Is a Kayak the Perfect Photography Platform?

Recently I’ve received lots of nice comments about the images I’ve been posting of marsh scenes and wildlife on the water. Most of these are done from my new kayak, which is one of the most amazing photography platforms I’ve found!

Earlier this year I sold my canoe. Great for 2-person extended-travel, Cami & I used it for week-long adventures through places like the great Okefenoke Swamp with our friends Byron & Kathleen, who also enjoy paddling. But in recent years we hadn’t used it much, and it had gotten too cumbersome for me to easily load on my own for short afternoon outings.

After much research, I ended up with the Old Town Trip 10 Angler Deluxe: http://goo.gl/BBIYis. It fit all my requirements perfectly and had excellent reviews: lighter than 50 lbs, stable on the water, compact but with enough room for all the gear I carry, and under $500. I tend to heavily modify my canoes/kayaks…and as a bonus this one had a design that lent itself to easy “Macgyvering”.

I made several paddles with it in stock condition to make sure it was the perfect ride for my intended use before starting the modifications. Since my primary purpose for the craft was to use it as a platform for nature and wildlife photography, not just a fun way to get into the great outdoors and get some exercise, I needed a means to travel farther than paddle-power alone could provide. I also find when working with wildlife, the paddling motion can spook them…so a means of maneuvering without paddling is helpful.

Thus, the biggest modification was to add a small trolling motor. I had purchased a good used one several years ago to work on my canoe, which easily swapped over to the kayak with a new mounting bracket I made. Mounting it in the back keeps it out of my way when paddling, and out of my view when shooting, but necessitates a means of steering. A simple pulley system running to levers at my feet allow me to steer with ease, while leaving my hands free for shooting. The controls mount beside my hip, providing 5-speeds forward, and 3-speeds reverse. Another pulley system allows me to raise and lower the motor when needed. Sometimes I’m in extremely shallow marsh where the motor (although having a surprisingly shallow draft) can get bogged down or caught in the reeds. Plus once I arrive near my targeted shooting grounds, as long as it doesn’t spook my subject, I prefer the “purity” of paddling.

The trolling motor is practically silent, has no fumes or emissions, and is the perfect way to add a little extra distance and “reach” to my outings. On this latest trip, I traveled over 9 miles in 4 hours. When you factor in all the sitting, waiting, and stopping for photographs, that’s pretty impressive. I probably used the motor about 60-70% of the time, and still had over 50% charge when I returned to the dock.

For the photography aspect, I typically carry my ThinkTank Streetwalker Harddrive weatherproof camera bag up under the dash. It usually has the Nikon D810, 14-24 f2.8, 24-120 f4 VR, and 200-400 f4 VR. Although I have a mounting system for a tripod with gimbal head for the long lens, lately I’ve just been shooting hand-held. I find when shooting birds, for example, they are much more comfortable with me hanging around if I slump down low in my seat, as opposed to sitting up and shooting from a tripod. In this position, I can tuck my elbows in nicely, and brace the other end of the lens on my knees for support. This keeps me in a low, non-threatening profile. And as a bonus, I like the look of the images from this low-to-the-water perspective.

Part of being a successful photographer is keeping your images fresh and unique. Is a kayak the perfect nature photography platform? I don’t know. But if most photographers are shooting from their car in a nature preserve, or on a hike in the woods, you might want to try taking your camera out on the water for something unique and different. Besides, even if you don’t get an award-winning image, it’s so peaceful and relaxing!

P.S. Make sure you have equipment insurance…just in case. 😉

3 Comments

  1. by Bill Nixon on December 1, 2014  11:58 am Reply

    We need five or six of those down here in Costa Rica! Sweet rig and great shots.

  2. by Robert Smith on December 1, 2014  5:45 pm Reply

    Chris, looks like you could put together a book on "A Photographer's Diary"! Nicely done words and photos.

    Best of luck to you for a job well done.

    Dad

  3. by B.G. Flanders on December 1, 2014  6:16 pm Reply

    Very nice!! I sometimes ignore the seagull because it is SO common. This is excellent!!

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