Kayak anglers understand that the magic of being out on the water in a small, quiet boat is something that is difficult, if not impossible to explain to the non-initiated. That being said, photography is one medium that can capture and translate some of the essence of that magic. Photography is often viewed as something very technical and best left to the professionals, but I truly believe that anyone that is willing to spend a little bit of time studying can become a much better photographer, and benefit from improved images of their own, regardless of what equipment they own. I own my own small photography business in New Orleans (LINK), and would like to share a few concepts I’ve become familiar with over the years, with an emphasis on what the average kayak angler can benefit from.
QUICK TIPS for better photos with ANY camera:
There are no hard and fast rules about composition, but the overall goal could be stated this way: give the viewer’s eye something interesting to focus on, draw attention where you want it in the shot, and don’t confuse the viewer with clutter. As you’re preparing a shot, try letting your eyes wander over the entire frame – is there a clear focal point? Is there a clear subject and clean lines that lead the eye? Try splitting the frame up in different ratios – for example, don’t always put the horizon right in the middle of a landscape shot – try a shot that is almost all sky, or all water.
Unless specifically going for back lighting or a silhouette photo, try not to shoot into the sun. Pay attention to what the light is doing in the background as well as the subject of your photo. If you or your subject can be rotated for better lighting, it is always worth the couple of seconds or minutes it takes to do that. Dawn and dusk hours can be the most pleasing times of sunlight, with the low angle and intensity of the sunlight creating a softer light with more dramatic shadowing. As an angler, it can be hard to make time to look for some photos during this period, since it is often the best fishing, but it usually is worth taking a few minutes for some shots. The middle of the day can be a harder time to create pleasing landscape photos, particularly on a bright, sunny day; this is the time to look for interesting details, or look at things in the water that you can see well because of the high angle and intensity of the sun.
Unless you are going for an artistic effect, a crooked horizon is an easily fixed issue, and one that can really detract from an otherwise pleasing photo if not corrected. Get it as close as you can in-camera, and use an editing tool to fix it if you need to. Some cameras offer a guide on the screen that will help you line up the horizon.
Kayak-specific Photography Tips
Try to eliminate clutter from any shots that include the deck of the kayak. You don’t need to make it look staged, but your gatorade bottle or the pile of dead shrimp doesn’t necessarily invite the viewer to look any further.
For fish shots, work on trying out different angles and shots, not just dangling the fish in front of you. GoPro cameras or other options that can be triggered remotely are a great choice, and both cellphone cameras and GoPro type action cameras are so small, some really interesting angles can be found close to the waterline, or by shooting up from the kayak. Just be careful – I’ll never forget the “glug, glug, glug” of my fishing guide’s cellphone as it sank to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean while he was trying to photograph my broomtail grouper!
Try to be aware of other photo opportunities arising throughout the day, beyond the fish you’ve just landed. Everyone knows that you can get into a zone while fishing, but I have actually found that my overall focus throughout the day improves if I take some good breaks, whether it be to capture some photographs, just sit, or get a snack in.
For the love of all that is holy, don’t take a flash photograph of your catch laid out on the dock with your cellphone in the dark, because it is going to look pretty terrible every. single. time.
It can be hard for the camera to focus on moving fish. Take a bunch of shots so you’re sure you get something in focus.
If you plan on taking a camera other than your cell phone or small point and shoot, make sure that you figure out a way to store it safely onboard where it is easily accessible for a quick shot.
Check your lens often for dirt/water/fish slime.
If you own a GoPro or other waterproof camera, try some underwater shots for a different angle.
Kayaking and fishing are dirty tasks. Almost invariably, your lens is going to get dirty, whether it is a smartphone or DSLR. I like to try to keep a good supply of individual lens wipes (LINK), as well as microfiber cloth as a backup. They also are great for cleaning the saltwater/mud/fish slime off your sunglasses, should you be lucky enough to catch enthusiastic fish that splash you.
Polarizing filters eliminate certain angles of reflective light, eliminating some of the glare on the water, and increasing contrast (same as polarized sunglasses). They are available for DSLR and action cameras, and can help immensely if you are looking to shoot into the water.
Even if you have a waterproof smartphone, if you drop it overboard, chances are you aren’t recovering it. A tether and/or case can be attached to your PFD, and keeps the camera close and handy at all times.
I have used both Pelican-style hard cases, and waterproof dry bags for different setups. Both have their limitations and benefits. Hard cases offer better protection, but also are a bit noisy and cumbersome to open. Soft cases require a bit more care, but can be quieter and fit more gear. I have have had good experiences with the Watershed Chatooga dry bag.
No matter what gear you have with you on the kayak, the most important thing you can do to improve your images is to remember to take some time to shoot, and experiment with some new angles and compositions instead of the typical “grip and grin”. To that end, the best way to accomplish that is to make sure that you are outfitted with gear that will make you camera (smartphone or stand alone) easily accessible, and protected to a level that you are comfortable with. If you are concerned about your camera because you don’t have a case or a tether/leash, it is more unlikely that you’re going to actually take it out when you’re on the water. Next time, we will talk about some more advanced technical information for DSLR/Mirrorless users! Happy shooting!