158th Xchanging Boat Race

I, and several other members of the LP3 meetup group met in Putney to watch the 158th Xchanging Boat Race between Oxford and Cambridge Universities.

We walked along the south-bank of the Thames until we found a likely spot, just before the bend in the river and well serviced by beer.

The weather was extremely challenging, running the gamut from bright spring sunshine to gloomy grey skies. This made it very neccisary to pay close attention to your apeture and shutter speed. With the light changing dramatically, I went from shooting at 1/8000 of a second to 1/500 in a matter of minutes. With a good zoom and splashing water you want as fast a shutter as you can get to capture the splash from the oars...

There were two races, the Isis race first followed, 30mins later by the event everyone is there to see, the Oxford vs Cambridge race.

Like the London Surrey Cycle Classic photographer speed was of the essence, the teams only were in good range of the zoomed camera for a short time. Boats are an interesting one. You can maximize your zoom to capture a close up of a couple of rowers and get some nice effects of the splashing oars, but miss the Cox and the rest of the team, or you can pull back and get one or both of the boats, but this means everything is small. Especially, as the boats are long and low, so they transfer poorly to a traditional resolution. You can see examples of both in the left hand gallery, as well as the use of a much less traditional resolution....

Shortly after the boats went past us, we packed up and headed back towards Putney. I followed the action on twitter as we walked and was informed that there was a swimmer in the middle of the Thames. There was nothing we could do at that point to get an image of him, but it did highlight just how much luck there was in getting a dramatic shot at an event like this. Even with all the press, you can see at the Huffington Post that there were few top quality shots of the swimmer.

I did manage to get a shot of the Police boat as it zoomed past, its sirens blaring.

It took about half an hour, but the two teams finally were able to line back up again and set off. After only a minute or so, the news came through that Oxford had suffered a broken oar. Down to 7 against 8, they started to fall behind.

In the end, the winner was Cambridge, but as Oxford finished with a broken oar after the restart, it seems a hollow victory, and people will always wonder who would have won without the interruption of the swimmer. Additionally, on crossing the finish line, one of the Oxford rowers, Alexander Wood, was removed from the boat.

It was perhaps one of the most dramatic races in the last twenty years or more, and yet, four photographers with some excellent equipment and experience came out with no shots of the unexpected action because we were not in the right place, at the right time.