ARTICLE

Power of three: photographing rowers with Canon's f/2.8 trinity RF zoom lenses

Four women row a narrow boat along a wide river at dawn.
Photographer Matthew Joseph describes a 35mm focal length as his "happy place" but enjoyed working with a range of focal lengths when he used Canon's f/2.8 trinity RF zooms. Taken on a Canon EOS R with a Canon RF 24-70MM F2.8L IS USM lens at 35mm, 1/250 sec, f/2.8 and ISO320. © Matthew Joseph

London-based photographer Matthew Joseph has built a reputation for people-focused advertising photography that evokes emotion and captures authentic moments in what are typically inauthentic commercial situations. His rich, cinematic style draws clients from across the corporate and editorial worlds, and has seen him shooting for well-known brands, creative agencies and NGOs.

Matthew was one of the first photographers to use all three lenses that constitute Canon's 'f/2.8 trinity' of RF zooms: the Canon RF 15-35MM F2.8L IS USM, Canon RF 24-70MM F2.8L IS USM and Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8L IS USM. Covering ultra-wide, standard and telephoto zoom ranges, the trio offers professional build quality, 5-stop Image Stabilization and smooth Nano USM focusing technology, and together they give a focal length range that enables working photographers to shoot in practically any situation.

In this instance, Matthew was tasked with covering a day in the life of a rowing club on the River Thames near London, using the Canon EOS R and the new RF zoom lenses. Here we find out all about his shoot.

An overhead shot shows a rowing boat cutting across the frame at an angle.
Matthew enjoys capturing the dedication it takes to be a rower. "They commit to working hard and getting up early all through the winter when it's cold and raining. It's an all-or-nothing environment," he says. Taken on a Canon EOS R with a Canon RF 24-70MM F2.8L IS USM lens at 64mm, 1/2000 sec, f/3.5 and ISO1000. © Matthew Joseph
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Was this the first time that you've photographed rowers?
"No. Over the last few years I've done a lot of work on the River Thames – personal projects and commissioned work – so I've been around rowers a lot. They are a fascinating breed. They commit to working hard and getting up early all through the winter when it's cold and raining. It's an all-or-nothing environment. But it's more than the actual rowing I'm interested in: it's the clubhouse, the boats, the maintenance, the social side of things, the races, the prestige and the sub-culture. It really is a fascinating subject for a photographer to cover."

How much of your day-to-day photography could you cover with this focal length range?
"Technically, everything. I don't need anything wider than 15mm or longer than 200mm. Generally, I'm shooting from 24 to 85mm."

Women carry a long rowing boat from a room lined with racked boats.
"The short focal length of the Canon RF 15-35MM F2.8L IS USM accentuated the shape of the long rowing boats," says Matthew. Taken on a Canon EOS R with a Canon RF 15-35MM F2.8L IS USM lens at 15mm, 1/200 sec, f/2.8 and ISO400. © Matthew Joseph

So how did you find going ultra-wide with the Canon RF 15-35MM F2.8L IS USM?
"So much of my work involves people that I scarcely shoot anything as wide as 15mm. However, this zoom offers a really useful range of focal lengths. Even though 35mm is my happy place, where I shoot pretty much all the time, there have been many situations where I wanted to quickly get wider than 35mm.

"I relied on the RF 15-35MM F2.8L IS USM in the boathouse during the shoot, where the short focal length accentuated the shape of the long rowing boats. I wanted to document how the rowers physically get this big boat down from the rack and work as a team to move together safely, to get it out on the water. It was a small, tight space with lots going on, so the lens was a natural choice."

Did the Canon RF 24-70MM F2.8L IS USM prove to be the workhorse on the day?
"I used it a lot. It's the perfect lens for the type of environmental portrait I like to shoot. Everyone quotes 85mm as the portrait lens, but my portraits are often shot somewhere in the 24 to 35mm range."

When did you use the Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8L IS USM?
"It was the mainstay when we were on the river shooting boat to boat, where we had to be a certain distance apart. The focal length range offered the flexibility of including the environment one minute, then homing in for tighter shots the next. My assistant was next to me, helping me to change lenses, but generally I was able to stay on the RF 70-200mm F2.8L IS USM for a long time, as the size and weight of the lens was excellent."

Matthew Joseph, lies on a motorised boat with his camera poised to photograph rowers.
Matthew got up close to the action to capture this sculling boat speeding by on the River Thames. "I love to take pictures from awkward and interesting angles," he says. © Julian Love
Oar blades are caught mid-stroke, hovering above the water.
In a sculling boat, each rower has two oars. This shot, taken with a 200mm focal length, shows the oars on one side of the boat cutting through the surface of the still water. Taken on a Canon EOS R with a Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8L IS USM lens at 200mm, 1/1000 sec, f/2.8 and ISO1250. © Matthew Joseph
A person is lifted from a beach by a large kite.

Shooting kites on the coast with Canon RF zoom lenses

Canon Ambassador Ulla Lohmann used the Canon RF 15-35mm F2.8L IS USM and RF 24-70mm F2.8L IS USM lenses to capture the action of a colourful kite festival.

How did the 5 stops of Image Stabilization perform when you were shooting on the water?
"It really was impressive. I was shooting video of a rowing boat from a moving boat, using the RF 70-200mm F2.8L IS USM lens handheld, and some of the footage looks almost as if it was shot on a gimbal. Being able to combine that level of IS performance with an f/2.8 aperture is a new thing and it opens up opportunities."

How did you configure the customisable Control Ring on the lenses?
"I set it to change the ISO. I shoot everything in Manual mode, so I'm constantly changing the three variables of shutter speed, aperture and ISO. Being able to adjust the ISO so quickly and easily was great. It took a while to get used to, but it's a really good option to have instead of taking up another function button on the camera."

A woman stands in the equipment shed wearing her rowing kit.
Matthew wanted to focus on the emotion and skill of the athletes, saying: "I actually prefer shooting rowers off the water." Taken on a Canon EOS R with a Canon RF 24-70MM F2.8L IS USM lens at 35mm, 1/125 sec, f/2.8 and ISO320. © Matthew Joseph
A close-up shows a rower's feet positioning and arms from above.
"I've developed ways of helping people to forget that I'm there... the silent mode is very important when I'm trying to capture these real moments," says Matthew. Taken on a Canon EOS R with a Canon RF 24-70MM F2.8L IS USM lens at 70mm, 1/640 sec, f/2.8 and ISO250. © Matthew Joseph

What features of the Canon EOS R particularly suit the way you like to work?
"I love to take pictures from awkward and interesting angles, and as much as I never really like to shoot away from the viewfinder, there are situations where the Vari-angle touchscreen is very useful. Being able to use Touch & Drag AF on the screen when shooting with the viewfinder is also really good. I always select an AF point manually, and dragging my thumb across the screen to move the AF point feels a lot more fluid than using the joystick on a traditional DSLR. When I shoot video, I switch to manual focusing, as that's the way I'm used to working, so the focus peaking is a great feature.

"Another advantage is the silent shooting mode. If I submerge myself in a situation, initially there's always the feeling that people know there's a photographer around. I've developed ways of helping people to forget that I'm there, but sometimes having a shutter go off shatters that illusion. So the silent mode is very important when I'm trying to capture these real moments."

Matthew Joseph in the water up to his neck, his head and camera level with the boat.
"The rowers sit so low in the boat – just inches from the water – and they're constantly getting wet," says Matthew. "To record that moment in an intimate way, I needed to be in the water in my wetsuit." © Julian Love
An image taken from the water level showing the rowers in action as they head underneath a bridge.
"I had just seconds to make sure not only that the camera settings were right, but that the four rowers' facial expressions matched the action." Taken on a Canon EOS R with a Canon RF 24-70MM F2.8L IS USM lens at 50mm, 1/4000 sec, f/2.8 and ISO400. © Matthew Joseph

Which was the most challenging shot to get?
"I wanted to capture the connection between the rowers and the river. They sit so low in the boat – just inches from the water – and they're constantly getting wet, so to record that moment in an intimate way, I needed to be in the water in my wetsuit. It was difficult for the rowers, as they were worried about hitting me; the blades were coming right over my head and splashing me. I had just seconds to make sure not only that the camera settings were right, but that the four rowers' facial expressions matched the action.

"Initially, I started shooting with the Canon RF 15-35MM F2.8L IS USM, but it was just too wide and I lost that connection I was looking to capture. So I switched to the RF 24-70MM F2.8L IS USM and that gave me everything I needed."

What advice would you offer someone who hasn't shot rowers in action before?
"Be prepared to get cold and wet – and to think on your feet and act fast! The rowers don't have a lot of control over the boats, they're not super manoeuvrable, so you've got to be the manoeuvrable one, and you've got to have the kit to react fast. I actually prefer shooting rowers off the water. For me, it's about those moments in between. As much as we got some good action during this shoot, I'm more interested in the bit at the end when they're exhausted or they've just been defeated or they've just won a race and they're elated."

Автор Marcus Hawkins


Matthew Joseph's kitbag

The key kit pros use to take their photographs

A hand places a Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8L IS USM lens on a plank alongside an RF 24-70mm F2.8L IS USM and RF 15-35mm F2.8L IS USM lens.

Camera

Lenses

Canon RF 15-35mm F2.8L IS USM

Ultra-wide and super sharp thanks to L-series optical quality and 5-stop Image Stabilization for dynamic angles even in tight spaces. "I relied on this lens in the boathouse during the shoot, where the short focal length accentuated the shape of the long rowing boats," says Matthew.

Canon RF 24-70mm F2.8L IS USM

Give your full-frame mirrorless photography the professional edge with a 24-70mm zoom boasting a fast aperture and 5 stops of Image Stabilization. "I used it a lot," says Matthew. "It's the perfect lens for the type of environmental portrait I like to shoot."

Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8L IS USM

A must-have super compact high speed telephoto lens for any professional photographer shooting weddings, sport or wildlife. "The focal length range offered the flexibility of including the environment one minute, then homing in for tighter shots the next," says Matthew.

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