Sometimes when Murphy medals in your life, good things come from it. I was on my way to teach a class at a new venue. When I got there, the gate was locked and no one answered the phone. Just as I got off the phone my students pulled in the driveway right behind me. I informed them that we were locked out and it was apparent that we weren’t going to have class, at least not there. I suggested a few other places that we could go shooting, but they had a better idea. I let them take the lead and I had no idea where we were going. A few minutes later we pulled into the parking lot of a lakeside park. It was a beautiful day and there were covered picnic benches for us to sit at. As I looked over the lake there were aqua doodles bobbing up and down in the water. I thought this was kind of strange, but I didn’t put too much thought into it and just want on my way. We pulled out our books and continued on from where we left off the week before.
As we were going over the material, I noticed there were many cars coming into the other side of the lake. They were lining up along the lakeside and were setting up tables. This intrigued my students and myself so we started watching what was unfolding in front of us. It was then we heard this high-pitched scream coming from where all these cars were parked. Then it hit me, once I heard the noise and saw the aqua doodles, it all made sense, this was a place where they raced boats. When I was younger, my cousin used to race RC boats in the Finger Lakes in upstate New York. We were in for a show. Not wanting to miss an opportunity to educate, I saw a way to use this to my advantage. We all happened to have long telephoto lenses with us. The students I was with photographed birds. I told them to put their telephoto lens on and we were going to photograph the boats. I got some strange looks, but I told them to trust me on this.
As the club was getting ready to put their boats in the water, I asked my students how many blurry bird photos they had taken. The census answer was that they might be able to do better with birds in flight. I told them this is a lesson in panning and stopping action, the same principals that are used when photographing birds in flight. I told them if they could stop the action of the boats and keep them in the frame, going birding after this was going to be a breeze. You would think that little boats about two feet long would be an easy target. Well, let me tell you that this was a race so these things were all over the place and once they got the thing in a somewhat straight line, they opened it up and I would have to say that they were doing around 40 M.P.H.! With all this action and looking through a telephoto lens, this was going to be an interesting ride.
At first I like to let my students just go for it and see what they come up with. As suspected, there were some blurry frames. So the first change we made was to our shutter speed to a minimum of 1/1000. I also got them shooting in manual mode so no matter where they pointed their camera; the exposure would stay the same. For an f-stop we stuck with f/5.6 as the lenses that we had were variable aperture. With our 80mm-400mm lens, the minimum f-stop I can get is f/5.6. Easy enough. It was the middle of the day so we started at ISO 100.
After a couple of test runs with the boats, it was apparent that I had run into something that I had not seen in awhile. These boats are running around like a humming bird on speed. After reviewing the frames from the first run they were SOFT! OK, one point for the boats. I ended up jacking up the ISO to 400 and cranking up the shutter speed to 1/3200. Problem solved. The lesson here is, the faster the subject, the faster the shutter speed, DUH!
Anyway, check out the following photos below and see what you think.
Like in any good race, everyone is looking for the crash. In the following photo, there are a couple of things going on here. First, you can probably see that the Geico boat took the turn a little fast and will soon be bottoms up. On the left side of the frame you will see a splash. If you keep following the splash to the left of the frame, you will see a straight white line. This is another boat that missed the turn and is now literally running under water!
In the next photo you can see the aqua doodle that I was talking about earlier. He just clipped it, however he is still right side up. Also, note that the prop is still in the water.
So there you have it, lots of fun and great practice. If you are a birder and you are looking to practice your panning and action stopping, I would recommend finding a RC boat club in your area. Not to mention, the racers might like to buy a copy of their pride and joy in action. In case you are wondering, they each took a turn going out in a rowboat to retrieve any boats that were disabled. I guess the loser is the low man in the rowboat!
Until next time…
Keep Your Glass Clean