Photographing from a kayak. Any tips?

Started 3 months ago | Questions thread
OP OlympicGuy Senior Member • Posts: 1,738
Re: Photographing from a kayak. Any tips?

FRGorga wrote:

At least in the summer, I photograph wildlife from a kayak fairly regularly. My experience in this regard is flat water (lakes, ponds and slow moving rivers) only. I have been doing this for more than a decade... probably closer to fifteen years.

I plan to be in calm water...mostly to only!

My boat is an old Dirigo 14 (from Old Town). It is a wide slow recreational kayak but it is very stable. I choose the 14 footer because of the roomy cockpit. I can stand a tripod between my legs if necessary. (More about that later.)

I shot an Olympus with excellent stabilizing (IBIS) I don't use a tripod anymore.

Photographing wildlife, I tend to use longer lenses. When I started, I used an old Sigma 50-500 zoom. These days I mostly use a 300 mm f/4 prime lens with teleconverters (1.4x or 1.7x) as needed. None of these lenses are 'stabilized'. The high ISO performance of the modern camera lets me keep the shutter speed fast enough that stabilization is irrelevant. Since I am photographing moving subject mostly, I need decent shutter speed anyway.

My telephoto (300 f4 prime)is stabilized as well as my camera body.

Early on with the heavier 50-500 I tried a tripod. However I found that my mobility was impaired both just swiveling the camera within the boat as well as maneuvering the whole boat with a paddle. The tripod ends up occupying the space where one usually moves a paddle. These days I hand hold the camera exclusively.

As far as "water proofing" goes, I place the camera in a roll top water proof bag along with two towels before I get into the boat. After I get into the boat, this goes between my legs. After I get underway, the camera and one towel come out of the bag. The camera goes on top of the waterproof bag between my legs. This keeps it off the damp boat bottom. The towel goes over the camera to protect it from the inevitable drips off the paddle... if I remember to do this! There are many times when I forget to replace the towel. When I head back to shore, I place the camera back into the bag and seal it up.

Good ideas, thanks!

In my experience, recreational kayaks on flat water are very unlikely to tip over. The most dangerous times for 'trouble' are getting in and out of the boat. Most folks try to get into and out of a kayak with the bow resting on the shore. This means that the boat is sitting on a narrow "knife edge" and is very unstable.

So I am learning!

A much better approach to ingress or egress from a kayak is to put it fully in the water deep enough to float the boat while you are in it while you enter or exit the boat. This is not very deep... maybe mid-shin deep.


The only other time that I have seen 'stability problems' in a recreational kayak is when one gets hung up on an barely submerged obstacle. The problem is the same as above. When hung up, the boat is supported mainly on a single point instead of evenly by the water. This is a recipe for tipping. However, with a small bit of care this is easily avoidable. If it does happen the camera goes back into the bag and the bag is sealed up before I try to free myself from the obstacle.

On my recent beginners trip I did notice some logs and boulders underneath: beware indeed!

When I seal the camera into the waterproof bag, I make sure to leave a lot of air in the bag so that it will float fairly high in the water if it goes into the water. Roll top waterproof bags are fairly good at keeping water out if sealed properly and if they stay on the surface (where the hydrostatic pressure is low). If you are really paranoid, tether the bag to the boat with a longish piece of parachute cord. Make the cord long enough so that it doesn't interfere with your use of the bag while it is tied to the boat.

Yes, I have thought of this too.

When I am actively photographing, I keep the paddle free sitting across the boat rather than putting it into some paddle bracket. I do this because I often want to use the paddle to make small adjustments to my position while actively photographing.

The downside to this is that the paddle will occasionally slide off into the water. Losing ones paddle in fast moving water is a recipe for disaster. It is not a real problem in flat water, just retrieve it before it floats off too far!!!

Lastly, the photos (of our local loon family) is this blog post (see: were made from my kayak back at the end of July. (Sorry about the link, something has changed and dpreview no longer allows me add photos that are hosted on my server directly to posts and I am not sure why!)


Thanks a lot!

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