SHOOT! A Canoe Marathon

Words & Photos: Jacques Marais

Does shooting a paddling race in the desert sound like a bit of a nightmare? It actually isn't if that event is the Green Kalahari Canoe Marathon; it makes for a dream commission.

Image 1: Water of Love

‘Water’ and ‘desert’ are not words you really associate with each other, but if you head up into the wide-sky landscape of the Northern Cape Province, you’ll soon enough change your mind. Here, within a swathe of desert known as the ‘Green Kalahari’, the mighty Gariep River snakes in verdant coils through the arid semi-desert.

For many years, there has not been a worthy paddling event on South Africa’s largest river, but this year it changed when the inaugural Green Kalahari Canoe Marathon (GKCM) took place between Upington and Khamkirri. Athletes from around the country bladed onto the muddy, mighty Gariep, and made history as they navigated the rapids of the ‘Great River’.

Shooting the event was a cinch, with the exhilarating waterway juxtaposed within the dramatic surrounds of the rugged Kalahari. Contrast and light, serenity and excitement, agony and ecstasy … all the elements of a great drama played out perfectly during the GKCM, and all one needed to get the perfect shot was to be in the right place at the right time.

Image 1: Water of Love

The Action: Paddlers gunning hard for pole position just after the start on Day 2 of the GKCM, just outside Upington.

The Shot: This image is all about the expression on the paddlers’ faces as they paddle with intent, totally focussed on the challenge posed by the Gariep River.

The Technique: A low angle across the water, combined with a long zoom lens, creates the impression that you’re part of the action.

The Specifications: 1/1200th sec @ 5.6; NikonD700 with 28-300mm lens; ISO 400; WB Setting (Auto); No flash; AE Setting – As metered; Filter applied in Adobe Lightroom.

More Information:

Image 2: Take Me Down the River

Image 2: Take Me Down the River

The Action: A lone paddler negotiates the rugged channels of Neus Gorge on the second day of the GKCM.

The Shot: I knew right away the money shot here would be from the cliffs, but the only way to get it was to paddle with your kit and climb to the top of the gorge ...

The Technique: The shot was straightforward enough, with excellent contrast between the water and rocks. I like this image as it leads your eye to the paddler in the distance.

The Specifications: 1/500th sec @ 8; Nikon D700 with 28-300mm lens; ISO 200; WB Setting (Sun); No flash; AE Setting – As metered; Post-processing in Adobe Lightroom.

More Information:

IImage 3: Impressionist Action

The Action: A high-angle view of a K2 canoe darting under a bridge during the first day of the GKCM.

The Shot: Sometimes you get an ‘arty’ image because of fluke lighting and this was one such case. I selected Spot Metering and this specific shot under-exposed because it read off one of the highlights on the water.

The Technique: I was shooting on Aperture Priority from atop a bridge and the reflections stopped down the lens, opening to create the feel of paddling on black oil.

The Specifications: 1/2400th sec @ f8; D700mm with 24-120mm zoom lens; ISO 250; WB Setting (Sun); AE Setting – As metered; Minor post-processing in Adobe Lightroom.

More Information:

IImage 4: The Light Fantastic

The Action: Paddlers face off against the Gawie se Gat Rapid on the final day of the GKCM.

The Shot: Scout the lay of the land when you get to a spot and then make sure you get yourself into position. In this case, I managed to paddle in as close as possible to the rapid to shoot the action up close.

The Technique: In up to my chin in the river, I'm shooting on as high a shutter speed as possible to freeze the action.

The Specifications: 1400 sec @ f5.6; D700 with 28-300mm zoom; ISO - 500; WB Setting: Auto; AE Setting – As metered; Filter applied in Adobe Lightroom.

More Information: