Bad Lighting. Nikon D200, Nikkor
20mm 1.8 @ 1/1000 F7.1 ISO 200.
Once you have the basic
hard skills of exposure and focus down, lighting is the next step that
will make or break the shot. Understanding light is a few basic rules
mixed with experience. The largest mistake people make is to choose
their angle for the rapid, not the light.
Shooting for the rapid, heavy shadows, glare and poor color saturation.Nikon D200, Nikkor 18-200 @ 105mm
1/800 F8 ISO 100.
The most basic rule of thumb for
whitewater lighting is to shoot with the sun behind you. It's as simple
as checking where your shadow is. This reduces glare and if the sun is
low enough, lights up the paddlers face. On the west coast this means
shooting from behind in the morning and upstream in the afternoon. Vice
Versa on the right coast. Of course at mid-day this means that for good
lighting you are more or less limited to an overhead shot, which works
well for some rapids.
Shooting for the light at mid-day. Nikon D200, Sigma 10-20 @ 20mm
1/1250 F9 ISO 200
An age old
photography rule is that the lighting is best at sunrise and sunset.
This poses some problems when applied to kayaking, because we can't put
on before light and certainly don't want to take off after dark. If you
want to shoot a certain angle of a rapid it's well worth your time to
note the suns position relative to it at different times in the day.
It's still generally the "best light" early or late in the day. Early
on I thought that sunny days were best for shooting action, since they
allow medium apertures, fast shutters and low ISO speeds. Unfortunately
they also limit your ability to shoot the angle you want. I get a
little tired of people on the East Coast saying that shooting in
California is easy. Sometimes it is, and sometimes it can take years to
get a shot, because you have to camp at a certain location to shoot a
rapid in the morning on a run that flows once a year....each location
has its own challenges.
personal favorite condition is when a high cloud cover causes the light
to naturally "lightbox". Lightboxes are used for studio and product
shoots, and disperse the light so it's even from all angles. You will
need faster lenses or a camera with good high ISO performance to
maximize the light on these days, but you can shoot from the angle of
choice with nice even lighting.
Experience comes into play in
understanding what style of photographs to go for under the lighting
conditions, and packing the right equipment for the conditions. Two
more examples of the same exact waterfall. Same time of day on
different days only a few weeks apart, the angle and lighting make all
the difference. .
Nikon D200, Nikkor 50mm 1.8@ 1/1000 F8 ISO 100
Putting in some hiking effort
often pays off. Nikon D200, Nikon 75-150mm "E" @ 1/1000 F5.6 ISO 100
As a beginning
photographer I hated mixed light days. They make it tough for the
camera to meter, and I just assumed all sunlight was the ideal lighting
conditions. Then I had a motivational poster, an old Pyranha ad shot by
Charlie Munsey on Rodgers Creek. Mixed lighting left the bottom of the
falls in the shade, giving the feeling that Charlie Beavers was
dropping into the unknown. I have the lowest ratio of keepers in mixed
lighting, but the ones worth saving make the effort worthwhile. In
short, just because the lighting may seem bad, don't write it off.
Nikon D200, Nikkor 18-200 @ 18mm 1/640
F6.3 ISO 400.
In brief: Put the light behind you as often as possible.
Don't be afraid of mixed light.