How To: Take Great Photos from a Boat

By: steve

August 13, 2010

When you travel, you’ll often end up using a variety of modes of transport: trains, buses, rickshaws, even elephants. There will also be plenty of times when you will need to take to water. Ferries, kayaks and sightseeing boats can present you with some fantastic opportunities to shoot some unique images, they can also provide countless opportunities for you to ruin your expensive equipment!


Rowing by Steve Davey

Rowing on the Ganges, Varanasi, India



Common sense: Protect your gear!

Water and cameras quite simply do not mix! If water gets into the workings of your camera it will cause a lot of damage. If it’s salt water, the camera will often be a write-off as all of the internal electrics will corrode.


There are a few things that you can do to mitigate this risk. Firstly, pick your boat! An organised sightseeing boat will be more stable and less likely to leak (or sink) than a small row-boat or kayak. Never leave the camera out on the edge of a boat, or even on the deck next to the side. If you hit a wave it will fall in. It’s also worth being careful of leaving it on seats and tables anywhere on board: any movement can cause it to take a dive to the floor. Putting it into a closed camera bag is the safest option!


Boat and sun by Steve Davey

Ferry to Sagar Island, West Bengal, India


If there is spray, or the chance of a capsize, then some sort of protection is vital. A plastic bag or even cling-film can protect from spray, but you’ll need an underwater housing if there’s any risk of you and your camera ending up in the drink! Some of the cheapest and most portable housings are made by the German company Ewa Marine.

It’s also vital to check your insurance and make sure that you will be covered on whatever boat you are taking. If not, then consider leaving your expensive kit locked in a hotel room, and take a smaller, cheaper camera with you. This can work in your favour in other ways: you can find a waterproof housing for a compact camera for a fraction of the price of one for a DSLR.


Avoiding the shakes

There are a few technical issues that you will need to master when shooting from a boat. The biggest of these is movement. Many motorised boats suffer from excessive vibration. This can cause camera shake – especially if you rest the camera against a hard surface on the boat. To minimise shake, you should use as fast a shutter speed as possible. If you have a lens with some sort of Vibration Reduction (VR) or Image Stabilisation then this can also help.



Ice by Steve Davey

Ship in the Arctic, Svalbard, Norway


No kind of boat is a stable platform of course and they can oscillate considerably, especially in large waves. This can lead to both camera shake and problems with composition. You will find it almost impossible to get an accurate composition – especially a straight horizon on choppy water, so take lots of shots in quick succession, using a looser composition than normal. This will allow you to choose the best shot and then straighten the image on a computer.


Horizon by Steve Davey

Sailing the Dalmation Islands, Croatia



Remember the boat

Don’t just take photographs from the boat, remember to take some shots of the boat. Whether it is a tourist boat or a local ferry you can get some fascinating images if you include the boat, crew or other passengers in your pictures. These can work especially well if you compose in such a way as to include the boat and the environment in the picture.



Boat and ice by Steve Davey

Glacier in the Arctic, Svalbard, Norway


All photos by Steve Davey. Header image: Lake Tana, Ethiopia

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