World Pilot Gig Championships 2014

May 14, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

Wow, what an event. This blog is going to talk about the preparation involved, the technicalities of equipment and camera settings (for all other photography enthusiasts out there!), post production work flows, and continuing development (all ideas welcome!).


1.  Calling on a lot of people for a lot of favours. My housemates for looking after my cat, Marie for looking after my dog, Lisbet and Ray for having me to stay in their home on the Isles of Scilly, Billy, Tom and Paul from St Mary’s for putting me in contact with Mike and Lou who were kind enough to have me on their RIB, Paul from the Meridian for giving me a great view up top, friends on the mainland for putting me up in their houses and for using their broadband, Alice for her Twitter support, Alex for all his IT support, Tobi for his photo-journalism advice, Toby from Gig Rower and Rick from WPGC for their support.

2.  Thinking about what sort of pictures I wanted. As a rower, what pictures would I like to buy from the event?

  • Portraits of rowers in action, which captured the exertion and emotion involved in gig racing.
  • Entire crew/boat- taken from the stern and from the side.
  • Location shots i.e. boats “in-situ”.
  • St Agnes start line spectacle (I’m still working on making a St Agnes start line panoramic!)
  • After party and Gig Club Community shots, out in the open and in the pubs. Photos which show just how much fun Gig Rowing is!

Camera equipment

Having the necessary kit. As much as I love my Nikon d300s and Nikon F4 24-120mm VR (Vibration Reduction) lens, I knew that they weren’t going to get me all of the really high quality photographs that I aspire to capture. I have recently upgraded to a Nikon d610 and purchased a Nikon F2.8 70-200mm VR lens.

The following section explains some of the reasons why.

Firstly, some background knowledge about the 3 settings which alter the exposure of a photograph; ISO (sensor sensitivity to light), aperture (the size of the hole/pupil, through which light passes), and shutter speed (the period of time that the shutter is open, during which time the image is produced). Get the combination of all 3 balanced, and you have a well-exposed photograph. How you choose to balance them depends on what you would like your image to look like. Would you like a small part of the image, or the entire image, to be in focus? i.e. would you like a low or high depth of field respectively? Would you like moving subjects sharp, or would you like there to be movement blur (1/600sec vs 1/40sec shutter speed)?

The very low F/aperture number (2.8) of the lens means that the aperture, or camera pupil, can be set larger. This has three main potential benefits.

1. More light can be let in, and hence a lower ISO can be used, increasing the quality of the photo, and reducing the noise. Noise is usually undesirable, because it gives images a grainy appearance.

2. Fast shutter speeds can be used, because more light can reach the sensor.

3. Depth of field (the amount of the photograph in focus) is reduced (generally great for portraits, when you want the surroundings blurred out to make the definition of the subject stand out).

The larger, higher quality sensor in the d610 results in less noise at higher ISO settings (d610 ISO range is 100-3200).  This is great when not much light can reach the sensor, or because you’re needing to use fast shutter speeds or smaller (higher F number) apertures, which is the case in low light conditions, fast moving subjects, or when smaller apertures are required to give a bigger depth of field respectively.

The aperture on this lens doesn’t change when you zoom in/out, which is essential for when I shoot moving subjects (animals and people) in Manual mode (which is most of the time).

The large zoom range speaks for itself.

I have loved my HOYA circular polarising filter for years. The “polarised sunglasses effect” (increased colour vibrancy, reduced reflections, haze, and glare) is one of the few things you cannot accurately replicate using photo processing software. The only down sides are that it slightly reduces the amount of light reaching the sensor, and you constantly have to twist it when shooting in different directions.

More megapixels (24 vs 12) mean that my photos can produce excellent quality prints when enlarged.

Camera Settings

         When shooting from a boat, the first thing I needed to know was how fast a shutter speed did I require, so that I wasn’t getting movement blur? I found that having a shutter speed of at least 1/640 sec (slower if zoomed out, faster if zoomed in) meant that most shots were sharp. I was pretty happy to go higher than this a lot of the time to err on the side of caution (you never quite know when that wave is going to hit!), which was possible because for most of the weekend it was sunny and so the ISO didn’t need to be excessively high to compensate. Equally, I could have a slower shutter when in calm seas and on a stationary boat.

         I usually shoot in Manual Mode, which is how the Veterans races were taken, but controlling aperture, shutter speed, and ISO all at the same time, while bouncing around on a RIB with constantly changing opportunities and compositions, and trying to avoid getting spray on the lens, is not easy. Consequently, often more time is required altering the exposure of the shots afterwards, when taking compositions that change a lot. I found this impractical considering the volume of photographs required for an event like this. For example, when photographing in manual mode, while the settings may be great when zoomed in on (a back lit) rower, as soon as you change the composition, zoom out, and incorporate more background, the image becomes horribly over-exposed.

Instead, I took the decision to take shots on the water in “Aperture Priority Mode” (i.e. I decide the ISO and aperture, and the camera works out the shutter speed), which I found more practical, and allowed me more time to think about composition etc. It is crucial to get the aperture setting correct, if you care about how much of the image is/isn’t in focus.

This piece of paper was to be found in my pocket for most of the weekend.

The first column, with 24mm, 70mm, and 200mm underlined in red relates to the zoom position, and written below them the distance I am from the subject/ point of focus. The second column tells me the “dimensional field of view” (the distance that the horizontal frame length is at the subject point) Eg If I’m 50m away and am fully zoomed in (200mm), the width of my photograph at the point of my subject is 9m (just under a boat length), and if I’m fully zoomed out (70mm) then the width of my subject is 25m. It also tells me that I need to be 10m away to get 1m (roughly one rower) framed alone from the side.


The third column tells me about depth of field. I.e. How much of my picture will be in focus. This information was gathered using the SetMyCamera phone app. For example, when I’m at 200mm zoom, F2.8, and my point of focus is 10m away, only 0.4m (40cm) around this point is in focus. To be specific, my focal range is 9.7m to 10.2m away from the camera (there is always slightly more in focus in front, rather than behind, focal points). I knew F2.8 would suit individual rower portraits, side profiles of boats at a distance, and shots of individuals in a crowd, and would be great because I could have the ISO lower. Below are 3 examples of when I chose to have a small depth of field, and hence used a large aperture (small F number).

Isolating Coxswain from a Crowd: 200mm, F3.2, ISO 640, Shutter Speed 1/3200

Men’s Falmouth A over the finish line: 200mm, F2.8, ISO 500, Shutter Speed 1/3200

Gentlemen from Appledore: 200mm, F2.8, ISO 1250, Shutter Speed 1/800

However, when requiring 200mm zoom, F2.8 would be no good to get an entire crew in focus when taking the picture from the stern (depth of field from Cox to bow rower would be approximately 7m). For example, being 30m away from the boat, at 200mm zoom, the image would be nicely composed with a dimensional field of view of 7.7m (ie the distance from one edge of the boat to the end of the oars) but at F2.8 my depth of field would only be 3.8m.  I would need to reduce the size of my aperture to F 5.6 (depth of field 7.7m) or greater to get the entire crew in focus. However, F2.8 has 4 times the ability to gather light, compared to F5.6. I would therefore need to increase my ISO by 4 times (eg 200 to 800), in circumstances when reducing the shutter speed to compensate isn’t an option (i.e. with a moving boat etc!). Sometimes I allowed myself time to change the ISO, so that I could have it low if possible, other times I left it high, even when taking pictures suited to F2.8, (and allowed the camera to alter the shutterspeed to compensate) because there often wasn’t the time available to change it.

Stern Shot: 140mm, ISO| 800, F7.1, Shutter Speed 1/640

If the subject was 10m away, and I was therefore zoomed out at 70mm, I could have stuck to F2.8 and got a depth of field of 10m (rather than 40cm).

Another example would be an image where I would like the boat and background in focus (like many of my finish line shots taken from the Meridian, with Rat Island in the background). For these shots I would need to increase my aperture, and my ISO, when zoomed in.

Both VILT, and the Garrison, are in Focus. 105mm, ISO 1000, F5.6, Shutter Speed 1/800. When the point of focus is 66m away or more at these settings, the depth of field becomes infinity.

The photos taken at night were done so in Manual Mode. Shutter speed 1/60, ISO 3200, and generally F4 or F5 (using my wider angle 24-120mm lens).

24mm, 1/60sec, F5, ISO 3200. With a focal point 3 metres away at these setting, my depth of field is 12m. 4m away and it’s infinity.

Focal points: I found that pre focusing, and pressing the shutter shortly after, at the right part of the stroke, worked best. To pre-empt whether or not the distance from me to the subject was going to change during this time was important.

Post production Workflow

a basic, not conclusive, overview!

  1. Import photos from the memory card into Aperture (Mac RAW file processor)
  2. Back-up onto external hard drive.
  3. Delete photos from memory card.
  4. Go through all photos and colour label the photos to keep
  5. Apply filter, so only labelled photos are shown
  6. Bulk edit, by applying alterations that are applicable to many photos. Eg noise reduction, fine-tuning the white balance, edge sharpen.
  7. Assess the histogram, and alter the exposure of individual photos accordingly, if necessary.
  8. Darken highlights and lighten shadows, if necessary.
  9. Use the “Curves” tool to further enhance each colour curve.
  10. Crop, only if I think completely necessary.
  11. Straighten the horizon.
  12. Add keywords to each photo/sets of photo. Eg Boat/club name.
  13. Upload!


Deleting photos which aren’t colour labelled. Over the weekend I reckon I uploaded 250MB of files, which is 50% of my Hard Drive memory.

Repeat back-up so hard drive space is cleared.

Continuing development

Despite my best efforts to prepare for the event, with hindsight there are some things that I would choose to do differently. As I explained earlier, some photos are taken with quite high ISO numbers, which isn’t a huge problem on my camera, but something that I think I would make more effort to avoid in the future. I also think there is room for improvement when fine-tuning my setting selection, and adjusting the camera settings on my new camera more quickly. Practice makes perfect!

During the event I would choose to spend less time processing the photos, and more time out and about soaking up the atmosphere in and around the beach. I would also make sleep more of a priority. I don’t recommend getting no more than 4 hours sleep a night for a week! Realistically speaking, I think my time would be better spent selecting a few photos for people to view during the event, and awaiting processing and uploading the remainder, after the event when I had more time and faster internet.



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