I will share some points I have learned while taking both my camera and kayak out. I will not talk about the gear that much, or whether to use your DSLR or compact camera (in longer trips I might have DSLR to use while on land) or which kind of cameras are the best. Instead I will go through some hopefully useful practical issues I have encountered while kayaking on flat water in Finland.
Because kayaking itself requires some skills and certain stability, photographing from the kayak requires it even more. So get some basic training on kayaking first before adding photography to it. Raising your camera and trying to look for the best view might make you lose your balance even on still water. These tips can be applied to canoeing also while issues of stability are not as big.
Show your environment
The picture above is probably the most popular scene taken among paddlers when you want to mix two fine hobbies, kayaking and photographing. Put your kayak in the front and to let the rest of the picture tell about the environment you are paddling in. I take pictures like these almost every time I go kayaking, just to remind myself of the overall conditions, the weather, the route and the surroundings. These are the pictures non-paddlers do not often get it but who cares.
You can set the horizon to other point than in the middle depending which part you want to emphasize, the water or the sky. Try different sets and angles, sometimes there’s great light that brings out the sky and not so much the water, and vice versa.
Get some close-ups
It’s easy to just take fast snapshots while on your trip and later find that they are, well, snapshots of distant landscapes and islands. It takes time to stop and find good elements and moments for close-ups. It takes several pictures and usually some luck to have one fairly good picture to show the moment just the way you saw it. For the picture below I took about 10 pictures to capture the right moment against the diminishing light with my compact camera.
Leash your paddle
Be sure to put some cord on your paddle and tie it to your kayak. Where ever you set your paddle while photographing, you do not want to see your paddle drifting away accidentally.
Leash your camera
You do not want drop your camera either so tie it to the kayak or your life vest. I use a thin cord to tie it to my life vest and keep my camera in my vest’s pocket. The cord should be long enough to move your camera to different angles but not too long to get it tangled with everything on board. One way to keep your camera ready is to set it on a small tripod that is tied to the cords of the kayak. Especially handy if you shoot videos but the camera will be exposed to water while kayaking.
Water droplets on the lense
Check your lenses every now and then since it is very common for moisture and water to stick on the lense while kayaking. Carry a microfiber cloth or tissue papers with you and keep them in a dry place. I carry them in my vest’s pocket which keeps them quite dry and extra ones in a dry pack. Nothing is more frustrating than afterwards discovering all your pictures with smudges on them (see picture below).
Try another angle
Sometimes setting your camera close to the water and shooting to the back can bring nice results. It takes a little practice to set the camera in the right position and shoot backwards without looking through a viewfinder or LCD screen of your camera. Shoot several pictures to include all elements you want and to get the horizon the way you want.
Shoot fellow paddlers
When kayaking with others be aware of opportunities for special moments. Be quick to paddle to the front and face your subjects. When paddling side by side, shooting from the side takes quick reactions but can produce nice shots.
Avoid midday pictures
Midday light flatten your pictures so try shooting at dusk or very early in the morning. The best moments I have had shooting and kayaking have not been in midday light. At midday you usually have to wear sunglasses that sometimes prevent you seeing LCD screens correctly.
Go to the shoreline
One of the great advantages of paddling is the ability to get real close to the shore and to see things from a low perspective. Seize that opportunity and despite underwater rocks and some scratches to your kayak go and study some details for close-ups. Go where few other boaters can go.
Use waterproof cameras while kayaking so you can occasionally set your camera below waterline to see what’s happening underwater. Visibility on Finnish lakes, rivers and sea varies a lot depending on the season and the place. You can also try to place the camera just on the waterline to get the view of both sides as on the picture below.
Maybe the most important thing I suggest is to slow down once in a while. When you cut the speed, take breaks and let your kayak just float for a while you can observe your environment better and start to see more wildlife. You might encounter rare species like I did on lake Saimaa when I spotted the Saimaa ringed seal on the picture below.