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Rising Waters. November 1, 2012

Posted by littlebangtheory in Action/Adventure.
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Our recent storm has brought river levels up, and on a recent soirée I happened upon a pod of kayakers on the West Branch of the Deerfield river, up in Reasdboro, VT. Here are a few shots I took, zipping my car around, u-turns up the wazoo, scrambling up and down the river banks in the rain and hanging off the occasional bridge.

The river is small and technical, meaning that if you mess up you may well survive, but with cuts and bruises, a belly-full of water and a banged up boat:

It’s not that the amount of water won’t make you wish you’d gotten the line right:

…a “swim” here would be ugly.

But getting it right on a “technical” river of this size is a study in elegance:

…a flowing vignette in a too-often staccato life.

My favorite shot of the encounter is this panning shot of a kayaker threading the needle between a “strainer” and a hard place:

That’s 1/30th of a second at ISO 2000. Getting the forward deck sharp despite the tumult of motion was gratifying, and I love the energy of the shot, which brings back memories of being in a boat and dealing with the kinetics of the moment.

As much as I miss that, I’m even more excited to be working on capturing it from the outside.

Whitewater! July 27, 2012

Posted by littlebangtheory in Action/Adventure.
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When water is released through the Dryway section of the Deerfield River in the Northern Berkshires of Massachusetts, people come from all over the East Coast to play.

It’s not that it’s the biggest or most spectacular whitewater in the East; rather, this is a Class 3/4 river run, challenging enough to entice experts, but not beyond paddlers of moderate abilities.

Plus, it runs through one of the least despoiled river valleys in the Northeast, where one can paddle or float for miles without seeing a single house:

This is a rapid through a narrowing, where the water drops over boulders, forms “holes” and piles up in “standing waves” which look stationary even as water rushes through them.  They’re ideal for experts to play in, and negotiable for reasonably competent paddlers.

There are several rafting companies operating here which allow folks who don’t have skills or knowledge to experience the river, but this post will highlight the other boaters, the ones whose skill and strength and spine gets them through.

There are kayakers, “K-1” paddlers, who can be spotted by their double-bladed paddles:

K-2 boaters do the same in pairs:

Kayakers paddle in a seated position with their legs out in front of them, though that’s not apparent to the casual observer.

Then there are “C-1” paddlers, in solo closed canoes:

They use a standard single-blade paddle and work twice as hard as the kayakers.  “Twice the man, half the paddle,” they’re fond of saying.  🙂

Canoeists kneel with their feet under them, and have a minimal seat to settle onto when they like.  It’s an ideal set-up for little guys like me; I can kneel up to see over upcoming waves, whereas if I’m sitting on the bottom of the boat, I have at least a foot less height and a LOT less sight distance, which makes navigation much more difficult.

There are also some open canoes which run rivers of this grade, though you won’t see birch-bark canoes or your father’s aluminum Grumman.  Rather, they’re high-tech fiberglass or plastic models, with every unoccupied cubic inch filled with inflatable floatation devices:

I’d say, “That’s a MAN’s boat,”  except that women can and do paddle them as well:

That’s a rotary injection molded model, and though I’m sure that woman can paddle circles around me in it, I prefer the aesthetics of the more classical designs:

Full Gnarlz indeed!  😆

There were also a few inflatable catamarans, like this one paddled by a mixed gender team:

…and a few crazy people paddling those new-fangled stand-up boats, sort of a cross between a canoe and a surfboard, but I was too busy laughing at their swan-dive demises to take a decent photo!

Competent paddlers find a way to thread rapids like this and get to the bottom in one piece; folks with higher skill levels will “eddy out” at every opportunity, then turn upstream and play, paddling against the current to the crest of a standing wave and surfing its upstream side:

Sometimes they’d get eaten and flushed, and roll up downstream; sometimes they’d drive forward into the trough, lean forward to bury their bow and do numerous cart-wheels, then resume surfing – amazing!!!

So here’s the part where I try to get you to hold your breath:

How’d I do?  😆

Well, you can breath now – they mostly  all popped up and paddled away…

I’ll leave you with these last few photos:

…I have a fireworks display to shoot tonight, and I’ve got camera prep and dinner still to do!


Whitewater Weekend. July 3, 2011

Posted by littlebangtheory in Love and Death.
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This weekend, in addition to marking the celebration of the Fourth of July, sees a release of water through the Deerfield river’s Dryway  section, instigating a gathering of whitewater paddlers in search of a different kind of independence.  The river is high right now, owing to recent rains, and the dam releases are sufficient for some exciting river runs.

Now I’m not an “action photographer;” my mind wants to work slower than that.  But hey, this is what happens where I live, and photographing the event seemed like a growth opportunity, so I packed a bag full of too many lenses and drove/hiked to the river to play with some ideas about capturing motion.  I wanted a range of images from abstract to hyper-real to capture the kinetics of the river.

These images have been culled from the 262 I took, many as bursts while tracking the subject.  There are probably a couple dozen worth looking at, which is a pleasant surprise; I did a Dryway shoot last year which produced  many fewer “keepers.”  Either I’m figuring this out, or I got lucky.  😉

Here are some of the first picks.

Relentless water meets immovable rock:

A pair of rafters focuses on a clean run:

That was a panning/tracking shot, a long-ish exposure while following these guys to keep them in the camera’s central autofocus point.  It’s faster and more accurate, though cropping is necessary to get that feeling of potential energy on top of the obvious kinetic energy.

Panning has the potential to produce some surprising abstract images, and I was lucky enough to get a couple on this, my first try at it.

A pair of paddlers glides up a tilted reality:

A guided raft hits a hole in the Dragon’s Tooth rapid:

A group of kids share a ride to remember (panning at a really high ISO):

A kayaker works the waves:

This is a much different experience than rafting; you’re up to your waist in water and often times fully immersed in it.  You’d be cold if you weren’t working so hard to choose and execute a worthy line down the river.  The honorable approach consists of running the most challenging run you can without causing yourself or anyone else problems.  It’s a very focusing exercise, with real consequences and rewards.

A tracking abstract with a slow shutter speed:

…and a series of a paddler who ran a challenging chute right at my feet:

(and no, those are not  my toes)

…popping through and surfing the wave below the drop:

…and finally disappearing into the foam like a watery phantasm:

It’s been years since I paddled, and if my shoulders weren’t trashed I might be tempted to get back in a boat.  But as it is, I’m having fun with photography, and the pain is minimal.

I’ll see if I can get a few more worthy shots from this group before I mothball it.