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Old August 23rd, 2006, 03:07 AM   #1
Major Player
Join Date: Jan 2006
Location: Gothenburg, Sweden
Posts: 259
Just got hired

To shoot a surfing contest! And was wondering if anyone had any technique and equipment tips.
I'll be shooting on a Sony HDR FX1. Haven't bought the telephoto lens yet because I can't yet decide on which.
I just invested in a real good tripod because I know I need the extra stability while shooting with a telephoto lens.

Anyways, surf competitions can vary at the same location, I think this will be front lit because its on a west coast and heats are run in the morning. Depending on the swell, the distance could be up to 300 meters with the subjects approaching. Will 1.6x lens do or do I need something more like 2x plus?

Also, can't guarantee what the light will be like because they run the contests during the best swell, not necessarily the best weather. Any tips on camera settings? Shutter speed? I was thinking of setting it at 100 just to get rid of any blur, and in case I need slow motion smoothness.

Chris Westerstrom is offline   Reply With Quote
Old August 23rd, 2006, 05:18 AM   #2
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Join Date: Mar 2005
Location: currently in Kigali, Rwanda
Posts: 144
If you don't have a proper fluid head, get one: for example, in Manfrotto, avoid the 501 (not a true fluid) and get the 503 as a bare minimum. Your ability to track shots diagonally will be critical.

Are you there to simply cover the event or to get nice shots? Covering an event often forces you to set up flat to the waves so you can follow a surfer's entire ride, but it doesn't look very dynamic. But if you're there to get nice shots, set up at as extreme an angle you can manage, on a cliff if there is one. Basically, shoot from any positions different from the regular beach view.

A 2x tele is definitely useful at 300 meters. And a mattebox; unless it's raining, there's a lot of light bouncing around. Oh, and don't forget an ND filter, the one's on the camera won't be enough if the sun comes out.

Finally, I think it's more important to try to keep your aperature open at 5.6 or wider. I've noticed a kind of mushiness introduced as the camera is stopped down below 5.6. Coincidentally, I first noticed this shooting surfers on a very bright day. After some research, I found that when planning for a film-out to avoid shooting below 5.6 otherwise when projected the results become murky. It seems that CCDs like to be "charged" with as much light as possible. I only vaguely understand the argument, but have followed the advice ever since and found the results to be excellent. Hence, the advice to get ND filters.

Let us know how it goes!
Tom Vandas is offline   Reply With Quote
Old August 23rd, 2006, 05:55 AM   #3
Join Date: Feb 2004
Location: Suwanee, GA
Posts: 1,241
I am sure Keith will chime it too...

If they are using a raised judging stand and you are shooting the competition, you probably want to be there if you can get there. You will need to assure them that you will cut the audio of any comments in post (which you may want to do anyway, read on). They probably expect a music track anyway. That will give you a better angle on the competition as if the surf is bigger than 1 meter, your view can be blocked.

Since you have never shot a surfing competition before, I recommend a spotter. Sometimes, the judging stand will have one (another reason to be there). The spotter will also help you know where the break is and what it the most likely takeoff on any set coming it so that you can pre-stage and set your zoom. If the surfing rules have a priority system (some do, some don't), the spotter can tell you who to focus on. After that, you may need the spotter to tell you who anyway until you get the hang of it (person closest to the peak of the wave in the direction of the wave has priority).

One trick to know is the Left and Right does not mean your left and right. Left and Right is from the surfer's perspective. So, if someone is going left, they will surf to your right.

A ride starts with the paddle into the wave and ends when the kick out of the back or fall completely off. The hard part will be when someone rides a long wave to the beach, and meanwhile, someone else starts to ride another wave. Since 'waves' usually come in sets of three to seven waves, this will happen. You have to figure out when to cut. If you are shooting with a second camera, you may want to set up a priority where camera 2 always cuts to the new surfer. Why you might want to not cut to the next surfer is that a long ride might actually be a high scoring ride, and possibly a highlight. This is sort of where experience kicks in. If you have a spotter assisting you (a competitor or knowledgable fan), they can help you determine when to cutaway to the second rider.

Avoid the water's edge. Too much salt spray near the breaking waves.
George Ellis is offline   Reply With Quote
Old August 23rd, 2006, 06:11 AM   #4
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Join Date: Jun 2004
Location: Richmond, VA
Posts: 3,047
It might not hurt to set up a seperate audio capture closer to the waves. I'm not sure how the crowd will be positioned, but if they're around your camera, you probably won't get much wave sound, so maybe set up a seperate audio capture, i.e. simple cam with a shotgun. Just my little idea.
What happens if I push the 'Red' button?
Steven Davis is offline   Reply With Quote
Old August 23rd, 2006, 06:33 AM   #5
Join Date: Feb 2004
Location: Suwanee, GA
Posts: 1,241
Just had an idea. Want to see some contest footage? http://www.surfline.com/video/index_clips.cfm?cat=con

Surfline has some (link above) that can give you some ideas on what others have done in post. Since we all shoot for the edit... ;)
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