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Remaining Flexible

August 17, 2009

Yesterday I photographed the swimming portion of a triathalon at a local state park. I was in a kayak on the water.

This was to be:

  • My first time photographing, or even watching, a triathalon.
  • My first time photographing from a kayak.
  • My second time ever even being in a kayak.

There were a lot of variables here. That’s why I began scouting the location a month ahead of time. (I wrote about that previously.) I spoke to organizers, volunteers and past participants. I did everything I reasonably could to ensure that I got satisfying photos.

There were some 500 participants. There were so many that they had to send them out in five waves, separated by five minute intervals. The swim course was a full mile long. (Apparently many triathalons have much shorter swim courses.)

In deference to my wife and her concern about the three giant unknowns listed above, I took my “good” camera but did not take any of my “good” lenses. Instead I used an old, manual focus film system lens adapted to my new digital SLR body. It was a decent lens in its day but I can see a difference in image quality. Most importantly, it cost me around $20 on eBay so, if it ended up in the water there would be no great loss. (There was no such readily available alternative to using the camera body but at least I was only risking half a system.)

I had planned to arrive before 6am. The first wave hit the water at 7:45am but I wanted to get some warm-up shots and take a final lay of the land. In reality I arrived about 6:30am, where there were already a couple hundred competitors there. I was already there and making my way through the maze of activity when I was notified that, for logistical reasons, kayaks would have to launch from the boat ramp. On the opposite side of the lake. So I got back in my car and drove around the lake to the boat ramp. Then I had to paddle the kayak back across the lake to where the participants were.

My initial plan was to start on the outside of Turn 1. I would photograph the first wave from their starting positions on the beach and all the way out as they swam directly toward me. I would then paddle along with them toward Turn 2, turning around just in time to get shots of the second wave as they rounded Turn 1. I’d then follow them the rest of the way to Turn 2 and turn around to get the third wave. Eventually, I’d make my way to the final leg of the course and catch the last wave in the home stretch.

None of that happened.

Turn 1 was much too far away for me to get any kind of decent starting shots, even using a 300mm zoom lens. The course was also a lot bigger and longer than I realized. I would spend more time paddling than taking pictures. Finally, shooting back from the outside of Turn 1 would having me shooting almost directly into the sun. Using an older lens with no lens hood. Sun flare would have killed my pictures and looking through the viewfinder would have blinded me.


I remained flexible and took advantage of the fact that I was on the water and couldn’t shoot warm-ups to quickly scout new angles. I managed to find one nearing the starting line and I pretty much just stayed there until after the last wave launched. Then I quickly paddled to shore and abandoned the kayak. (My wife was there to watch it.) I ran over to the finish line further up the shore and photographed swimmers coming directly toward me on the home stretch.

Lucky for me that the course was so long, I was actually able to get all but the fastest swimmers of the first wave both starting and finishing. So what I got was nothing like what I’d planned despite a great deal of meticulous planning and research. In hindsight, it was even better.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Julianna permalink
    August 27, 2009 3:58 am

    Hi Jeff
    Inspite of all the things that didn’t happen for you, your pictures were wonderful.

    I love the picture of the hand on the sand. It looks like it is floating on it.

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