Kayak Photography

Fine Art photography red necked grebeRed-necked grebe parent with chick

This time of year I spend a lot of hours on a kayak and yes I take my Canon R5 with me. A lot of people tell me they are afraid to kayak with their camera, but if you have the right kayak and take the right precautions it can be a very rewarding experience. 

First and foremost you need the right type of kayak. For photography, the ideal kayak is a sit-on-top design. Designed to be stable and not easily tipped, you are also looking for a wide-width kayak as they are more stable than narrow ones. You also need a kayak that has a lot of room and can carry the weight of your gear. Most fishing kayaks fit these criteria.

My kayak and launch site

Comfort is also important if you are spending hours on a kayak. My kayak is super sturdy but it does not have a lot of back support and there are kayaks with better leg design. I have had this kayak for years and frankly bought it because of its low price point and it is easy enough for me to pull a kilometer or so into a lake as it weighs only 50 lbs. I am currently looking to upgrade to a more comfortable kayak and am considering the Pescador Pro 12.0 or the Wilderness Systems Tarpon 120.

<p">Once you settle on a kayak take it out without any gear. Get used to how it handles and how to get in and out of it easily. On my first photography trip in a kayak  I took one of my older cameras and lenses so if something happened I did not just see $10,000 go overboard. I wanted to make sure I could manoeuver easy enough, get the camera in and out of storage easily and paddle with the camera out of storage and easily accessible, in other words between my legs without getting soaked. 


fine art photograph of a pelican Pelican coming in for a landing

Even with all these steps taken and the design of the kayak considered accidents can still happen so make sure you have insurance on your camera and lenses. I use Front Row Insurance to cover all my camera equipment.

My kayak is really stable so I have been on the lake when white caps have hit. If you find yourself in this situation you need to kayak with the waves or into the waves but not sideways to waves as that will run the risk of tipping. That means you might have to paddle a longer distance in windy conditions as you may not be able to go directly to the site but you won't tip either. However, on windy days, photography is not the best anyways as you want that calm still water when photographing waterfowl to be able to get reflections on the water. It is best to check the weather ahead of time and try to kayak on calm days when it is cloudy so the sun's light is filtered but not likely to storm or rain. 

fine art photograph of a pelicanAmerican white pelicans and double-crested cormorants sharing a resting place on the water

I do kayak at one of the large lakes in our region primarily to photograph the American white pelicans and double-crested cormorants but my primary kayak spot is a small lake deep in the forest on private property. It is not easily accessible and requires an ATV to access. My husband spent a lot of time brushing a trail into the lake for me and setting up a mini launch area. 

lakeThe bay that I launch on opens into a large lake area further out

The lake is almost entirely edged with reeds with no shoreline. I use a beaver run as my launch site and have to push myself out through low swampy water to get out into the lake, but it is worth it. Grebes, ducks, terns, blackbirds, and beavers call this lake home and a black bear is frequently in the forest around the lake. The lake is untouched by any human presence except for me, so I know any photos I take will feature wildlife no one else is photographing. 

lens coat cover for cameraRemovable lens coat cover

I have a lens coat cover for my lenses that slides on and off so I can put it on any of my telephoto lenses. It keeps my camera from getting wet when I am paddling. When I first head out I place my camera in a dry bag in the kayak's storage area but once I found a subject, I pull out my camera and as I manoeuver I keep the camera between my legs. I do not use a tripod on my kayak all my images are handheld but if you prefer using a tripod many of the fishing kayaks have anchor points that would allow you to mount a tripod. Sometimes I balance the camera on my shins to get an even lower to the subject or when I am shooting video and use the flip-out LED display but most times I am holding the camera and using the viewfinder to take photos. 

fine art photograph of a bufflehead duckBufflehead shaking off water after taking a drink

You will get the best photos of waterfowl when you can get as close to the water level as possible and as close to your subject as possible. Kayaking provides that opportunity and it also allows you to experience many more birds than you could possibly from shore, you get a great workout while taking photos, the tranquility of being on the water is second to none and you can get to places you otherwise could not access. I know I love being out on my kayak with my camera in the summer, 

fine art photograph of a greater scaupA greater scaup glides along still waters

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