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Photography on the Water

Posted by Jim Pippit on 7/21/2013 to Nature & Photography

Darren and I have recently become photography nuts. It has been a fun way for me to reconnect with times of old, and Darren gets to play with more “primitive arts.” Sometimes we take his son Ian into the darkroom and listen to him “ooh” and “aah” as the prints appear in the developer. A good time is had by all. Since we love working in the darkroom, we have started trying to accumulate more images for our Thursday get-togethers.

And thus the question, “How should I take my camera with me on my trip?” We love being on the water, and we love image capture and creation. How can we try to combine two great tastes that taste great together???

You need to start off with an honest assessment of where you’re going and what you’re willing to lose. Let’s face it – with very few exceptions, most cameras don’t like water. I don’t take my collectable cameras out on the water. I’m just not willing to risk losing them. If a camera goes in a boat, I’m willing to lose it. Of course, I try to play the odds. When I take the nice cameras out on the water, I try to pick both a boat and a situation that maximize my chances for success. I’m a big fan of sit-on-top kayaks. They makes a great photographic platform.

Types of Cases

There are three tiers of cases: dry bags, little cases, and Pelican cases. And, I think each has a unique purpose. For quick day-trips, using a point-and-shoot or disposable camera, dry bags are a nice solution. I really like the see-through SealLine See Bags. It is easier for me to find the camera when I can see through the sides of the bag. See Bags aren’t as durable as the traditional dry bag, but they are quicker to use. Remember, these will do an admirable job of keeping water out, but they don’t do anything for physical damage. If you want to do whitewater, this may not be the best solution. Dry bags are a good value. They can pull double-duty. On one trip they can hold the bug dope, sunscreen and extra sunglasses, while on another they can hold your T-shirt and camera. I like that flexibility.

My wife Catherine has a small digital camera. It is the equivalent of a point-and-shoot camera. I bought her a Micro Pelican Box and it has worked perfectly for her. It isn’t a huge case, it is padded inside, the gasket area is small, and the bright yellow color has helped us find it on many a trip. I have fooled with adding extra foam padding to the lid to reduce the movement of the camera inside the case, but I don’t think it is really necessary. This little case has created more interest by other photographers than I ever would have imagined. At $25, it is an incredible value. Perfect size and weight for those who need good security for a smaller camera. Some people have cameras with remote controls, and I have seen some of these inside the clear plastic version, triggered remotely. The results have been spectacular. You need to accept a reduced-quality photo, and sometimes drops of water on the case distort the image, but you can get pictures this way that would be impossible otherwise.

And then, there is the Big Gun. Pelican makes nearly indestructible cases that are very water tight. They come in all sizes. I am a big fan of the 1500, because it is big enough (and deep enough) to handle my tallish SLRs. A few words about the cases… Be careful you don’t get a lot of sand into the rubber gasket. Sand is the enemy of a good gasket. And though the case itself is nearly invincible, you can still lose it down the river, and there is a possibility (though unlikely) of the snaps coming open. Remember to assume your equipment is disposable. Pelican cases really are two-sided solutions to the photography problem. They typically eat up a lot of space, they’re not light, and they aren’t cheap. But they work like nothing else I’ve found.

A few other tips on photography:

Be careful of backlighting when the your subject is between the lens and the sun. Some camera meters don’t know how to determine a good exposure, and it can ruin your photo. Also, some lenses are very susceptible to flare and ghosts, which reduce your image quality.

Lots of the smaller digital cameras take a long time between pressing the button and taking the picture. You can cut the lag time on most of them by partially depressing the shutter.

The best advice I ever received about capturing images came from the Nikon School of Photography. After telling us there were no hard and fast rules for composition, the instructor suggested we ask ourselves the question, “what was it that made me want to pick up the camera in the first place?” If a family member is doing something cute, try to get that into the frame. If your child is looking at a butterfly, get down to her level and show her and the butterfly. When you think more about what was so interesting in the first place, you’ll get more compelling images out of your camera.

Take the camera with you more often. There are lots of neat moments out there to capture. Some are big, but most are small gems.

Have fun.

Throw out or delete your bad ones. No one needs to see your less-than-perfect images.

Share your images. They make great presents, and nice memory cues. Don’t wait until you get a full album… Share them now. You’ll be surprised at the results.

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