Canoe Slalom from behind the lens

Canoe slalom has an incredible appeal through the lens of a camera as well as making stunning TV coverage. There is a personal story behind every picture. We have explained the stories in the captions in this post.

I admire the photographs over the years of a small group of slalom enthusiasts; Tony Tickle, Antony Edmonds, Ettore Ivaldi, Chris Worrall, Pete Astles and ICF photographer Balint Vekassy. I was in awe of the stunning images taken by Tony Tickle in the morning mist of the Savage River at the ’89 World Championships.

ICF Planet Canoe #ICFslalom Balint Vekassy @gregiej Rio2016 Canoe Slalom

Jess Fox (AUS) achieved a dream at the 2014 World Championship with a double win in C1W followed by K1W. The margin by which she won was stunning. She had also won the U23 World titles in both C1W and K1W earlier in the year. It also coincided with the 25th anniversary of her mum, Myriam Jerusalmi (FRA:K1W), and dad, Richard Fox (GBR:K1M), winning the ICF World Championships nearby on the Savage river. 


These blog posts have been wonderfully enhanced through the incredible pictures of Balint Vekassy. We interviewed Vekassy to learn more about what it takes.

“The great thing about taking pictures of canoe slalom is the sensation that no matter what stage of the race you're at, no matter who's coming down the course, you'll always feel that the opportunity to snap the photo of a lifetime is there. With the constantly changing element of water surrounding the colourful, sometimes erratically behaving boat and paddler it's a dream scenario to freeze frame something extraordinary.

ICF Planet Canoe #ICFslalom Balint Vekassy @gregiej Rio2016 Canoe Slalom

Such style from the 2013 World Champion, Vavra Hradilek (CZE:K1M). If not for this photo the fact that Hradilek had been on a cross-bow in a kayak at the 2014 Deep Creek ICF World Championships would have been lost. The image shows the flair of Hradilek combined with absolute mastery of skill and confidence.


The gate layout is one of the photographer's major assets if the course designers have come up with a setup that requires unusual effort and triggers unconventional moves. You always have to be conscious about it and inspect the course before the race the same way as athletes do. The great thing about canoeing, in general, is that the wet environment makes most of the images so attractive that post-processing is hardly necessary to come away with spectacular shots. As an outdoor sport, light is not an issue in most cases so it's easy to work with fast shutter speeds. The only thing that can trick your metering is if you have too much of the white highlights of the churning water in your frame so need to be cautious when choosing the feature that you'll shoot at. I like the action shots where at least parts of a pole are visible.

It's called slalom because of the poles otherwise, it looks very much like wildwater or freestyle especially if the boat can't be seen in the picture. Many years ago I enjoyed taking photos where only a head or a paddle shows but I guess I shoot too much canoeing so now I like to differentiate between disciplines and end up deleting most of the pictures where the boat is not visible at all."


ICF Photography Balint Vekassy’s tips on taking great pictures:

  1. Know the course
  2. Find a spot where you get to shoot not just one feature
  3. Know the athletes (who does the usual, who can do the unusual)
  4. Be mindful of the background. Although they're hard to avoid but the concrete and plastic elements are not very appealing to look at.

ICF Planet Canoe #ICFslalom Balint Vekassy @gregiej Rio2016 Canoe Slalom

This image communicates so much. It was Great Britain's first Olympic canoe slalom gold medal. It was won at their home Olympics and demonstrated exceptional growth in C2M class. A dream come true. The two sets of paddlers and coaches in the water communicate how much this is a team effort. Both coaches had also represented Great Britain at the Olympics.   


“At the Olympics, you have to shoot the Olympics,” Vekassy added. This basically means that the obvious goal is to have the five rings incorporated into the shots as often as possible. “With the sticker on the paddlers' helmet and the bib, they're wearing it's not that difficult to achieve in canoe slalom.”

I understand photography at the Olympics event is more of a challenge. The IOC has rules in place to prevent photographs being used for commercial purposes. Taking pictures at the Olympics may prove difficult. At the Olympics, you are not allowed to sit on the bank with your legs hanging over the side.


Beyond the Olympics

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Fabien Levfevre (USA:C1M) looking straight into the camera lens. The image shows the musculature in the forearms. Lefevre is the only paddler to win an ICF World Championship individual medal in three classes K1M gold in 2002 & 2003, C2M silver in 2010 & 2011 with Denis Gargaud Chanut and C1M gold in 2014.


Go to a local event and sit by a red and white upstream gate and watch the paddlers you start to understand on what their eyes are focused, like the outside red and white pole. You can then line yourself up just right you can be looking straight into the eyes as they approach.

As the boat comes in the eddy it is slowing, making it a little easier to focus and avoid a blurred image. I think the key to good photographs is the right position, good camera and lots of patience. More than 90% of pictures taken are just not quite right.


Keep tuning in

Our second post today looks at the live race commentary. Tomorrow’s posts preview what to expect on the first day of the canoe slalom heats at the X-Park Deodoro Whitewater Stadium. 

We welcome your interaction. Remember to use hashtag #ICFslalom across all social media. Please comment through @PlanetCanoe on Twitter

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