SHOOT BY BOAT

 your camera

Over two-thirds of our planet is covered in water. Whether itsalt or fresh, an incredible diversity of species, scenery, and ecosystems are found in and near water. One piece of equipment can give you access to species and places you might otherwise never see in this watery world: a boat.

FOR A NATURE photographer, a boat gets you close to wildlife safely and lets you respond to an animalactions without disturbing it. Creatures that you can photograph this way range from birds to bears, moose to manatees. And you can bring back trophy images impossible to get any other way.

You donhave to own a boat to get out on the water —youfind lots of options for chartering or renting. By using a guide or charter, you can tap into the knowledge of someone who really knows the area you want to cover. Charters also let you shoot while the captain handles the maneuvering.

Just be sure you talk to guides or captains about what you want out of your trip. While they may know a lot about the area and its wildlife, they might not have much experience working with photographers and may assume that you can shoot critters from half a mile away with a big lens. Explain your wish list of images, how close you need to be, and the times of day when the light is best.

The internet is one of the best ways to find boat captains —just

be sure they are licensed and offer the kind of trip you want. Note that some organized wildlife-watching trips are geared for large groups with the goal of just seeing an animal and motoring on. Look for small-group excursions that can be tailored to your interests.

To Motor or Not

Whether piloting it yourself or chartering, you will also need to decide what type of boat you want to use. Choose based on what you intend to photograph and the location that you will explore.

Larger motorized craft can cover long distances a lot faster, carry more gear, and better handle rough water. The down side is that their size and engine noise may spook some wildlife. Smaller boats with a shallower draft, such as the Carolina Skiff line, are generally more suited to photography, giving you better access to shallow waters and room to work on deck.

The other option is to go motorless, using paddle craft such as kayaks. They have a lower environmental impact and can give you access to shallow waters where motors are prohibited or would damage the ecosys--

tem, such as grass flats. They are also more stealthy and much less expensive to acquire and maintain. But you have to do all of the work and put the camera down to control or reposition your boat. Also, some boats can roll; a sit-on-top kayak will be more steady. The Native Watercraft Ultimate, a hybrid canoe/kayak, offers great stability and room for all your gear.

Getting Shipshape

Before you leave the dock, make sure your gear is covered —in every sense of the word. An marine”insurance policy will cover loss or damage to your gear. These policies are available from most insurance companies, as well as through membership in organizations such as the North American Nature Photography Association (www.nanpa. org) and Professional Photographers of America .

 

Bring your gear onboard in a dry case or bag, kept closed whenever you are moving. These work only if sealed —you donwant a splash over the bow to swamp your case and min your whole trip. For SLRs with large telephotos, a rolltop duffle-style dry bag keeps your gear dry and gives you easy access.

 

Spray covers will protect your gear in bad weather or if you want to keep your camera out when underway. Storm Jackets handle spray and rain very well. For a fully enclosed solution, check out the ThinkTank Photo Hydrophobia. In a pinch, you can use a heavy-duty garbage bag with a hole cut in it, with a rubber band to secure it around the front of the lens.

Donbring out your whole photography arsenal   pare down to the essentials. Odds are you will use, at most, one or two lenses.

Dry bags and boxes are slow to get into, so try to work with the lenses youholding, instead of fumbling around trying to switch gear.

You need to protect yourself, too, and this means wearing a life vest at all times on the water. Look for vests that fly fishermen or kay-akers wear. These are low in bulk, have lots of pockets for stuff, and are designed to give you plenty of freedom of movement.

Other essentials include sunscreen and bug spray, a dry towel in a watertight bag for wiping off

spray,. Bring warm clothes, including a windbreaker, even on warm days. Wind and water can pull the warmth right out of you, especially in a speeding motorboat. Wear nonskid, nonmarking shoes.

If youpaddling or captaining your own craft, sites such as www. paddling.net are great resources for gear lists, getting you started, and keeping you safe on the water. The American Canoe Association (www.americancanoe.org) offers courses around the country.

Wave Riding

Forward momentum is both a challenge and an advantage of using watercraft. Once the boat gets going, itgoing to continue in that direction. A skilled captain will be able to use this to advantage in approaching wildlife. In a motorboat, point the craft in a direction parallel to your subject and cut the engines or idle by.

Doncruise right at your subject; you will either overshoot and run into it, or be forced to kick the engine into reverse. Some outboard engines make very loud sounds going into reverse, enough to startle and scare off some species. Also, your bow wave will continue straight at your subject (even if you stop), and might be enough to startle and flush your subject.

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Try to anticipate the movement or behavior of the animal ahead of time, and put yourself in a spot where you think they will be when action begins to unfold. If you have an animal that is on the move, getting in front of it and letting it come toward you will get you the best shots.

A skilled captain can idle the engine to stay with your subject, countering your movement or theirs. If in a paddle craft, keep your paddles low as you approach, and avoid big motions and splashes.

To stay steady in a rocking boat, donlock your knees, keep fluid, and roll with the waves. Stay seated as often as possible when shooting; yoube much steadier and less likely to fall. If you do stand, stagger your feet with one in front of the other when shooting; this will give you a better center of gravity. If you are prone to motion sickness, consult your doctor and see if motion-sick-ness medication is appropriate.

A tripod or monopod will anchor you and help counter those unsteady sensations. Tripods offer more stability, but can be difficult to work with in a small boat. Monopods offer a lot more flexibility and models like the Vanguard Tracker AP-364 have a swivel-foot design that allows you to counter the effects of the boatroll on your picture.

Settings for Success

In a boat, you have to consider the boatmotion and engine vibration

as well as your subjectmotion. This can make getting tack-sharp images a challenge. High ISO is your friend here, allowing you to use faster shutter speeds. On a boat, I typically shoot at ISO 400 or higher —Irather have a sharp image with a little noise than a really clean out-of-focus image. Software tools such as Noise Ninja can help clean up images afterwards.

The roll of the boat also makes level horizons a challenge. Time the frequency of the waves to roll along with the boatmotion. Another trick: Look at the reflection of an animaleye in water, and position the camera so that the eye is directly above its reflection. Finally, if your lens has a tripod collar, use it, but keep it loose —as the boat rolls, you can twist your camera to keep it level.

Animal Instincts

Coming too close to animals and birds may scare them away. With others, it may make them defensive. And while water can slow down a charging moose or bear, it will not stop them. Pay attention to body language and back off if you see the animal getting stressed by your presence. Every animal has different body language —a moose lays back its ears, a bear makes eye contact.

Iteasy to become so completely focused on the action in your viewfinder that you donrealize just how close you have drifted to your subject or another animal. So take your eye away from your camera frequently to check distances, depths, and the presence of newly arrived animals.

Never get your boat between a parent and its young. A mother bear or moose will become very aggressive if you get between her and her cub or calf Bears typically hunt spawning salmon in fairly shallow water. Staying in deeper water off the edge of the spawning ground  will still afford you great images, but prevent a salmon-chasing bear from ending up in your boat.

Finally, never feed a wild animal. While this is tempting with animals that come up to your boat, such as sea lions or alligators, it is illegal and dangerous. Animals that are fed can become reliant on humans for food and aggressive in seeking handouts, endangering both you and them.

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