Volvo Ocean Race - Racecourse
Torben Grael and his crew aboard their superbly prepared Ericsson 4 dominated this year's grueling 37,000-mile Volvo Ocean Race. Guy Salter, 37, a skilled ocean racer in his own right-he was bowman aboard Tyco in the 2001 VOR-was also aboard Ericsson 4 as the team's media crew member; every boat had one. But under the race rules Salter couldn't help his crewmates sail the boat. His job was to film the action onboard, write blogs and keep the media ashore informed about the boat's progress. A college honors major in biology, film and photography Salter talked about his craft and experiences with Charles Mason before he, his Ericsson 4 crewmates and the rest of the Volvo fleet began the frigid and storm-tossed run across the North Atlantic, from Boston to Galway, Ireland.
You've managed to get prizewinning images under appalling conditions. What's your secret?
Be careful, but always try to capture the moment. To be honest, there isn't that much going on aboard these boats much of the time. But I do produce about four minutes of edited video and five or six still shots daily. I shoot all stills in RAW mode, and then reduce them to about 2.5-3 megabytes per photo before sending them up to the satellite.
What is the onboard set up?
I have a small media desk that controls five fixed onboard cameras. With all the computers and wiring involved, it weighs about 220 pounds. My own gear consists of three Sony HDR HC9 video cameras and three still cameras; two Canon PowerShot G-9s and a Canon Rebel 450 SLR. I use SD cards with all of them. I will almost always use a wide-angle lens, and on occasion [I] have also used a circular-polarizing filter. I could have carried more filters but I knew the boys wouldn't be happy with the extra weight. All my gear, including my Mac laptop, weighs just under 50 pounds.
How do you keep your equipment dry?
The video cameras and G-9's live in waterproof housings made by the camera manufacturer, and whenever I'm on deck I use paper towels and a chamois to clean the housings. The Canon SLR is in a Ziploc-style bag that's wrapped with lots of tape. But a housing doesn't guarantee success. On the China to Brazil leg, all three video cameras stopped working after just one day, knocked out by moisture and humidity. I managed to get one going again by drying it in the engine bay.
What gear might you carry on your own boat?
A video camera for sure, with a wide-angle lens and waterproof housing. The PowerShot G9, with a wide-angle lens, is a great camera but I might also have a fixed 200-millimeter lens or perhaps a 24-70 zoom.
This race is primarily a people story, so I'm a reporter first, and I leave the art for later. I know I still don't spend enough time composing a particular shot, but the reason is very simple: I'm worried I'll miss the shot entirely. While it's true that you can try to plan things out in advance, capturing a particular glance is much, much harder. Of course, that has always been the difference between a great shooter and an also-ran.
I make sure the housing's O-rings are greased, and before I put a camera in its housing I cover over the video port, battery compartment, and so forth with strips of electrical tape. More than once that's been the difference between a camera that worked and one that did not. A lightweight diving housing for the SLR would have been nice, but they are expensive.
I have a MacBook Pro laptop and it lives in an Otterbox container. The Otterbox has had a hard life, of course, but it's gone the whole way around and if I didn't like it, I'd have asked the boatbuilders to make one out of carbon. It's supposed to be fully waterproof but I haven't really wanted to put it to that test.
ISO and speed settings are the eternal tradeoffs but I keep my ISO settings as low as possible, preferably under 200. I usually shoot at a shutter speed of around 1000 unless I want to give an impression of speed, in which case I'll use a much slower shutter speed. I will often use the auto mode and it is not because I'm lazy. The reason is that the auto focus function can disappoint, particularly in close-up situations, and I prefer spending my time focusing manually.
How do you get a Kodak moment?