Like most of today’s high-performance powerboat photographers, Jeff Helmkamp needs a serious day job to make ends meet. The 45-year-old manufacturing manager lives in Alton, Ill., just a few miles northeast of St. Louis, Mo., which puts the Lake of the Ozarks and its annual Shootout event squarely in his backyard.
Also like most of today’s go-fast boat shooters, Helmkamp is self-taught.
“I’ve taken the ‘practice makes perfect approach,'” he said. “For me, photography began in 1993 at a Super Boat race held on the Lake of the. The event brought the likes of Dirty Laundry and Dan Campbell’s Cobra Marine. With those heavy hitters and many more, I was hooked.
“I started attending the Key West Worlds in 1994, which fielded 150 boats,” he continued. “Although that’s when I started shooting, I have been interested in offshore powerboats since 1985 when my parents and I started spending summers at the Lake of the Ozarks. I don’t think it was the first Shootout, but in the early years of the event that Howard Arneson brought and ran his turbine Skater there.”
For a closer look at the work of photographer Jeff Helmkamp, check out the slideshow above.
Helmkamp said he “got serious” about photography in 2005 when he bought his first DSLR camera and started shooting for a Pro Modified-class drag racing website. Through online message boards such as offshoreonly.com, he met and learned from fellow photographers Tim Sharkey, Pete Boden (check out Boden’s recent “Portfolio” article by clicking here) and Jay Nichols.
“Those guys helped me out along the way,” he said.
From the sounds and hardware to the people and places, Helmkamp enjoys everything about shooting the high-performance powerboat world. He doesn’t own a powerboat “so getting close to the boats at events can be tough” and he’d like to live closer to events other than the annual Lake Of The Ozarks Shootout. But beyond that, he has no complaints.
“The best part is the boats,” he said. “I mean MTI, Skater, Nor-Tech, Cigarette, and Apache—I can’t think of anything more exciting.”
As for how he photographs go-fast boats, Helmkamp takes a specific approach in which preserving motion is paramount.
“First and foremost I like trying to slow the shutter down as much as possible—I like motion blur,” he explained. “I do not like stopped props on a boat and I do not like a boat that appears to be sitting still in mid-air. With every photo I take, I want it to look to viewers like they are there. I want them to feel the action.
“For dock and trailer or pit shots, I enjoy messing around with tone mapping (in Photoshop),” he added. “Tone mapping is a style that isn’t for everybody. Usually boat owners like this effect—some photographers do not. Jay Nichols has perfected this style.”
Portfolio: Erick Bryner
Portfolio: Pete Boden
All photos courtesy/copyright Jeff Helmkamp