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Richard Walch: <br class="br_visual" />making waves with <br class="br_visual" />the EOS 7D Mark II

Richard Walch:
making waves with
the EOS 7D Mark II

© Richard Walch

October 2014

Canon Ambassador, action photographer and filmmaker Richard Walch recently took to the seas with the new EOS 7D Mark II. The results of his endeavours – using Canon’s flagship APS-C DSLR and a group of Speedlite 600EX-RT flashguns – are nothing short of stunning. He reveals the secrets behind his latest maritime adventure to CPN Editor David Corfield...

Richard leads a life that is aspired to by many, and his spirit of adventure is evident in every one of the photographs he takes. His beautifully-lit and exceptionally composed images belie nothing of the hardship he puts himself – and his equipment – through in the pursuit of the perfect picture. And that’s just the way he likes it.

“Why should anyone care if I get wet or put myself in danger?” he muses. “I push myself to the limit but more importantly I push the equipment to the max so everyone can see the benefit of what is possible with today’s technology. It’s my pleasure; this is my buzz!”

Richard’s infectious enthusiasm for his work and the way he embraces all possibilities – no matter how crazy they may seem at the time – are what gets him noticed. What foolhardy planning would see, for instance, six Speedlite 600EX-RT flashguns fixed with duct tape to the rigging of a class 49, two-handed, high-performance sailing dinghy, while it sails across the Baltic Sea at 40kph?

© Richard Walch

The Class 49 dinghies are among the fastest in the world, travelling at up to 40kph. Fortunately, Richard Walch picked the EOS 7D Mark II with its impressive focusing ability and 10fps motordrive to keep up...

Speed of light...

Working with such a fast-moving subject would prove an ideal opportunity to try out the new EOS 7D Mark II. The speed needed to keep up with the Audi Sailing Team Germany and the ability to control, from camera, the multiple Speedlites used on the job fell easily to it, especially when fitted with the Speedlite Transmitter ST-E3-RT.

“Kiel Week, off the Baltic coast, is the biggest sailing regatta in the world,” Richard reveals. “It takes place in Kiel, Germany, and for three years now I have shot the event for Audi as their official photographer. But every year I get the same kind of shots, so this year I wanted to do a special shoot, just for me, which was a little bit different.”

“With amazing access to the Audi Sailing Team Germany crew and the boats at my fingertips it would have been stupid not to do something different and cool so that’s why I convinced the team’s Eric Heil and his friends to go into a night shoot with me.”

Richard’s concept of using flash on a boat on water is nothing new, but this time a new camera offered new and exciting possibilities.

“I wanted to step it up for this job,” he admits. “Before I just used to use one flash, but here I wanted to take it to the max, and position several different flashes at key places right along the boat as the sun set. With the new 20.2 Megapixel sensor, the fast processing ability of two DIGIC 6 processors and a fast motordrive I knew I had all the ingredients to get some amazing shots.”

Working with an Olympic class ‘49er’ means space is at a premium. They are small, lightweight dinghies that are built to compete and don’t offer much in the way of fixing points for things like flashguns. “It’s one of the fastest boats out there,” Richard affirms, “And they are second only to a catamaran. It has a sail a bit like a windsurf board, which is transparent, so it illuminates much nicer than a traditional boat’s sail.”

© Richard Walch

The EOS 7D Mark II was used along with a selection of lenses, including the new EF400mm f/4 DO IS II USM super telephoto.

“The shooting took place over two nights,” he reveals. “On the first day I had a huge learning curve, and used four flashes on two boats to see what worked and what didn’t and then on the second night I used six flashes on one boat and really went for it.”

Because of the speed at which the boats travel, Richard was impressed at how the AF system of the 7D Mark II coped. “The finesse of the EOS 7D Mark II is really impressive,” he remarks. “And it’s not until you sit down and read the 65-page autofocus manual that you begin to truly understand what it’s capable of. This camera can do things that only a few years ago I never dreamed would be possible.”

“It gives me the same feeling of shooting with the EOS-1D X, but in a much lighter package. And for me, that is really important. If a camera can’t keep up with the way I work, then it’s a problem and I start to dislike the product. But to make a long story short, the 7D Mark II thinks as fast as I do and it is as reactive as me. It’s like when you drive a car fast and you put your foot on the accelerator and it still has more to give – that’s the feeling the 7D Mark II gives me. It’s so fast with the 10 frames-per-second drive and it’s so responsive with its amazing autofocus. It will focus on anything you tell it to focus on – and the secret is that little thumb lever at the back which lets you pick the focus settings.”

Richard put on his ocean gear and positioned himself in a rib-type dinghy with the EOS 7D Mark II firmly around his neck, and got the sailing team to first circle him so he could check out where the light was at its best, and then come towards him while shooting with a long lens – in this case the new EF400mm f/4 DO IS II USM. Its small size and tremendous extra reach, when fitted to the APS-C format 7D Mark II, effectively gave Richard a 640mm lens in a package almost half the weight of his usual EOS-1D X and 600mm lens set-up.

© Christian Stadler

Richard Walch used a powerful rib to keep up with the high-performance dinghies and photographed them with multiple Speedlites as the sun began to set.

The speed of the two-handed, skiff-type, high-performance sailing dinghies he was photographing meant that a rib with a powerful outboard engine was essential in order to keep ahead of them and to quickly change position once out in the open water.

“There are always all sorts of challenges in doing this job,” Richard remarks. “But I am used to getting wet! And Canon’s strong reputation for weather sealing is obviously here in the EOS 7D Mark II, which has inherited so much DNA from the pro-level EOS-1D X,” he explains. “I shoot with a towel close by me so I can quickly wipe the camera down when it gets splashed, which happens a lot!”

Focus pocus

One of the key talking points about the EOS 7D Mark II when it was launched at the photokina show in Germany this year, was its ultra-quick focusing. And on the open water, where cameras can often struggle to lock onto a moving subject, the EOS 7D Mark II impressed Richard hugely.

“On a sailboat you cannot focus in the middle, so you need to be able to direct the focus settings, changing from a single point to a field of AF points, and that’s exactly what the 7D Mark II is capable of because it has this extra button on the back which is super-cool and very useful,” he reveals. “So with one hand, while the boat was approaching me, I could change the autofocus setting with my thumb. When you first open the box and look at the camera, you don’t realise just how important that little button is. But when you start to explore it, and read all about it, you realise that the possibilities it gives you are amazing. It makes you realise that to push to the limits you need to step up your own game as well – and it all starts with reading the AF manual!” he laughs.

Preparations for the shoot

Richard used eight Speedlite 600EX-RT flashguns for his sailing shoot and housed them all in individual flexible waterproof housings made by EWA Marine.

“I wasn’t going to take any chances with losing these wonderful Speedlites,” he explains. “Once they were safely protected in their housings I took a big roll of duct tape and taped them to the boat, directing each unit to specific areas such as faces and sails. I knew what I wanted to achieve and I knew what lighting and angles were possible, and the combination of a lightweight camera and some key lenses made it all very achievable.”

He continues: “I used the EF8-15mm, EF16-35mm and EF24-70mm L-series lenses along with the new EF400mm DO lens and an EF50mm f/1.2 for portraits. The 7D and the 50mm lens, because of the APS-C sensor, became like an 80mm, which made for a really cool portrait combination.”

© Christian Stadler

Richard Walch examines the images shot on the EOS 7D Mark II. Fitted with the Speedlite Transmitter ST-E3-RT, full control of flash output and grouping was possible from camera menu.

Along with the speed of the camera and its ability to focus rapidly, Richard’s other key criteria was being able to control the flashguns from the camera. “What are the problems using remote flash in a situation like this?” he asks. “Problem number one is that you can’t change your flash settings once the boat has set sail and number two is that you never know when the flash is charged and ready to fire. All these problems are gone now. There is a 30 metre stable connection thanks to the radio transmitter and I can wirelessly change the power of the flashes in camera too while I am shooting, as well as being able to put the flashes in groups. So for the shots, I had three groups: one for the faces, one for the main sail and one for the front sail.”

“When the boat goes away and turns round to come back, the flash symbol pops up in camera to let you know they are within range. This has always been a feature on the 600EX-RT and I love that. Flashguns have gone from being the worst devices to the best devices. And for me, Canon’s decision to go from infrared to radio transmitter was the big turning point.”

The proof is in the pixels...

With the shots in the bag, Richard’s next task was to import them – via Canon’s Digital Photo Professional software – and examine the files. “At times I was shooting at up to ISO 3200-4000, and the files were still nice and clean,” he remarks.

“There was almost no post-production in the shots,” he reveals. “The files were clean enough the moment they were taken and the client loved them. They were stoked, and so was I. I love sailing and I think I’ve taken it to the next level with this camera. It opens up new possibilities for anyone wanting to do amazing photography.”

“If I was asked to design a camera for a trip where it is important to be light, fast and flexible I would have no problem taking the 7D Mark II with me,” he reveals. “It’s not about putting loads of gear into a camera bag and killing yourself by carrying it up a mountain,” he says. “It’s about keeping it light and working smart. Size and weight are the critical factors in my job and with the quality I get from the EOS 7D Mark II’s sensor and knowing I can rely totally on the camera’s super-fast autofocus to get the shot at any speed, I am filled with confidence and new ideas for even bigger challenges.”

“Photography is changing, and cameras are changing so fast now,” Richard reflects. “As a Canon Ambassador I am able to give my thoughts in ‘round table’ meetings with Canon engineers and it’s so great to see them turn some of theses ideas into reality. I always wanted a camera that thought the way that I did, and with the EOS 7D Mark II that reality is here today and the possibilities for extraordinary pictures are limited only by my imagination.

“In my world, there is no such word as impossible. Finally here is a camera that speaks my language...”

© Richard Walch

Please click on the image above to watch a film showing Richard Walch photographing the Kiel Week 2014 sailing regatta with the EOS 7D Mark II DSLR.

EOS 7D Mark II – key features

  • 10fps full resolution continuous shooting with selectable burst speeds and silent shutter mode.
  • 65-point all cross-type AF system1 with iTR, AI Servo AF III, AF Configuration tool and AF area selection lever.1
  • 20.2 Megapixel CMOS sensor with ISO 100-16,000 sensitivity, expandable to ISO 25,600 (H1) and 51,200 (H2).
  • 150k pixel RGB+IR metering sensor with flicker detection.
  • 100% magnification Intelligent Viewfinder II with electronic overlay, customisable information display and electronic level.
  • Full HD 50p (PAL) 60p (NTSC) fps with Dual Pixel CMOS AF (at 30p) with manual adjustment of AF speed and tracking sensitivity.
  • MP4 encoding for quick and easy sharing and file transfer.
  • Uncompressed (4:2:2) HDMI output with sound.
  • Improved weather resistance.
  • CF and SD dual memory card slots.
  • GPS with in-built digital compass.2
  • Peripheral illumination, chromatic aberration, real-time distortion correction during live view shooting.
  • Multiple exposure mode.
  • ‘SuperSpeed’ USB 3.0 for high-speed tethering and image/movie transfer.
  • 200,000 shutter cycle life.
  • Interchangeable focusing screens.
  • Exposure compensation +/- 5 stops.
  • Integrated Speedlite Transmitter.

1 Number of available AF points and cross-type points and dual cross-type points vary depending on the lens.

2 GPS use may be restricted in certain countries or regions. Use of GPS should comply with the laws and regulations of the country and area in which it is being operated including any restriction on the use of electronics.

Biographie: Richard Walch

Richard Walch

German photographer Richard Walch started out over 25 years ago shooting snowboarding and skiing, and now specialises in dramatic action shots of snow and water sports. He was 16 when photography became a passion and at the age of 18 he started shooting for magazines professionally. Since 2008 Walch has diversified from stills into shooting HD movie projects with Canon EOS DSLRs, including TV adverts and commercial projects. He is always on the move to find out what technology has to offer and how this can influence his photography and filming in a positive way.


The EOS 7D Mark II, seen here fitted with an EF24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens, was to prove a capable partner on water as well as land.