Wed - September 27, 2006

7 Comments on Kayak Photography: How Did You Shoot It?

I've got several questions about my paddling in clouds picture which I posted here a month ago. How did you do it? And, I had troubles to provide a reasonable answer since the shot was technically really trivial.

Finally, I figured out that it is more about seeing pictures than about shooting and wrote these more general comments.

This post was submitted to ProBlogger group writing project - "How to .."

1. Look and See

Learn to see pictures. You do not need a camera to practice it. I am often "shooting" without camera, especially, when driving: that would be a good picture, this old barn would look great at sunrise, that dust devil at a horizon can be seen only through polarized glasses.

I believe that looking at photographs in magazines, books and calendars also help to develop your seeing capability. I am checking all new photography books arriving to my university library and browsing most of photography magazines in a local bookstore.

There are several good books on the art of seeing. Freeman Patterson comes to my mind first.

2. Have a Camera

A photographer is shooting pictures, not a camera, but you should have your camera ready. "Ready" means not only accessible. You should be familiar with your camera settings and operations. Learn what camera settings are working for your paddling photography. It may be difficult to figure out camera features when sitting in a tippy kayak and waves are splashing.

Compact waterproof digital cameras like Pentax Optio W-line or Olympus Stylus SW 720, revolutionized my kayak photography. I can shoot pictures I was not able to execute before, e.g., with a partially submerged camera. I am ready to sacrifice some camera features or to some extend a picture quality for convenience and accessibility of these tiny camera for paddling environment.

3. Be Aware of Light

The best light for outdoor photography is when the sun is low, i.e., around sunrise and sunset. I know that I can expect interesting light at the end of my afternoon paddling workout. If the sunset is not very exciting I can shoot water reflections or a tree silhouette.

Ironically, on paddling trips, we are often passing the best scenery in the middle of day, when the light is harsh and unpleasant. I am still shooting some snapshots for documentary purposes. My primary motivation to start paddling fast kayaks was to get in time to my shooting spots. All that racing craziness came later ...

4. Point (compose) and Shoot

Do not be afraid to shoot without viewfinder. Well, you don't have one in Pentax Optio. And, the LCD display is often difficult to read in a bright sun. It shouldn't stop you from shooting. Use some creative angles as far as you can extend your arm. Remember, you can put this camera under water next to you kayak. The lack of a viewfinder is perhaps the main reason preventing some photographers from buying this camera. I think that this a reasonable compromise in the camera of this size.

I didn't have a clear view of the camera display when shooting my "paddling in cloud" picture. I was just trying to keep a paddle diagonally in my frame.

5. Shoot Multiple Frames

Shooting pictures with a digital camera is cheap. You do not need to worry about film cost. You can always erase the picture and shoot again unless you are after some action shots. So, do not be afraid to experiment and shoot even if you do not see the image in your LCD monitor. Shoot some extra frames. It is helpful to have an adequate memory card.

I shot about 30 frames trying to catch a sky reflection in water and in my paddle. I would show not more than 3 or 4 from those 30 frames.

6. Practice

The more you shoot the better you should get. I have shot similar pictures before including reflections and a paddle.

Review your pictures on the camera LCD if possible. Check the histogram. Analyze your shots after paddling on a computer screen. You have all information about camera setting included in each digital image file. Try to figure out what worked and what not. Learn from mistakes.

7. Have Fun

I am an amateur photographer. I don't shoot pictures on commission or for a stock agency. I am shooting what I like just for fun. Documenting my paddling trips is still fun. Sometimes I sell a picture to a magazine or donate to a book cover. I feel free to experiment.

The great Alfred Stieglitz was an amateur photographer too. Anyway, the photography is not a profession...

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