Paddling Photography-- Share your tips

Thank you for your comment. The document is just a quick draft (modified script) for a presentation I did at a Sea Kayak symposium.

It is very concise since I only had one hour to present. One day I might develop it and add some more of my theories on aesthetics and psychology in photography.

Wide-Angle Lenses

– Last Updated: Apr-03-09 8:23 PM EST –

I deleted much of my response to this, just to par it down to the essentials.

The widest field of view of a normal point-and-shoot camera IS a wide-angle lens by any traditional definition. If you don't think so, that's okay, but it doesn't change the reason why lenses in the middle range of 80 to 100 mm provide very good perspective for shots taken at relatively close distances (they give a perspective of depth that is similar to what we see with our eyes when filling the field of view with a relatively small subject), and it doesn't change the fact that a point-and-shoot at its widest setting produces considerable distortion over the depth of any nearby subject. The ability to approach the subject closely isn't a factor that's relevant to this line of reasoning, but of course, it often becomes important in its own way. For what it's worth, most good photographers use a middle focal length (80 to 100) for close shots of flowers, etc., while for close-ups of small objects with precise and "recognizable" shapes (like model airplanes, as one example), the avoidance of wide-view lenses (anything below about 40 mm) becomes extremely critical to providing an accurate image (using too-long of a focal length is just as bad (for different reasons), but is not a choice most people would consider for this kind of photography).

I call BS on that
There are times when a polarizer isn’t needed like early and late in the day, but when you have full sun reflecting off everything, the polarizer cuts out a lot of the reflections which boosts the color. The brightest reflections cause entire areas to be overexposed so much that recovering in photoshop is not possible – the image becomes a throwaway.

And out on the water there is so much glare, that a polarizer DOE=S make a difference in my experience.


Double BS on that
Correct exposure and knowing when not to take a shot, two main ingredients to full daylight photos and no polarizer necessary (unless you want to compromise sharpness).

No Filter = A Very Bad Idea
In the forty-plus years I have been a serious photographer I have on various occasions discovered a lens filter to be smudged, slimed, etched, scratched, chipped, cracked, and shattered. My general response was to chuck the thing and screw in a spare. I shudder to think what might have happened to my otherwise pristine (and expensive) lenses without their protective shields. In addition, a quality UVa-Daylight filter will cause essentially ZERO image degradation.

I thus find cmier’s suggestion to “never use a filter” to be particularly bad advice.

Using filters on point-and-shoot cameras is either difficult or impossible, but if your camera accepts filters, by all means make use of them. I wish my point-and-shoot made it easy to use filters, because I miss using them.

Polarizing screens are great when shooting against water or when you have a blue-sky background. They allow your subject to be shot at proper exposure without having a badly washed-out and featureless background. Shooting in some directions relative to the sun works better than others, and at the best angles, the polarizer is great, and at the worst angles, it helps just a small amount, but it’s definitely worth using a lot of the time.

If you have a camera that accepts filters, you have something else: at least one expensive lens. A UV or skylight filter does no harm to photo quality if it is a good one, and slightly improves the color on most outdoor scenes. I shot 35 mm SLRs for years, and on numerous occasions I shot the same scene both with and without the protective skylight filter in cases where I expected internal reflections to create a problem, and it never made a difference. A good filter isn’t exactly pocket change, but if it gets damaged, it IS pocket change in comparison to the lens it saved.

for a p&s
filters will only reduce quality and slow the lens. They are an unnecessary expense in my experience and I do 99% of my shooting on the water. If he owns a camera that accepts filters, he should have a lens hood. The lens hood serves 2 purposes, reduces glare and protects the lens. And it comes with the camera, so no extra cost.

simply wrong

– Last Updated: Apr-06-09 1:03 PM EST –

"reduce quality and slow the lens" ???
Unless you are using really junk glass (or have never cleaned it)
- you're simply wrong on both counts.


paddling with a camera
I am sharing some tips in my “Paddling with a Camera” blog:

Some posts that may be interesting here:

7 Tips for Photographing Paddlers

Where to Place a Horizon in Your Paddling Pictures?

10 Tips How to Avoid Blurry Pictures when Shooting on Water

and more …

Good stuff

Yes! Back to photography!

These links, along with those posted by gnarlydog,

are a fast, encouraging and intelligent start for a beginner.

be brave

– Last Updated: Apr-06-09 2:52 PM EST –

Learn and use any and all manual settings your camera comes with. Digital images are free.

Take a point-and-shoot and a SLR or DSLR if you can afford to. Some of the effects you're looking for might not be easily accomplished with the fixed focal length of some point and shoots (a very wide angle lens does wonders). Make the point-and-shoot a waterproof.

Get some good filters including a circular polariser (not a standard polariser, but a circular polariser).

Use the rule of thirds and other rules of good composition. Don't be afraid to break any of those rules.

If you're shooting landscapes, try to capture something in the foreground.

Play with depth of field by manipulating aperture.

Shoot in morning or late afternoon for the best shadows.

Bracket your exposures.

And as Andy said: shoot lots of photos. It's the best advice here.

EDIT: good piece on filters here:

Also a good resource for a no-nonsense philosophy on photography as an art as opposed to simply a documenting process.


– Last Updated: Apr-06-09 2:12 PM EST –

If you buy good quality filters and learn how to use them, this is simply not so. But good quality filters are pretty limited for point-and-shoot cameras.

Having said all that - I think a polarizing filter can be a crutch if you have a good camera. And a simple UV filter does nothing on a digital camera except protect the lens (UV is already filtered).

There is no correct exposure
that takes care of the issues causes by glare. Stopping down to expose the areas that would wash out would lose too much detail in the shadows and the color would still be washed out. A good example is shooting fall color in bright sunlight. With a polarizer the colors will always be more rich and detailed, without the leaves are too bright and the colors are washed out.

There are certainly scenes in full sun that are too contrasty to expose properly – and a polarizer doesn’t help those, but it does help a lot of the time when you are shooting mid-day. I generally leave mine on when there is plenty of light.

A cheap polarizer may reduce quality due to reflections and such, but a good polarizer will, on average, give you better photos in the end. Most degradation issues can be solved by shading the filter with a hood or with your hand.

Slowing the lens is not a big deal most of the time. If your shutter speed goes from 1/1000 to 1/250, big deal. It isn’t affecting your aperture, depth of field, etc and should still be fast enouhg for most on-the-water shots. If the light is fading and you start seeing 1/60 or 1/30 for shutter speeds, it’s time to pull the polarizer off.

Lens hoods are useful, but they are not a replacement for a polarizing lens. They remove glare caused by sunlight hitting the front lens, but they can’t remove th glare coming off of a shiny boat, the water, or the foliage. And when the polarizing effect gets too strong which can happen on a really clear day, you can twist slightly to turn down the effect.

Though a little awkward, there are times when stacking a polarizer and hood works well.


Ken Rockwell is a good source for info
but the guy is opinionated to a fault on some things. You can learn a lot from the guy, just don’t take everything as the absolute end-all on the subjects covered. There are folks who never use UV filters for example and those folks can make some fine photos.


And on a different note . . .
since I make no claim to being a photography expert, there needs to be some discussion on paddling technique while doing photography on the water, so here are a few of my tricks . . .

I take much of my paddling photos on slow moving rivers - mostly spring-fed ones in Florida, where wildlife is abundant. I have gotten some good wildlife shots by lining up the boat so the current will take me close by the scene, pulling the camera out of the quick-snap box, and sitting very still as the current carries me up to the animal(s)to be photographed.

Alternatively, if you are paddling upstream, I paddle wide past the target (don’t stare: I swear, they pick up your vibes and it spooks them), line up your boat in the current once you get far enough upstream, then proceed as above.

I have learned to handle the camera with one hand (yes, this results in some blurred shots) and when the current is a little tricky, I can use the paddle with the other hand to align the boat in the current properly for the picture.

I always put my hand through my Cannon’s loop, to preclude my dropping it. Also, I bought a quick-snapping gasketed plastic storage box at Target (of all places) that allows quick removal and storage of the camera. The camera box goes under the front deck bungee when I’m using a spray skirt and under a bungee loop in the floor of the cockpit when I’m sans spray skirt.

Practicing one handed camera-handling, while doing one-handed paddle control in current will eventually pay off in some good (and not-so-good) shots.

back to the polarizer filters
yes, I can’t help it. My points about NOT purchasing a polarizing filter is that with a P&S the type of filter will not be high quality enough to be worth the money. Second, polarizers work best (or only) when the sun is at 90 degrees to the camera or is directly overhead. Third, if it is a circular polarizer that is being used, adjustments must be made in order to line it up for the best effect, otherwise you end up with color distortions. In th meantime, the composition has passed you by. But then again, who cares? Most people shooting from a boat are simply capturing the moment and not necessarily attempting to compose a great shot, anyway.

I’m only suggesting that the poster not spend money unnecessarily. If you all like your polarizers, great. But I think the poster could save his money and simply experiment with his camera and take lots of photos in order to improve them. Why people think you have to automatically spend money on equipment is a mystery to me. Learn to use what you have first.

oh I agree completely
I think a good analogy in terms of his strength of opinion would be Derek Hutchinson. You have to take him with a grain of salt.

take it easy man - no one said that
You’re the one who issued the edict about filters. No one else said you have to go and buy expensive equipment. But you made a false statement and generalization about filters.

The OP asked about capturing what he sees, but also expresses a dissatisfaction with his results. That is because many, if not most good examples of photography actually enhance (with or without filters or post-processing) what we see. Take some time to find out what prominent photographers like Ansel Adams think about this.

Composition is important. Learning to use your camera so you don’t rely unnecessarily on filters or post-processing is also important. But no one asked how to get good results while being a purist.

Boat in the picture?
If you take a picture that includes the from of your kayak, some people may think it is some sort of tent. Seriously. This happened to me. “What is that tent thing at the bottom of the picture?” they asked.


You hit the nail on the head
Very good point! Good photos DO enhance the scene. When we are in the presence of a nice scene, our brain can process all sorts of things about what we see and come to conclusions about why things are so pretty or why certain emotions come up, but in a photo that ability is largely absent. Good photos really do make certain aspects of a scene stand out more than they do in real life. Anyone who looks through a “coffee-table book” of fantastic photos, if they think about it carefully while doing so, will realize that none of the photos depict scenes that you can go out and see for yourself just as they appear in the book. You brought up Ansel Adams. Does anyone remember what he said about Yosemite? He said that his photos were causing people to flock there to see the places he photographed, but that they would not find those places because he created them in his own mind and with his own photographic skill (he stated this in a more humble manner than that - I just made the point more directly since I can’t provide the actual quote at the moment).