How to take a great boating photo

Marine photographers Paul Wyeth and Emily Whiting share their secrets.

Marine photographers Paul Wyeth, Matthew Dickens and Emily Whiting share their secrets.

Many of us like taking photos when we are out enjoying our boating, be it of the people we are out with, our boat, the scenery or the places we visit but how can we make sure we end up with a great picture every time? Here marine photographers Paul Wyeth, Paul Wyeth Marine Photography, Matthew Dickens, OnEdition and Emily Whiting, Emily Whiting Photography, share some of their top tips and trade secrets…

Paul Wyeth

What kind of kit do people need to take a good boating picture?

Emily: You're going to need a nice SLR and a good lens, or better still choice of lenses or even better still a different camera for each lens. A good telephoto zoom lens will allow you to get closer to the action.

Paul: As Emily says the reality is that you really need an SLR camera opposed to a compact simply because most compact cameras will struggle to focus quickly and accurately enough to deliver quality results.

Getting a good picture is certainly not all about the kit but having said that a fast lens is helpful and to have a range going from 18mm up to 300mm is a good starting point.

I really don't think that you need to be particularly concerned with the pixel count of the camera. It’s really about having a camera body that does the job and then putting the best lens you can get onto it.

Also given the amount of Saltwater that the cameras receive it’s pretty important to have a setup that can deal with that. The top end kit is sealed against splashes to some extent but you can get creative with plastic bags to improve the water resistance of cheaper equipment!

Matt: Kit wise anything will do though there are advantages to shooting on a longer lens when shooting from boat to boat, to enable you to really frame your subject, and at the other end of the scale advantages in using a very wide lens when shooting on board images to enable you to include as much of the boat as possible.

What things do you need to think about when trying to take a good on the water photo?

Emily WhitingMatt: Keeping your kit dry and yourself safe. Obviously when you’re holding a camera, you have one less hand available to steady yourself, so get into position, brace yourself so that you are secure and then start to think about shooting images.

Keeping kit dry is vital as few camera's offer much protection from the elements. Keep your lens clean, there is a lot of spay around boats that really affect image quality. Try and work at the beginning and end of the day, when the sun is low in the sky as the light quality is so much nicer.

Emily: You need to consider your position and that you have a fast enough shutter speed to capture the action.

Paul: The key thing is where to take it from and to be constantly looking for alternative angles. Also thinking ahead rather than just what is happening at that precise moment.

Paul Wyeth

If you are taking action photos what do you need to think about?

Paul: I would say that it’s a combination of being in the right place, both for the action and the angle of light and then being able to keep the camera relatively dry.

Paul Wyeth

The camera shutter speed and aperture, plus having a suitable lens on the camera is also key. Generally speaking you'll need a shutter speed of at least 1000'th of a second to be sure of freezing the action.

Matt: Keep your shutter speed high. Like Paul I try and shoot at, at least 1000th second, movement effects aside, as this will keep the image crisp with splash detail and the like being frozen.

Emily: One of the key things to think about is positioning yourself to capture the action, anticipate what is unfolding and where boats are heading and get yourself positioned accordingly

What makes taking an action photo on the water difficult?

Emily WhitingEmily: For me it’s the weather!

Paul: I guess it’s a bit of a vicious circle in that it’s the wind and waves that make great action shots but that's also what makes getting them difficult!

Some of the best days are when it’s blowing 30 knots plus but just getting the camera out of the box without it getting soaked can be tricky! In essence it’s the elements which make life interesting and photographers who aren't used to working from a wet moving platform often struggle.

It’s all too easy to drop a camera over the side which is expensive; and I speak from experience!

Matt: The combination of keeping your kit dry, making sure you are safe, positioning yourself to get the desired angle on the yacht and ensuring that you don't get seasick from looking through the lens for long periods is the main challenge. Try and eliminate as many potential issues before you set out. Dress well, position yourself safely, keep you kit out of harm’s way and take stugeron!!

What are the challenges with taking boating pictures?

Emily: That you're shooting on a moving platform and you're shooting a moving subject!

Paul: Getting close to the action but not too close!

What are your favourite boating pictures and why?

Matt: Two images stand out recently, the first was on a very cold day off Gotland, in Sweden, it was very over case and drab, the light was low, so I opted to try and use a slow shutter speed, creating movement in the water. Your hit rate on this type of image is very low, due to camera shake over the whole image, so shoot a lot and with patience you should eventually get the boat sharp.

Matt Dickens

The second is from the 2012 Olympics. Whist there could be a more sailing action in it the picture I really think it captures the moment when Lijia Xu won Gold Medal and the first ever sailing medal for China.

Matt Dickens

Paul: I can't really name any favourites as to be honest I can't decide! I guess I like the photos that make you feel like you're there and you can almost taste the salt spray!

What should people think about in the composition of a good picture?

Emily WhitingEmily: When thinking about composition people should think about what they are hoping to achieve and say about what they are capturing. Is it the looks on the sailors faces, the way the boat is working through the water or is it the scale and quantity of boats. This will dictate what you focus on and whether you get a great close shot or a big wide shot of the boats jostling for the best position.

Paul: For me it’s often about capturing the energy and excitement involved so seeing faces is pretty important. Also having the correct part of the picture in focus is key, so if you’re focusing on a particular boat make sure that it’s sharp and often using the rule of thirds is a good idea. This basically says that if you divide the frame into thirds your focal point should be on the intersection between the lines rather than slap bang in the centre of the frame. Not always easy to do when you're bouncing around taking your shot from a RIB!

Paul Wyeth

Matt: The rule of thirds is a good starting point. The basic premise is that you horizon should cut through the image a third of the way up the picture or one third of the way from the top. It's also worth considering if you are trying to tell a story about the boat or the person sailing it which should determine what is most prominent in the frame.

How does light effect the picture – what’s best, in the morning, late afternoon, really sunny. How do you deal with cloudy and wet conditions?

Matt: Light is at its best in the hour after sunrise and before sunset. It is low in the sky and you get beautiful side light, which is more pleasing than light directly above the subject. Don't restrict yourself and try shooting with and into the light.

Emily: When dealing with lighting it’s all about working with you have. Sunny changeable conditions are the worst though if you set up for a certain lighting situation and then get absorbed by the unfolding action before you only to find a big grey cloud comes over just as you're shooting a great sequence in front of you.

Emily Whiting

Paul: The light is everything. In an ideal world the best times are when the light is low so early in the morning or late evening. Some of my favourite shots have actually been taken when the conditions don't look very promising so a burst of light from what is otherwise a grey black sky can be amazing.

Paul Wyeth

Heavy rain is always an issue and whilst you can get all kinds of protective capes and housings for the kit it just makes life difficult....but it’s definitely worth hanging around when the conditions are dodgy because it’s often these days rather than days with clear blue skies that you get some amazing shots.

Any top tips for dealing with the great British weather (i.e. rain) and taking boating pictures?

Paul: You can do a lot with plastic bags and insulation tape! Sometimes our unreliable weather can make for some great shots!

Matt: Don't try and fight the weather, try and show the situation as it is. If it is cold, feature the steamy breath of the sailors or squalls of rain on the water.

Emily: Firstly keep yourself protected from the elements and keep warm! It can get pretty cold out there and you haven't got much space to run around and warm yourself up. This also needs to be applied to your equipment…if the temperatures are too extreme then it's not going to be good for your kit so keep its exposure to these extremes to a minimum and keep it dry.

If you are taking pictures from a RIB what position should your boat be in to get the best pictures?

Emily WhitingEmily: If you had to pick only one then perhaps you'd be best off downwind and ahead of the boat you want to photograph to give you a good chance of capturing the boat slightly leaning with the power of the wind and the sailor peeking around the front of the sail. However, any position can wield you a good shot some of my favourites are to the side of the boat behind the sailors or behind the back of the boat.

Paul: I would start by saying make sure you’re not in the way! You definitely won’t get good shots if you’re kicking up a huge wake and slowing people down.

Other than that the windward mark or leeward marks are often good spots as there tends to be lots going on.

Matt: I tend to circle the subject a lot as there really is a picture from most angles.

How do you deal with getting into the mix of boats at big regattas – what are the dangers?

Matt: Don't try and drive your own RIB and shoot as well, you won't do either well. A good boat driver really makes a difference as they can put you safely in amongst the action

Paul: The dangers are simply the temptation to get too close and the risk of your engine cutting out at the wrong moment.

Paul Wyeth

Having a well serviced engine and always making sure the boat is pointing out of danger (i.e. you have an escape route) is also very important. It’s often best to simply use a larger lens so that you can always stay a safe distance away.

If you’re on a boat and want to take pictures of the people you are out with, what are your top tips for taking good people shots with sometimes limited space to play with?

Paul: It’s often the unseen shots that are the best. Generally speaking if you point a camera at people they tend to give you a pretty inane grin so using a larger lens and shooting from a little further away can be a good idea. Also use a shallow depth of field so F3.5 or similar to blur out the background.

Paul Wyeth

Matt: A wide angle lens is vital in this situation as you want to include some of the boats deck otherwise you end up with an image of a person suspended above the water with no idea what they are standing on. Set pictures up and get the subject doing something; winching, helping navigating, cooking, whatever tells the story of you day at sea.

Emily: A nice tight shot of the people is fine but just try and give them a nice back drop to show off where you are.

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