As I shared in my inaugural blog “Destination Unknown”, I love to kayak and love even more being able to photograph the surroundings of my journey, but there are a few things to consider before you embark on this venture.
First and foremost, you must know how to kayak! I know that should be a given, but photographing from the seat of a kayak requires a high end lens and camera which you do not want to fall overboard while you fumble with the paddle. So, first and foremost, only tackle this once you are an accomplished paddler.
Let’s talk about the camera and lens best suited for this type of photography. If you are thinking of using your smartphone camera, think again. Smartphone cameras have limited distance range and are best suited for subjects up to 10 feet away or less. If you want to understand the limitations of your smartphone a bit better, checkout this link for a good article that explains smartphone technology – Wired.com. After reading this article you will understand the camera of choice for this type of photography is a DSLR (digital single-lens reflex camera). The camera alone will not be sufficient without a telephoto lens. I recommend nothing less than 400mm and with a stabilizer such as vibration reduction (VR available in Nikon lenses). You may experience a little sticker shock if you have not delved into acquiring a host of lenses for various situations. I liken this to a golfer’s bag of clubs, every club with a unique use, just as every lens has a unique purpose.
Once you have all of that you are ready, right? Well, almost. To be on the cautious side I also recommend getting a dry bag. If you are not familiar with dry bags they are basically bags made out of specific material which when sealed properly, prevent anything placed inside from becoming wet. These are readily available at most sporting goods stores or on-line. Before I get into my kayak, I place the camera (lens attached) into the dry bag and seal it up. I do this to prevent any chance of the camera becoming wet due to my onboarding process. At some point Murphy’s Law will prevail and you will be glad you took this precaution.
Once onboard and comfortably navigating my course I will remove the camera from the dry bag and keep it close to my body by wearing a neck strap secured to the camera. Find a neck strap that is comfortable. I use one that has a broad stretchy material across the back of my neck which helps with fatigue from carrying the larger lens. If I happen to be wearing a jacket, I will place the camera inside the jacket zipped up to keep the camera close to me. The closeness to the body prevents the paddle from striking the camera as you maneuver through the water. You also want to ensure any water from your paddle running down the shaft or picked up by wind does not end up on your camera. My kayak of choice for photo shoots is the Hobie Mirage which allows you to peddle or paddle. Don’t forget to place your camera back into the dry bag before you exit your kayak.
A couple of additional considerations are to check the weather and the tides, especially if you are kayaking in tidal regions. The first mistake many make is not being prepared for weather or water conditions. I highly recommend the Weather Bug and Tidal Graph apps. Weather bug features current and projected temperatures, wind, radar, sunrise/sunset times, and a host of other interesting facts that will make planning your shoot much easier. I have skirted many a storm by watching the radar movement on this app. Tidal Graph provides the times of low and high tide each day and also plots this on a handy graph to see where it is at any given time. If you are in tidal waters you want to plan your paddle so you are not paddling against the tide or at least not for very long.
You only have two hands and to get that perfect shot they both need to be on the camera. Be prepared to start floating away or suddenly ending up next to the bank. Ensure you have a paddle leash in case your paddle ends up in the water. Most wildlife will not sit around and wait for you to drop anchor and even if you do, your boat will still spin in every direction except the one you want. I try to position myself in the best possible position before I let go of the paddle. I also try to maintain some sense of consciousness as to where I am drifting and know when I need to shift from photographing the subject and back to paddling. It is a delicate balance and over time you will get the hang of it, but realize you will miss a lot of shots just because the environment will be difficult to control.
This can be a very rewarding experience to capture images impossible to reach by any means other than by kayak. The photo above of the once endangered Wood Stork (now classified as threatened as of June 26, 2014)was taken from my kayak on the 23rd of Dec 2011. I was pleasantly surprised to find this colony and they remained perched while I was able to maneuver and take many shots. It was 3 years before I witnessed a colony like this again.
Please visit my website at SydneyBusch.com to see my portfolio of nature and wildlife photography.
If you are in the Savannah area, I am available for kayak photography tours in the local area. You may reach me via e-mail at SydBusch@gmail.com.