On the day of our sail, the National Weather Service had raised a small craft advisory due to high winds and choppy seas. However, the crew of USA 76 consisted of highly competent sailors who would not put passengers at risk, so I had very few concerns about safety.
I recently had the opportunity to sail on the USA 76 in San Francisco Bay with family and friends. USA 76 is an 84-foot (25 meter) America’s Cup Class racing yacht that was used by the Oracle racing team in 2003 in Auckland, New Zealand. I knew there would be ample opportunities for action shots of the boat, crew and passengers in a beautiful setting.
As the boat maneuvered out of the marina, I took a number of shots to establish exposure parameters. I knew from prior sailing outings that a very fast shutter speed would be required to freeze the movement of the boat, crew, splashing water and the photographer himself. I also knew it would be unwise to attempt changing lenses in these conditions, so I chose a 24–105mm lens to give me the most flexibility.
For these shots, I set the camera to Shutter Priority mode at 1/2000 second. With such a fast shutter speed, I set the ISO to 800 to ensure that my shots would not be underexposed, and without sacrificing too much image quality. Exposure compensation was set to +1; otherwise, the brightness of the sky and sails could cause the camera to underexpose people and the deck of the boat. The camera’s AF was set to an 8-point zone around the center.
"Many were holding onto the railing for dear life — all except for Jeanette, my subject, who had a job to do."
For this shot, the biggest challenge was framing the composition. Moving swiftly at 14 knots, the boat was ”heeling to starboard," meaning it was tilted acutely to the right due to high wind and seas. In order to reduce the possibility of capsizing, the passengers and most crew were ”hiking," i.e., aligned along the opposite side of the boat and leaning to the left. Many were holding onto the railing for dear life — all except for Jeanette, my subject, who had a job to do.
Had I stayed against the railing, people would have obscured the action. So I held tightly to the railing with my left hand, leaned far to my right and extended my right hand, with camera, as far as possible. I chose to use a cross-body sling type of strap for my camera. This allowed me to quickly move the camera behind my back when helping with the business of sailing the boat, and to hold the camera in my outstretched hand without fear of it going overboard. Without being able to look through the viewfinder, I aimed my camera as best I could and shot several bursts at 6 frames per second — about sixty frames in all. I am pleased to have captured this extraordinary moment.
Post-processing of the RAW file took about one hour in Lightroom. I then exported the image to Photoshop CS6 to make a few final adjustments.
1) Using Lightroom 4, I cropped the frame at the top, removing most of the sky and sails.
2) The color temperature was corrected to 5900 K.
3) Although the overall exposure was good, I had to raise the shadows to +100 to bring out details and lower the highlights to –40 to avoid blowing out the brightest parts of the water.
4) Clarity and Vibrance were set to about +50.
5) I used the Adjustment Brush for dodging, burning and selective sharpening to help bring the viewer’s attention to my subject, emphasize diagonal lines and create an asymmetrical vignette.
6) I applied only Color Noise Reduction, not Luminance, preferring to preserve the details and a somewhat gritty look.
7) In Photoshop CS6, I used the Clone Stamp tool to remove a small section of the sail boom in the top-right corner.
8) Although the aperture f/5.6 provided a fairly shallow depth of field, I used Iris Blur very lightly on parts of the foreground to further de-emphasize them.
1) In an unpredictable action situation, one hopes for a few images that are technically strong and convey the emotions and excitement of the experience.
2) Planning and preparation are of critical importance. When the moment of opportunity arrives, there is often no time to make changes of hardware or settings. I am pleased to have captured this extraordinary moment.
I am very lucky to live just outside of San Francisco — an area with abundant photographic opportunities. As an amateur (although I have sold a number of prints), I started to get more serious about photography two years ago. At first, most of my photos were of landscapes, waterscapes and wildlife. More recently, I have become interested in urban, aerial and action photography. For now, I am happy being a generalist and making photographs since people, places and events inspire me. When not working with photography, I enjoy spending time with my wonderful family, exploring the natural beauty of northern California, cooking, traveling and playing music with friends. However, even then I usually have a camera close at hand.