Florida Paddle Notes

Kayak Photography

Kayak Photography

Kayak Photography

I love photography, always have. In fact, I still have my original Kodak Tourist II camera from when I was 8 years old! I have since graduated to the digital age, which I totally love, and now use a Nikon D5100. With a love for photography and the fact I enjoy kayaking I could not ask for a better combination as a recreational choice, Kayak Photography.

Advantages to using a kayak for photography:

Kayaks are very versatile boats, often used for fishing, recreation, touring and photography. A new perspective is experienced in Kayak Photography and that is viewing water to land rather than land to water.

  • Kayaks are easily transported due to the light weight and are able to be launched from almost anywhere.

    James on Dunns Creek
    James on Dunns Creek
  • The kayak, due to it being able to travel in very shallow water, allows access to areas other boats would not be able to go.
  • The low profile and quietness of a kayak presents more opportunity to approach wildlife.
  • Kayaks can easily maneuver in tight areas
  • There is usually plenty of dry storage space to store photographic equipment
Some Tips for Successful Kayak Photography:

Aside from the main issue of protecting expensive photographic equipment, kayak photography offers wonderful opportunities. Take the time to go over some practical points to consider before you embark on your new adventure…

Protect Your Camera: There are several choices in protecting camera equipment. Your choice will depend on your confidence in a kayak as well as the make-up of your kayak and where you plan to paddle.

Consider these three options…
Plastic Watertight Cases
Aquapac Clear Vinyl Cases
Dry Bags

Be sure to keep several silica gel packets inside whatever case you decide to use. This will help absorb any moisture.

Be aware of heat and sunlight affecting your camera. Keep it shaded. When not in use do not keep it stored for long periods of time inside any of the hatches. Heat can easily build up in there.

Know your body motion limitations in your kayak:

This is very, very important. Before bringing expensive equipment aboard, take your kayak out several times, on a lake or gentle water and learn your limitations. Facing forward, lean to each side slowly until you reach the tipping point of your kayak. Get used to how this feels and learn where the limitation is. Simulate this as if holding a camera, leaning your body to one side and let it become second nature to you. Also, practice, as if holding a camera, leaning over the side as if shooting into the water and feel just how much you can lean toward the water without loosing stability. When on a shoot to photograph manatees using a new Aquapac waterproof case, I was unable to lean far enough toward the water, wanting to get the end of the lens into the water, without jeopardizing my stability. Consequently the attempt was aborted.

Be Enlightened!:  The best time of day to get those dramatic photos is when the sun is lower in the sky, whether around sunrise or sunset. Colors are not washed out and shadows and contrast are best.

The Ocklawaha River
The Ocklawaha River

If shooting in mid day, unless there are dramatic clouds to include, minimize the amount of sky in your composition and utilize reflections.

Go with the flow: Taking advantage of the current in kayak photography. Drift quietly into the shot, allows you to get a much closer advantage before any wildlife are ‘spooked’. Wind and current can be your friend, as it may also allow you to have your hands free from paddling and be better able to secure and operate the camera. Be sure to have a paddle leash as protection from accidentally having it slip over the side during your shot.

Bring the right lenses: Kayak photography is different in an open lake as compared to a narrow creek. If you are looking for scenery shots, perhaps a fixed lens will fit the bill, whereas if you are shooting wildlife, a zoom is great. The location and subject matter will definitely determine the right focal length lens/lenses to bring. Make sure your lenses have a polarizing filter for nice contrast and glare reduction.

Bring Extras:  Opt for a larger memory card or bring an extra, as well as, extra batteries.  Be sure to have them charged!

Framing the Subject:  A good rule of thumb is to fill 1/3 of the frame with the subject.  Zoom lenses are good for getting close shots.  Also during post production a good eye for image cropping can really make an impact.

Observe and Anticipate:  Always be aware of your surroundings.  With a keen eye you are better prepared to compose a nice photograph even before pressing the shutter release.  Look ahead for potential shots so when you get there you will be ready to shoot.  Anticipating action results in nice shots, by allowing you time to get the correct settings before the action begins.

Heron Over Salt Creek
Heron Over Salt Creek

Shooting Multiple Frames:  Multiple frames help capture a subject in motion.  Don’t hesitate to use this feature.  Digital film is cheap.






Kayak Photography FAQs

Here are several questions I have been asked over the last few years…

Q.  Do you have special equipment to mount your camera on the kayak?Graphic Camera Lens

Yes, I have a converted ‘Scotty’ fishing rod holder, an added an extension and camera mount onto. The camera is right in front of me, in reach, and easily lifts off the mount. It sometimes does slow me down though and I find that I keep my camera and waterproof bag right between my legs for quick access. Never use a neck strap! A bad situation can turn worse with a strap around your neck. I use a hand strap whenever the camera is in my hands. You definitely want to have some type of strap on the camera to prevent a worst case scenario from happening.

Q.  Do you use waterproof cameras?

Not at this time. Protecting my camera is a number one concern and that involves kayaking experience and confidence, making sure the camera has a watertight case/bag. Also I bring microfiber towels for drying off splashes or water drops. I do have a GoPro with a waterproof case and presently use that to take underwater shots as well as above water video.  It is very important to look ahead and anticipate situations to be prepared to act quickly to protect the camera.

Q.  Do you find that the kayak is stable enough for photography?

Very much so, although if it is windy and choppy on the water it may present some problems for steadiness, not having a tripod. Most of the time I am using shutter speeds that can compensate for most movements, but there are time I have to make adjustments in my camera settings to compensate. A big key in kayak photography is getting the feel for your kayak and knowing what kind of body movements you can trust yourself to make without compromising the stability of the kayak.

Q.  How do you choose your lenses?

Depending on what I am shooting, where I am at and the light conditions. I recently purchased a Sigma 18mm-250mm zoom lens and this has become my prime lens. Zoom lenses are traditionally not as sharp as a fixed length lens, however, as an amateur photographer, this zoom lens does cover a lot of ground from 1.5′ to infinity. I like it a lot. The main drawback is in low light conditions it gets tricky to get sharp handheld shots in a moving kayak. For those low light conditions, I use my fixed length Nikon 35mm 1.8 lens, which handles low light very well.

Q.  How is your kayak set up to store and protect your camera equipment?

I have plenty of storage space right in front of me for my camera. I keep it and my lenses in a 10L Seal Line Baja Dry Bag when it needs protection and then I usually have it ready to shoot in a ‘Scotty’ camera mount right in front of me. When not using the camera mount I keep the camera right between my legs, covered, to protect from water and sun. If I know I won’t be shooting for any length of time, the camera goes into the Dry Bag.  There is definitely always a risk  when using expensive photography equipment in a kayak and I have decided it is worth taking the risk and being as aware and cautious as I can be.

Q.  Do you have a particular photography style?

 With kayaking photography I like to give the viewer an interesting take on their viewing experience. I make use of textures, close-ups and reflections, capturing my subjects from a different point of view.

Q.  Do you shoot in RAW or JPEG mode?

I always shoot in RAW mode as this gives me the maximum information captured by the sensor, allows me more control of the final product in post production. In jpeg mode, the camera makes the decision on what information to delete and compress. It is a matter of personal preference and I prefer RAW.

Q.  What shooting mode do you use most often?

I probably use manual mode the most often, though there are always times I will go to Aperture Priority Mode and even Auto.  If I know there will be a lot of movement, such as a heron getting ready to take fight I switch to an action mode to freeze the movements as it flies.

Q.  Do you post process your images? If so, what programs do you use?

Yes. Post processing is a big part of my workflow. By shooting in RAW mode, I make the final photo adjustments rather than having the camera make those decisions which is what happens when shooting in JPEG mode. My photos are imported into Adobe Photoshop to make highlight and shadow adjustments. The software is also used to handle any imperfections such as dust spots, lens glare, stitching panoramas, etc.

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