The ‘perfect shot’: Daredevil sailing photographer hangs out of helicopter

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Story highlights

Veteran sports photographer Ezra Shaw reveals the secret to 'perfect shot'

Flew in open-door helicopter 400 meters above sea during America's Cup

Remarkable images capture prestigious race from land, air, and sea

High-tech underwater camera equipment show how far photography has come

CNN  — 

While the rest of us were watching two boats battling it out in one of the most thrilling sailing competitions of all time, there was another man soaring 400 meters above the waves watching our every move.

Hanging out of an open-door helicopter flying high above San Francisco Bay, is all part of a day’s work for sports photographer Ezra Shaw, who took these remarkable images of the America’s Cup.

It’s not always easy finding an interesting angle when photographing endless blue sea and sky, but Shaw managed to capture the grace – and adrenalin – of sailing, using high-tech equipment on land, sea, and air.

“I don’t like flying that much,” admitted 39-year-old Shaw, a photographer with one of the biggest news agencies in the world, Getty Images, for over 15 years.

“But having a camera makes being in a helicopter a little easier because I’m concentrating on my job and trying to get these pictures – rather than actually thinking ‘I’m flying above the water with no door.’”

Golden backdrop

This was one of the first times the prestigious race had been held in a city, rather than out at sea, giving Shaw a rare opportunity to capture the dramatic skyline of his hometown.

As U.S. billionaire Larry Ellison’s yacht Oracle made a dramatic comeback against Emirates Team New Zealand, in one of the most nail-biting finishes in the competition’s 162-year history, it was up to Shaw to capture the drama, with his images used in newspapers across the world.

Read: America’s Cup 2013 – sport’s greatest comeback?

“Golden Gate Bridge is pretty spectacular and the skyline is beautiful. So to be able to work those two elements into the picture gave me a chance to get a variety of different images that wouldn’t have been possible in other America’s Cups,” said Shaw.

“San Francisco also has lots of different micro climates – the fog might roll in one day and they’d be blue sky the next, which made for interesting images.”

Speed machines

But it wasn’t just helicopters helping Shaw get a fresh perspective of the historic race.

The photographer – who covered last year’s London Olympics – also jumped aboard a powerboat to get close to the action.

It was hard work keeping up with the futuristic yachts – which glide along the waves at 80 kilometers per hour – not to mention taking photographs on a violently bouncing speedboat.

Read: Meet the new America’s Cup ‘flying yacht’

“These sailboats go so fast that the motorboats we were on really couldn’t keep up with them. So you have to pick a few key spots on the course,” explained Shaw.

“I was carrying heavy equipment going out on a boat day after day – I went to the gym a lot more,” he joked.

Brave new world

It’s an indication of how far sports photography has developed in recent years, with international agencies using everything from helicopters to high-tech underwater camera equipment to get a shot no one else has.

“One of the guys on the motorboat had been photographing sailing for 30 years and was talking about America’s Cup in Newport in the 80s,” explained Shaw. “He would have somebody bring him more film on the boat because he’d run out.

“It’s great shooting on digital, because you’re rocking up and down on a boat so much with these long lenses. I’d be taking thousands of images a day to get it down to 30 or 40 pictures that I would transmit to the Getty website.”

Capturing the moment

But for Shaw, the secret to taking a good photograph isn’t necessarily gadgets or extreme helicopter rides – it’s having a good eye.

“The moment is very important – one of my photos of the two boats passing behind Golden Gate Bridge captures them just as they’re between the lines,” he said.

“Great moments in sports photography are very important, where you’re capturing the millisecond of something happening.”