Introduction

When you are shooting sailing photography, you should not have 25 parameters to set before taking the photo, otherwise you will miss the photo!

So, you have to find settings that you will use during the whole race.

How many cameras ?

When I take pictures of sailing events, I always use two cameras (at the time I’m writing this article):

  • A Nikon D2X camera with a 70-200 lens for long distance photos
Championnat Grand Surprise - Thonon - Friday: Photo 22

Championnat Grand Surprise - Thonon - Friday: Photo 22

  • A Nikon D700 camera with a 24-70 lens for short distance photos
Critérium Surprise de Thonon - Sunday: Photo 37

Critérium Surprise de Thonon - Sunday: Photo 37

Having two cameras helps you to not miss a photo. You don’t have to change lenses to take a short or long distance photo: you just have to switch between two cameras. When you are taking photos during a sailing event, you are always switching between short and long distance photos.

Settings

Most of the time, you do not want to change these settings during the event. So, you have to find settings that will match your needs for most of the situations.

For long distance photos, I’m using these settings on the D2X:

  • Shutter priority mode: at least 1/1000 s (to change regarding amount of available light). When you are shooting a sailing event, most of the time you are also on a boat (that is moving). As you want a sharp picture, you have to minimize the exposition time to freeze the action. Furthermore, as boats are far, even if a small aperture is automatically selected, boats will be completely sharps.
  • Automatic ISO: on the D2X, I’m using ISO up to 400 to have a superb print quality. If you are selecting an higher ISO setting, the photo grain will be noticeable on the photo print.
  • White Balance setting according to the weather: This setting is not really important as I’m shooting RAW, that allows me to change the white balance in post-production. However, I am selecting a white balance according to the warmness I want in my photos to have less post-production work. Most of the time, I’m using a “cloudy” or “sunny” white balance for sailing photography.

For short distance photos, I’m using these settings on the D700:

  • Aperture priority mode: at least f/8. For short distance photos, I want a fully sharp boat. However, you have to check during the event that the shutter speed is not too slow. If it’s too slow, change to manual mode or shutter priority mode.
  • Automatic ISO: on the D700, I can easily use up to 800 ISO. When the weather is bad, I can use an higher setting without reducing the photos print quality.
  • White Balance setting according to the weather: same explanation than for short distance photos.
ISO 800 Photo example

ISO 800 Photo example

Conclusion

These settings are a starting point for you own settings. You will have to adapt them to your own cameras. Of course, during an event, you can change them to take a unique photo that you will have time to setup.

If you have one camera with one zoom, select the setting regarding how you will use the zoom: at short or long distance. If you will use both, select a shutter priority mode.