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Photo of the Month: Walter Cooper

Every October, photographer Walter Cooper joins the Boat of the Year testing crew in Annapolis, Md. With a GoPro in hand, he captured the Gunboat 60 from a new angle.

October 29, 2013
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Tell us about this shot.
The shot of the Gunboat 60 was taken while we were testing boats for Sailing World’s Boat of the Year Competition.

How did you take this picture?
We have been playing with the GoPro Cameras for the last few years. The smaller size and weight allows us to place cameras in areas that we could not or did not want to put full sized cameras. We placed the GoPro Hero 3+ on the snuffer. Chuck Allen suggested the shot and helped to carefully raise the snuffer to the top of the mast so that the camera was pointed in the correct direction. I set the camera up to take images every 1/2 seconds and zip tied/wedged it into the position I thought would give me the best shot. Picking out the two or three images that we used took longer than usual as I had to go through over 2000 images just from the GoPro.

Tell us about your role as a Boat of the Year photographer.
I have been shooting the Boat of the Year for over 15 years and it has been a great learning experience. It has been fun to try to capture each boat from its best angle. I have enjoyed looking at each boat as a work of art and picking my own favorites on aesthetics alone.

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Why a GoPro? Any unique challenges in working with this camera?
The GoPro cameras have been a tool that I toss in my bag for certain assignments. They are great onboard and for close up action off the boat. The problem has always been in not being able to see what you are getting in each shot. The latest cameras have solved this problem using WiFi connections to smartphones and tablets. This allows the photographer greater control over framing and taking the shot. The GoPro also gives you a different perspective and allows you to be more creative putting cameras in positions that you have not tried before.

Including the GoPro files, how many images did you end up with for the BOTY testing?
The GoPro adds significantly to each boats image count and throws the numbers off. The average image count without using the GoPro is around 600 images per boat. If I put the camera onboard, the GoPro can add 2,000 images to that average.

How did you get started in photography? What did you do for work before you became a photographer?
I started playing with photography in grade school. I continued learning about developing and printing in high school and joined the yearbook staff. In college, I was a photographer and then the editor of the school newspaper. I really decided to concentrate on photography after I had graduated from college, and I chose to go back to school for photography. After graduating from Lansing Community Colleges with a technical degree in photography, I moved to Miami and worked as an assistant to the fashion photographers that came to shoot in South Beach. I worked on shooting local events, and my big break came when my wife joined the Women’s Team during the 1995 America’s Cup. I met Daniel Forster and became his assistant. During my time with Daniel, I learned about the business side of photography and made a number of contacts that helped later on.

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How about these days? What do you do when you’re not shooting?
I now live in Colorado and fly to assignments. I have been lucky to have the opportunities to travel and meet wonderful people while doing my job. When I am not traveling, I spend time with my wife Debbie, our dogs, and working on our 10 acres. We breed Rhodesian Ridgebacks, and they are joy to have as part of our family.

Any advice for aspiring photographers?
The trap that new photographers fall into is giving their work away and hoping that they will get noticed. This never works as the value you place on your work is how people will pay for it. If you do not value your creativity and the time that it has taken to get the image, no one else will either. The other trap that new photographers fall into is asking friends and family if they like their work. Your mom will always love you and will always love what you create. If you are looking for real feedback go to a professional in the field and ask them for their opinion. Finally, never stop growing. Look at other photographers work and ask yourself how did they get that shot then go out and try it yourself.

Check out this year’s Boat of the Year contenders.

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Read about previous Photos of the Month.

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