If you consider yourself to be an outgoing and creative wildlife and nature photographer, then you undoubtedly are constantly asking yourself “how can I create images in a unique way, and how do I get the shot?” Taking your photography to the water via a kayak is a great way to open up a whole new plethora of photographic possibilities. In this fourth article of the series on kayak photography, I will explain the “whys” and “hows” of photographing from a kayak.
Have you ever noticed photographs taken of the same subjects, taken from the same spot on the road or trail, from the same angle, from the…you get the picture. How about expanding on your creative possibilities? How about finding a new way to create an image of perhaps the same relative scene, but from a whole different perspective? Utilizing a kayak for wildlife and nature photography is a great way to do just that! Along with all the benefits of photographing from a mobile, re-positionable platform on the water, also come a few potential concerns to be aware of so that they can be minimized, if not eliminated completely.
One of the biggest benefits of photographing from a kayak is the wonderful perspective you get from being positioned so close to the water. Images of wildlife are always much more powerful, as well as intimate if taken at eye level. With subjects that are feeding, nesting, or swimming in the water, this usually is a great opportunity to capture an intimate, natural shot of wildlife on their level; the only cost to you, is the small effort of putting yourself in the boat. Being able to silently approach subjects without the huge vertical profile of a walking human, as well as the crunching sounds made by heavy boots, the photographer is often times rewarded with (and allowed) a much closer approach to the subjects. If photographing landscapes, sitting in a kayak provides not only a low perspective from which to shoot, but can provide stunning foreground features not attainable from land, as well as a pleasing water element you can position in your image as a compositional component of your liking. Lovely reeds, water grasses, and partially submerged trees, all make for unique images not seen or photographed all that often.
When photographers think of taking their expensive equipment out onto the water, they immediately cringe at the thought of it going in the drink; this is a valid concern. As mentioned in previous kayak related articles I’ve written, I am shooting from a NuCanoe, which is a sit-on-top style kayak that is quite wide in the center, and is very stable on the water. Can it be tipped over? Yes it can. I am quite confident in never having this issue, and with a little common sense, along with taking certain precautions, my gear stays dry all of the time.
The first line of protection I take is using two large dry-bags made by Cabellas. (Details of these bags can be found in the previous articles in this series by following the links below.) In one bag I put the carrying case I use for my 500mm telephoto lens and camera body. This keeps it not only dry, but padded completely. In the other bag goes another body, and whatever lenses I decide to bring with me. Each of those lenses gets its own padded neoprene pouch made by Lenscoat. (see the link below) Along with the camera gear I include a large microfiber towel to dry off anything that may get wet. You can get these towels at any autoparts store for less than ten dollars. They are soft, won’t harm your gear, and most importantly they are ultra-absorbent; important! Other gear I may include in this bag would be a first-aid kit, binoculars, lunch, etc…
When using a tripod and Gimbal head, I use an appropriate length bungie-cord to secure the tripod to the deck of the kayak. My tripod has a hook underneath the head where I can run a bungie down to two tie-down hooks in the bottom of the kayak. With the legs of the tripod adjusted correctly, this is an extremely secure platform for my big telephoto lens. I can also use this particular technique with a standard tripod when shooting landscapes from the boat. Often times in combination with using a tripod, I may elect to drop my anchor if the wind is blowing the kayak around. There is nothing more aggravating to a photographer than nature messing with the alignment of your composition. The anchor takes care of most of the problem, and allows you to frame you image without having to worry about the boat (and you) drifting away from the perfect shot you worked so hard to setup.
One thing I would like to add that is often times a very critical element when photographing from a kayak, simply due to where tree-lines and other fixed features (places where wildlife will likely be) lie in relation to the direction of sunlight. If you are planning to photograph in a particular spot, you will need to find the optimum time of day that light will be hitting that location so you have the best chance for well lit subjects. Paddling takes time and energy (or battery power if using a trolling motor) and you want to be efficient as possible with both. There are two similar, fantastic tools available as apps for various devices that allow you to accurately predict light angles from any location in the world, at any time of day; simply invaluable from a photographer’s perspective! The first is called “The Photographer’s Ephemeris” , the second is called “LightTrac”; links to both products are found below.
If you enjoyed the articles, please let me know you stopped by and fill out my Guestbook which can be found at the top of the page. Thanks SO MUCH!
Related articles in this series:
Light tracking apps: