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Ben Thouard dives in: the first action shoot with Canon's flagship EOS-1D X Mark III

Surfer Kauli Vaast surfs inside the barrel of a wave. Taken by Ben Thouard on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark III.
Surf photographer Ben Thouard was the first pro to shoot with the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III in Teahupo'o, Tahiti. Here, Ben says, he was "looking to get a tight action shot of the surfer in the barrel.” Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark III with a Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM lens at 350mm, 1/2000 sec, f/6.3 and ISO200. © Ben Thouard

Teahupo'o in Tahiti, French Polynesia, is known as the most dangerous break in the world. With huge, powerful and fast-moving waves breaking over a coral reef just below the surface, it's the ultimate professional surfing challenge. Documenting the action is just as difficult, requiring incredible athleticism and photographic talent. It was here that world-leading underwater surf photographer Ben Thouard carried out the first pro shoot with the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III.

Ben has called the idyllic South Pacific island of Tahiti home since he moved from France aged 22 and made documenting the oceans his life's work. He shoots surf events for clients and magazines across the world and continues to seek new ways of shooting waves, which he shares with his 200,000-plus Instagram followers and has published in 2018 book Surface.

"When you're swimming, you have to fight the elements and the current to put yourself in the right position for the right movement," he says. "When the action happens, it's fast, so shooting from the water is definitely a challenge, but that's what I love – it's never the same."

Covering unpredictable action, while also moving himself, Ben needs his equipment to be reliable and fast, and typically uses the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II. On this dynamic shoot, he photographed talented young Tahitian surfer Kauli Vaast from multiple perspectives from the back of a boat, from his jet ski and in the water, using the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III.

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Freezing action at 20fps

Some of Ben's most eye-catching photographs are taken from inside rolling waves, which he captures through careful co-ordination with his subject and using a wide-angle Canon EF 8-15mm f/4L Fisheye USM lens with his camera protected in underwater housing.

"The goal is to be in the barrel of the wave with the surfer at the right time," Ben says. "It's a team job as you're trying to put yourself in the position where you predict the wave is going to break and where the surfer is going to pass. For surfing photography, where we're very close to the action, a fisheye lens is amazing – you're able to capture the whole scene. There is no straight line in the ocean except the horizon, so it brings out details of the wave."

With such high-octane action, there are mere milliseconds to get the shot, making the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III's high frame rates – 16fps when using the viewfinder and an incredible 20fps in Live View mode – absolutely essential for Ben.

Kauli Vaast seen within a barrel of a wave photographed from underwater on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark III.
Ben's speciality is capturing action from inside or underneath the waves, and he found Canon's new action camera excelled whether shooting from the shore, in the water or under it in a waterproof housing. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark III with a Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM lens at 16mm, 1/1250 sec, f/10 and ISO400. © Ben Thouard

"As an action photographer, being able to shoot up to 20fps is just amazing," he says. "It's a game-changer, and the highlight of this camera for me. Now instead of having one good frame, I can choose between two, three or maybe even four frames. It's definitely a new thing in action photography.

"For any sports photographers who need to capture a sequence or a certain moment of the action, instead of having to shoot thousands of photos to capture the right angle or position of the athlete, 20fps allows you many more possibilities to choose the frame you need – it's almost like a video."

An animated gif shows a surfer travelling inside the barrel of a wave. Taken by Ben Thouard on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark III.
"It's a team job as soon as you jump in the water to shoot – you need to know the surfer and how good he is, because when you shoot with a fisheye lens you need to be very close," says Ben. "You're pretty much in his line between the barrel and the exit, so he needs to be confident in you." From a sequence of shots taken on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark III with a Canon EF 8-15mm f/4L Fisheye USM lens at 14mm, 1/2000 sec, f/6.3 and ISO200. © Ben Thouard
Photographer Ben Thouard and a colleague swimming underwater with cameras in waterproof housings.
"I love shooting in the water because you get inspired by what comes to you," says Ben. © Fergus Kennedy
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When he's on the water in big waves, he uses telephoto zoom lenses such as a Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM and Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4x lens. "It's great to be as tight on the surfer as possible, so you can have details of their face, their board and the waves," Ben says. "The Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4x lens is awesome because of its zoom range and built-in converter, so you can switch it and have almost 300mm to 600mm."

Ensuring he gets clean, crisp images of action while in motion himself asks a lot of Ben's equipment. "If I'm on my jet ski, moving on the water with a lens at 600mm, I'm going to be pointing my camera at the action at the last second, so I need it to be very responsive. That's where the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III is amazing, because it focuses fast and tracks all the way."

With a brand-new high resolution AF sensor in the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III, advanced AF algorithms offer unparalleled focus tracking. In Live View and video, the Dual Pixel CMOS AF offers 525 AF areas. "Even if the surfer doesn't move into the frame, it will still track them, which is a definite improvement. The focus is amazing, even if you're shooting on a 600mm lens on the water, on a moving boat, and you're shooting surfers that are moving too."

Kauli Vaast catches some air as he surfs in Tahiti. Photo by Ben Thouard taken on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark III.
"The Canon EOS-1D X Mark III focuses fast and tracks all the way," even when zoomed right in, says Ben. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark III with a Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender lens at 262mm, 1/2000 sec, f/6.3 and ISO200. © Ben Thouard
Surfer Kauli Vaast photographed with a fisheye lens as he rides a breaking wave.
"You have to let the elements come to you, and there's always something new – sometimes the sky, sometimes the texture on the water, or the light – which is why I love trying to take new photos," says Ben. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark III with a Canon EF 8-15mm f/4L Fisheye USM lens at 14mm, 1/1600 sec, f/6.3 and ISO800. © Ben Thouard

Next-level quality across stills and video

With a new Canon CMOS sensor and powerful DIGIC processing, the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III offers even greater levels of image quality across both stills and video. It's something Ben noticed when he looked at the data of the files he was processing, with detail captured across the wide dynamic range from the dark ocean to bright white clouds and foam.

"Tahiti is tropical, so there's very strong sun," he says. "I shoot a lot against the sun at sunset and sunrise – very hard conditions for the camera, with a lot of shadows and highlights in the same frame. I noticed the camera captured more information than the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II – there's a lot more registered by the sensor in both highlights and shadows."

A Tahitian canoe photographed from front-on by Ben Thouard with a Canon EOS-1D X Mark III.
"We shot some Va'a, typical Tahitian canoes," says Ben. He took some speed blur tracking shots and some shots like this, concentrating on the rowers, who are sharply focused despite being in energetic motion. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark III with a Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender lens at 460mm, 1/2000 sec, f/5.6 and ISO400. © Ben Thouard
A split shot of a Tahitian canoe gliding through the water, showing detail above and below the waterline.
The Canon EOS-1D X Mark III's impressive dynamic range made it possible for Ben to capture striking split shots with eye-popping detail both above and below the water. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark III with a Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM lens at 16mm, 1/1600 sec, f/5.6 and ISO400. © Ben Thouard

Ben was also able to experiment with the camera's video capabilities, shooting clips of surfing and waves both above and underwater in 4K at 60p. "I mostly tried the slow motion, also shooting at 1080 Full HD at 120fps," he says. "That feels amazing – I think that water movements shot in slow motion are so much better. At 4K the video was also capturing a lot more information in the highlights and shadows."

The shoot also gave Ben a chance to experiment with using the Live View mode. "I've been so used to looking through the eyepiece, but when you're wearing goggles or have the camera in underwater housing, it's hard to frame through it, so being able to switch to the Live View mode on the back screen is a great option."

Photographer Ben Thouard stands in a wetsuit by the sea, holding a Canon EOS-1D X Mark III to his eye.
“When you know you’re creating great images, you can’t stop,” says Ben. “That’s how sometimes you end up swimming for eight to 10 hours.” © Fergus Kennedy

After putting the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III through his regular photographic demands, Ben was left with no questions. "In all the crazy conditions I work in, I want to make sure I have the best equipment available," he says.

"I'm sometimes waiting all year for the right conditions, so when they come, I want to capture everything without being restricted by my camera. The Canon EOS-1D X Mark III is definitely the one for me, because I'm sure to have one of the best cameras available."

Написано от Lucy Fulford


Ben Thouard's kitbag

The key kit for pro action photography

Ben Thouard’s kitbag with a Canon EOS-1D X Mark III, lenses and an underwater housing.

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