Viewpoints can be highly limited. On a ship you may be far above the water's surface. In a zodiac or raft, you're right at the water. Water can change light conditions, and its movement can affect the photographer's ability to capture the image desired.
The photographer's ability to transmit the scale of the image is often impared in water shots as the frame of reference relevant to the photograph's viewer is missing or unfamiliar. In addition, the environment of being in a boat or on a ship can be hostile to your photographic equipment, and taking photographs.
There are many techniques we can use to meet the challenge of shooting photographs from boats and ships.
- Research the climate conditions you can expect when you are “at sea.” Some locations may have times of year when the area is particularly windy, or have considerable precipitation. Know when sunrise and sunset will be, as those times on the water may give you special lighting opportunities, and problems.
- Use a polarizer filter to reduce sunglare and reflections coming up from the water.
- Be prepared to handle foul weather and wet conditions while in your craft. Salt spray can cloud lenses and is corrosive to your equipment. When I’m in a raft, zodiac, or other small boat I keep my extra equipment in a waterproof camera equipment backpack (Lowepro Dryzone 200) and keep my other belongings in my waterproof duffel. In small boats watch out for the spray as you move and bob in the water. On short jaunts aboard a boat, leave your other equipment in a secure place ashore. I use Purosol Optical Lens Cleaner with a nonwoven lens cloth to keep my lenses clean. It can cut through the film from sticky salty sea spray.
- I always use a UV filter on all my lenses to protect them from breakage. On the water they can protect your lens from salt spray.
- When white-water rafting, consider using an underwater housing to protect your camera. In rain or snow, use a storm cover for your camera. On rough water make sure you keep your camera firmly strapped to you. You don’t want to loose it overboard.
- Make good use of cloudy, or partly cloudy weather, if any. The clouds provide a break from seas and skies having the same or similar color.
- Use details to breakup the endless look of sea and sky. Blank space (water and sky) are the enemies of water shots, even though they will probably encompass much of many photographs from boats and ships. Objects on the ship or boat can make the shots far more interesting. Catch a gull or other bird in your shots. Animal life in the sea makes for great water shots. Icebergs in northern waters are excellent details in sea shots.
- Telephoto lenses or zoom telephoto lenses allow you to focus closely on your subject where you would otherwise have too much blank space in your photograph.
- When you have islands, shorelines, mountains, etc., in the background available for your photograph, a wide angle lens, or zoom wide angle lens can be perfect for the shot.
- Take shore or water’s edge shots which include wildlife; plants, birds and other animals.
- The biggest problem photographers encounter when taking photographs from boats and ships is water and craft movement; shakes from waves, motor vibration, pitch and roll of the boat. Fortunately, there are both techniques and equipment which can mitigate problems due to boat and ship movement.
- Use a shutter speed of at least 1/500th of a second to avoid the shake and vibration of a speeding boat.
- Use autofocus to make sure your image is sharp. Consider using a group focus setting instead of single area focus in case the movement of the boat causes the subject to momentarily not be in the chosen focus area. Group focus, if your camera has it, allows the camera to track focus.
- Set the aperture to f/8 or higher to have a more forgiving depth of field when you’re trying to focus.
- Consider raising your ISO setting on a digital camera, or using fast film. An ISO rating of 400–800 may be necessary to use high shutter speeds and moderate apertures.
- For the best chance at getting a well composed and framed photograph, rapidly take a reasonable number successive shots. Use continuous shooting mode if your camera has one, to accomplish that.
- Use your camera or len’s image stabilization of vibration reduction settings.