An Ongoing Inspiration & Challenge

01 copyOn Facebook last December, a friend posted video from the Volvo  Around the World Ocean Race. The images & footage from onboard the boats really got my attention. Racing around the world takes tremendous endurance & the ability to follow it so dramatically got me hooked. When I found out Newport RI was one of 11 stops I began to plan a road trip to photograph these amazing boats.

02Last Summer I failed at connecting with Tall Ships as they were passing thru the Great Lakes. With a defined departure date from Narragansett Bay in Mid May, I was not going to miss a chance to get some shots of these unique boats. I established a connection with John Lincourt, a RI photographer with a portfolio of great sailing images. He provided me with some valuable info. Things work out better when you can talk to someone with both experience & local knowledge to develop a plan.

03Sailboats are a subject I enjoy watching as well as taking photographs of. Not only are their numerous types of boats but they offer a diversity of forms that are unique. The only other forms I can compare them to in my mind’s eye are dancers. Since I own a small sailboat & have done a bit of sailing I recognize the challenge of capturing the unseen power of the wind to guide your boat. Although photos from onboard a sailboat are OK, in my opinion the real beauty is seen from another boat or the shore.

04 7D2L9029 last saturdayOn Saturday they had an In-Port-Race. With only a very minor impact on the scoring for the competition it was really more of a dog & pony show for host cities to promote. Even in the rain crowds lined the shore & filled the fleet of spectator boats. I had decided to buy a seat on a Ferry for this event  This gave me a somewhat elevated position above the fleet of fans. On Sunday, as they started the race leg across the Atlantic to Whales, I took images from shore near Ft. Adams.

05These boats are a custom design for one thing. Sail around the world as fast as possible. If you’re not familiar with sailing take my word these things fly through the water. Slicing thru waves for 600 miles in 24 hours must be one heck of a ride! They have almost nothing in common with my lil 15 foot day-sailor other than they both float. The 3 dome shaped antennas on the stern provide a link via satellite for vital weather info as well as a uploading images & footage. With 5 fixed video cameras & an embedded photojournalist, each team gave updates from all over the worlds oceans. The technology & the effort to capture & distribute this 9-month event is unlike anything I have ever heard of. It makes video coverage of a marathon look easy.

06I knew the basics of racing sailboats having read a bit about America’s Cup & seen a few on Chautauqua. When I saw Narragansett Bay I realized this was about as perfect a venue as possible for holding a port race because of the locations for spectators to watch along Ft. Adams. I’m sure that without rain or fog it would be stunning. On the upside, the poor weather did soften the background. The decision to be on the Ferry on Saturday was indeed the right choice. Watching 2 of these monsters sail thru the crowded spectator boats was a demonstration of amazing confidence.

07It was a personal challenge to frame tight because I think the beauty is in the wide shot with the wind shaping the sails. However, having viewed many sailing images prior to my trip I understood the power of a tight shot without the complete sailing rig. This is especially true when the boat is horizontal to the camera or coming right at you.

07aRD Turn tideNaturally, on an event as big & as expensive as this, sponsorship by businesses & organizations is necessary. I’m not a fan of the NASCAR type of branding but I understand it provides the financial support to make it happen. Turn The Tide on Plastic sails under the flag of the United Nations & is sponsored by foundations seeking to raise awareness of our oceans health. It was the only boat with a woman skipper.

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A unique aspect of trying to find the best sailing shots is the diversity of perspectives. In my perfect image, the horizon should not interfere which ideally would mean a position high enough to see only water in the background. This requires either a drone…I’m not buying another toy…or shooting from a helicopter, which is a very pricey platform. Ignoring the poor weather conditions this is about as close as I came to my “dream” shot.

09This is the crew that won it all 6 weeks later. As with any world-class competition, racing sailboats requires a level of experience, dedication & daring that only a handful of individuals can muster. To do it for over 45,000 nautical miles over 9 months makes it one of the most demanding sporting events any human can undertake. In the 13 races of this event since 1973, 9 people have lost their lives. John Fisher, one of the crew on Scallywag, was knocked overboard in the middle of the Southern Pacific Ocean. RIP

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As the boats headed off across the Atlantic for a 3300-mile sprint to Wales I felt a sense of accomplishment. I was not inspired to take up or closely follow sailboat racing. However, the imagery of sailboats remains an elusive photographic goal. I learned a great deal more about this event; I had made good decisions in my planning & I had expanded my understanding of personal motivations. Most rewarding, I got a few nice shots.

Motivated by a New Opportunity

01I don’t consider myself a competitive person. However, I enjoy the challenge of capturing compelling images of others in sporting events. Mud on the Mountain at Seven Springs seemed like it would offer a variety of new opportunities for my mind’s eye.

02 copyThe weather was cooperative & the runners were enthusiastic subjects. Unfortunately, I had not done enough planning to know where the Mud Pit or other messy locations were & missed one of my primary goals of photographing tight muddy faces.

03A wide perspective the scale of the challenge, an important part of the story. It sets up the impact of tight shots. Atop the Laurel Highlands, I found this migration of competitors that reminded me of images from the Klondike Gold Rush. It’s a different environment & perspective from climbers in single file hiking up a snow-covered pass. In my mind, the push of human endurance was a common element. I also imagined the stark contrast when the terrain was snow covered with skiers speeding in the opposite direction.

04This is my favorite tight action shot of the event. I had spotted her with the war-paint mask as a flight of runners was preparing to start. I immediately noticed attitude & knew if I saw her on the mountain she would have emotion & character on her face. I had found a good position with minimal distractions in the background as runners exited wading thru a lake. She was one of the 1st runners thru after I was in position. Her determination is profoundly obvious.

05In addition to the 7.7-mile run/hike up & down the mountain, there were 30 obstacles. I had zero experience with this type of event from a visual perspective. I wanted to explore perspectives. Although there were “elite runners” competing to win, I believe most of the athletes had a personal goal or focused on just finishing. I did see teamwork as well as athletes helping others beside them. I recognized Mud on the Mountain was as a true personal sporting challenge where collaboration met compettion.

06I’m not sure when or why the Halloween tradition of costumes seeped into many large events. These are not the typical outfits of the competitors. However, they do stand out! Full disclosure, I knew they were a trio of characters but I really had no idea who they were from. When they told me they were from Super Mario I felt foolish for my lack of gaming pop-culture.  My gamer engagement ended at Pac Man. If you don’t know ask.

06a copyI had walked around this climbing challenge 360 degrees before I found a position where the background was clear of distractions. Each runner found a unique way up, over & down. I had good framing with the lines of the wooden structure & the blue sky. Now all I needed was somebody to insert something other than their butt into the frame. Until I sorted the images I had no ideas she had stuck out her tongue when I pressed the shutter. It certainly wasn’t a reaction I anticipated. I knew the elements were in place for a good shot & her expression made it a winner.

6b copyEven though I never made it to the muddy challenges, this shot comes close to what I had seen in my mind’s eye. In this image, there are many stories on the face of this athlete. I find it interesting how the curving contrasting double necklines & the hint of the Batman logo set up his face while the horizontal orange headband divides my attention. A bad hair day can be a strong element. This is another one of my favorite portraits.

6cI believe it is rewarding to put challenges in front of you & attempt to go over them. It can be physical challenges like this event or exploring your creative skills outside of your comfort zone. That is what motivated me to go to this event with my camera. I might go again but if I do I will make sure I do the necessary planning to get to the muddier parts of the course. I can’t speak for any of the competitors that were on the mountain on that glorious spring day, but from my perspective, this runner is a good example of what this event is about. Giving your best attempt at doing what you set out to do.