Photo Tips – Shooting from a Kayak

June 24th, 2011 by Jerry Monkman
The bow of a kayak and moored sailboats at sunrise in Portsmouth Harbor in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. (Jerry and Marcy Monkman)

Sometime you want to take pictures without your feet on the ground. Here are some tips for keeping your gear safe while shooting from a kayak.  In this video, New Hampshire based conservation photographer Jerry Monkman explains how to keep your camera gear safe while shooting from a kayak.

Check out Jerry's fall Cape Cod workshop here:  Eco Photography


Hi, everybody. This is Jerry Monkman from I’m often asked how I keep my gear safe while paddling. So today, I’m going to give a few tips on how to shoot from a kayak.

First off, obviously our main goal here is not to get our camera immersed in water. Everything we do is to keep our gear safe, and the first thing you need to do to do that is to know your own limits as far as paddling. If you’re not good at keeping a boat upright, don’t take your camera out when you’re in a boat. If you can’t handle big waves out in the ocean, don’t take your camera out when you’re in the boat.

Otherwise, if you’ve got those skills, there are some things you can do to minimize the water getting on your camera. One thing I do is use this really cool camera vest called a cotton carrier, which holds the camera snug against my body so I’m not banging it with my paddle and water is not dripping down my paddle onto the camera.

It’s really a pretty neat little gizmo. It’s got this Velcro strap to hold the camera snug, and then you just twist and turn and get your camera out and you’re shooting.

When I’m shooting, I’m shooting for shutter speeds of 1/250th, 1/500th of a second, a little faster shutter speeds. If I need to use a faster ISO, ISO 200, 400, something like that, I’ll do that. There’s a lot of movement when you’re in a boat, obviously, so you need to use that faster shutter speed so you don’t get camera blur.

Before I had a cotton carrier, I would just cinch my camera strap up so the camera was up here, a little more snug, not down here where it was more likely to get some water on it.

That’s pretty simple kind of stuff, but that is the basics of what you need to do when you’re shooting.

Now, if you’re in really extreme conditions but need your camera out to shoot, you’re going to probably want an underwater housing. If you can’t afford a real expensive one, do what I do. I’m kind of cheap, so I’ve got this U-A Marine housing. It’s still a few hundred dollars and it doesn’t give you access to all your camera controls, but if you use auto-focus and auto-exposure, you can shoot all day long with your camera in here safely. If the waves are crashing over you, you don’t have to worry about your camera getting ruined. This is a good investment if you’re going to be shooting in that kind of stuff.

Also, you can store your camera and other gear in a dry bag, either in your cockpit so it’s easily accessible if there’s room, or in the hatch where you’ll need to, obviously, stop the boat for a moment to get out and get your gear.

Let’s see, what else. Lastly, I always have pockets in my PFDs so I can get at extra camera gear easily, such as a memory card holder. These Geppie holders are great because they’re waterproof and they float. If your memory cards fall in the ocean, you can just paddle over and pick them up.

I also keep a lens cloth in here somewhere. There we go. Inevitably, you are going to get a few drops on your lens and your camera, and you’ll want something to wipe those off. I keep that handy in here. I’ll also sometimes throw in a polarizer. It’s where I store my lens caps, things like that.

It’s good to get a PFD with pockets.

All right, those are my photo tips for the day. Get out there, have fun in your boat, be safe, and enjoy your photo adventure.



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One Response to “Photo Tips – Shooting from a Kayak”

  1. John Batdorff says:

    Great tips!

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