Photographing from a boat

photo shooting from boat

For a photo trip to the Danube Delta is good to know a few things about the specifics of this activity. Here are a few ideas from my experience of 12 years in organizing photo tours on water, in the Danube Delta.

The boat

First, when you plan a photo trip in an area with plenty of water, as the Danube Delta, you should know exactly what kind of boat you”ll use. Choosing the boat is the key to success of exceptional photographs.

In my opinion, after I tested all kinds of boats, from kayaks to large boats, best boat for photo tours are open boats with low boards, wide, flat bottom and outboard motor. The least recommended are big boats, high and cabin boats.

A low boat (hull under 50cm) will provide a very natural view, very close to the level of birds and animals on ground or water, in their natural environment. Photos will be “eye to eye”, that is the same high, giving a sense of equality and naturalness. A high boat (hull taller than 60 cm), where you sit perched on the deck in a position of superiority will give you the opportunity to photograph birds and animals “look down”, from top to water surface, putting yourself in a position of the “privileged”. The more distance between photographer and subject decreases, the feeling of “hole” is widening. Generally these cabin boats are equipped with bimini tops (sun shelters) that will loose the charm of watching or photo shooting of birds in flight.

The width of the boat ensure stability. It is not desirable a narrow boat which will wobble from a board to another at the slightest movement of photographers or to the lowest wave. An width less than 1.5 m is to be avoided.

Bottom shape is equally important. A flat bottom boat will provide increased stability, a deep and rounded hull will wobble constantly from side to side. A flat-bottomed boat “step” less into the water and can enter to the Danube Delta wetlands, on shallow water, the richest places in birds. An open boat, light, will go where no cabin boat dream to go.

Outboard engine, most times smaller than an inboard motor produce much lower vibration, influence is much smaller on the boat. With an outboard motor, the boat will have very low vibration, you can take pictures on the run or with the engine on neutral position. With an inboard motor, vibration will feel more powerful and will affect your (un) focus very badly.

Successful photos percentage is much higher in an open boat then a cabin boat.

On the boat

For better stability should know that the most stable place in a boat in the back (stern), near the engine. Highest point of balance is in front of the boat (bow), so to have a stable point try to stay as close as is possible to the engine.

On the boat run, even at the lowest waves, you risk to flush front lens, which will damage the quality of the images captured. To avoid this, I recommend you hold the camera with the lens pointing down always on the move. Lift it only to photograph and immediately let it down.

Another dangerous thing for the camera with the front lens toward the sun or just up (do not forget the boat constantly change their position). Anytime you can focus the sun through the lens, inside the lent will form the focus point of a lens and the lens or camera can be melt in seconds. Remember how we make fire with a magnifying glass when we were kids :-).

As a final tip protection of the equipment should know that any boat on the water is NOT absolutely safe. Whenever an wave can enter the boat, rain can start anytime or worst case, a boat can flip / sink. After I experienced all kinds of bags and waterproof backpacks, i come to a safer and more effective solution. A Pelican Case (1560 is my absolute favorite), together with a padded organizer, i kept it under rain for hours, while backpacks were completely wet and filled with water, the box was completely dry inside. The only bad thing is the black color. Kept in the sun, the box acts like a greenhouse, the temperature inside was growing too much and i always had to take care to open the box for ventilation. Using a survival foil I managed to maintain the case to a normal temperature.

The behavior

If you want to shoot birds or animals do not make sudden gestures, appearance af animals can be surprising. Keep calm and be very fluid and slow in your movement. A sudden point of the camera, with body launched forward, hands pointing, will scare the bravest creature and I”m sure you do not want photos of animals and birds from back.

Do not think that you can close unheard of birds, for them we are like joyful elephants. Not to mention the motor boat running on the Delta channels or along a lake shore. The boat will be noticed by all birds and animals long before you can see them. You”ll see that it is just an acceptance, tolerance from their part, not a human dexterity. If a bird does not fly to the passage of boats means that it accepted this boat (not necessarily the humans). This acceptance is conditioned mostly by keeping the direction of travel and speed as constant as is possible. I have often seen birds fed freely whens peed boats are passing and they immediately took flight when I slow the boat to shoot. Everyhing change radically when you go always constant, with a low speed and shoot on the run, without changing anything nearby bird or animal.

Every animal or bird has a limit distance where tolerate human presence, to some species this distance allows shooting, to others not. From repeated attempts you will find this distance. Do not push, do not try to get closer than this limit, you will not only make the subject fearful but you”ll move the subject many times over the limit at which you will be close again. It is much better sit on the limit distance, do not move too much, if the animal can will consider that is not a problem to reduce the distance, it will aproach, often there is a curiosity on their part.

If you are in an advantageous position, with the wind blows from behind and push you to the subject, you can try to stop the engine, to let down in the boat keep only your head and camera upper than the board. If you have an anchor is excellent, keep the anchor rope by foot and release it when you want to stop. An approach with the wind speed can cause less than maximum tolerated distance of birds and will allow shooting in an advantageous position and somewhat stable. Obviously all the preparations, anchor rope, lifting the motor, disguising the boat will be made at a larger distance from the subject.

Tripod is useless in the boat as long as the engine is running, no matter how small, “quiet” is the engine. Vibrations transmitted through boat to the tripod will decrease the chances of a sharp photo. Shooting by hand will alleviate vibrations to your body.

Of course, the best option for really good photos is to use the boat as a hide and stay unmoved on the boat. Of course, is not easy to act like a statue but this way i took my best pictures on water. I set the boat in a good position, in good light and I wait for my subjects. I use the tripod all the time (the engine is off), and I cover all the boat with a camouflage net or (much better if is an windy day) with an individual camouflage net over me and my tripod + camera. Moves are forbidden! You should look to the birds only through lens.

If you have any question, please shoot on iliuta@fotonatura.ro

Iliuta Goean

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