Paddling Photography-- Share your tips

I find myself paddling solo most of the time… and with springtime (and in general) im seeing all kinds of cool sights and critters. and being solo most of the time im quieter and get alot closer to the critters than id typically expect. often I wont see them until I flush them just a few yards from my boat. So I want to get better at capturing all the cool landscapes and if im lucky a critter or several.

im shooting a basic point and shoot 8mp digital camera, I keep it in a small pelican case so I can get it out in a couple secs if need be. it takes pretty good pics. But what I have noticed is some pics are better than others (ones I take that is). ive got some mediocre scenery shots that the pics turned out awesome, and some awesome scenery with the pics turning out mediocre. the only reasoning I can see behind that is my technique and composition of the shot.

For some reason, my pics are not capturing the scale of the cliffs and or the color of the sky… it just seems like the pics do the scenery no justice.

So with this thread id like to discuss composition and technique… and we will save discussion of gear etc for another thread.

also, feel free to post any cool paddling pics youve taken :slight_smile:

Good topic

– Last Updated: Apr-02-09 2:28 PM EST –

There are so many aspects that can be covered. I take lots of of photo's when I'm paddling. I have 2 camera's that I bring. Digital SLR with 28-200 mm lens and a 78-300 IS lens. I keep the DSLR in a waterproof deck bag. I also have a Pentax WP-60 that fits in my PFD pocket. The DSLR is used for wildlife and distance. The Pentax for a quick shot or in rougher conditions. The key is to take a lot of photo's. Multiple's of everything. Keep the best.

I usually paddle solo too.


my photo's here.....

Play the Odds
If you keep shooting odds are a few of your pics will be pretty good.

That’s all the technique I’ve got.


The basics of good photography…

– Last Updated: Apr-02-09 1:26 PM EST –

I paddle solo often and have had a successful career as a videographer, so here's my two cents. I keep my camera on a strap around my neck for ease of access.

The camera, like your eyes, needs plenty of light to capture detail. To accomplish this, lens at full wide is the best, using proximity to your subject to get the best looking shots. When that won't work, if you have to zoom in to your subject, make sure you open up your stops to get more light, or adjust your filter for less ND (neutral density; think polarization in sunglasses). Zooming in makes it more difficult to get light into the camera, kind of like looking through a paper towel roll tube.
My rule of thumb is "the zoom is not your friend".

For composition, always live by the "rule of thirds".
Compose shots with the screen divided horizontally and vertically in thirds. If you're shooting sky, mountains, water, you don't need tons of sky. Google RULE OF THIRDS and you can get more info.

Use manual settings whenever possible. Point and shoot auto everything cameras do lots of things in a mediocre fashion. Control of your focus is essential for depth of field and slightly out of focus backgrounds that enhance subject matter. You are smarter than the camera.

Always take a couple of versions of the same subject. "One more for protection" as we say in the "biz".

If I think of more, I'll get back to you. Happy shooting.

A couple of tips

– Last Updated: Apr-02-09 1:49 PM EST –

1. Set your camera to under expose slightly. You can use one of the photo editing programs to bring the exposure back up as needed. It is almost impossible to bring the exposure down if it is over exposed (at least with the simpler photo editing programs I have used)

2. When dealing with a lot of bright reflection off the water use the "snow/sand" mode if your camera has one.

3. If you are in moving current or being blown by the wind it is difficult to get a photo in focus. Paddle a couple of strokes into the current or wind to make yourself as stationary as possible before taking the picture.

4. If you are taking photos of quickly appearing/disappering amimals like dolphins, seals, or beavers use manual focus. For most point and shoot camera a focus setting a couple of clicks below infinity will give reasonable focus at 5 to 30 yard range. Take some test shots from different distances of a sign to figure out what setting is best for the ranges you most often take such pictures. You might also combine a "landscape" mode with manual focus to increase the depth of field of that manual setting.

5. Try to get another kayak or person in the picture to help identify the scale. If solo then try one shot with a part of the kayak front deck showing in one lower corner to help identify the scale.

6. Pay attention to having the sun behind you if possible. I often try to make a mental note of places where I see a good photo opportunity, but wait for the return trip when the sun will be at a better angle. If you cannot get the sun directly behind you, try to move so you are as far off from directly into the sun as possible. This is important even on cloudy days where the directly sunlight might not seem like a problem but you can get a white-out sky that can not be corrected in editing without darkening the rest of the photo too much.

7. If you are paddling into the sun do not forget to turn around and look behind you. Sometimes what you thought was just an ordinary view looking into the sun will turn out to be a great picture when viewed with the sun behind you.

Hope some of this helps.

You can see some of my kayaking photos at


All good tips
I would add a couple of things. Assuming you are using a screen to see what you are taking, be sure to support both elbows on your chest and bring the camera close to you. Second, like shooting a gun, exhale and relax before smoothly pushing the shutter button. You should be surprised when the shutter clicks.

Things to consider
1) a polarizer – can make a huge difference on a bright sunny day – can really make clouds pop out of that blue sky.

2) a hood – shading the lens can make a big difference too as the light can was out your pics

3) Shutter priority (or sports mode) – often I get blur under 1/60 or so, so forcing the shutter to 1/120 or faster will cure a lot of blur issues. Longer lenses will need a faster shutter speed.

4) Agree that keeping a camera close can improve your chances of getting a great photo. If you have to pull it out of a box, turn it on, check modes, then shoot, you will simply miss some shots. Even with their compromises, the waterproof models are ideal for quick access.

5) Composition, leading the viewer into the shot with foreground items, diagonals or S shapes can make a good photo great. Get close, especially to people, faces, boats, etc. Get down low to the water, or up high on a rock. Anything that isn’t taken at normal eye level always looks more interesting.

6) Photoshopping – truth be told, a lot of professional shots are just “good” when they read them off the memory card. Sometimes the post processing is the only way to bring back the color and contrast that made you snap the shot. Ansel Adams did it the hard way, but I think he’d enjoy the controls and flexibility that photoshop provides.

7) Lighting – best shots are always going to be when the sun is low on the horizon. Fro big, wide landscape shots the evening light can make a lot of mediocre landscaped look enchanted. Okay “Lighting” should probably be #1


Two tips already mentioned

– Last Updated: Apr-03-09 12:51 AM EST –

mjamja covered the most important point, based on most of the photos I see posted by people here. Use the "snow, sand" feature when shooting against bright backgrounds. Better yet, learn how to adjust the exposure yourself rather than trusting the camera to interpret the entire scene. For example, you can aim the camera at a background having similar lighting as your subject (very often this will be trees or grass that would only occur along the edge of your scene), and NOT the sky, either directly or reflected off the water. Save that setting by keeping the shutter button half-depressed as your re-frame the scene, and shoot. The effect of bright sand or snow, or sunlight reflected off water is easy to understand, but cloudy skies or their reflection off water are just as bad, often worse actually, and usually overlooked as the source of dark images. Any amount of cloudy sky in your photo will fool the camera into under-exposing the scene, and the more sky that is in the image, the darker your photos will be if you trust the camera to control everything. Plan to over-expose by at least one full stop, sometimes as much as two (!) if there's a lot of cloudy sky in the background. Metering off your subject, as described above, will have the same result as deliberate over-exposure of the actual scene, so either method is okay.

Regarding the advice to use a lens "full wide" whenever possible rather than zooming in, that is often not good. There is a reason that 85 to 100 mm lenses at a reasonable distance were long considered best for portraiture instead of putting a wider-angle lens closer to the person's face - the longer lenses didn't induce any noticeable distortion like wide-angle lenses do (no one wants the person in the portrait to have a Jimmy Durante nose, so wide-angle lenses were always a no-no). Even the standard 50mm lens has always been considered too wide to provide an accurate perspective for photographing faces. The widest view available on most modern digital cameras is a LOT wider than a conventional 50mm lens with the old 35mm film cameras. The distorting effect on perspective (in the form of exagerated depth) at the widest angle is quite severe, and you will get much more accurate portrayals of most scenes with a slightly zoomed-in setting than at full-wide.

Regarding opening up the aperture to let "more light" into the camera as one person said, that advice is also incorrect. The camera lens IS like your eyes in that regard, and our eyes see most clearly when our pupils are contracted, NOT when they are dilated. Ask one of your kids to thread a needle for you and watch their pupils as they do so. Their pupils will contract noticeably as they concentrate on seeing what they are doing. Along the same line, a near-sighted person without his glasses can see pretty good by looking through a tiny pinhole which artificially shrinks the working surface area of the lens of the eye. Also, the eye doctor dilates your pupils when doing a vision test because the wide-open condition of the pupils makes minor differences in visual accuity easier to detect, while contracted pupils increase visual accuity and would therefore mask small differences. A wide-open lens allows more variability in differential refraction (different colors refract at different angles, even with good lens coatings) to occur. The smaller the portion of the lens you use and the more that area is concentrated at the center of the lens, the smaller all angles of refraction will be, thus the smaller the differences in angle for different colors, so the image is sharper (refraction angles are greatest at the outer edges of a lens and smallest near the center). Depth-of-field is greater with a smaller aperture too, so focusing is less critical, and this is particularly important at close range (which is why the pupils of our eyes contract when threading a needle). If you want to deliberately decrease depth-of-field for proper visual effect, a wide-open aperture is a good thing. Otherwise, it's usually better to keep the lens opening as small as your shutter speeds and camera stability allow. With a tripod, you are much less limited in the range of useable shutter speeds so your choice of lens openings is better.

My own tip, is to NOT use high ISO settings, and to not use full-automatic modes for the same reason. Image quality deteriorates rapidly as you increase the ISO setting. In low-light conditions, you are better off using a tripod than adjusting the camera (or letting the camera adjust itself automatically) to allow easy shooting of hand-held photos.

2 things
(1) Take the shot

(2) Process your image on a computer

Lots of advice on both is available -:wink:

Obviously, the artistic qualities of a shot are up to you as the photographer. But, the key thing to understand is that very few photos of natural settings without the help of special equipment and props will come out at their best without post processing. Post processing should be tailored for the media you want (do one thing for a web post, another for small print, another for large print). I don’t remember the last time I shot an image worth keeping that I did not post-process to improve it…

Once you understand the above, you need to understand how to take a shot so that it can be postprocessed effectively. Some of this was covered already and there are tons of advice on photography forums …

Making a photo look good (just like taking a good photo) is not a skill to gain overnight - takes lots of trial and error and learning…

Small P&S camera limitations unfortunately limit what you can do with the image at home after you shoot, so contrary to popular wisdom, they are harder to get good results with than with a “real” camera like a DSLR. It is critical to double-check and re-shoot if possible and take multiple photos from many angles.

Constantly remind yourself
that you are not photographing objects, you are photographing light. Noticing how it interacts with the objects and capturing that is one thing that makes a good pic better. Early or late in the day with long shadows often makes for better contrast and interest, particularly on landscapes.

Ah… image scale
To capture the grandeur of cliff faces, you have be very careful on framing and you need something in the image to give you scale, such as a canoe near the base of the cliffs etc.

As to color… A UV filter on the camera helps a lot. You can always bring the color up later using software.

for once somebody interested
in capturing better pictures and not just better equipment.

While some basic half decent camera is needed for acceptable images way too much attention is generally put on the equipment.

If interested in a more in depth discussion on composition please check out this link:

For images that support my theory check out

And I am sorry that most images are not of solo paddling but are examples of applied composition principles

I’m with Tommy
Take lots of pictures - throw most of them away.

Too much planning and you might miss a great shot. Point and shoot and you’ll get the shot, but it might not come out. I guess its six of one, half dozen of another.

for added interest
nekkid wimmin

This do?

Applies especially to big gators that go hiss and topless women sunbathers (yes, it’s a real story, but not much of that kind of wildlife occurs outside of urban areas) that may -or may not, go squeal…

And if they don’t like it, quickly, VERY quickly


-Frank in Miami

Three primary points

– Last Updated: Apr-03-09 11:26 AM EST –

Many excellent points made here (especially stressing methods and not equipment).

I have been told that are three primary aspects to taking better pictures:
1 - Expose the image
2 - Process the image
3 - Look at the image

1 - Good points above about exposure. That with composition is pretty much it. Shoot and learn. See what works and what doesn't.

2 - Learn Photoshop and use it. One can gain far more control over the precise way an image looks using the tools in that package. Get control of perhaps six or eight commands and you can do amazing things. (Keep in mind, it is for the best of your work. A poor image is just a poor image. Dump it, don't try to "fix" it with Photoshop.)

3 - Often overlooked --- LOOKING at your work. Screensavers are wonderful ...especially when loaded with your masterpieces. (I try to have mine kick in after about six seconds of machine inactivity --I like pix.) Print up your work on paper and hang it around where you can see it. In time you will begin to see things in it that you did not before - both the good and the bad. It will help you learn. return to your boat and go back to step one.

Stay with it and enjoy!

Based on OP’s point and shoot camera
I prefer to work in close with “wide open” lens for shooting plants and other non-moving subject matter. I was not recommending use of a wide-angle lens (different animal). This does not work with wildlife, or subject matter that requires stealth to capture.

shoot, shoot again, and shoot some more
and throw away what you don’t like. I wish I knew what kind of camera you were using. Some of the advice given earlier may not even apply to your camera. If use of a filter is an option, don’t do it. I repeat, don’t use a filter, not even a polarizer, not even a UV filter. You lose quality and the gain is not worth it.

thanks for your comments and links…beautiful photos. I’m keeping your pdf link as it’s one of the most clear and concise presentations I have read. I have had numerous classes and two National Geographic workshops so I have a good appreciation for good photos like yours. I also have a good friend who lives an Australia and would love to paddle where your shots were taken. Thanks again.