About the Shot - Waterfall Kayak Drop

February 08, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

This shot of an exciting kayak waterfall drop, was made into an action-sequence shot by compositing 12 photos covering a few seconds of real-time.  It was a challenging image-capture for several reasons. 

1.  The waterfall was in complete shade due to steep canyon sides, yet it was a fast-moving sports scene that required stop-action and thus an extremely fast shutter speed.  The kayak is probably approaching 30 mph at the bottom so a fast 'motor drive' mode is required.  Due to the deep shade, white balance was set to 'Shade' to correct for the blue-ish color distortion effect (and then fine-tuned in Adobe LightRoom in post).

2. To freeze the action for a composite-sequence shot, the ISO setting (camera sensor sensitivity) had to be turned way up in order to get to a quite fast 1/800 to 1/1000 shutter speed and a decent depth of field for the scene throughout the kayak's far-to-near transit.  A normal ISO is 100 or 200 but I had to use ISO 1250. For older or less capable cameras, this would introduce an unacceptable level of noise into the picture, but the fairly new Canon 5D Mark III's is quite good for noise despite high ISO. It was easily corrected in Adobe LightRoom to a commercially acceptable level.  The depth of field had to be fairly large despite the fast shutter, so that the ~70 ft of Z distance fore and aft of the falls horizon line would be sharp in-focus.

3. To further ensure a tack sharp series of pictures despite using a fast 6 frames per second of 22 megapixel RAW-format shooting, I used a Canon 5D Mark III feature to eliminate the mirror-movement vibrations.   Using the "Live View' mode, the mirror stays up, thus eliminating all that commotion and vibration that could detract from sharp captures, if you use manual focus or quick-focus mode.  This sharpness was enhanced by using a strong, carbon-fiber tripod, weighted with a mesh bag of rocks, and careful manual focus using 10x magnification in Live View. Live View is when you use the LCD display instead of looking through the viewfinder.  Another sharpness essential was using a shutter control remote cable to avoid slight camera movement from on-camera-shutter-button presses.

4.  I set the camera to 6 fps fast-continuous shooting mode as the slower mode (3 fps)wouldn't be fast enough during the drop.  To get ample shots of the kayak maneuvering before the drop while preserving the camera's primary memory buffer, I had to trip single shots every few seconds (with a delicate touch) during the slower approach to the lip of the waterfall... then as the kayak was accelerating at the lip of the falls, I held down the shutter remote for continuous 6 fps shots all the way down, then paused while the kayak was underwater to let the camera buffer catch up... then more continuous shots as soon as the kayak surfaced, rolled up and paddled away.  Sequence captured! 

The sequence-composite photo next to this blog entry, and in the "Adventure Sports" collection was composited in Photoshop, choosing 12 of 27 photos captured, with lots of manual editing/masking steps and careful crafting of composite edges with a Wacom pen-tablet, but that's a whole extra blog topic.

Cheers,
Leigh


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