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Picture perfect

Think you can take a great photo, too? Grab your camera and start shooting for our 'Real Boats, Real Boaters Photo Contest'

It was mere hours into the Velux 5 Oceans solo around-the-world yacht race when the fleet was hit by a powerful Bay of Biscay storm off France with winds gusting to 77 mph. To professional photographer Dan Towers, the conditions were picture-perfect, albeit a tad on the white-knuckle side. Towers hopped into a single-engine helicopter with the doors removed and sped off after the fleet.

To enter, e-mail This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .
Click here for complete rules.

Expert tips

Some frequent Soundings contributors -- among the best marine photographers in the business -- offer their tips on how to get that perfect shot.

Get your camera off "automatic." I like to use aperture priority, which lets you choose deep or shallow depth of field and experiment with the edges of the exposure envelope. Also, always take your tripod — even on board.


Sometimes I like to shoot a large boat with a wide-angle lens (16-35 mm) instead of a telephoto lens to give it a different look. I get really close, and I have to be ready for spray as she goes whooshing by. I only get a few good shots before the lens is covered with spray.


I use Canon for most jobs, but … the equipment brand is secondary after resolution and lens quality.


Don’t use the automatic setting when shooting on the water; the white spray could cause the image to be too dark. Take a light reading on the boat and set your exposure accordingly using the histogram on the back of your camera.


The most common mistake is thinking you’re capturing what you’re experiencing. Learning to let the viewer “smell the sunshine” in the shot only comes through trial and error, experience –- and luck.

When shooting traditional wooden boats, try to shy away from extreme wide-angle or telephoto lenses. A normal to portrait lens (50 – 105 mm for the 35 mm frame) will show the true lines of a graceful classic. Fill the frame then look for added visual impact in the lighting: dramatic clouds and seas, or the golden light of early morning and late evening.

He spotted Swiss solo sailor Bernard Stamm battling breaking waves aboard his Open 60, Cheminées Poujoulat. Hanging out of the helicopter in Force 10 conditions, Towers snapped the shot that appears on our cover this month. (He also shot the photo on this page.) Stamm went on to win the Velux; Towers went on to win nearly $17,000 and the prestigious German Sven-Simon-Preis award for photography.

Clare MacNaugton, communications director for the Velux 5 Oceans race called the shot that "carpe diem" moment. "Sometimes planning plus circumstance equals unprecedented results," she says.

While you may have neither the opportunity nor the desire to hover above a stormy ocean, we would like to see boating through your lens, which is why Soundings is launching the "Real Boats, Real Boaters Photo Contest."

"I define 'real boats, real boaters' as any of those moments that keep you coming back to the water," says Soundings editor Bill Sisson. "It could be a moment of drama, like our cover photo, or one of those quieter moments."

Brightwork glowing in early morning light, the craggy face of that old-timer from the boatyard, a child's mixture of excitement and fear at landing her first striped bass. Capture that magic of real boats, real boaters, and your photo could end up in the pages of Soundings alongside the images of such well-known marine photographers as Onne van der Wal, Benjamin Mendlowitz and Neil Rabinowitz.

Professional photographer Forest Johnson, who works out of South Florida, has shot more than 1,500 marine magazine covers in his career. His portfolio is filled with speed and action, from a wakeboarder frozen in midflip to an express cruiser taking flight off a wave. While the "lifestyle" photo he shares on Page 29 may seem more subdued, it demanded no less preparation.

"It was taken in early morning when the sun is just peeking over the horizon - that magical light," says Johnson. "I knew I only had one chance to get this shot. A second run up this winding creek would've meant higher light - less drama - and rougher water, because our

previous wake would've eliminated the still-water reflection."

Prepare as much as possible, says Johnson, but always be on the lookout. And don't hesitate when you've got the right light. "Remember," he says, "it won't wait for you."

But, as with this month's cover, even the best-laid plans can be hit by a Force 10 storm. The ability to adapt to situations comes from experience - and lots of mistakes.

"It's trial and error. It's not something you can learn from your armchair," says Jody Dole, a fine arts and advertising photographer who maintained a studio in New York City for 15 years before settling into his current base: a state-of-the-art studio in a replica antique post-and-beam barn in Chester, Conn.

His choice as a favorite photo (above) shows the whaling ship Charles W. Morgan at the Mystic (Conn.) Seaport Museum. Dole was the first professional photographer in the New York market to go digital, yet he chose to represent the Morgan in a tintype, a wet-plate method popular in the mid-1800s.

"I just love the picture," says Dole. "It says everything you want to say about powerful ships."

Soundings readers have plenty of time for trial and error. The contest ends Oct. 1, so you have all summer to try and capture that special "something" in your photos. The winning images will be featured in the January 2010 issue, and the grand prize winner could wind up on our cover. Select entries could also be featured on SoundingsOnline.com.

The contest is open to all photographers, but we are only looking for photos that haven't been published. You're limited to five entries, so be sure to select your absolute best shots - in other words, don't send us five variations of the same Narragansett Bay sunset.

To enter by e-mail, submit your photo to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . Please don't send files larger than 6 MB without first contacting us by phone. Be sure to write "Photo Contest" in the subject line.

You can also mail images to Photo Contest, Soundings, 10 Bokum Road, Essex, CT 06426.

For complete rules, e-mail or call (800) 444-7686, ext. 282.

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