Photographing from a Kayak by Tim Kuhn
There are many tools and techniques in the photography gear bag that make capturing great images of wildlife easier and perhaps even more enjoyable. Shooting from a kayak is one of the techniques that I find extremely productive and all the while being fun and relaxing. There are few ways to start the day that are more enjoyable that watching the sunrise, the animals beginning to stir and the light change from early morning softness to full daylight from a kayak. It soothes the mind and the troubles of day to day life just melt away. One can immerse oneself completely in the photographing of one’s subjects. The pay off of shooting from a kayak is pictures taking from a wonderfully low angle and the ability to get so much closer to the subjects. So how do we do it?
First thing that one needs is a kayak. Kayaks come in all sorts of flavors from inexpensive to fairly expensive. For photography the most important quality in a kayak is stability, a nice stable platform is way more important than speed or the ultimate in maneuverability. Another nice thing to have is a cockpit that has a larger opening. The wider the cockpit the easier it is to alter one’s shooting position and to maneuver around long lenses. There are kayaks on the market targeting fisherman and hunters; these are wonderful platforms to take pictures from. Many photographers prefer inflatable’s, they are easily transportable and quite stable. As with most gear choices it comes down to personal preference and budget. I is a good idea to rent a few different types to help make the decision on what to buy easier.
The question that always gets asked is “how do you keep the gear dry?” Well there are various methods to doing just that. One is to use a dry bag of sorts. Dry bags come in many sizes and styles. Some are like industrial size/grade zip locking duffel bags; others are more tubular in shape with a folding top that forms a waterproof seal. Some are rated for full submersion indefinitely while others are not quite so robust. What you need depends upon the environment you will be kayaking in. For a still flat lake some don’t use a bag of any sorts, they just rest the camera on a towel and have it covered with another. For rougher water where there may be a chance of tipping over a dry bag may be indicated. Most of the time if you are on flatter water the only water coming into the boat will be the occasional splashing from the act of paddling. To protect against that one can use a bag and not have it sealed or maybe just a towel over the camera is enough protection. I use a dry duffel and keep the camera in it but I don’t seal it when I am going from location to location, otherwise the camera sits in my lap.
Shooting from a kayak does require an adjustment to ones technique. Remember you are not on stable ground; the boat is almost always moving. Sometimes the boat is actually rock stable and the camera can be stabilized and or braced against the boat or one’s body. Many times though the there is constant movement and if the camera isn’t isolated from that movement the images created will not be sharp. This is where hand holding takes on a whole new meaning! I use a technique of holding the camera up to my eye while not bracing it against my body. I then concentrate on keeping the focus point on the subject without it moving at all. Explaining just how that is accomplished is like explaining how to walk, it just isn’t easy. Suffice to say that with practice shooting with this technique will become second nature and your handholding technique on dry land will be improved immensely.
Shooting from a kayak brings a new prospective and intimacy to one’s photographs. The usually relaxed posture of subjects seen from the low angle afforded from sitting at water level makes for wonderfully natural looking images. Give it a try, you’ll love it!