Water Skier – Orlando, Florida

Sometimes you just fall into opportunities. I was working on a project up in Orlando, Florida a couple of weekends ago. My friend and I were on our way to our destination when we noticed some action going on in a retention pond. I made mental note of it as we passed along. Where we were going to meet for our project was not going to open for another hour so we looked at each other and said why don’t we see what is going on back there.

Orlando has retention ponds that are next to the highways for the water to run into. Usually these are home to tall grass, birds and alligators. Sometimes I see folks fishing and hoping for a bite. All I can think of is they are going to get the wrong kind of bite. We circled around and this pond had a chain link fence around it which they do sometimes if the state really wants to make sure that people say out. We found the entrance to the fence and there were banners along the side that said “Radar”. As we looked into the pond, there was a water skier that was practicing jumps. My eyes lit up like a Christmas tree. I even had my trusty 80mm-400mm lens on the camera. The photographer God’s were on my side. As we talked with the person driving the boat, this was a private water ski school. At this point I realized that we were trespassing on private property, but with my charismatic attitude and a face that no one can say no to (remember Puss In Boots?), the coach that was operating the boat allowed us to take some photos. The coach informed us that there was a big event happening in downtown Orlando for professional skiers and they were going to go to in a little bit.

The students switched out and the new student was ready for her turn. The coach threw the throttle forward and off they both went. After a couple of passes I got the hang of the pattern that they were going to be following. The first angle that I had set up really didn’t work out to well, as there were stoplights and cars in the background. This didn’t look natural to say the least! I repositioned myself to try and find a new background. Time is ticking along and I’m running out of it. There is nothing more humorous than at 400lb person trying to sprint to the other side of the pond at warp speed. Since this is an action shot and I wanted to freeze it, there were a couple of things that I wanted to get set in the camera as I was doing my impression of Swan Lake to the other side of the pond.

First, I wanted to get my frame rate up as fast as possible as I like shooting continuous or burst frame. Some photographers balk at this, but this is America and this is the way I roll. With my vertical grip on I can get about 10 frames a second, which leads me to my second change, JPG only. I’m a big RAW shooter and I love it, but not at 6 frames a second. This is why I switch to JPG for action. With my camera set to “Large” and “Fine” JPG setting, I can still get a great 16” x 20” print. Also, I’m a big manual shooter. I have been screwed too many times by aperture priority. I know with manual, once it’s set, ALL of my exposures are going to be the same. For my settings, I choose ISO 400, f/5.6 at 1/1,000. f/5.6 is the widest I can go at the 400mm end. Maybe one day I can afford one of those 400mm f/2.8 lens, they are only $9,000! ISO 400 helped me achieve the shutter speed that I wanted. I really should have doubled my shutter speed, but I was running out of time and had to get a photo.

I pointed the camera at the skier and started “bumping the glass” as I call it. I have not had good luck with continuous focus in these situations, so my fix is to leave the camera in single focus and keep tapping the shutter button. This way I know that what I have the camera pointed at will be in FOCUS. With continuous, it MAY be in focus, this is coming from the camera manufacture. So here is where I started:

 spencer pullen photography orlando florida water ski upThe Setup – Spencer Pullen © 2012

The order that you will see the photos is how the skier practiced this jump. She started with the one ski up in the air. I’m no ski professional, but if this were me, I would have faced plowed right in the water.

 spencer pullen photography orlando florida water ski rooster tailRooster Tail – Spencer Pullen © 2012

As she came across the pond to set up for the jump, she made this incredible spray of water.

 spencer pullen photography orlando florida water ski off ramp jumpOff The Ramp – Spencer Pullen © 2012

Here you can see she is in the middle of the air. At this point, I think my wet suit would be full of crap!

 spencer pullen photography orlando florida water ski landingStick The Landing – Spencer Pullen © 2012

I love all the water spray, using a fast shutter speed allows all of the drops to be frozen in place. I also cropped it with the skier on the right hand side. You can see the tow rope going off the left hand side of the frame. This gives your mind the visual effect that she is going to be pulled through the frame.

In all I think we had about 10 minutes of actual shooting. The balance of the time was creating rapport with the coach and skier to allow us to photograph them without visiting the local Orlando jail by being on private property. Now what I would really like to do is photograph from the back of a boat. If any of you know or have access to water skiers that would like their photo taken let me know. I would imagine from the back of the boat, one could get closer and frame up the skier better. Any takers?

The next time you see something going on in an alligator infested retention pond, stop and ask questions. You just never know what you are going to come home with.

Until next time…

Keep Your Glass Clean


  1. What a riot! I love your sense of adventure.

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