June 20. In the southern hemisphere, that’s the day before the winter solstice. The day before the sun is at it’s furthest from the South Pole, its rays are at its weakest, and its appearance in the sky is at its shortest. You wouldn’t expect it to be a warm, fuzzy sort of day. And in fact it delivered on its stereotype with gusto. Overcast sky, moody low lighting, cool air, gusty winds, a smattering of rain. Oh, and pretty darn cold water temperatures, if you were inclined to go for a swim in the sea.
To say I was inclined would be an overstatement. But I did it anyway.
Kite sports are a new hobby of mine. Very new. And ‘hobby’ would be lending my skills a level of justification they probably can’t carry. But I get a kick out of trying. Last week I talked myself into giving landboarding a go. For those not familiar with the sport, or can’t transfer the notion of kite-surfing to a land-based equivalent, it is basically taking an oversized skateboard, fitting it with some novelty off-road wheels, and then tying yourself into a large wind-driven kite. It’s a lot of fun. It’s a really good way to biff. I biffed. And I plan to do it again. Once the bruises on my knees heal.
But on the 20th of June, somebody talked me into have another kite-surfing lesson. I’m not really sure how, as for the last eighteen months I’ve basically been in the tropics. I arrived into my first temperate winter in 2 years just two weeks back, and my body is still adjusting. So why I’d want to immerse myself in what is a cold bay even on a hot summer’s day, never mind the depraved depths of winter, I have no idea. But there I found myself on Saturday afternoon, standing up to my waist in water and attempting to mount a small flat board, while all the while trying to keep a large foil airbourne above me with enough grunt to get me propelling forwards. Needless to say, I was only partially successful. Which meant I spent a lot of time getting dragged on my face through very cold water. I need to emphasise this notion of cold. I seriously cannot remember a time in the last three or four years when I have been colder. Fun as kite-surfing (or attempting to kite-surf) is, I was relieved to get out of the water and attempt to return circulation to my extremities. I take my hat off to the lads and ladies who spent their afternoon whipping up and down the coast in those chilly northerly winds that day.
The trouble with trying to photograph kite-surfing is that the action takes place on two levels. On the one level is the context. Some nutter getting dragged behind a large, colourful canopy across the open water. The lines attaching said nutter to said canopy are often in excess of twenty metres, and so a fair degree of wide-angle-ness is required to fit the whole scene into a frame, unless the person is quite a long way off. But then, the really awesome moments in kite-surfing are the incredible airs that these folks manage to get- three, four, five seconds airborne, often five and six metres into the air- and to catch this action really requires a close-up on the figures suspended from the sky. Getting the kite in the shot adds colour and meaning to the image, but means that you’re often too zoomed-out to catch the intensity of speed and flight. Zooming in on the kiter (assuming you have an appropriately-powered zoom-lens, which I don’t yet but plan to soon) can catch some pretty incredible action, but misses the bigger picture (and the kite). Dilemma. I’m still working on getting some decent action shots, therefore. But I plan to keep trying.
Saturday was fun because of the moody lighting- that low sunlight and the dark clouds adding some real drama to the background. I spent most of my time focusing on the big picture, wide-angle shots with kites against the backdrop. Graduated neutral-density filters in post-processng again helped bring out some of the sky contrast without destroying the foreground. I didn’t spend too long out there, partly because I didn’t really have the equipment, partly because it was threatening to rain on my Canon EOS 5D, and partly because it was really cold, even after I’d showered, dried and dressed. Like I said before, kudos to the folks who stuck it out. Someday I hope to be as hardcore as you are.
Note: Click the images to see the full-screen versions… you’ll get a lot more out of them than the dinky size that this website restricts me to.
Note 2: Thanks to Chris & Alan at Kite Republic for setting me up with this stuff and for the lessons… it’s a hoot guys!