was numb and cramping at the same time. It does float however, so that takes off some of the weight, but I also reckon that the way I clamped it out of fear of losing it in he water, contributed to the cramping. My biggest problem was aiming. I seem to get a better aim with a Gopro so I realized that I have to find the correct angle to get what I actually was hoping to capture in my shot. That I guess will sort itself out with more practice.

The one problem that does not seem to go away is water droplets on the lens. I know all the tricks about keeping your lens clean but even here water spoiled many of my shots. I was shooting against the setting sun which highlighted the spots even more. Due to the size of the lens compared to GoPro's lens it does appear much smaller though, but it is still a nuisance.

I was also quite amazed at how the Canon handled the changing light.  The Brother Housing does not allow setting changes once it is inside, so you have to choose your settings before you go into the water and hope the camera makes good choices. I was shooting in Manual mode at 1/800 sec, f/8 and auto ISO. I am quite pleased at how the camera adapted against the sun with basically having all the surfers in the shadow of the wave. In brighter daylight I will go for a faster shutterspeed to avoid the bit of blur.

I think one good thing about using a housing is that it makes you look more professional.  Surfers tend to be much more accommodating when they see a dude with a real housing in the water compared to a GoPro. I love it when guys see you and come closer hoping to give you a nice shot or two. 

Below are some of my shots.  As can expected I am very stoked about my first session. My next comparison will be between shooting in the water and shoot from land. For more images please visit my Facebook Page.