I recently bought myself a new toy – a Canon 60D – which has become my comfort blanket on this trip to South Africa, as being injured I have spent more time on the beach watching people kitesurf than actually doing it myself.  Its also the perfect complement to Rob’s filming – giving us more immediate ‘footage’ to share as news for our community and also coverage for those going out of their way to ride for us.

So I find myself learning very fast how to take great action shots. But its not easy and I have had my photos shot down regularly for not being up to scratch when I thought they were on the money!

Jim Gaunt – editor at Kiteworld Magazine & presenter of The Kite Show and a good friend of mine – has given me some brilliant tips.  From all the years he has spent reviewing shots and increasingly taking them himself, he knows what makes a great photo that readers of KW will appreciate.

I thought I would share these top tips and some of photos I have taken as a result:

1. Selective Focus

Such a simple tip but I struggled with this when I first tried shooting action on a brand new camera. I initially used standard autofocus but as the subject keeps moving it couldn’t keep up and all of my shots came out blurred.  Jim advised me to use the selective focus function on my SLR and move one of the 9 focus spots to the part of the frame I wanted to capture the rider in (think composition before setting up the shot) and then follow them on that spot, continually focusing (holding button half down) until your ready to shoot.

From This:


To This:



2. A Face View

This is great to give more personal connection but those shots looking directly into camera work better for the product shots and brand catalogues.


Ultimately this depends on what you are shooting pictures for – thinking about how you might use the photos and who they might appeal to can help direct the kind of shot you go for.

3. Find the Story

Sometimes a close up shot of a rider may make an incredible impact, and as photographers we are often told to ‘fill the frame’.


However it doesn’t leave many other clues as to the context of the situation.  It makes it about the trick and only the trick which is maybe not what a magazine reader is after.  Maybe something more like this tells a better story:


4. Get the Take Off

Directly related to point 3, including the take off shows a part of the story you are trying to tell.  It shows momentum when you are trying to capture movement and action too.


5. Get the Point of Power

This is probably the tip most relevant to me as a member of the Progression team but also the one I have found the hardest to put into place. It has forced me to spend more time understanding the trick and every element that it is composed of to really know at what point is the most powerful.

Ensuring you get the grab is the most basic interpretation of this tip:


…and for wave riding this would be the hitting the lip or carving a hard bottom turn:


…but the speed at which most wake style tricks are done makes this hard to do and a subtle difference to perceive. (number 2 is probably the best shot here?)


Even with a great camera like the 60D, you need a faster-shooting speed (like the 7D, 5D or for those with lots of cash the 1D!) has to capture that right moment. It is easy to take the lazy route to getting the ‘point of power’ money shot – by just holding down the button on a multiple shot setting but this is not a great practice. Extreme sports photography master Craig Kolesky despairs of this kind of approach too, his words of wisdom to me on the beach in Cape Town were ‘you should aim for one great shot, don’t take hundreds and hope for the best, you’ll be grateful when you come to sit down and edit them all!

Of course, you are not always trying to shoot for a magazine and the core elements of photography like composition, lighting and most importantly, personal creativity, should also inform what kind of shots you take.

Here is one shot from my South African trip that says as much about kiting or beach life as the classic trick / pro rider shot:


I’ll keep you updated on my photo ‘progression’ and I would love to know what you think of my shots.

You can check out lots of our photos from this kite trip to Cape Town on the Progression Facebook fan page.