Thursday, March 20, 2008

Photographing Wildlife from a Boat

Black bear fishing for salmon in Prince William Sound, Alaska.
Canon 1Ds Mark II, Canon 500mm f4.0L , 1/640 @f5.0, ISO 500

Harbor seal on ice berg in Prince William Sound, Alaska.
Canon 1Ds Mark II, Canon 500mm f4.0L with 1.4x converter (700mm), 1/640 @f7.1, ISO 125

The harbor seal and black bear photo were taken from a very slowly moving boat in Prince William Sound, Alaska. A few things to consider if you are planning on photographing from a boat.
  1. First of all, the proper approach to your subject is critical. Presuming that has been achieved, getting a perspective is the next challenge.
  2. Get as low to the water level as possible--presuming your subject is on the water surface like a whale or seal. The draw back of larger boats is that you end up looking down on your subject, and this does not interpret well to a natural looking scene.
  3. Stay as steady as you can. This can be helped by the use of image stabilized lenses, but watch out for the vibrations from the boat motors. If they are significant, don't rest your arm or camera on the boat surface or side rail since this will transfer the vibrations to your camera. Some have used monopods and placing it on your shoe to prevent vibration and give stability, but I have found it restrictive, awkward and not conducive to the opportunistic edge that seems needed when working from a boat.
  4. Telephoto lenses are crucial to bringing in your subject. All wildlife has an approach tolerance in distance. You will be much happier with a lens in the 400-500mm range.
  5. Maximize your exposure to give the a high enough shutter speed to handle any movement.
  6. If your boat or subject is moving (which is generally the case) set your autofocus to continuous mode, or AI Servo in some cameras. Preferably, your focal tracking point can be off-center, but this will depend on the type of camera you shoot. If not you may need to use manual focus to get your subject off center.
  7. If your lighting is consistent switch to Manual metering and set your exposure so it is not thrown off by reflective surfaces on the water.

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