Competitive kayaking, particularly freestyle and slalom white water disciplines, offers great photographic opportunities. Take time to scout the course, preferably with a knowledge of the the sport and the particular event, and find one or two good safe locations where the action is clearly visible within the range of the telephoto lens to be used. On a typical course a 70 - 200 mm f/2.8 zoom should suffice. The best locations are those where the water is wild but the background is also acceptable! Underwater rocks and uneven areas of a river bed produce spectacular eruptions of white water through and around which the competitors must pass. It is these locations where the most photogenic action takes place.
|By GuillaumeG (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons|
At slalom events, a photographer has the advantage of being able to predict accurately the route canoeists will take. From a relatively elevated viewpoint it may be possible to use the white water as the backdrop. This is ideal because all unwanted distractions are eliminated and the image is focused solely upon the activity of the canoeist. Use a wide aperture and a very fast shutter speed to reduce depth of field and freeze the action. At speeds of 1/1,000 sec, and faster, every water droplet is frozen in mid-air like a tiny diamond and the effect can be amazing. If an elevated viewpoint is not available, take care to choose unobtrusive, bland backgrounds. Even when out of focus, areas of bright primary colours, shiny parked cars and objects such as spectator tents distract the viewer's eye from the subject.
Care must be taken when setting exposure because white water may fool a camera's automatic metering system. Pictures may be underexposed by as much as one or two stops if white water fills the frame. Set the camera to compensate exposure by at least one stop and shoot in RAW mode to maintain as much scope as possible for later adjustment. Check the histograms of a few shots as the event proceeds to make sure that the exposure compensation setting remains appropriate.
Composition and framing of shots can produce unexpected results not revealed until images are viewed after the event. The arms of paddlers pass constantly in front of their faces, so it is important to time the release of the shutter to maintain a clear view of a competitor's face. The best shots show not only the white water and the kayak, but also the physical effort and concentration on the face of the canoeist. Eyes are an an important focus of attention, so keep them sharp at all times. It is unlikely that a kyaker will find time to look at a camera, but the ability to see the eyes in an image is a distinct advantage.
Framing must be done carefully to avoid cutting off the extremities in an image - at least in most cases. A kayaker whose arm extends out of the frame, or whose paddles are cropped to look more like a weight-lifter's bar, is taken out of context to some extent. Even in cases where one end of a paddle extends beyond the limits of the frame, the result is likely to appear uncomfortable. Try to include the whole subject, including the bow and stern of the kayak, both ends of the paddles and of course the kyaker's face. However, this does not mean that close-up shots should not be attempted. Just remain aware of the potential problems and crop in a controlled manner. Perhaps the best advice is to include the whole kayak or go in close in a very obvious and deliberate manner. The worst option is to exclude small parts of the kayak or the paddles in what may be perceived as an accidental manner.