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Kayak photography tips

Nature photography is challenging but can be very rewarding.  For me it’s almost like hunting.  Slowly making your way through the bush to find a location close to birds or deer to grab that shot. It’s a great feeling to snap that amazing shot. Photographing from the water is very much the same but with some unique differences.  Now selecting the right kayaking photography gear requires a lot more planning than shooting wildlife in the bush.

How to pick the right photography gear for kayaking?

Selecting the right camera gear to take with you when you go kayaking is more a choice in what to through away than what will take a good photo.  For me every time I pick a camera body or lens to pack with me to go kayaking I come to grips with the fact it might be the last time I see that gear.  Let’s face it water and camera equipment don’t mix – at all!.  So here are some simple tips to think of when you’re selecting what gear to take with you kayaking or for that matter canoeing.

  1. Choosing the right kayak. The first thing you need to select is the right kayak.  For most of us taking photos from a kayak we’ll do it more for leisure than true adventure.
  2. Keeping your gear dry. You’ll need a good, no great, dry bag.  If you think about it putting your photo gear in a tippy kayak is crazy. There is a very real chance you and your expensive camera will flip in to the water.  Luckily for me that hasn’t happened and I do EVERYTHING I can to make sure it doesn’t.
  3. Camera body – Here is a tough choice.  Do you take the waterproof point and shoot camera or your most expensive camera body? I’ll be honest the first time I went out in the kayak I took a cheap waterproof point and shoot camera.  Why?  Simple I needed to get comfortable first. My second and third times out I progressively took more expensive equipment.  To a point where I had my best gear with me. The biggest challenge to taking a photo of a moving object, your kayak, of a moving object, a bird, is the speed at which things happen.  If you’re wanting to be a kayak bird photography you must bring a very fast body.  There are often times when you sneak up on an animal and have no choice but to spray and pray when you take your shot.  Less than ideal but a reality.
  4. Lens – Generally in nature photography the longer the lens the better the shot you can get. Although this still holds true when shooting kayak bird photography it creates some enormous challenges.  Having a 400mm lens requires a lot of control by the photographer.  On land you can stop and shoot freehand or use a tripod with a gimbal or even a monopod.  I’m not a fan of using that combination in the kayak simply because I find it limiting. So when you factor in your movement and the length of the lens your ability to land on the subject fast enough to focus, compose and click the shutter is greatly reduced.  The other thing you’ll have to worry about more than on land is available light.  Even on the sunniest days when you’re out kayaking along a stream you can get caught in some dark places.  My ideal lens is the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II.  This lens is amazingly fast and sharp.  Combine it with a medium grade body or better and you have a killer combo.

Example of having the right gear at the right time when kayaking

Here is a great example of how fast things can actually happen.  I was paddling down this stream and when I turned the corner out of the bush pops a deer.  The deer landed on a sandy berm took a look at me for a few seconds then ran back in the bush.  You’ll see real time in this video what took place and can see the final photo in my Flickr account of what you can get from kayak photography of wildlife.

See more of me kayaking photography images.


Question about kayak photography?

If you have any questions about taking photos from your kayak or canoe use the comments box below.  I’d be interested to hear about your experience and what has and hasn’t worked for you.

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