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As a professional photographer I am constantly reminded of how digital photography has changed the business of photography. How many people don’t have a digital camera of some sort? Cell phones? With so many photographers out there, it’s not surprising that fewer and fewer people see the value in purchasing the work of professionals when they can take their own shots and exchange them for free with friends and family simply by attaching an image to an email or posting it to Facebook.

So here are a few pointers to assist in a more critical evaluation of sailing (and other) images:

Basic composition – Is the image balanced to your eye? Is the horizon straight?  This is one of the most common issues with on-the-water photography since the photographer is typically bouncing around when shooting.  What is the perspective of the photo – i.e. is it shot from in front of the boat, straight on from the side, or from astern? Which perspective appears more insteresting?  Hint: side-on shots tend to look flat, unless you’re going for a portrait of crew on the rail.  Also consider the foreground and background – do they convey a sense of action (such as waves in the foreground) and/or location (such as recognizable land features) without being distracting?

Exposure – Is the image over- or under-exposed?  White sails, blue sky, and dark water can present a challenge to a camera’s automatic exposure system.  Is the white of the sails blown out or the shadows so dark that you can’t see enough detail?  Experienced photographers will often use a combination of exposure compensation with carefully selected shutter speed, aperture and ISO settings to obtain the optimal exposure and depth of field.

LER_2612fuzzy_2

The upper image illustrates many issues - a crooked horizon, poor focus and exposure, and a distracting background.  The lower image is much better, and in fact was on the cover of a sailing magazine.

The upper image illustrates many issues - a crooked horizon, poor focus and exposure, and a distracting background. The lower image is much better, and in fact was on the cover of a sailing magazine.

Focus – Is the main subject of the image in focus or is there motion blur?  Is the point of focus on the bow of the boat or on the face of the person hiking on the rail?  Today’s digital cameras use sophisticated auto-focus systems, but can be challenged when presented with a moving platform and a moving subject.  Higher-end digital SLR cameras provide a photographer with the ability to place the point of focus where it will have the most impact rather than allowing the camera to determine the point of focus – frequently the closest object to the photographer, not the object of interest.

White balance / color correction – in simple terms, this is a measure of the fidelity of the colors in an image.  Shooting on-the-water presents a challenge for color correction since there is typically a strong blue tint on an image shot with auto white balance.   It can be difficult to assess this aspect of an image unless your computer display has been calibrated, but beware of images that have a strong overall blue tint or have been over-corrected yielding unrealistic colors.

An illustration of how cameras can skew the white balance of a marine scene, making it too blue.

An illustration of how cameras can skew the white balance of a marine scene, making it too blue.

The same image with appropriate color correction applied.

The same image with appropriate color correction applied.

Post-processing – Very few photos come out of a digital camera ready for publication on the web or in print.  Almost every image requires color correction and subtle adjustments to exposure and contrast.  Too much post-processing can make colors look fake and too little can leave image looking flat and fuzzy.

The professional photographer has spent many hours mastering these creative and technical issues.  They have also invested in professional level cameras, lenses and accessories that enable them to create high quality images. Still, there can be a large variability in the quality of images from different pros.  So with these criteria in mind, compare the work of various photographers and decide whose style you like best, and don’t hesitate to pay a fair price for their efforts.

For more sailing images please visit Rockskipper.com.

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We’re just back from Block Island where BIRW 2009 featured rain, wind, fog, no wind, and a few fleeting hours of sunshine.   None-the-less I had a terrific week following the NYYC Swan 42 Arethusa and the Red Fleet on Phil and Wendy Lotz’s superb support boat, Alpheus.  The conditions for compelling photography were challenging — overcast and foggy days, and light air — but I’m still pleased with the results.  Photos are online at http://www.rockskipper.com – follow the sailing links.

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Yesterday morning I positioned myself on the San Francisco coast with a terrific view of the Golden Gate Bridge and Mile Rock to photograph the start of the Spinnaker Cup.  50 + boats sailed fromSan Francisco Bay to Monterey in this race, jointly run by the San Francisco Yacht Club and the Monterey Peninsula Yacht Club.   The weather was cool and foggy for the 11 am start with also featured a strong 3+kt flood tide — good for photographs from my shore location since most of the boats headed to the south coast for current relief after passing under the Golden Gate Bridge.  No results are posted yet, but the race, sailed under PHRF ratings, strongly favored the planing boats since this is a mostly downwind race.   Photos are online at http://www.rockskipper.com — follow the sailing links.

Jim Gregory's Morpheus

Jim Gregory's Morpheus

2009 Spinnaker Cup

Outsider and X-Dream pass Mile Rock.

2009 Spinnaker Cup

John Siegel's Scorpio heads offshore.

Lani Spund's Team Kokopelli races to Monterey.

Lani Spund's Team Kokopelli races to Monterey.

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After much procrastination, I am finally starting a blog!  So here it goes…

Where to start?  How about a few of my best sailing images from the first half of 2009?

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