Old School Photography Tips

I’ve read a lot of post about digital water proof cameras. I am an old school 35mm camera user. I have a Nikon N60 w/Nikkor 28-80 lens. UV and clear filters. I have taken “decent” pictures in the past but I’m always open to specific tips taking pics in and of my paddling adventures.

I’m probably going to break down and pick up a WP camera in the future but for now any ideas on how to get those “National Geographic” shots?

Where to begin
There are a number of good resources on the web where you can get tips on photography.

You might want to try starting at these sites:





If you check “Paddling Links” in the “Community” section on our site, you’ll find a lot more links to photography sites that offer good tutorials.



What type of photography?

– Last Updated: Sep-09-05 8:11 AM EST –

There's a big difference in required equipment and technique between capturing landscapes/seascapes on placid water and catching action shots in surf.

While I really like the image quality and versatility of a 35mm SLR (my Olympus OM-1N is TRULY "old school"), I never use one on the water, as having to keep the camera in a dry box is way too restrictive unless you're on flat water. Besides, I'm rather enamoured of the old beast and would hate to drown it.

If you like shooting film, you can get Pentax 90/95/105 WR cameras quite inexpensively on Ebay. I paid ~$80 delivered for a new 90WR in a Ritz Camera auction. The image quality is excellent and you don't have to worry about getting it wet.

I switched to digital a while back and that's all I use on the water these days. I'm currently using a Canon S60 with a waterproof housing, though I would recommend taking a good look at Sony's line, since their housings are more compact, have less hard edges and are generally better suited to kayak use. A 5MP or better camera will produce stunning images. Although these cameras are small, they pack many of the features/controls of SLRs, so you can be as creative as you want.

Buy and use
a polarizing filter.

Pete in Atlanta

Better when the sun is not overhead and over your shoulder.

Always leave a little more space in front of a moving object than behind to make it look like it is entering a scene and not leaving it.

For basic composition check out the “rule of thirds”


Good shooting…

Use the “golden hour”

– Last Updated: Sep-09-05 9:30 AM EST –

Every chance you get; use the golden hour, the hour before the sun is fully up, or fully set.
I believe you'll get better color saturation in your photos(with SLR)then.

If you find a subject that you "really" like, take multiple photos(bracketing) at different f-stops. You can do this with SLR, don't know about digital?

If you can force yourself to "try" this technique it may help; keep a log of shots you take for a couple of rolls of film. Record the f-stop, speed, and light conditions you used on each frame. Review(with the log)the photos you get back; you may have a better understanding of what you're doing wrong/right.


If you are an old school
then I’m obsolete.

I still like using my manual nikon, no auto-focus, no motor, no auto exposure, basicly no battery required to operate the camera.

For paddling I prefer to carry a waterproof Canon A1, still 35 mm, decent product for the money.

As other people mentioned, where to start?

Are we talking color or B&W?

If you like B&W a couple of filters (red, green) are a must in your bag.

FM, FM2 ???

Nikon F, Nikkormat and FM10
I use the FM10 most of the times (lighter)

I’ve been slowly divesting myself of my Nikons on Ebay. Just don’t use them anymore…

Breaks my heart though…

Do what NG photogs do
Bracket like crazy! I once read a quote attributed to a NG photographer, saying that he often bracketed four stops either side of the meter’s reading. Now that’s what I call covering all bases! Seriously though, if you are shooting transparency film you have less lattitude for error, so bracketing maybe one stop either side would work. If you have a newer camera, there might be an automatic setting to allow you to set the brackets.

Bnystron: An OM-1n, eh? I have one too. Bought the body about 20 years ago, cherry condition for $140. Don’t use it as much as I should, but I’ll never sell it.


Old school?
A Nikon N60 w/Nikkor 28-80 lens should do more than “decent” pictures. What film are you using? Where do you get your films processed and printed?

I have the exact same camera and lens combo. While in California, I use ASA 200 films and found it quite a nice compromise of grain and speed. Years ago, I learn the truth about processing and printing. If you drop the film off at a drug store, chances are they got shipped off to one of those centralized big processing plans. And prints should come back more or less ok because it’s full automatic. Not much you can do about them anyway.

Not all the one-hour shops are created equal if that’s where you get your prints done. Some shops are downright shitty! It took me a while to find a shop that will actually hand examine the print and reprint anything that’s way off.

If you don’t feel like “playing” with all the controls on the camera, you’re better off with one of the newer digital camera that try to take an “average” picture. The software had gotten pretty good so the pictures come out better with each new camera I got. And you can manipulate the image on the computer once you had it uploaded.

Those are the “technical” side of photography, which deals with capturing the image as faithfully on film/photo-sensor as possible. To get GREAT looking pictures take good composition skills too. That’s neither old nor new school. The best capturing technique can’t improve a photo that’s got no imagination. Most photography literature I seen tend to focus mostly on the technical side with only tiny section on the artistry. No, it’s not a magic sense we were born with. It can be learned too. Just take a bit more hard nose to find the right book. Or learn from someone who takes good pictures.

S-l-o-w D-o-w-n …
The latest gee-whiz supermega pixel box will not take inspiring photos in the hands of a ‘snapper’. Take your time looking at your potential subject from a few different angles, high, low, etc., to see if it’s even worth wasting the film or electrons.

I often find that the photos for which I had the best hopes when I took them, later lack a certain something. Usually it’s a center of interest. A nice shot of an early-morning fog-draped lake or river will likely benefit from a kayak or even a paddle tossed in the foreground grass, to give the eye something to anchor to. Heck, even an interesting rock or a bit of driftwood will often do it.

I once read an interview of the famed Ansel Adams, who reminisced about his early, youthful days as an impoverished and aspiring photographer. He often hiked up into the Sierras for days at a time, with all his camping and camera gear loaded on a mule. The poor beast could only carry about six of the large glass plates for Ansel’s large view camera, so he was limited to about two shots a day. Assuming, of course, that none were damaged on the steep and rocky trail.

He said that this restriction on his shooting compelled him to really look long and hard at his subjects, and wait for just the right light, and previsualize. The result of this strict discipline, enforced by circumstances, is evident in his inspiring work today.

Maybe instead of more pixels and ever-larger data discs on which to store all our mediocre photos, we should all use those dinky 16MB discs that come with the camera, and really take some photos that inspire and evoke.

Slow down and frame more carefully (that’s why I hate both the glare-prone LCD and the absurdly tiny, inaccurate optical viewfinders on some digitals).

Also–and this will provoke screams of protest–use a tripod. You will avoid body-induced blur/shake, and it will tend to make you slow down rather than just grabbing any ol’ snapshot. BUT I stopped bringing a tripod with me on kayak trips because it is just too darned bulky and is of course useless for in-kayak photography. (The ultralight minipods are nearly useless, IMO.)

You could skip the tripod and go with a very fast film and pay the price in bigger grain. Which sometimes looks good, but only sometimes.

I’m a 20 year Kodachrome shooter but
I love my little Nikon Coolpix 4100 and carry it most of the time now. Its not waterproof but if you have a nice stable boat like my Dirigo 120 it will stay dry (and so will you) and you can take some pretty great shots. Its not my Kodachrome or Ektachrome but my Nikon FM2 with the 20-year-old 35-200 zoom won’t fit in the cupholder of my Dirigo and the Coolpix will.

It’s all about the light. With any photography whether slide film, neg film, digital, of kayaks or anything else, light is the number one thing to consider.

Shooting enough will let you “see” the light and how it will record photographically. Technical skills come into play so that you can get the effect you want with that light. Some good books are Boyd Norton’s “The Art of Outdoor Photography” and the National Geographic Field guide to photography.

One thing to realize is that if you’re shooting neg (negative film, for prints), the lab may be doing automatic corrections to your print to give you what they think you want. The best way to learn technical skills (IMO) is to use slide film. Dramatic light can make dramatic pictures, but automatic settings on cameras (and lab equipment) might not give you what you want.

steve is on the money
photography is all about light. light is the subject. never mind the naked dancing nymphs, they are just objects for the light to play on. really!

I used to shoot commercially, and this is what I learned on the subject. Transparancy (slide) film is very sensitive to light, so bracketing in small increments is necessary to ensure just the right light and contrast as well as color saturation. That said, small increments means 1/4 to 1/2 stop increments. Take your lense off, look through it as you turn the aperture ring. Notice that the aperture is constantly changing in-between the click stops. That is how the NG photogs did it, and yes, burn the film 4 stops each way to ensure the shot…there’s no reshoot once you’re no longer out there. Negative film is much more forgiving, and you can bracket full stops, thus saving film. As for processing, stick with a good camera shop that has a quality in-house lab if you want the best results. Those large automated labs don’t keep their processors near as clean as a high quality lab would for their commercial clients who expect the best…but you pay more for that quality.

Canon A-1
I have two Canon A-1 SLR camera bodies circa 1980. You said yours is waterproof. If by that you mean you have a waterproof housing for the A-1 I would be interested in any information you have about it. Cost, user-friendliness, where to acquire it, etc.

That Canon A-1 is still my favorite camera, but I am deathly afraid of taking it on the water.