Welcome to our comprehensive guide on photographing nature from a kayak. Combining the serenity of paddling with the opportunity to capture stunning images, kayak photography offers a unique perspective that allows you to get up close and personal with the natural world. In this article, we’ll explore the advantages of kayak photography, provide tips for successful shoots, discuss essential equipment, highlight important safety precautions, and delve into kayak safety to ensure an enjoyable and safe experience.
I love photography and 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…James
- Access to Remote Locations: Kayaks provide access to remote and inaccessible areas that may be off-limits to other forms of transportation. This enables you to explore untouched landscapes and wildlife habitats, capturing images that are truly unique.
- Low Disturbance: Kayaks are quiet and non-disruptive, allowing you to observe wildlife without causing unnecessary stress or disturbance. This increases the likelihood of capturing natural behaviors and candid moments.
- Versatility: Kayaks offer maneuverability in various water bodies, including rivers, lakes, and coastal areas. This versatility allows you to photograph a wide range of subjects, from intimate macro shots of plants to expansive landscapes.
- Kayaks are easily transported due to their lightweight and are able to be launched from almost anywhere.
- There is often plenty of dry storage space to store photographic equipment.
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…
- Plan and Research: Before heading out, research your chosen location, including tidal patterns, weather conditions, and wildlife habits. This preparation helps you anticipate potential photographic opportunities and ensures your safety.
- Stabilize Your Camera Gear: Due to the inherent instability of kayaks, it’s crucial to stabilize your camera gear. Use a tripod or monopod for steady shots, and consider investing in lens image stabilization to counteract any vibrations caused by the kayak’s movements.
- Master Your Paddling Technique: Develop a smooth and controlled paddling technique to minimize camera shake. Practice maintaining a steady course while keeping your eyes on the surroundings and potential subjects.
- Utilize a Waterproof Camera Bag: Protect your camera equipment from water splashes and potential capsizing by using a waterproof camera bag or a dry bag. This extra precaution safeguards your gear from accidental damage.
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.
- Capture Reflections: Take advantage of the unique vantage point from a kayak by capturing reflections on the water’s surface. Experiment with different angles and lighting conditions to create visually stunning images.
- 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 letting 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 losing 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.
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. Drifting quietly into the shot allows you to get a much closer advantage before any wildlife is ‘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.
- 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.
- Shooting Multiple Frames: Multiple frames help capture a subject in motion. Don’t hesitate to use this feature. Digital film is cheap.
Choosing the Right Kayak: When it comes to kayak photography, selecting the right kayak is crucial for stability, maneuverability, and carrying capacity. Consider the following options:
- Sit-on-top Kayaks: These kayaks offer more freedom of movement and are easier to get in and out of, making them suitable for photographers who may need to reposition frequently or access their gear quickly. They also provide ample storage space for camera equipment and accessories.
- Sit-inside Kayaks: Sit-inside kayaks provide better protection from rough conditions and can be ideal if you’re planning to venture into colder environments. They offer a more secure cockpit and allow you to stay dry, which is beneficial when photographing in challenging weather conditions.
- Touring Kayaks: Touring kayaks are designed for longer trips and provide better tracking and stability. They offer generous storage compartments, allowing you to carry a significant amount of camera gear while maintaining stability on the water.
- DSLR or Mirrorless Cameras: Both DSLR and mirrorless cameras offer excellent image quality and versatility. Look for models that are weather-sealed to withstand potential exposure to water and other challenging conditions. These cameras also offer interchangeable lenses, which allow you to capture a wide range of subjects from landscapes to wildlife.
- Telephoto Lenses: Invest in a telephoto lens to capture distant wildlife or subjects that require a closer view. A lens with a focal length range of around 70-300mm or 100-400mm can provide the reach you need while maintaining image quality.
- Wide-angle Lenses: A wide-angle lens is essential for capturing expansive landscapes and environmental shots. Look for lenses with focal lengths around 10-24mm or 16-35mm for capturing those breathtaking wide-angle vistas.
- Lens Image Stabilization: To counteract vibrations caused by the kayak’s movements, consider lenses with image stabilization technology. This feature helps reduce camera shake, resulting in sharper images, particularly in low-light conditions or when using longer focal lengths.
Remember to pack extra batteries, memory cards, lens cleaning equipment, and any other accessories specific to your camera model.
Always choose a camera and lenses that align with your budget, skill level, and specific photography needs. Research and test different options to find the equipment that suits your style and preferences. By selecting the right kayak and camera equipment, you’ll be well-prepared to capture stunning images of nature from the water’s perspective.
In addition to the essential kayak and camera equipment, utilizing GPS and paddle software can enhance your kayak photography experience by helping you navigate, track your routes, and mark the locations of your photos. Here are some mid-range equipment and software options to consider:
- Garmin GPSMAP 78sc: This handheld GPS device is rugged, waterproof, and equipped with a high-sensitivity receiver. It allows you to mark waypoints, track your routes, and view detailed maps. The 78sc model also offers a built-in compass and barometric altimeter.
- DeLorme inReach SE+: This device combines GPS navigation with satellite communication. In addition to providing navigation features, it enables two-way messaging, SOS alerts, and weather forecasts. It’s an excellent choice for photographers who venture into remote areas.
- Paddle Logger: Paddle Logger is a user-friendly app available for iOS and Android devices. It tracks your paddling routes, provides real-time speed and distance information, and allows you to add photos and notes to specific locations. It also integrates with popular fitness tracking platforms.
- Gaia GPS: Gaia GPS is a versatile app available for both mobile devices and web browsers. It offers detailed topographic maps, tracks your routes, and provides advanced features like waypoint marking and offline maps. The app is widely used by outdoor enthusiasts and supports importing and exporting GPX files.
- Navionics Boating: Navionics Boating is a popular app for marine navigation. It provides nautical charts, tracks your routes, and offers additional features like real-time AIS (Automatic Identification System) data. The app is suitable for photographers who frequently paddle in coastal areas or larger bodies of water.
By using GPS devices and paddle software, you can accurately record your paddling routes, mark the locations of your photos, and easily revisit those spots later. These tools not only assist in documenting your photography journey but also provide valuable data for planning future trips. Remember to keep your devices charged and protected from water exposure by using waterproof cases or bags designed for electronics.
Using GPS and paddle software adds another dimension to your kayak photography adventures, enabling you to create a comprehensive record of your paddling routes and the captivating images you capture along the way.
Check Weather Conditions: Always check weather forecasts before your kayaking trip. Avoid strong winds, heavy rain, or thunderstorms, as these conditions can pose risks to both your safety and equipment.
- Be Aware of Tidal Changes: Understand the tidal patterns and currents of your location to avoid getting stranded or caught in unpredictable conditions. Plan your photography sessions accordingly to take advantage of the best lighting and tidal conditions.
- Respect Wildlife and Their Habitat: Maintain a respectful distance from wildlife to avoid causing stress or disruption. Familiarize yourself with any local regulations regarding wildlife encounters and adhere to them at all times.
- Communicate Your Plans: Inform a trusted person about your kayak photography plans, including your intended location and estimated return time. This way, someone will know to alert authorities if you encounter any unexpected difficulties.
In addition to the precautions listed above, it’s important to follow basic kayak safety guidelines. These guidelines include:
- Prioritize your safety by wearing a well-fitting personal flotation device (PFD) at all times while on the water. Additionally, carry a whistle, signaling devices, and a waterproof first aid kit in case of emergencies.
- Check the weather forecast before you go kayaking.
- Don’t go kayaking alone.
- Be aware of the water conditions.
- Don’t kayak in areas with strong currents or waves.
- Be aware of wildlife.
- Take breaks and stay hydrated.
Kayak photography offers a fantastic opportunity to capture stunning images while immersing yourself in the beauty of nature. By following the tips outlined in this guide and prioritizing safety, you can enhance your photography skills, explore breathtaking locations, and create unforgettable memories. So grab your camera, paddle out into the great outdoors, and let nature’s wonders unfold before your lens!
I hope this comprehensive guide provides you with valuable insights for your kayak photography adventures. If you have any further questions, feel free to ask. Happy paddling and happy shooting!…James
Here are several questions I have been asked over the last few years…
Yes, I have a converted ‘Scotty’ fishing rod holder and added an extension and camera mount onto it. The camera is right in front of me, within 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 videos. 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 times 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, and 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.