Many of us from time to time are requested to undertake a shoot that is outside our normal genre and beyond our comfort zone. This tutorial covers the elegant and dynamic sport of Aquatic Board Diving but many of these tips are suitable for all fast moving sports. I have tried to limit my comments and assumed most people generally realise that a fast moving subject needs a fast shutter speed to freeze action! Anyway, enjoy and I trust these tips are helpful.

The following is a guest post by Rich Ellis of Ellis Imagery from the UK. In this post, he’ll be sharing his knowledge in High Board Diving Photography. As always, we would love to hear what you think in the comments!


1. Understand the sport well – between the booking and the shoot itself spend as much time as possible researching. This is always good advice for any shoot but for technical sports such as diving, knowing why a good dive is good and a bad dive bad is crucial. It is also VERY helpful to know what to expect logistically and where the best angles, focal lengths etc will be. Knowing that divers hit the water at 34mph from the 10m High Board will help you plan settings and think about how best to shoot. Looking at other photographers work on the subject will be invaluable (no need to re-invent the wheel here), not just to see what the classic angles are but to know how you could improve on them.

2. Get to know the Ëœplayers’ (not all are equal) – When photographing top sports people, be clear that not all participants are equal. Some are more famous than others; some have a better future ahead of them than others. Knowing what the pecking order is will mean you can understand and plan the value of the images. It is a somewhat sad but clear fact of life that the
top sports people images sell better than those lower down the ranks. Get to know who is who and you too will be able to take advantage of this. Get this information from the internet and better still, the coaches or someone involved in the sport. Knowing the diver’s names and a bit of history about them can work wonders when you want that last Ëœextra’ shot!


3. Get to know the location – this is very important advice with fast moving subjects. Know where the sun rises and sets and if indoors, how the artificial light combines with natural light and how that will catch the flight of the diver. Get to know the good angles and how to use the background. Diving has lots of distraction behind the dive, boards, platforms, crowds and often
stands and seating. All these things can be used to enhance a shot, create depth and movement but handled incorrectly, can ruin the best of your work. All these things however will be critical, time saving and provide better results at the main shoot.

4. Practice – if you get the chance, pop over during practice or when the juniors or other teams are diving. Most specialist facilities offer training for all sorts of levels. This is important time for you. Do not get distracted. It is very easy to lose concentration and Ëœenjoy’ the sport itself. Resist the temptation, you are there for a reason and not to spectate. Critique your own shots very harshly as you will often only get a few chances come the real shoot. Ask a co-ordinator or your contact to ask permission and blaze away.


5. Settings – having stated that I wouldn’t teach my granny to suck eggs, it is worth just covering the more detailed aspects of settings. Pan most shots as this creates background blur and more images per dive but doing so isn’t easy. Each dive is parabolic and divers move fast, the lower boards give you even less time. Generally shoot in burst mode but make sure you use your camera’s tracking focus setting. If you use the tracking function then select one point in your viewfinder rather than let the camera decide for you. Shoot wider than you think you need to, cropping will generally be necessary but missing arms and legs do not make for a good image. Pre-focusing can work well but generally from the side, as the divers do not, (or should not!) move
towards or away from you. It goes without saying you should choose the lowest ISO you can and generally the highest shutter speed. 1/2000th freezes all motion including the background. Remember that divers have lots of moving parts and are not like a racing car for example where only the wheels move. It is amazing how difficult it is to freeze a divers foot or arm during a spin! I found shutter priority worked best but keep an eye on the aperture as wider is generally better for background bokeh. This is where the practice and location preparation comes in handy!

6. Get the basics right – shoot the shots you are primarily there to take first. These are the shots you are expected to take and that most appeal to the widest audience. You may love your motion blur against a deeply saturated background but it is unlikely the Diving Federation will use it! When you are sure you have what you need then by all means, try something different and push those boundaries.


7. Experiment – As you understand what shots most photographers take, you can develop that theme. Progress and try different settings and angles. Towards the end of the recent shoot with the GB Diving Team I could be found hanging from the 1-meter board while two synchro divers plummeted towards me from the 10-meter! I got a bit wet but I also got a good shot!

8. Post – Most sports publications require fairly straight processing. You are likely to be a Ëœjournalist’ for the shoot, keep it all realistic with minor tweaks to curves and sharpening. Again, as normal, process to your clients requirements. A sports publication or diving federation is likely to want clean diving shots. Articles in magazines may allow more licence for your more creative images.


9. Review with an expert – Diving is a very highly technical sport. Many shots may look good to you but if the Coach orders extra training after seeing your photos, you will not be too popular. If you have time, select a friendly Coach or other expert who can make sure you do not publish a picture of a badly executed dive. They will also point out those that demonstrate great technique and no doubt you will have many of them. Publishing only Ëœgood’ dives will also go a long way to making sure you get asked back in the future!

10. Follow up – Having taken the shots, produced the first class images, delivered the results, make sure you don’t forget to follow up on the outcomes. Easy to say but not always so easy to do. I have now obtained a UK Swimming ËœPress Pass – access all areas’ for all domestic competitions or events held in the UK for both Diving and Swimming. I have also made good friends with the Head Coach, which will do me no harm in the future with this captivating and extremely physically demanding sport.

A note of caution: Most top class divers start the sport VERY young. They are often intensively trained from the ages of 9-10 and it is not unusual for them to reach their peak in their mid-late teens. My shoot contained young people in their early teens. Be sure that all personnel know what you are doing there, that you have been formally introduced to them and that Ëœsupport’ staff (physio’s and maybe parents) understand your purpose. Cards are very useful for this purpose. The divers themselves are very used to being photographed and generally have no issues at all once they know who you are.

As an aside, it was interesting that the images I shot and processed a bit Ëœdifferently’ were a hit with the divers themselves. It turned out they had seen millions of pictures of them diving but not so many taken in a more unique way. This can obviously also lead to other remunerative work. Experimenting can be fun and productive at the same time! Happy shooting!