Red Bull Illume Photographer Jaanus Ree on Photographing Windsurfers

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All images by Jaanus Ree. Used with permission. 

Photographer Jaanus Ree is a Red Bull Illume photographer that recently finished quite an extreme and technically challenging project. Jaanus, who has always been into windsurfing and photography, wanted to capture windsurfers performing against a beautiful city backdrop and a really beautiful sky. In and of itself, any photographer that has done both sports and landscape work knows that that’s a very big technical challenge.

So his answer was to use flashes. But then that brings about even bigger technical problems that you need to solve.

Phoblographer: Talk to us about how you got into photography.


Jaanus: I have always had a camera with me, but I got more into it after hurting myself during a windsurfing competition. As I was not so interested about staying on the beach far from the action I bargained myself into a media boat as a photographer. At first I just wanted to view the competition but in the end I could not stop taking photos. From there on I started to get invitations to shoot all kinds of sports from boxing to Rally.

Phoblographer: What made you want to shoot windsurfing and sports?


Jaanus: I think as an active person and former athlete this is something I can relate to and itˇs so much easier for me than chasing the bear or lion 🙂

Phoblographer: So talk to us about the creative vision for this project. It was obviously collaborative between you and the windsurfers, but did you have any sort of previsualization of what you wanted before you entered the project?


Jaanus: Yes, my main idea was to have a backloop with a city background but it was a lot harder than it sounds. Working together with high speed action and natural light in the dark can be quite hard.

Phoblographer: Besides the strobist setup, what creative challenges do you feel you faced when trying to do this project?


Jaanus: Wow… we did the shoot actually over 3 days. At first there was no wind but the natural light was just amazing. No flashes, no jumps because of lack of wind but just the riding shots were amazing.

Second one was to test the equipment:


At first I did not know what lights to use Fast/slow, then transmitters- rather than using hypersync or 1/250 shutter. What lens to use- I had to choose between 200mm f2.8 with what I could get city closer but with higher ISOs or 85mm with an f1.4 aperture and nicer quality. In the end I found out it was the fast shutter with a wide aperture that created the best result.

Also as I dealt with a water I had to make sure that the transmitters worked, so I brought them away from every other piece of the technical stuff. This is why you can see me holding the transmitter with one hand while shooting with the other.

On third day I knew exactly what and when to use. Now it was just about the right wave and nice jumps.

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Phoblographer: From this series, which one is your specific favorite and why?

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Jaanus: It was the highest jump and the city lights were the brightest.

Phoblographer: If you were doing this all over again, what would you do differently to step the game up even more LED lights on the athletes for a combinations of long exposures and second curtain flash maybe?

Jaanus: I would do it with a camera with higher ISO capabilities. So I could use more natural light. Maybe the Nikon D5 will do the job when Iˇll get my hands on it.


Phoblographer: Talk to us about the gear setup for this.

Jaanus: Setup was actually quite easy – Two Elinchrom Rangers with slow S heads next to each other. Clad that windsurfing sail lets light trough. It makes it a lot easier. As transmitters I used Pocketwizard plus 3’s combined with a Phottix Odin to be sure the flashes work.

Camera was Nikon D810 / Nikon D810A with 70-200mm f2.8 and 85mm 1f.4



Chris Gampat

Chris Gampat is the Editor in Chief, Founder, and Publisher of the Phoblographer. He also likes pizza.