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Up for Discussion: Challenges of Photography While Sailing

Recently I was down the coast with Chris from sv-takeiteasy and we were talking about taking photos on the boat, so I asked her if she would like to do a post on it.  She thought she wouldn’t have anything to say, but I think you will agree with me that there is a lot to consider when you are on a boat and want to take photos.  I hope you enjoy her post on the challenge of sailing and photography.

The special challenges of photography while on a boat…

When Leanne asked me to do a guest post on the special challenges of photography while on a boat, I responded “what am I going to talk about and how is this of interest to most photographers?” But as I thought about it, and talked to my partner Wade, we came up with a list of things that might in fact be useful to more than the sailors amongst us. So here we go!

Movement & Camera Shake

When you are on a boat, movement is constant, even at anchor! A tripod is useless whilst on board. So how else do you minimise camera shake? For any photos taken on a moving platform, you need to shoot at high shutter speed. Slow shutter speeds simply produce blurred shots! Most of my images at sea are taken at shutter speeds in excess of 1/600 sec. I also have the Vibration Control (VC) or Image Stabilization (IS) turned on to reduce camera movement.

Horizon Line

It’s really hard to keep a straight horizon line. Keeping your balance while shooting on a boat is a challenge already, but when you have your eye on the viewfinder, and everything is moving around you, it’s even harder to keep your images level. So I have become very familiar with the “Straightening Tool” in post processing. For me it’s automatic, I check the image in post and when needed, which is often, I straighten it. However sometimes, you do want to convey the lean! For instance in this picture, we felt like we were in a roller coaster, going up and down, leaning sideways… I wanted to convey that movement and did not straighten the horizon line. Here is a photo taken at Point Perpendicular on a rough day… The settings were F9, 1/640 sec, ISO 200, 18mm focal length.

Tough-Conditions

Glare

Out in the ocean bright light and reflections are intensified. So on sunny days, I use a circular polarising filter to suppress the bleaching effect of sun and water glare. It’s a bit like putting your polarising sunglasses on. You reduce the glare but get deeper colour tones and definition in the water and sky.

Camera Settings

My default lens on the boat is a Tamron 18-270. I want the flexibility to go from wide angle shots for seascapes to zoom for birds, without needing to change lens!

I take lots of photos of birds from the cockpit or from the deck! So I have learned to pan, but that is not all there is to it. I set my camera on high speed continuous shooting, spot metering, ISO 200 and AI Servo. I have these settings memorised in a Custom Function so when I decide I want to capture birds in flight, I just switch to ‘C’ on my camera and don’t fumble around. I find AI Servo great. For those who don’t use this setting, it is for moving subjects when the focusing distance keeps changing. You hold down the shutter button halfway, and the bird will be focused continuously as you pan. That goes for taking birds or any sports scene on terra firma too!

Taking photos of the sea and waves is a challenge! Not just because the platform you stand on is moving, but also because the ocean always seems to look flat as a tack in photos, even when it is heaving! I find that my wide angle lens stretches perspective, whereas my telephoto lens compresses perspective. Either way, you cannot discern relative distances between distant objects – and the net result is the sea looks flat and the waves are little more than ripples, which is rather disappointing when you are trying to show how impressive the ocean looked! After lots of experimentation, I have found that when I want to convey movement, big swell, or spectacular waves I have to zoom in. This photo was taken at F9, ISO 200, 1/640 sec, 92mm focal length.

Rough-Seas

Camera & Lens Cleaning

Salt gets everywhere, it coats everything. Cleaning the lenses and camera regularly is a must. On a boat, you are likely to get lots of spray even if you don’t see or feel it. The same goes if you are ashore photographing seascapes on a windy day. Salt water should not be left to dry on your lens especially on the front element. The salt is abrasive and can cause microscopic scratches to the lens when left to dry then cleaned. So I religiously clean my camera and lens. I have a supply a clean cloth and some lens cleaner spray at home or on the boat. I also carry “Mack’s lens wipes” in my camera bag. You can buy a box of these at chemists or optometrists; they are individually wrapped pre-moistened cleaning towelettes. I find these more practical than cloth which can end up smearing things around and damaging your lens unless you wash them regularly. The back element of the lens shouldn’t need cleaning but if it does use a blower to remove dust or a cloth for anything else.

If you shoot near the sea, make sure you pull apart the entire camera removing battery grips, lenses, tripod brackets or any other attachments before cleaning everything with a damp cloth. As I said, salt gets everywhere. I found some corrosion in my flash shoe mount for instance and now pay particular attention to this.

Lens changes & your Sensor

I don’t own multiple camera bodies, so I change lenses quite often. If I need to change lens on board, I make a point of doing this inside the cabin, not out in the cockpit. When on terra firma, I try to avoid changing lenses when it’s windy or dusty. I also always try to shelter my camera and lens when making a swap and make it quick. But over time, it is pretty much unavoidable that dust spots will appear on your sensor and spoil every one of your photos. I can cope with one or two spots, but during our last trip, I collected more than a few! Cloning out dust spots from your images can be time consuming and frustrating!

I now get my camera sensor professionally cleaned after major cruises. Some photographers choose to clean their sensors using special sensor cleaning swabs but I personally don’t trust myself to do this and there are times when manual cleaning isn’t sufficient, so I prefer to leave it to the professionals. Most camera cleaning services have a 24 hour turnaround or less so you don’t have to be without your camera for days on end!

Protection from impact

Everything moves on board, even on a catamaran, and it’s easy for the camera to fall… I once damaged an old camera when a sudden wave rocked the boat and the camera fell off the table, smashing something in the view finder. Although it was the perfect excuse to buy a better camera I wouldn’t like this to happen again! So, having the discipline to put away the camera safely back in its case is important. When on board I use a ‘neoprene’ type cover to give a bit of protection to the camera and lens from impact, moisture and dust. I use Op/Tech USA pouches which come in different sizes, depending on the size of the lens, but there are other brands available.

D-Pro_Pouches

Dry Bags for transport

Getting ashore in a dinghy can be a risky business… You can get swamped by waves, or fall over as you get out of the dinghy or simply just get splashed. If the camera is in a dry bag, at least you’ll get wet but it won’t! I tend to either put my camera in its neoprene sleeve into a light weight Sea to Summit dry bag, or use a larger dry bag that can take my camera back pack. I never ever hop in the dinghy with the camera unprotected.

DryBag

Camera Bag

A lightweight bag is essential. I hate carrying a heavy weight on my back, so for me it’s a compromise between protection and portability… The bag I use most often is a 10L Flipside Sport Lowepro. It is light, comfortable and is designed to take my camera with a zoom lens with enough space for another lens or set of filters. It has a spot for my tripod and for a water bag too if I want to.

So there you have it. The challenges of photography at sea, and my ways of coping with them! Even if you don’t get on a boat too often, I hope there are a few aspects in this post that you can apply to your own environment.

I hope you will all join me in thanking Chris from sv-takeiteasy for this wonderful post.  Thanks Chris.  She has included a lot more photos for you to see, all taken on the boat.

49 Comments
  1. Reblogged this on Iconic Tonic.

    March 20, 2015
  2. Beautiful photos, a good post, just wish I did not get so sea sick as would love to go sailing.

    March 20, 2015
    • You can manage sea sickness – lots of dry biscuits and water, but that’s another topic!😊

      March 20, 2015
      • I have heard you can get over it, I have a friend who is travelling the world with her family at the moment, she has been travelling since October, it took her about a month but now she loves it. Maybe when I retire and have the time I will get the chance to overcome it too.

        March 20, 2015
      • Hi Karen, it takes a couple of days for your body to get accustomed to the movement… And it helps knowing you do get over it as a big part of it is stress!

        March 20, 2015
  3. I lost a camera on a boat. Great post. Thank you!

    March 20, 2015
    • 😒 easily done with the unexpected movement… I’d be devastated if it happened now!

      March 20, 2015
  4. Great post! I can absolutely agree with water looking flat on pictures regardless of the conditions… it is unnerving sometimes. At some point I started shooting videos so I would be able to show how it really was 😀

    March 20, 2015
    • Hi Sari – glad I’m not the only one! I zoom in on the waves these days!

      March 20, 2015
  5. Thank you for a lot of good useful information. I don’t often get out on boats, but next time I will be much better prepared. Thank you also for sharing some wonderful images.

    March 20, 2015
    • Pleasure John! Hopefully there are a few things you can use near the sea if not on it!

      March 20, 2015
  6. interesting article!
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    March 20, 2015
    • That’s great.
      Not really the way it is done. People might follow you, but really you should start interacting with blogs a lot more first. Let people get to know you. I follow so many blogs already, that it isn’t always possible.

      March 20, 2015
  7. The sunset photos are awesome

    March 20, 2015
  8. Nice! Thanks for sharing.

    March 20, 2015
  9. In addition to wonderful photos some very useful hints on using the camera on the water. I’ll certainly make use of it this summer! I especially liked the info on shutter speed and camera settings… and I’d hate the thought of my camera going overboard 😉 Thanks for your lines, Chris!

    March 20, 2015
    • Thanks Hubert! Glad you make use of some of the info in your endless adventures😊

      March 20, 2015
  10. Great article , lots of different things to think about on a boat 🙂

    March 20, 2015
    • Hi Chris – yes … Have learnt the hard way – now a bit more careful, and it has made me more cautious on terra firma too!

      March 20, 2015
  11. Thank you so much for your support and encouragement, Leanne. Really appreciated😊

    March 20, 2015
  12. Chris has gorgeous images and good advice for sailor/photographers!!

    March 20, 2015
    • Hopefully guys who take seaside photos might also pick up a few pointers. Thanks Cybele!

      March 20, 2015
  13. Great tips!

    March 20, 2015
  14. great post and great pics………..I am always nervous with a camera on a boat, but I have been lucky and no issues, I once had a friend whose camera bag got swamped on the floor of a boat, and another who lost an iPhone over the side………oops! Thanks Chris & Leanne

    March 20, 2015
  15. There is a lot to say. You need to bring your ‘A’ game for the challenge. Great post!

    March 20, 2015
  16. The salt must be a headache. Nice article as usual. MM 🍀

    March 20, 2015
    • Howdy MM! Thanks for the comment. Yes salt is a pain…and it gets you on the seaside from the shore, nearly as much as on the boat, so beware!

      March 20, 2015
  17. Leanne, wow …. you got your sea legs on *smile I can imaging that it’s not straight forward to take photos while sailing. Amazing shots all of them – my favorite is the single wave. Brilliant post!

    March 20, 2015
  18. Thanks for the nice feedback… Leanne is getting her sea legs by proxy… Making progress!😀

    March 20, 2015
  19. Photo Wisniewski... A Film Photo Blog #

    Thanks for the tips!

    March 21, 2015
  20. Very informative post. Thank you Chris and Leanne. Bookmarked!

    March 21, 2015
  21. This is very informative. Thanks for sharing it with us.

    March 21, 2015
  22. Pleasure Elen!

    March 21, 2015
  23. Nice! Perfect timing! Will ride on a boat by the end of this month and plan to take some photos while at sea. But I did not even think it will be a hard thing. Thanks for this post.. It lowered my expectation and doubled my determination. Still hope I will be able to have good photos, though I only use a camera phone.

    March 23, 2015
    • Hope you’ve picked up a few tricks Chia – have a good voyage!

      March 24, 2015
  24. When I wanted to convey the range of motion of a tall ship on which I was sailing, I used a gorillapod to attach the camera to a rail, turned on the video and let it go. The ship rolled and pitched, waves crashed against the bow and shot up in towering spray, and in the background the horizon swings up and down. All very dramatic, but trickier to capture in a still shot!

    March 23, 2015
    • Good thinking Elizabeth! I should use my GoPro for that once in a while!

      March 24, 2015
  25. Great work! Thanks for chiming in!

    March 24, 2015
  26. All very cool images. And tricky to get while gaining sea legs. I love the first one of the guy in the red suit against all that gray water and sky!!

    March 24, 2015
  27. Very good article. I can identify as a long time boater! You’re tips are spot on. Beautiful photos as well.

    March 24, 2015

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