Photographing Hydroplane Racing

Speed Photography Adventures

How to excel at hydroplane race photography at the Nickel Cup Regatta

Hydroplane racing photography up close and personal

Hydroplane racing is super exciting and very tricky, actually often difficult, to photograph. The boats reach speeds over 150 miles per hour and thunder past with rooster tail spray getting in the way of your focus point on the next shot. Add to that, having boats at either end of the course makes picking targets not too easy.  There is also the slight chance that objects, waves, or even boats can come flying at you without you knowing due to being focused on one specific boat or area of the race. I am very lucky to have friends who “have my back” when  photography can get me killed!!

I donated my time this past weekend to help support Gananoque’s fundraising efforts for the Nickel Cup Hydroplane Regatta for 2018. With hundreds of images of hydroplanes racing on the river, the committee will have lots of images for advertising for next year.  If you have never seen these races, I highly recommend going to it next year.

Getting set up for the perfect shot is easy. Most courses will have the map prior to the event.  It will outline the both start and finish of the race, the pit area, and both entry and exit for the boats. The pit area is exciting because it is where the teams hang out. The drivers, motor wizards, and pit crew were all there. Everyone was smiling, friendly and happy to talk about their boats. Fantastic people to talk to!  I met a great lady, a race driver who has a whole female team. Stay tuned for an article about the team and the driver.

Racers i the pit area
                                                      The great group of racing teams in the pit area

With the need for a long lens, (minimum 70-200mm), you will have to try to get situated in a place where you can see the racers coming around a turn on the inside of the track.  The inside of the track is where the focus needs to be due to the amount of water flying up the rooster tail at the back of the boat. Rooster tails obscure the view of the racer behind the lead boat and there is only a split second to capture the two front runners. That is when to click!

Position yourself to capture the racers on the inside of a curve before the rooster tails obscure the view


The 70-200mm will get you this type of image when you pan the boat

Here are a few ideas to make your day at the races more successful                 and ideas that will keep you safe.

Lens selection and camera gear:
  • longest lens you have, preferably a zoom because the racers come at you fast. Using a full frame is great for close up shots but a cropped sensor camera with a long zoom lens will get you closer to the action with a narrower field of view. This is great for single boats or two of them in a tight race.
  • 70-200 mm lens for a line up at the start and finish line
  • Prime lens – most of the photographers who cover races use a 500mm larger
  • long zoom lens – anything from 70-200 and up to 200-600mm zoom works great
  • tripod
  • Polarizers  – gives better blues and saturation of colours
  • Use exposure compensation to get rid of shadows
  • Use spot metering on the boats – matrix metering will keep the boats in the shadows
Clothes for  photographing speeding hydroplanes:
  • definitely get something that breathes and protects you from the sun. Sunscreen is great but sometimes if it has been applied to your face, it can drip into your eyes and it stings.
  • Hat – definitely a great idea if you are in the sun for a long time. Peaked hats get in the way of the camera until they are put on backwards. Yes, you will look like a fool but it will save you from sun stroke
  • Knee pads – great idea because kneeling on the dock or beach results in sore knees. Another great idea for knee pads is the small thermarest sear cushion from Mountain Equipment Co-op or a gardening knee pad.  I used the seat cushion type thing for not only my knees, but also to put my second camera on. It definitely is a safe place to drop your expensive equipment in a hurr








  • Neckerchief – great for soaking with water to cool yourself down
  1. Water, water, and more water
  2. Cliff bars or any type of energy bars (4 or 5 if you don’t have lunch)
  3. Towel for cleaning the exterior of the camera from sweat, sunscreen, and water
  4. Polarized Sunglasses- your eyes do need a break so putting your shades on between heats will save your eyes for a long career in photography


Get out on the docks and have some fun.


Definitely come to Gananoque for next year’s Nickel Cup Hydroplane Regatta


More images from the regatta here

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