Photography Tips

On-water Photography 101

Tips and tools of the trade from boating photographer Jamie Elvidge.

Improvements in technology have made digital cameras increasingly affordable. Meanwhile, more ways exist than ever to share pictures with family and friends across the country or an ocean. Quality is a different story altogether. Here, professional writer and photographer Jamie Elvidge shares some expert advice on snapping pics that are sure to make your social network take notice.

The Basics

Each time I take a shot, I have two immediate concerns: Lighting and framing. These are the areas where people make easy-to-correct mistakes. The most important thing to remember is that if you're in the sun, you want to have the light falling from a forward angle onto your subjects, not from behind. Backlighting will not only give you darkly shadowed subjects, but any light coming toward the lens, whether it's directly from the sun or bouncing off the water, can create noise (haze) or flares. The prismatic flares can sometimes be eliminated by shading the lens with your hand, or using a lens hood if your camera is equipped with one. If you just keep in mind that the photographer always wants the sun on his or her back, you'll always find the right position.

Time to Reflect

The sunlight that bounces from undulating water can add a magical, reflective sparkle to the hull. Ask the captain to rotate the bow until it lights up. It'll be like someone hit a light switch-you can't miss it.

Apply the "rule of thirds"

Typically two-thirds sky to one-third water is ideal. In certain situations you can swap that ratio and use a yawning water foreground with a powerful result. If you're shooting a boat on plane, give it "running room," simply more space ahead of itself than behind.

Take the (mid)day off

People photograph most beautifully in the shade, where there is no shadowing. Overhead sun is most harsh on humans, and also on boats and scenery. If you really want to snap a midday pic in which the sun is directly above your subject, see if your camera will let you choose a fill flash mode, where the flash fires even in bright light to soften some of those unflattering shadows. I typically let my cameras rest this time of day, or if I shoot, I'll pull people under the bimini or hardtop for the best results. The most spectacular time of day for shooting everything is in the golden light of late afternoon. So, remember, don't shoot the sunset, turn around and look what's being touched by it.

Gain your composure

Framing is among the easiest things you can do to make your photos look great every time. People often forget they can shoot vertically as easily as horizontally. Turn that camera! Shots of people almost always look better if they are perpendicular. And when you do shoot people on your boat, remember there are three ways to do it properly: neck up, waist up or full body. Don't forget their feet! For compelling close-ups, get right in there and fill the frame. Capture the whole face, but don't quite center it. Offsetting singular subjects-boat, person, bird, mountain-almost always makes them more interesting to the eye.

Track the action

Today's digital cameras are getting much better at capturing subjects in action-say, a moving boat or belly-flopping kid-particularly the models equipped with a setting for movement. A good trick to ensure a sharper shot is to track, or pan, the camera with the moving object, instead of trying to grab the action as it passes through the frame.

All a blur?

If your photos are turning out blurry, chances are good you're shaking the camera. Try holding your breath if you're shooting action, and also in low light when imperceptible movement can soften a shot. Tripods are great for utilizing the beauty of natural light and also for getting yourself into the picture with the camera's self-timer. Some of the most useful types are tiny and bendable. My favorite for onboard shooting with a small camera is the 1.6-ounce Joby Gorillapod, which doesn't require a flat surface and actually wraps and grips onto stuff like seatbacks or canvas frames.


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