Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Balloons in the Mist

Since I arrived in Charlottesville, one of the photographs that was high on my list was of hot air balloons. They are fairly common yet elusive in this area. On 4 occasions I have spotted them floating lazily on the horizon but either the time of day was wrong or the location did not work. About a week ago I wasn't pleasantly surprised when Conner came flying downstairs yelling my name and pointing to the sliding glass door. I was surprised to see a half dozen balloons drifting over our backyard. There was a thick fog covering the pasture. My vision of balloon photos was that of big colorful designs pressed against a beautiful backdrop. The circumstances of the event led me down a more muted path to a photo that I really love. I have a couple of other images with multiple balloons but I preferred the added dynamic of the hawks flying in from the left and a touch of lens flare on this one.

Backyard Balloons
ISO 100 - 78mm - f/22 - 1/1600 sec

Friday, August 29, 2014

ECSC 2014 - What an Event

Between media deadlines, photo processing, social media, and shooting; I missed updating the blog. ECSC this year got off to a lackluster start. There was great surfing in what amounted to minuscule surf. On Friday morning, it looked like you could practically skate across the ocean.

ECSC 2014 - Longboard

A change occurred on Saturday, though, with a wind-driven swell bringing surf in the morning that picked up throughout the day. The Vans Pro and Vans Pro Jr heats were on with excellent surfing by all. It was only a precursor for Sunday which greeted contestants with a heavy wind-swell breaking outside of the jetty. All of the big names began lighting it up - Patrick Gudauskas, Luke Davis, Tristan Guilbald, Nathaniel Curran, and Tanner Gudauskas.

ECSC 2014 Vans Pro - Patrick Gudauskas

ECSC 2014 Vans Pro - Raphael Seixas

At the end of the weekend, the unimaginable happened. Michael Dunphy dropped into a bomb of a wave, fired off the bottom, and snapped a cutback that sent water pluming thirty feet in the air. He disappeared from view for a moment behind another swell only to violently hit the lip with another powerful snap. The crowd went crazy sensing something special.

ECSC 2014 Vans Pro - Michael Dunphy

As the time wound down, Dunphy's 2-score total held, making him the first VB-local to win the East Coast Surfing Championships since Wes Laine did it 33-years ago. What an awesome way to finish the weekend.

ECSC 2104 Vans Pro Champion Michael Dunphy

As I write this, Michael just won the WRV Outer Banks Pro to make this an August that he will not soon forget. Congratulations Michael!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

ECSC 2014 - Thursday, August 24

It was a beautiful if you are a seascape photographer; however if you are a surfer, you probably have another description for it. Storm clouds to the north and rainbow over Rudee Inlet greeted us as we trickled into the parking lot. Both dissipated later in the day as the contestants struggled through small, sporadic wind chop.

The Men's Vans Pro round of 96 and the Women's Hi-Fi Pro were completed despite the lack of surf. An occasional gem would connect from the outside in. Tough day to be a competitor.

Cody Thompson, Vans Pro

Tomorrow is supposed to be even flatter so I'll be surprised if the Van's Jr Pro goes off. Luckily, Surfline is calling for some waves this weekend. Pray for surf.

ECSC 2014 Wednesday, Aug 20

Today we were greeted with a beautiful sunrise and some small but contestable surf. I'm always amazed at what these kids can do with minimal conditions. Asher Nolan won the Tautog's Pro receiving a spot in the Van's Pro and a check for $2k.

Asher Nolan - Taugtog's Pro Winner

Both the Junior Van's Pro and the Van's Pro first round heats were completed. The heat sheets and results will be posted at the United States Surfing Federation site. My favorite shot from yesterday was Gabriel Farias airing out over some gulls.  Incredible.

Gabriel Farias - Round 1 Heat 8 Van's Pro

More action from yesterday can be seen on ECSC360. Remember to follow me on Twitter @TravisOwney or on Facebook for updates.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

ECSC - Preparation and Gear List

Finally the day is here. Shooting with ECSC360 is the most anticipated week of the year of me. It is one of long days starting at 4:30 a.m. and often not ending until sometime after midnight. It is filled with the tension of having to get the shot and having it ready for publication by the media deadline. While the public is enjoying the largest beach party of the year, our focus is on the details like f-stops, compositions, and shutter speeds. Our eyes are constantly scanning for the next captivating image. The crowds cheer as a surfer blasts a 360 air while we pray that we didn't miss it - that we nailed the focus and captured the moment. Did the spray obscure the expression? Was the composition clean or was there something missed? Will it translate to a still?

2013 East Coast Surfing Championships

I spent last evening cleaning my cameras and lenses until each was like new. Shooting on the beach we have to constantly fight sand and salt spray, so the cleaning will be a repetitive theme throughout the week. Today while waiting on the delivery of a Nikon 200-400mm f/4, I am packing my gear. I will take with me:

  • Nikon D800
  • Nikon D300s
  • Nikon 200-400mm f/4
  • Nikon 70 - 200mm f/2.8
  • Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8
  • Tokina 16-28mm f2.8
  • (2) Induro tripods
  • (2) Induro BH ball heads
  • (1) Wimberly head
  • ThinkTank Hydrophobia 70-200mm rain cover
  • Op-Tek backup rain covers
  • Hoodman Loop
  • Lee filter system with holders and hoods
  • Lee ND soft graduated filters
  • Tiffen polarizer
  • Lee 10-stop ND filters
  • Tiffen .3, .6, and .9 ND filters
  • Cable release
  • Camranger remote release
  • Batteries and chargers
  • Compact flash and SD cards
  • Nikon 900 strobe
  • Strobe gels
  • Rocket blower
  • Microfiber cloths
  • Residual oil remover lens cleaner
  • LensPen
  • ThinkTank Streetwalker camera backpack
  • LowePro AW200 camera backpack
  • Non-abrasive PecPads
  • Sensor Scope
  • 15" Apple MacBook Pro
  • (2) Seagate portable 1TB backup drives
  • Apple iPad
  • Apple iPhone 5s
  • Pocket battery charger with USB connect
  • Intuous 4 tablet and stylus
  • Spyder 4 Colorimeter
  • Memory card readers
  • Gaffer tape
  • Headlamp
  • Heat sheets

2013 East Coast Surfing Championships

Virtually everything listed above will be used over the next 5-days. So now just pray for surf. It killed me watching the opening round of the Billabong Pro in Tahiti yesterday with 12' faces. We may not have triple-overhead surf for this year's event; however, we will have a great event to cover.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

2014 - ECSC: BMX Broke Out at a Surfing Contest

One of the bigger events that has become established at the East Coast Surfing Championships is the BMX exhibition. Several top-level pros and X-Games finalist arrive each year to put on a show on a massive ramp course set up on the beach. Watching these riders on television doesn't really give you a sense of just how high that they are flying. For the first photo below, I was on the top floor of a 3-story media tower and I was shooting up! Insane!

Vans BMX Exhibition 

Vans BMX Exhibition 

Nice and short. I'm a bit distracted today trying to recover from a late night at a concert in Harrisonburg, getting ready to start the unenviable tasks of cleaning my camera sensors (dust bunnies galore), and 2nd Chicago Bears pre-season game tonight (I know, it doesn't count but still...). Oh yea, working the day job too. Back to the grind.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

2014 ECSC - Old is New Again

7-days until I'll be heading back home to shoot the East Coast Surfing Championships with the ECSC360 crew. I love photographing surfing. It encompasses everything that I enjoy seeing through the lens of a camera - seascapes, action, beauty, people, and emotion. My first foray into surf photography was back in the 80's when Tony Bailey asked me to come down and shoot with him during an ECSC event. Sometimes I wish I had taken a queue from Aaron Chang and followed a dream of traveling to the world's most incredible surf breaks and photographing the sport's most talented athletes. Fear of the unknown left me lost in the safety net of a boring but steady office job only to occasionally ponder what might have been.

2014 East Coast Surfing Championships

Of course things were much more difficult then. The advent of continuos auto-focus (AI servo mode) and digital cameras revolutionized photography in all sports, especially surfing. Shooting wide-open left little margin for error when focusing on a fast moving surfer carving the face of a pitching wave. Manually focusing a long telephoto on an erratically moving high-speed object was not an easy task. We learned to practice predictive focusing based on both photography and personal surfing experience. The shape of a wave and speed of a wave coupled with the knowledge of the surfer's style enabled us to predict where the next big move would occur and react accordingly. I can only imagine how many hours of shooting that the likes of Don King, Chris Klopf, Jeff Divine, and Warren Bolster put in to develop the vision and split second reactions to capture the amazing images that they did.

2014 East Coast Surfing Championships

Unless you had a bulk film back, you were limited to 36-exposure max per roll. Nowadays it is not surprising to hear that a photographer fired off 36-frames on a single wave. During the first ECSC that I shot in the digital age, I logged close to 2500 photos in a single day. That would equate to 70 rolls of film. A roll of Kodak Elite Color costs approximate $3.00 and processing was another $8.00. 70 rolls would cost $770. Over 5-days, the cost would reach close to $4000. During my youth, I couldn't afford enough film to make it through a week-long contest.

2014 East Coast Surfing Championships

There is still a cost today although it is measured more in time and space as opposed to raw materials. As image files get bigger, the corresponding length of time to download and edit them increases. Likewise, multiple copies of the images must be stored on primary and secondary hard drives and offline storage sites. Add to that the catalog management software to be able to organize and retrieve the images plus the editing software to "develop" the images. From an equipment standpoint, cameras can only handle so many shutter actuations before needing replacement. On average most shutters last 100,000 actuations. It sounds like a lot until you realize that it is easy to shoot 10,000 photos in a week! You quickly realize it is not cheap by any means.

2014 East Coast Surfing Championships

This has led me to taking an old approach to shooting with modern gear. I have returned to the roots of the 36-exposure roll and predictive shooting. Instead of simply firing continually with every drop in, limit exposures to the critical point of action. Over the course of a contest or contests, you learn the styles of the individual surfers. You can determine which moves they are likely to perform based on their style and the wave type. Over the course of a normal day now, I will shoot a couple hundred images. I only need a handful for the news outlets and a few additional for my own portfolio. The key is that each time I depress the shutter button, it is at a decisive moment that will make for an intriguing story-telling image. Channeling the greats from my youth has drastically improved my current approach - better quality, faster delivery, and more efficient expense management.

Follow me on Twitter @TravisOwney or on Facebook.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Super Moon Eve

As I said in my last post, I missed the super moon for the second time this year. It was a tough choice with the heavy clouds moving in throughout the day. Do I stay on low ground and hope that the clouds break at moonrise or do I head up into the mountains to see if I can find any iota of a sunset? I decided to roll the dice on the latter which worked out well for the Sunday Sunset Challenge.

Even though I chose the sunset, I still positioned myself so that I could be in place to shoot the moonrise at an overlook that was only a half-mile away. The moonrise would start 15-minutes earlier than the sunset; however with the way that the clouds were setting up, the sunset would be over earlier and the mountains would delay the start of the moonrise for me. The first part played out according to plan. The moonrise, though, was completely blocked by cloud cover from the mountains. I was able to see it peak out of the clouds on the drive home once I was in the valley but without enough time to find a location and setup for a shot.

Super Moon Composite from my Backyard

This image is from the evening before the super moon. Comprised of three photos, it is a heavily edited rendition of what I kind of saw that night. It is definitely not the greatest moon image ever but it was fun to craft.

August Sunset Challenge

My friend Kevin Keyser over at Keyser Images has been posting challenges periodically on Facebook with last night's being the August Sunday #PostYourSunset challenge. It provides some motivation to get out and shoot as well as inspiration from some of the great images being posted. Last night the focus for most was the #supermoon.

This is the second super moon this year and I was looking forward to photographing this rare event; however for the second time, cloud cover hid the moon from my lens. All day long the sky was heavily covered in clouds. I drove up to Skyline without great expectations that I would see either the moon or a decent sunset. Much to my surprise, the sky opened up to the west about a hour before sunset. More clouds were building along the horizon but for a brief moment, there was potential. I opted for the Rockytop overlook as it had the cleanest westerly view. The clouds moving in from the  west dampened what could have been a spectacular scene. I can't complain as I did get a couple of good images out of it including the one posted below.

Rockytop - Shenandoah Valley, VA

Although I missed last night's super moon, I did take a few of the night before warmup. I haven't checked them yet. If there is something worth viewing, I'll add it to another post.

Friday, August 8, 2014

ECSC - More Than Surfing

If you think the East Coast Surfing Championships is just surfing, think again. There is so much more.  In 2013 3-time Olympic gold medal winner and one of the greatest volleyball players of all-time Misty May-Treanor hosted the Dream in Gold Juniors clinic on the beach for the volleyball stars of the future.

Misty May-Treanor - 2013 ECSC - 3-Time Olympic Gold Medalist

Dream in Gold Juniors Clinic

Thursday, August 7, 2014

2014 East Coast Surfing Championships Preview

I'm excited to say that this will be my third year teaming up with ECSC360 to photograph the East Coast Surfing Championships in Virginia Beach since Lee Rosenberg of East Beach Photography drafted me over lunch one afternoon. ECSC360 has done an incredible job providing media coverage for all of the activities that occur during the championships while promoting the individuals that make up the media team.

I'll be arriving in town Tuesday night, August 19 and will be on the beach Wednesday morning for the start of the main event. If you are coming down to join the festivities please stop by to say hi. You should be able to find me somewhere along the water's edge wearing a ECSC360 t-shirt and draped in camera gear. Here is a sampling from the 2013 contest:

I'm looking forward to hopefully seeing you there. Follow me on Twitter @TravisOwney for updates throughout the competition and view photos on either Facebook (follow Travis Owney) or on Travis Owney Photography. Oh...if you are coming to the oceanfront or not, please pray for waves!