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Whitewater Photography Tutorial #1: Where to start?

We all have unique expectations from our photographs. This tutorial is geared to people looking for more than a snapshot from the river. I'll be sharing what I've learned through trial and error over many years. Murphy's Law says that you'll get great light the day your don't bring your camera. The only way around this is bringing the camera every time.

This is written with an aspect on capturing the best data possible on a technical level. The better the quality of data recorded by the camera the more to work with in the end. While I devote a lot of of time to technical data, in reality it's the least important part of a good photograph.

Don't care about the optimal capture? Skip on ahead to #6

The next shot has it all, huge waterfalls, technically perfect settings on $2,800 Nikon D700 FX dSLR with a 50mm prime lens and shot in raw. But it's...kind of boring, all it makes me think is "wow, that's a big waterfall".

Technically Boring & never published.

This shot is technically imperfect, it was shot on a Nikon D50 set to all auto with the 18-55mm kit lens at ISO 400, over exposed and recorded as jpg. But it's a better picture because it has the unknown and makes me wonder where he is going.

Taylor Robertson full page in National Geographic Adventure.

Obviously to take photographs is a camera is needed. The largest insult you can make to a photographer is by saying "You use xxx high end camera, no wonder you get such good photographs". This is a terribly wrong assumption to make, a camera can help a photographer but doesn't make him, just like the right boat can help you paddle well, they both need ability to be used well.

I'll be dealing with strictly digital equipment, because it's so friendly to use for trial and error learning. Cameras are improving at rates too fast to keep up with. If you're reading this you hopefully already have a camera with these options:

 1) A fast shutter release mechanism, making it possible to time the shot well.

 2)  Full manual control. Ideally via external controls.

 3) Can save images in raw format.

A key aspect you'll find is that in the long run it's more important to spend money on good lenses than the newest camera body.

So you have your camera of choice and are ready to take some great whitewater photos, but of course you need a way to take your camera down the river safely. There are basically two options, a waterproof bag or waterproof hard case.

I've used the 
Watershed Ocoee the most. I've also broken three lenses and a three cameras using a Watershed bag. The bonus about the Ocoee is that it's flexible for sizing, so it's easy to switch camera and lens combinations. Generally speaking I can get a camera body with a lens attached, and two prime lenses in the Ocoee. If you're going to use the Watershed Ocoee buy or make a padded liner too. I suggest making your own from closed cell foam, a blue sleeping pad will give you more than enough to work with.

My friend Mitch put this one together for me.

Pelican cases are the other option. They protect the camera better and don't fit larger cameras until sizing up to the awkward Pelican 1300. Take note of your camera height, because most Nikon and Canon cameras will not fit in a 1200, but some Sony cameras (like the Sony A57) will fit. If you have a smaller camera, they can be delightful because they are easier to open and get gear in and out of, but less flexible for different lens and camera combinations. I currently use a Pelican 1200 when possible.

Now you're on the river with your gear and take a bunch of shots on a sunny day, but come home and the whitewater is washed out, the shots are over exposed. Or it's cloudy and you come home, but the action is blurred, what do you do? Don't worry too much, because this doesn't seem to slow most kayaking magazines
down, but any real publication will care. And if you're at all a perfectionist you won't be happy with these results.

Next Up: What is the right exposure?

Whitewater Photography Tutorial  #1: Intro.

Whitewater Photography Tutorial  #2: What is the right exposure?

Whitewater Photography Tutorial  #3: Getting the right exposure. 

Whitewater Photography Tutorial #4: Low Light Action

Whitewater Photography Tutorial #5: Focus

Whitewater Photography Tutorial #6: Lighting

Whitewater Photography Tutorial #7: Composition 

Whitewater Photography Tutorial #8: Wide Angles

Whitewater Photography Tutorial #9: Panning

Whitewater Photography Tutorial #10: Post-processing

Whitewater Photography Tutorial #11: Sequencing

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