Simple tips for kayak photography

Island at sunset from the middle of the Bay

The first time I brought my camera on my kayak with me, I was a nervous wreck. I was worried about getting my camera wet, dropping it in the water, dumping myself in the water AND getting the shots I wanted.

Yes, taking pictures from a kayak can be a worrisome task, but there are a few steps a person can take to relieve some of that tension so that she is able to enjoy her trip to the fullest.

Decide how you want to keep your camera safe, when it is not in use- an underwater housing, a dry bag, a hard case with built in o-ring (like Pelican cases,) or a simple zippered plastic bag (like a ziploc. )They all have their pros and cons, which I will be addressing in an upcoming blog. (I myself generally use a dry bag, because it fits my style.)

There are a few things you can take care of, before you ever set foot in your kayak. First, know your camera and your equipment before you head out on that river, lake or bay. It can be tricky enough figuring out all the settings while hanging out on dry land, it’s more difficult when you are bobbing around, or having to watch where you are going.

Plan your early outings (at least to a small degree.). Your first kayak trip, start out simple. Put the camera into the more automatic modes. As you get more familiar with kayaking with a camera, you can get a little more creative with your settings, but at first keep things as simple as possible.

Egret fishing in mudflats. The nearest land is over 30m away

Once you are underway, be aware of water droplets on the lens of the camera or the front glass of an underwater housing. These can easily confuse a camera’s autofocus. If you don’t notice a drop of water, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll go home with blurred pictures.

Go for a slightly larger memory card than you normally would. While paddling in a kayak you may find it is a slightly trickier place to switch from a full memory card to your spare. And if you drop that full memory card over the side…

Be careful of setting your equipment in the lowest part of the boat. That is where the water will collect. Bring along a pad or small cooler to set things in or on, just to lift them up an extra inch or two to keep them out of the water.

Make sure you are not worried about the safety of your camera equipment. Start with a cheap camera instead of that $1,200 SLR with the $1,500 lens. Once you are confident in your abilities and believe you can keep your camera safe, then bring it out. If you’re worried about it, you will not have as much fun, and paddling, above all, is about enjoying yourself.

A kayak can be a great place to take pictures from. I’ve included some images I’ve taken from my own kayak.

For tips on how to protect your point and shoot camera while kayaking, read this

For tips on protecting your digital SLR while kayaking, read this

Happy paddling


Drifting in the stillness of restored wetlands

About Galen Leeds Photography

Nature and wildlife photographer, exploring the world on his feet and from his kayak. Among other genres, he is one of the leading kayak photographers in Northern California. To learn more about him, visit him on his website-
This entry was posted in How To, kayak photography, landscapes, nature photography, photography, safety, wildlife photography and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

31 Responses to Simple tips for kayak photography

  1. Emily Gooch says:

    Thank you for sharing this. I’ve been thinking about a kayaking photo trip and have concerns on how to keep my camera safe. These tips will come in handy. :)

    • I’m very happy that this article will help you to take your camera kayaking. I can think of few places that I find more rewarding than my kayak. If you have any questions or would like more detail about any of my tips or suggestions, feel free to ask

  2. ebirder says:

    Hi Galen – I’ve added you to my blogroll.
    Thanks, Marcus

  3. zendictive says:

    I liked this post (~_~) I had a Kayak, I use to travel the river almost daily. Wondeful tips.

    • Thanks Zendictive. Kayaking is my own sort of meditation, as is photography. Both put me into a very different mindset that let the world of engines and petty things fade away and bring the natural world into sharper focus

  4. hasayang says:

    Great tips, Galen. I was just as nervous when I brought along the big camera too. I use the ziploc bag. Kayaking is such a fun way to explore nature close by and like you say – meditative.

    • Kayaking is by far my favorite way to explore nature… All though I must say I really enjoy a good hike or backpacking trip. Both kayaking and photography are rather meditative for me, so I suppose putting them together is like a double whammy of meditation for me.

      Happy shooting

  5. Thanks for visiting and commenting on our blog. Beautiful photos!

  6. I love your blog, spent a long time looking back through posts, and just subscribed. Your photos are gorgeous and I love your interest and knowledge of the animals you are shooting. I am sure to learn much from your work. You said one thing that really hit me in this post. “First, know your camera and your equipment before you head out on that river, lake or bay. It can be tricky enough figuring out all the settings while hanging out on dry land, it’s more difficult when you are bobbing around, or having to watch where you are going.”

    My one and only time I was out on a row boat in the lake at the farm shooting nesting Canada Geese, I FORGOT to check the camera settings. I was so worried about dropping my camera, not scaring the geese, that I had the lens set to auto and the body set to manual. The entire time I though I was getting great photos, only to be very disappointed when I got back to my computer. I KNOW I will learn a lot from your posts. I will have a little more confidence now to get back in the boat for another try, camera ‘raincoat’ and all. I am afraid or boats for some reason, plus get sea sick easily. Thank you so much for visiting my blog, as I will now benefit from all your experience and knowledge.

    • I am so happy that you are enjoying my blog, and even more that it has helped or inspired you in some way. Comfort with your equipment can be the key to taking photographs in uncomfortable situations (like boats if you don’t enjoy them.) And it was you who brought me to your blog and earned my comments, since I would have said nothing if I had not enjoyed your images of the grasses and the gorge.

      I still sometimes put my camera on the wrong setting, by accidentally moving dials, pushing buttons, or by simply forgetting that I had changed my settings. I try to check my images on my camera every few shots to make sure the settings are where I left them, but also because the light can change so quickly and suddenly, sometimes just by us turning one direction or another or by stepping into the shadows. I still lose images on occasion to bad settings, but I try to hedge my bets with those regular checks.

      Thank you for visiting my blog, and even more for commenting. It is appreciated

  7. melissakoski says:

    Amazing photographs Galen. The water in the last shot is so still it seems unreal- lovely!

  8. firasz says:

    I’m amazed at the symmetry rendered in these shots! Good tips too…

  9. Great tips from someone who has experience. Thank you. I also know what you mean. When I used to use cheap digital cameras, I would taken them to the most dangerous situations. I would walk through floods, crawl under bridges and through creeks, or just walk into an out of control scene. Now that it’s all about getting great dslr shots, I find myself thinking about camera safety a lot. Thanks for the insights.

  10. Love 2 Type says:

    i’d worry about drowning too if ever i’m on a kayak. nice to meet egret.

    • Kayaks can actually be very safe, especially if someone competent teaches you how. Also, I would never go kayaking without wearing a life jacket for those accidents that we can’t foresee. Also, there are many beautiful places to kayak, where it would be hard to drown, because the water isn’t deep enough. When I took this photo of the egret I was in less than 50 cm of water

  11. Wonderful post Galen and your images are amazing.

  12. sewasty says:

    This makes me want to get a kayak and try my luck

    • As you may have guessed, I definitely feel it is worth while. You can always start small though, and rent a kayak to see if you like it (although there is little question in my mind of what the outcome should be.

  13. Inge says:

    Great pictures especially the Egret and thanks for the tips :)

  14. tomwhelan says:

    Thanks for the advice – I love water and streams, but I’ve always been a bystander. Time to get in! And maybe get a kayak.
    The Great Egret image is beautiful…

  15. Mike says:

    Thanks for the article Galen it has eased some of my fears in taking my Nikon out on the water. Just purchase a Kayak and have taken it out a couple of times and am getting more confident with it and am ready to start snapping.

  16. Greg says:

    I’m glad i came across your blog mate. I take my two nikons with associated lens out in my kayak as often as time and commitments allow. I absolutely love it it. I normally stick to the smaller creeks in my area (Petrie, QLD), and love the challenge of trying to capture the sights that i see.

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