When thinking of purchasing a kayak specifically for photography there are two critical areas to consider. First the stability of the kayak when it’s in water and second the room you’ll have to store a wet bag with your camera gear.
Beyond the obvious why stability is important when taking pictures in a kayak
If you’ve never been in a kayak go out in one before you purchase anything. Kayak’s are tippy to start with and take some getting use to. Adding in your kayaking camera gear without having some basic skills in kayaking is a high risk move. Once you have a handle on how to operate a kayak you have to think about what type of camera gear you’re going to bring. Let’s assume you’re doing all this so you can take wildlife photography from your kayak. Ok, what else would you be doing this for if not that? In wildlife photography you’ll most likely have a long lens of some sort, say a Sigma 150-600mm Sport or the Canon 100-400mm zoom. Either of these lenses can be challenging to shoot with when you’re on land. Often you’ll use a mono-pod or tripod to improve the sharpness of your nature shots. So how does this translate over to the kayak and it’s stability. The physics behind it is pretty straight forward. Lets take a standard 50mm lens. When using this to take a portrait photo outdoors you can move the camera up and down quite a bit. Your subject will still be in the frame and you can always crop it in post production. So moving a 50mm lens up and down 10 degrees isn’t really an issue with most portrait pictures. Now when you use a longer focal length say a 600mm lens for wildlife photography that camera movement of 10 degrees become significant. Usually moving your camera that much would result in the bird being in and out of frame. As you’ll know shooting wildlife on land requires a steady hand (or tripod) to help with this. Usually a 1 or 2 degree movement is all you get with a superzoom or large prime. So here is where the issue is when taking kayaking photos of wildlife. The kayak moves it’s on water. Yep that sucks for taking pictures. No matter how calm the day is your movement, the waves or even the wind will cause enough of a change that your 2 degree window take find that bird is almost impossible. So how do you do it then?
The trick to taking wildlife photos from inside your kayak is to practice a lot. It’s sort of like equestrian photography where you have to pan quickly and at the same time hold the camera still. Find your rhythm of motion and plan as much as you can the shot. THis will help to translate into more usable photos.
Why keeping your camera dry in a kayak should be at the top of your list
Ok this is obvious I know but it’s not so obvious when you’re out there, well at least to some. For me the most dangerous time for my camera gear while in the kayak is when I’m getting in and out. This is generally the trippiest time and one that’s most uncontrolled. As you get in and out of a kayak you’re trying to catch your own balance while at the same time holding onto the kayak or dock. As you’re moving or the waves are moving you everything is in motion. So where is your camera gear? For me my gear is in a drybag that I sit between my legs in the cockpit. Here is where it’s at it’s lowest center of gravity and closest to me. I think it’s the safest place. I use the overboard dry bag to hold my crumpler million dollar camera bag. I find this combination works well. I don’t have to transfer my gear to a new bag every time I go out I simply just drop it inside. The dry bag is easy to tie up and secure, and yes I tested it in my pool, and grab while getting in and out of the kayak.
So, when looking for a kayak to do the best job for photography remember these two simple rules, make sure it’s stable and make sure you can get your dry bag in and out easily.
Photo gallery using various kayaking camera gear
Over the past few years I’ve been out in the Durham Region at places like Lynde Shores Conservation Area or Duffins Creek and have captured some cool photos while in my kayak. Here is a collection of taken with a range of camera gear including the Canon 1 DX, Canon 7D Mark II, Sony A7 and of course a GoPro. Read my tips on using a GoPro on your kayak.
One thought on “Why I think the best kayak for wildlife photography is the Current Designs Solara 120”
You might want to check out the Hobie Outback. They are marketed as a fishing kayak, but that just means that they are over-built and over-featured for basic recreational use. And it means they are very adaptable for other specialized uses. I’m not a fisherman, I’m more of an UNfisherman – see kayakingforthebirds.org.
The Outback kayaks are extremely stable (though of course they do still move.) You can probably fall out of them if you try, but you are not likely to tip them over. They are made to stand up in and fish – casting and fighting fish and so on. So if you get that vertigo kind of feeling if the boat drifts a bit while looking through your viewfinder, the boat will really help prevent you from losing your balance and getting wet.
The Outback has lots of pockets and tie points for connecting safety lanyards, a large storage compartment (large for a kayak) right in front of your seat, and a big pickup-like “bed” in the rear end where you can put a big milk crate to carry even more stuff. You can buy accessories so you can set the boat up in many different ways for many different tasks.
But the most important thing for wildlife photography would be stealth. These are pedal kayaks. You can also paddle them – they do come with a paddle and paddle storage – but wildlife sees paddles as these huge windmilling/splashy scary things. When pedaling, your knees might go up and down a bit, but the movement that birds see is minimal. We are frequently able to pedal right up to birds which would have fled long before if we were paddling.
Just Friday my wife and I were crossing the lake in our Oasis (a tandem version of the Outback, we have both the single and the tandem) and we saw two Clark’s Grebes preparing to rush. I said “stop” and we stopped pedaling and drifted. They rushed right across our bow, doing their finishing dive just about 20 feet right in front of us. I could have taken National Geographic quality video of it with my cell phone at that distance. (Too bad I didn’t!) And that was without even trying to get close to them. In fact, it’s a good thing we stopped or they might have rammed right into the side of the boat!
Anyway, I just thought you’d find it interesting. You don’t want the pedal boats with circular bicycle-like pedaling. They are probably much better than paddles, but would still show a lot more movement than the Hobie style “Mirage (TM)” type drives do.