Photography By Kayak: Tips & Tricks
By Freya Fennwood
Photographer and Clik Elite Immortal
Here are a few reasons why kayak photography is challenging:
First, you are bobbing in a boat with tide, wind, and current pushing you around. Meanwhile you have an expensive piece of gear in your hands and your paddle is getting in the way. Then, when the person you are trying to photograph gets in the right spot, a subtle movement in the water is enough to push you or them out of the perfect frame.
Second, you are sitting in a boat at exactly the same height as your subject. It is a bit hard to just stand up and get a higher vantage point, so sadly almost every shot is from head high water view looking strait ahead. If you are flexible enough (and have enough balance in a kayak) to swivel your body around and look back, then you can get a little different angle. Here I feel fortunate to have the back flexibility necessary to get this shot.
Lastly, there’s the obvious concern of getting your expensive camera wet; one miss stroke or list of your boat, and game over.
These are some of the reasons why taking photos out of a kayak is scary, undesirable and awkward, but here are some tips for making things go a lot smoother:
- Boat movement: We can’t do that much about the subject we are photographing, except ask for a copious amount of patience as we ask them to repeatedly, “Paddle a little to your left, no, now paddle a little to your right, now come at me so the light is on your boat where I can see it…” so on and so forth.
One thing we can do is look for something to anchor on. Bull kelp is quite nice for this. If this is an option where you are photographing, park your boat in the middle of a kelp bed, grab a few strands and tuck them under your deck rigging. This at least eliminates your own movement out of the process of getting the shot. Also, rafting up to another boat can give you more stability and less boat movement.
- Boring angle: If you want to get great shots of Sea Kayaking, then you are not going to only get them while shooting out of a kayak. Some of the best shots are from a bank or bridge high above the water looking down at you’re paddling partners, or submerged half in the water as they paddle towards you. That said, while you are in your boat try and think about making the boat perspective more interesting. A camera phone is really good at this because it is so light and there are cheap waterproof cases. Hold your camera up high above your head, close to the water, or even in the water (if you have a waterproof housing, more on that in a bit) and keep asking yourself, “How can I make this look different?”
- Getting Wet: There are a few ways you can try and keep your camera gear dry. A pelican box strapped to the front or back of your deck will be a bombproof, waterproof option. The problem with a Pelican case is they are big and bulky and hard to open. If you are fiddling with your case you are going to miss many shots. But they are great if you are shooting with a smaller camera and fewer lenses (this works well for point and shoot cameras). If I want my camera to be accessible and waterproof, especially if trying to shoot somewhere in rough water conditions, then I use an underwater housing. This is not the cheapest piece of gear. I use an Ewa Marine underwater waterproof bag that runs somewhere in the $300 dollar range. It’s a little cumbersome and annoying but it is great for getting shots half in the water or in rough conditions where you can relax knowing your camera is not going to take a salty bath.
- Ease of Access: One of my steadfast tricks for easy camera access is paddling with my two cameras in padded camera bags stored in my cockpit. I have found the best combination is a Clik Elite Pro body Chest carrier and a Clik elite Telephoto SLR Carrier, both stored inside very durable dry bags. I leave this in-between my legs in the boat (Finally, a moment I can brag about being small!). As a small women (at 5’3”) I have more room than an average size paddler inside a 17″x33″ cockpit (more on this below). I put 2 extra lenses in padded lens bags and stuff them inside a waterproof dry bag and then store them at my feet as well. I can then lean down and grab them if I need to change lenses. Not many people can fit this much camera gear between their legs, but this is how I get a ton of my shots… Finally I have a shorty’s advantage! If conditions are calm I will open the dry bag and camera bag and paddle with the dry bag flap just slung over my exposed camera. This gives me the quickest access to my camera when there is a bird or special moment where speed is essential. Yes there is risk and I am gambling every time, but if conditions get rougher or I’m not planning on taking photographs for a bit I just seal up the bag and I’m good to go.
- Choosing the right boat for Photography. The right boat for photography greatly depends on your paddling ability, size, and what you are going to be photographing. A wider more stable boat gives you more room in your cockpit for camera gear, and is less tippy while taking photos. The Pinguino Sport and Pinguino 145 are great boats for photography. They have more room in the cockpit to sit comfortable with a camera and some gear and they have a nice balance between maneuverability and tracking. The size of the photographer also matters. Smaller paddlers can fit more comfortably in thinner boats with more camera gear. I can stuff large dry bags full of lenses and extra camera equipment packed in padded bags in front of my feet in a Coho, where a larger person would find no room for their toys. Also, a paddler’s experience plays a large roll. If you are a newer paddler of average build and photography is a main objective while paddling, I would encourage you to get a wider more stable boat. If you are an experienced paddler I encourage you to get a boat that does the type of paddling you want to do and just make sure you can fit your camera gear on board.
Boat: Usually the Murrelet SDC, Version 1. I like how it paddles and at 5’3″ I can fit all the cameras and toys I need inside.
Camera: Nikon D7000 (light maneuverable camera, shoots 1080 P video as well)
Lenses: Nikon 80-200, 2.8 (shorter than the 70-200 can fit it in a padded lens bag at my feet, and about $1000 cheaper for the same quality glass, great lens!
Nikon 24-70 2.8 (great all around lens)
Sigma 10-20 super wide great for wild perspectives.
Camera Bags: Clik Elite Pro Body chest carrier
NRS HydroLock Dry Bag size L for camera bags in boat and lenses at feet 3 total.
Ewa-Marine U-B100 underwater housing
Dry suit: Love me a dry suit! Any will do; its really not fun freezing while up to your neck in 48 degree northwest ocean water!
Save 10% on the same gear that Freya uses by using the code: CEA5810 at checkout.
About the Author:
Freya Fennwood has been paddling a solo sea kayak since she was 6 years old and picked up a camera when she was 12. She attended Colorado Mountain College school of photography in Colorado and has been working as a professional photographer in the Outdoor Industry for 6 years. She works with companies like NRS, Pygmy Boats, Title Nine, and Cascade Designs. Her work has appeared in Men’s Journal, Adventure Kayak Magazine, Canoe & Kayak Magazine, Sea Kayaker magazine, National Geographic.com and Outside Online, to name a few. More of her work can be found at www.fennwoodphotography.com and you can follow her adventures on Instagram. Here she shares with us her tips for the tricky art of kayak photography.