Action sport photography has always been something that I have been drawn to, but I just don't have the access and opportunity to shoot it very often. So when I got the chance to shoot some wakesurfing, I Instantly jumped at the opportunity. The one thing I wanted to do going into the shoot though, was come out with something different.
When planning this shoot, the first thing I wanted to do was make it look like I was shooting from the water. Because the boat is moving relatively slow, I knew I would be able to position myself on the back of the boat and get low enough to do this, but I also knew that I would be dealing with a lot of splashing water. To combat this, I placed my Nikon D750 with a Nikon 20mm lens into an Outex underwater housing. Having the camera in the housing not only made it so I didn't have to worry about splashing water, but it also made it so that I could stick the camera right into the wake in order to catch the water coming up over the top of the camera.
After knowing my shooting position, I still wanted to come up with a game plan on how to make these images different. I was instantly drawn to the fact that the action happens so close to the back of the boat and thought it would be a perfect place to put a strobe to be able to light up my subject. Knowing that I would be shooting in full daylight though, I knew I was going to need a light with some power, so I chose my Phottix Indra500 TTL to do the job. This light not only has enough power to fight the bright sun, but it also gives me the ability to shoot with High-speed-sync.
This is where my biggest issue came into play. I knew I needed my Indra500 and my Outex underwater housing, but the Odin trigger for the Indra was too large to place inside the housing. Looking around at my options, I realized that I had a set of Yongnuo Triggers that would fit inside the housing. Unfortunately, the Indra doesn't have any possible way to connect a separate receiver. My mind started to brainstorm using the Yongnuo trigger to fire a hotshoe flash that could then fire the slave of the Indra, which quickly became more complicated than I wanted to deal with while cruising around in the back of a boat.
Then it occurred to me, the Yongnuo triggers have a pass through hotshoe. Normally, this is so you can have the trigger attached to your camera while still giving the ability to have a hotshoe flash on your camera at the same time. It also gives these triggers the ability to be both receivers and triggers at the same time. So I thought, if these can pass a TTL signal to a flash, why can't it also pass that same signal to another trigger?
Sure enough, it worked. So with the Yongnuo trigger attached to my camera inside the housing, I had the Yongnuo receiver acting as a trigger that would fire the Odin Trigger. I was now able to just have this weird trigger/receiver assembly hang out in my camera bag for the entire shoot. From here, I was able to hang out on the back of the boat and shoot, while my wife and photography partner held and directed the light.
For the shoot itself, I took advantage of the Indras power output and high speed sync capabilities and shot with my subjects back to the sun. While under exposing the background, I was able to use the strobe to light my subject. Because the strobe is still relatively far from the subject though, the standard reflector I used was causing to much light to fall onto the wave and surrounding water. To fix this issue, I placed a fairly tight grid onto the front of the reflector, which gave me more of a spot light effect on the surfer. In the final images, you will see that the water is nice and crisp because I'm able to use a fast shutter speed (1/1250th of a second). But as the sun starts to set and I have to lower my shutter speed, the water starts to become more blurred and movement becomes more apparent. The good thing about using flash for this though, is that even though my shutter speed is no longer fast enough to freeze motion, the flash is still able to freeze my subject. This leaves me with a crisp surfer and nice motion blurred water. For a quick BTS look, you can see the below video. Excuse the shaky vertical recording though.
Looking back at this shoot, there are some things that I would like to do differently next time I'm given the opportunity. The first thing would be the position of the light. For most of the shots, the light remained constantly up high and to the back camera left. This caused light to hit the peak of the waves a bit, even when using a tight grid. A more ideal location would have been camera right so that there is no wave interference. I would also have liked a bit more direction to the light. This is limited by the width of the boat and not being able to move side to side very much, but an option for the future might be to bring a type of boom arm to get the light off to the side of the surfer a bit more. Another thing I would change is trying to get even lower and making it more noticeable that the camera is actually in the water. This was hard to do with the housing and dome port I had available though. In the future, I think it would be beneficial to get a more suitable housing that allows larger dome ports that are more ideal for split level photography.
One interesting thing that I want to test out in the future, is possibly using this receiver/trigger assembly thing to increase the max firing distance of the strobe for some cool long distance shots. What are some cool workarounds you have to come up with to make a shoot work?