Fear of losing their camera to the watery depths is the reason
most folks give for not trying kayak photography. Sadly, they are
missing out on one of the greatest sources for beautiful pictures.
You can take your camera kayaking with you, you just need to take
some precautions. In this article, I'll try to give you some tips on
keeping your gear dry and how to get the best shots from your boat.
Most of these tips are about how to find good pictures while
paddling because in my heart I believe that if your camera is keeping
you off the water...you need a cheaper camera.
There may not be any float trip operators in your town, but I'll bet
there is a reservoir nearby. A
small recreational kayak can open up a whole new world of
photography fun in your own backyard. You can even turn your kayaking photos into cool products or custom printed gifts!
My wife Dianne and I started exploring kayak photography a few
years ago. Dianne and I are not expert photographers. However,
we have learned the tricks listed below and they have vastly
improved our kayak photography efforts in Oklahoma.
Personally, I think kayak photography is ideal for novice
photographers for a number of reasons. One reason is that we
tend to own inexpensive cameras, but two better reasons are sunrise
and sunset! Place yourself on any body of water larger than a puddle
at sunrise or sunset and MAGIC happens. You won't need to be
trained photographer to notice when it happens, just be there...with
We hope a few folks might benefit from the lessons we have
learned. So here goes:
Top Ten Kayak Photography Tips from FreeWine
Kayak Photography Tip 1: Paddle During the Magic
Many kayakers do the majority of their kayaking after 10am and
before 4pm. This is sad from a kayak photography perspective because
any photographer will tell you that morning and late afternoon
provide the best light for shooting. Shooting around the noon hour
tends to provide a harsh nearly colorless light that is better
suited for tanning a torso than landscape photography.
at dawn and you will enjoy cooler temperatures, lighter winds, golden tinted sunlight and
flowing mists. Paddle in the evening for jaw dropping sunset shots
dripping with intense colors.
launching at 4pm someday instead of landing. Capture the golden
sunset light reflected off the waves made by your tiny boat and you
are much more likely to see magic happen! The sky becomes a runway
for a long line a dazzling colors and cloud formations on the best
days, but even a clear day offers its own special allure. Mists are
common in the early morning and evening, they are wonderful for
shooting silhouette shots. Wildlife activity also tends to increase
as twilight sets in.
Check online weather sites for what time Nautical Twilight will
occur on the day you plan to paddle. If you get on the water by
early morning Nautical Twilight OR stay on the water until after the
evening Nautical Twilight you will catch the best light the day has
While you are looking at that online weather forecast, check the
expected wind speed. I like using the Weather Underground Site
(http://www.wunderground.com/) because they give an hour-by-hour
forecast of the wind speed. Even on windy days the wind often
settles down for a couple hours of calm early in the morning or late
in the evening. These are great times to get out an take some
reflection shots at water-level from your kayak.
Kayak Photography Tip 2: Hunt the reflections.
trees, flowers, rocks, etc. all create brilliant reflections. Trees
that arch over the river make graceful circles in your kayaking
photos when they combined with their reflections. For many seasons
in Oklahoma, the skies are the most dramatic thing in sight.
Our weather patterns here in Oklahoma provide us with a secret
wealth of stunning sunrises and breathtaking sunsets. Remember that
on still waters the sky will be reflected, meaning that you are
seeing TWICE the sunset that the rest of the world is
Kayak Photography Tip 3: Try including the kayak and/or the
kayak paddle in your pictures.
Capturing the experience of kayaking means more than simply
shooting sunrises and sunsets on the water… although I absolutely
LOVE doing that. A picture of the kayak paddle or the gentle wake
created by a kayak in motion really speaks to fellow paddlers and
they can add a lot to your kayak photography, too!
I should say that there are those in the photography community
that think taking landscape shots with the kayak bow in the shot is
poor form. Myself, I think it helps the viewer get a sense of 'bring
there' in the moment with you. I don't really see how that
could be a bad thing. Your mileage may vary.
Kayak Photography Tip 4: Wet the deck of the
kayak to add reflected light to your shots.
Capturing light is the name of the game in any kind of
photography, kayak photography is no different. One of the first
things I noticed was that my little plastic kayak photographed like
one of those gleaming, colorful and expensive fiberglass
the deck of the kayak was wet. Some
Flickr Friends even accused me of waxing my
kayak after they saw the pictures. However, the truth is that I just
grab a paddle full of water every now and again and dump it across
the deck. Note the shiny kayak in the picture above was
taken on Salt Creek from my muddy, old, five year old boat.
Kayak Photography Tip 5: Use software, such as
the freeware tool Picasa, to straighten the horizon line of your
The wake, waves and wobbling off your kayak are sure to cause the
horizon line on many of your shots to be abnormally skewed. It may
seem subtle, but the human eye picks up details like this without
thinking about it. Correcting a skewed horizon only takes a second
in Picasa. I have some vision issues that cause me to have to
correct this problem on most shots that I take...even on land!
also does a pretty good job of helping me to organize and customize
my kayaking photos.
Kayak Photography Tip 6: If you prefer whitewater
paddling shots, learn where your local natural springs and
hydroelectric dams are.
Here in the Ozarks, rainfall generates a lot more of the paddling
water than snow melt. This can make it tough to choose a good
time to ride the local whitewater as rainfall is mostly seasonal
when it comes at all. The exceptions to this are spring-fed
rivers like the Spring River in Arkansas and rivers like the
Lower Mountain Fork River in Oklahoma that get their water flow
from dependable hydroelectric dam releases.
Kayak Photography Tip 7: Seize the season! Most
kayaking shots are made during spring and summer, but fall and
winter offer unique surprises.
Oklahoma woods are more often deciduous trees than evergreens.
Paddling during the winter months
in Oklahoma offers much more visibility for spotting wildlife. In
the winter, you can quietly paddle quite close to white-tail deer
that are just begging for a close-up. Rapidly changing weather
conditions can allow you to catch snowy scenes on fairly warm days,
so have a list of local paddling spots.
Kayak Photography Tip 8: Choose the right kayak.
Whitewater kayaks are made to be easy to roll, not stable for
Recreational kayaks are wider than whitewater kayaks, so they are
more stable. They also offer longer, wider cockpits that more
easily allow the use of a tripod. Adding a tripod will make a
massive improvement in the sharpness of your photos as well as
allowing you to capture the truly amazing light and colors that just
follow the sunset. My kayak recommendation for photographers is the:
Old Town Vapor 12 Kayak, the XT Angler version offers some nice
features worth considering too (Like a covered rear hatch).
The boat is very quiet, super stable, brightly colored, economical
and offers the largest cockpit I have ever seen on a Sit-Inside
Kayak Photography Tip 8: Look for the coves along
the shoreline of lakes.
Coves offer water that is more sheltered from boat wakes and wind.
A large lake can become quite choppy under even slight wind
conditions, which is great for shooting wave shots, but a bit of a
pain if you are looking to make a portrait of another kayaker. The
lake also tends to become a brilliant mirror, not too long after
sunrise. The little coves along the shoreline will offer the kayak
photographer a more stable shooting platform as well as a better
mixture of light and shade. Consider using low hanging branches that
arch over the water to frame your subject.
Kayak Photography Tip 9: On whitewater, use the eddies to stop
and wait for photo ops as other paddlers pass by.
Pull up behind a boulder for free parking right on the rushing
An eddy is a place where the current of a river slackens suddenly
or reverses itself. Midstream objects like boulders create eddies
that form on their downstream side. The boulder splits the river
into two parts, but some of the water flow runs back to fill the
"hole" in the river behind the obstruction. The reverse flow can
hold your kayak totally still with rushing water passing all around
you. Paddlers call this 'surfing' a wave. This trick will amaze novice paddlers, while setting you up to
capture awesome action shots on the river as your buddies go through
the same rapid. Lead the pack, so you can setup in the eddy, to
'make the shot' when that ice-cold water drenches your friend or
family member. Catch their O-Face in a rare public appearance!
Kayak Photography Tip 10: For better paddling
portraits - paddle with beautiful people and catch them in action.
I love making paddling trips with my wife. She has also
been my favorite subject for portraits and I especially like
capturing her 'in action' on the river! Lately, she has become
obsessed with kayak fishing. Kayak fishing action can be
difficult to capture with a camera, as you don't know when the fish
will show up. The kayak fishing method Dianne has been using
lately makes it easy to catch her landing the lunkers. Another
great tool for taking kayak fishing pictures is the Lip Grip Fish Handling Tool
made by Mustad or Berkley. I have found that making sure your kayak
fishing model doesn't accidentally lose their fish while you are
getting 'one more shot', make for a much happier photo shoot.
That is all of the kayak photography tips that I have for today. If
you liked this article and want to see more like it, check out our
Oklahoma Kayaking Blog and leave us a comment. We would love to hear
May Your Days Be Filled with Good Light and Happy Paddling,
In my opinion, photo gear in a kayak is most at risk during
launches and take-outs. Like a pilot, you will want to add extra
attention to safety during take-off and landing.
Carry a hand towel to wipe off the water drops that
occasionally get on the lens and carry a water resistant camera
bag. Can't afford a waterproof camera bog? I often use
those soft-sided 6-pack coolers that you can often get for free
as promo items.
I usually launch and take-out with my camera in the bag,
tied to the kayak and in easy reach in case of rain or rapids.
Wear the camera strap around your neck when shooting over
water, for obvious reasons.
Use your lens cap when you stop shooting even if you don't
put your camera back in the bag. This helps avoid water drops
that splash onto the lens while paddling.
Polarizing filters are great for reducing glare in all types
of outdoor photography, in the kayak I find it is easier to
clean off the filter than the camera lens.
Although water is the enemy of your camera equipment, it is
the essence of your kayak photography, so you obviously need to
be kind of Zen about it. Losing your camera to the watery depths
is just nature's way of telling you to upgrade.
Most importantly...wear a PFD anytime you paddle your canoe or
kayak. Not wearing a PFD only makes the paddler look like
a novice or a fool.
Also, the pockets on a
good kayaker PFD are handy for photographers.
Want to see some more of my kayak photography?
My best photos are on in the Flickr album below:
Taking Pictures From Your Kayak Offers Challenges
1. Motion Blur - When your kayak is
bobbing up and down on the waves, it can be tough to become stable
long enough to get a good shot. If you can't find a sheltered cove
to escape the waves, try setting your camera to 'Sports" mode or
setting an ISO of around 400. I have pretty shaky hands, so I
always shop for cameras that offer Optical Stabilization and I
prefer recreational kayaks, which are the most stable kind of kayaks.
Using a small tripod, monopod or suction cup Camera Mount on your boat
works great for creating sharper kayaking photos.
2. Water Droplets On The Lens - This
one drives me crazy! You need to have a bit of cotton or something
to wipe off the tiny droplets of water that are splashed on the
lens. Worse, you have to remember to check the lens for the
droplets often or risk large blurry spots right in the middle of all
of your shots. If you are wearing a dry suit, wet suit or quick
drying clothes, you will find they don't work well for wiping your
lens. One guy I worked with once simply decided that the water
droplets added value, so he ignored them. I carry
my handy-dandy Nikon Lens Pen Cleaning System and a cotton hanky
in my Fishing PFD, just in case I am
not wearing a cotton t-shirt on the river.