Try something new

Earlier this year I was talking with a friend, Ian, about the photography he “majors” in, namely rowing events.  As we discussed it he realised that he could benefit from having a second photographer along; they could add some different angles and shots of details that he normally wouldn’t be able to take because he would be concentrating on the crews.  Besides being a chance to do something that I had never tried before, Ian generously offered to host my pictures on his site, which could lead to some sales.  This made it too good an offer to pass up, so we picked our event (Tyne Head) and started planning.

Here are some of the main points that made the event a boost for my photography.

  • I researched the event, checking the event details online and comparing the course route to the OS map to identify likely angles, distances and access points.  Knowing where Ian was going to shoot from, I tried to pick out other locations for the races themselves which would give us some variety.
  • I was concerned about my lenses as my longest lens isn’t the greatest of quality or particularly fast.  Ian loaned me his Sigma 100-300mm f4 and a 1.4x teleconverter.  I was shooting on a full-frame camera, so this gave me a maximum of 420mm at f5.6.  This is where a cropped-sensor camera would really win out but we agreed that there should be enough reach to have a good go at most possibilities.
  • We arrived well before the first race was due to start.  We hung about carefully positioned ourselves near one of the main landing stages to watch the crews preparing their boats and carry them to the water.  People were constantly on the move, so I had to grab each shot quickly rather than having the luxury of fine-tuning or staging anything like I’m used to.
  • I soon got into the feel of the event and started finding some details like the symmetry of this eight, or the wellies – the mud was quite deep in places and the crews had dubbed the event “Glastonbury Head”.

Procession to the start

Procession to the start – crews head off for Blaydon from Newburn

  • Once the crews were on the water they rowed (or sculled) downstream to the start line.  I took my position opposite the finishing line and waited for the first crews to arrive.  Once I’d got my first few shots I realised that I’d chosen the wrong bank; I was too far away and my angle too flat to get the shots I was after.  Apparently, I would have been on the right bank the year before!

A womens coxed eight finishing

A womens coxed eight finishing, from a poor position

  • The bridge was too far away to move over to the other bank in time so I had to adapt; I started getting shots of the coxes as the crews returned nearer to the bank I was on, with much better success.  I knew Ian would be concentrating on the rowers themselves, so this would add a different type of variety to our images from the day.
Cox from St Cuthbert's Society
Cox from St Cuthbert’s Society
  • In between the races (divisions), we downloaded our cards and headed back out.  I was looking for some details or individuals or groups – any subject which struck me as a notable feature of the day:


Piles of blades


Marshalls, part of the organising team

  • For the second race, I had chosen a point in the mid course where I expected the crews to come in tight to the bank.  This was a much better location than the first race and gave me a chance to practice timing.  In a sport like rowing where there is a strong technique element involved, timing of the shutter release is critical to a fraction of a setting – another difference from taking landscapes!  By the end, I found that I was “feeling” the rhythm of the strokes rather than trying to hit the shutter at a particular point and my shots were coming out better.

Mens eight mid-course

Mens eight in full flow – much better angle and distance

Womens coxed four

Womens coxed four – another example


I’m a big fan of reading, researching a subject and understanding the technical aspects.  But sometimes the only way to improve is to go out and try it, make mistakes and learn from them.  So go and try something completely different to your normal photography:

  • Do some planning or dive straight in.  Either way…
  • Be flexible – adapt your plans as you go along.
  • Review the experience and your shots critically, and learn anything you can from them.
  • If you can, find someone willing to share with you – either someone who knows the subject and can introduce you to it, or someone else who’s equally inexperienced to chew over ideas and problems.
  • For a subject which requires specialist kit, try to borrow what you need or at least spread the rental costs with others.
  • Reciprocate – take someone with you to experience whatever you specialise in.

Which reminds me… I owe Ian a return landscaping day.