photography on the water


  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.    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.   This article presents a few ways to easily improve your shots, a quick overview of some of the technical underpinnings of photography.

QUICK TIPS for better photos with any camera

  1. Composition:  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.

  2. Lighting.  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.

  3. Horizon angle:  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

  1. 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.

  2. For fish shots, work on trying out different angles and shots, not just dangling the fish in front of you.  The in-kayak fish shot is probably my personal weakest link.   GoPro cameras or other options that can be triggered remotely are a great choice.  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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. Check your lens often for dirt/water/fish slime.

  7. If you own a GoPro or other waterproof camera, try some underwater shots for a different angle.

understanding exposure for better photos

THE EXPOSURE TRIFECTA: Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO Sensitivity

    Aperture, shutter speed and ISO sensitivity are interconnected, and together are responsible for controlling the exposure of your photographs.  Understanding their relationships to each other is crucial in moving beyond just using the Auto setting on your camera, and gaining control over your interpretation of what you are photographing. 

  • Aperture is the diameter of the opening of your lens.  The larger the opening, the more light hits the camera sensor in any given interval that the shutter is opened. Typically a lens has overlapping metal leaves that expand and contract to control the hole size.   The system used to describe the aperture can be confusing; smaller numbers mean a larger diameter opening, and higher numbers mean a smaller opening.  For example, f2.8 is a very wide aperture (lots of light coming in), and f16 is a very small aperture (small amount of light coming in).  Aperture also controls “depth of field” or DOF, which refers to how much of the image plane is in focus.  Large apertures like f2.8 are used to isolate a subject, throwing much of the background out of focus.

  • Shutter Speed is exactly what it sounds like: the amount of time the shutter is open, allowing light to reach the sensor.  Obviously, the more time the shutter is open, the more light reaches the sensor.   The shutter speed also controls how well effectively you freeze any moving subject matter.  For example, a bicyclist passing through the frame would display significant motion blur when captured at a shutter speed of 1/60, but would likely be totally frozen at 1/1000.  Shutter speeds are displayed as fractions of a second.

  • ISO sensitivity is the camera’s overall sensitivity level.  Most cameras start at ISO 100, which is the lowest sensitivity, and suitable for well lit settings, and range up into extremely high ISO settings such as 12,800, which is practically night vision.  For example, a shutter speed of 1/60, aperture of f 5.6 and ISO of 100 might be suitable for a late afternoon outdoors shot in the shade, but as the sun went down, you’d need to crank the ISO up much higher to have the same exposure.  The motion blur controlled by the


   Cameras contain a programmed processor that can help you determine exposure, hence the auto mode on your camera, or any smartphone.   It can help immensely to understand what the camera is trying to do


  • White Balance - the "color temperature" of the image.   Skipping the technical stuff, daylight is much "colder" or blue, and many artificial light sources are much "warmer".   
  • If you plan on doing some post processing on the computer, shoot RAW format if at all possible.  RAW format holds much, much more information than other formats, and allows you to produce a much better final image, with a little tweaking.
  • If you plan on editing photos a few times a month, and your budget allows, consider using Adobe Lightroom.  


Free image editing tools: