Friday, May 6, 2016

The Challenges of Photographing from a Canoe: Part 1

Wildlife, or more specifically bird photography has been my repertoire for over ten years. But, in the past couple years, landscape (waterscape) photography has become a greater focus. I've always used a wide angle camera while paddling the canoe; but what I mean by focusing more on landscape photography is that I am using the tripod more often. In some places, I can easily step out of my boat and stand in water with the tripod; Chokoloskee Bay and Biscayne Bay for example.

But there are some areas in south Florida where stepping out is impossible, unless you wish to sink up to your eyeballs in soft mud. I frequent a location where air boats once roamed and now the defunct trails serve as passages through a large marshland where I can paddle in shallow waters. I love this area and find the low profile intriguing, but very challenging to photograph (for one, I cannot step out of my boat). But, when I am there, alone, it is a place of peace. I want nothing more than to capture that sense of feeling. I wander around the maze of low lying mangroves and grasses searching for interesting compositions. I rely heavily on the sky and sometimes it delivers interesting cloud covers; but not always. Foreground subjects and leading lines can be elusive elements to a composition in this area. But, I keep trying; and here is how I do it, without getting out of my canoe.

Step 1. Explore. I typically launch my canoe in the darkness before sunrise. I arrive at my location after about 15 minutes of paddling just before sunrise. Then I search for the right location to stake out. Once I stake out, it is not easy to move to another spot (as you will see in a minute), so I have to choose well. Because of the low lying foliage, I don't have an ideal perspective from my sitting position, so I carefully stand up and look around. This gives me a wider view of the landscape and helps me decide on a location. I am also challenged by the changing light and must anticipate how the sky will appear over the landscape.

Step 2. Stake out. Once I know where to plant myself, I stake out the canoe. I have two looped ropes attached to the gunwales; one in the front on the right, one behind me on the left. I thread a stake out pole (Stick It Anchor Pin) through the loop and stick it into the ground. Each pole is against the boat so that very little movement is possible. The canoe now becomes a stable platform for me to stand.

Step 3. Set up the tripod and camera. I attach the ballhead to the tripod. I stand up, open the tripod legs and place them in the water. Two legs are planted against the side of the canoe so that I can get as close to the camera as possible once it is attached. I then sit back down and grab the camera from the pelican case. I attach the filter holder and cable release before attaching the camera to the ballhead. Holding camera, I stand up and carefully attach it, making sure that the plate and ballhead adjustments are tight. Now I am ready to shoot. Once I know which filter(s) to use, I attach them as needed.

Step 4. Taking the shot. Now I can stand up in the canoe and control my camera. I have an advantage with the Sony Alpha camera in that I can swivel the LCD panel out to see the image without looking through the viewfinder. I use Live View as this allows me to see the image as it will be exposed. I always have the histogram in view as well and rely on it for exposure settings.

The obvious disadvantage is I can't move easily from that spot. Ideally, you want to "work the scene" and move around to find the best composition. This is why it is so necessary to survey the area well before setting up. I've been here several times to know the place. Despite this, the light changes constantly, clouds continuously form, everything changes and you have to adapt and move. When I look at the scenes I captured, I often think about how it might have been improved had I been a few feet to the left or right or more forward or backward.

Obviously, this is not for everyone. But consider that in Florida, water is everywhere and sometimes you have to get in it to photograph it. A canoe is one way to do that and open up a world that few photographers have experienced. By sharing my method for photography from a canoe, I hope to get you thinking about the possibilities. Next entry will continue to focus on this particular area and how I use water movement to compose an image.

No comments:

Post a Comment