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Photo of the Month: College Sailing Singlehanded Nationals

Robert Migliaccio captures a spectacular shot on a blustery November day in Newport, R.I., at the College Sailing/LaserPerformance Singlehanded National Championships. November's Photo of the Month is sponsored by Regatta Ginger Beer.

November 25, 2013
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Tell us about this photo.
The event was the ICSA/LaserPerformance Men’s and Women’s Singlehanded Nationals in Newport, R.I. I was in a mark boat at the weather mark, and John Ingalls, the Salve Regina coach, was driving. The day was blustery, lots of wind and waves–ideal for exciting action shots. As we were hovering at the weather mark, Paul Foley from Western Washington University made his approach, and as he cracked off toward the offset, he took a wave that spread the water in a spectacular way. I was fortunate to have my camera up and ready when it happened.

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What kind of camera did you use for this one?
I have been a Nikon fan since I bought my first Nikon F camera in 1972, which I still have! When on the water, I always have two cameras with me. My primary camera is a Nikon D4 with a Nikon 300mm F2.8 lens affixed to it. My secondary camera is a Nikon D3 with a Nikon 70-200 F2.8 zoom to provide flexibility when shooting a starting line or other shot where a wider angle approach is called for. This shot was taken with the D4/300mm lens combination.

You are at a lot of college sailing regattas taking photos. What’s it like and how did you get involved doing this?
I am an avid sailor and have always enjoyed photography on the water. I was provided with a venue to begin photographing dinghy events when a number of our kids became involved with junior racing. My introduction to college sailing came in 2007 when my daughter Emily began sailing her freshman year for Boston College. She was a skipper through her junior sailing years, and I had logged many hours photographing her, and her siblings and friends, at numerous regattas. She was transformed to the crew position in college, and I went to as many of her regattas as I could. College sailing is really exciting to watch, as well as photograph, and it is especially great when you have a front row seat. I was able to establish a rapport with many of the college coaches and they were kind enough to allow me on the water to photograph the events; and in return I supplied them with images of their sailors. The crowning moment, which I was present to photograph, was Emily’s achievement of All-American crew her senior year. I still love to shoot college sailing and attend local regattas whenever possible, and I still supply images to the coaches.

Any unique challenges to photographing college sailing?
I have photographed big boat events as well as dinghy events. To me, the former is more about the boat, and the latter is more about the sailors. Generally, my style of photography is to “fill the frame” and be “up close and personal.” Dinghy sailing affords a real opportunity to focus on the sailors. Their expressions are often priceless, and with college sailors, if you are in a good position, you can grab a shot that exemplifies their outstanding boathandling skills.

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Photographing any sailing event presents special challenges, especially when there are waves. My standard lens is a 300mm F2.8 which brings me to the action, but it also magnifies the bouncing around caused by the waves. By keeping my center of gravity low, I have a better opportunity to control that motion. On top of that, my goal is to be as close as possible without interfering with the sailors. So, it takes a lot of work to keep the action/subject in the frame and the focus point where I need it to be for the image to be sharp. For most of the images I took at the Singlehanded Nationals, I was kneeling just forward of the console in the mark boat. My lens was effectively a foot or two off the water, and for this image in particular, as Paul sped by the mark, the shot materialized in my viewfinder and I grabbed it.

Any particularly memorable regatta you photographed? You must have plenty of good stories!
The Singlehanded Nationals event was one of the windiest and coldest I have attended. The College Nationals in 2011 were at The Gorge in Oregon, a place known for extreme current and wind. While the wind was not as consistently strong as it was expected to be for that event, there were a few days where it did not disappoint, and when running against the current, the river was a veritable washing machine providing many wonderful photographic opportunities.

One of my most memorable regattas, though, was a junior NBYA event many years ago. One of my other daughters, Liz, was crewing in a 420 at the time. They were headed downwind with the spinnaker flying. The wind had increased to 15-20 knots. I was in a fast RIB that a friend had loaned me, and I had just left the weather mark to get down to photograph all the kids as they rounded the leeward mark. We passed by Liz’s boat so I slowed to grab a few shots. As soon as I got my camera up and focused, the bow of her boat dipped into a wave and they began to pitchpole. I suspect photographing a boat that is pitchpoling is every photographer’s dream. And when it is your daughter, it is priceless! In any event, they recovered and were fine, the expressions were fabulous, and the event was forever etched in my brain.

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**Photography is more your hobby, right? What do you do for work? **
Correct, photography is not my day job. I am a partner in the Providence law firm of Cameron & Mittleman, and have been practicing law for over 30 years. I primarily represent banks in all kinds of commercial, construction and real estate lending transactions.

How did you get started in photography?
Photography has been a hobby of mine for 50 years. My dad first introduced me to the art when I was seven, and since then, I have been addicted. I began exclusively with black and white, and did my own developing and printing. In high school, I took lots of sports images, was the Sports Photography Editor for my yearbook, and I supplied action shots to the local newspaper. In college, I was on the yearbook photo staff. As our kids got involved with athletics, I found myself taking pictures on the sidelines again-–kind of a déjà vu. I did not switch over to digital until 2004, and was loathe to make the change. But I have to admit, while I miss the darkroom, I have not looked back.

Any advice to pass along?
As with anything, I learned long ago to never rest on your laurels. There is always something to learn with photography, so read, and then read some more! There are great photo communities on the internet with a wealth of information, how-to’s, advice and experience that can expand your personal knowledge base. With the advent of digital photography, great phone cameras, relatively inexpensive DSLR cameras and in-camera software that can make the shot “great,” it is easy to fall prey to the “I don’t need to do long division because I have a calculator” line of thinking. I believe it is a mistake to set your camera on “auto” and fire away. Instead, understand and practice the art as, in my opinion, there is no substitute for thinking the shot through and getting it right in the camera.

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View more of Robert’s photos from the Singlehanded Nationals.
>See previous installments of our Photo of the Month series.
>Visit Robert’s website.

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