Photographing Swimming and Diving
Nothing makes a photographer more nervous than bringing your newly purchased camera body and lens to a pool party. What is even more nerve wracking is bringing that camera equipment to a water sporting event. However, every weekend that is what parents do when they want to capture their sons and daughters in a swimming or diving match. You have water flying, wet kids and a giant pool. Scary. Alright I am being a bit overly dramatic but it does present challenges. Today, I want to talk about some tips for photographing competitive swimming and diving.
Water sports offer different types of challenges and rarely is placement more important than with these sports. You really have to be in the right place at the right time because sometimes the windows of opportunity are so tiny. You don’t have time to move. Let’s…um…dive right in
Diving - This sport requires scouting out the best angle in advance. My favorite angle is to get at a 90 degree angle so you can track them from the board all the way to the water. Ideally, you could find some bleachers to raise your vantage point. When you are standing on the pool side you are trying to track an object moving fairly quickly with the focal distance changing every second. That is tough. It can be done but it just requires you to shoot heavily and edit a lot to find the right one. Ideally, you can get up a bit higher so that the diver is basically staying in the same plane of focus so you are not tracking the focus so heavily. A clean background is also helpful so try to scout out your options in advance. Again, shoot heavily because not only are they moving quickly but they are twisting and turning so capturing a clear angle is tough. I have also taken some shots down underneath the diving board poolside. In this situation you are pre focusing on the point in the water where they will hit the surface. If you get lucky, you can get a pretty unique shot.
Swimming - The four competitive swimming strokes are freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke and butterfly and each one has its own challenges.
Freestyle offers you a few options. By watching a few races you can find the point on the edge of the pool where after the initial start, they come up for their first breath. Warning, it is fast. By placing yourself in the right place you should be able to snap off a few shots before they duck their heads back under water. The other two times to catch them is on the starting blocks. You can get a few of them before they take their places and then once they spring, you will be able to catch a few shots of them in mid air. You can help yourself by pre focusing them when they are in their ready position and then using the same plane of focus, capture them in mid-air without having to adjust your focus. The other time to capture this race is to get yourself at an angle near the finish line and put the clock behind you. Most times swimmers have no idea if they won so the first place they look is towards the clock. This is when you can get celebration photos. Many times these are better than any action you could take.
Backstroke is probably the toughest of them all. I have found the best way to capture this one is to get up as high as you can get. You need to be looking down at the swimmer in order to get a clean shot.
Breaststroke is a bit easier but it is not very dynamic. You just have to find the timing and successfully track the focus. Make sure the swimmer is coming straight at you. Shots from the side of the pool are normally not as effective or dramatic. I find that if I am focusing on the water right in front of them, by the time the head pops up and I push the trigger, the focus is just about right.
Butterfly offers the most dramatic images of all the strokes. You will definitely succeed by utilizing the focusing technique I discussed for the Breaststroke. Focusing on the water in front of the swimmer will almost always help you out. In this shot you want the swimmer coming straight at you. The gasp for air and the frozen droplets of water affords some great shots. Keep your shutter speed fast. Best to find the end of the pool where the swimmer is coming straight into the sun (behind your back). Trying to photograph this sport with strong sun coming from behind the swimmer is very difficult. Let the sun work for you and put the sun to your back.
That’s all there is to it. Stay dry, where sunscreen and as always, have a blast!
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