TRICKS OF THE TRADE FROM A PROFESSIONAL MARINE AND BOATING LIFESTYLE PHOTOGRAPHER
Put away those selfie sticks and take some real photos!
Improvements in technology have made digital cameras and especially smart phones increasingly handy and affordable. Meanwhile, more ways exist than ever to share pictures with family and friends across the country or an ocean. Quality is a different story altogether. Here, a professional boating photographer shares some expert advice on snapping pics that are sure to make your social network take notice.
Surprisingly, an overcast day is always better than a sunny day for making sure your subjects look beautiful. Bright sunlight creates harsh shadowing.
Each time I take a shot, I have two immediate concerns: Lighting and framing. These are the areas where people make easy-to-correct mistakes. The most important thing to remember is that if you’re in the sun, you want to have the light falling from a forward angle onto your subjects, not from behind. Backlighting will not only give you darkly shadowed subjects, but any light coming toward the lens, whether it’s directly from the sun or bouncing off the water, can create noise (haze) or flares. The prismatic flares can sometimes be eliminated by shading the lens with your hand, or using a lens hood if your camera is equipped with one. If you just keep in mind that the photographer always wants the sun on his or her back, you’ll always find the right position.
This Princess 56 Flybridge was shot in the first hour of daylight. You can see how the sidelight created by the low sun makes the boat pop without any of the shadows you will get as the sun moves higher. Morning light will have cooler tones than evening light, shown below.
TIME TO REFLECT
The sunlight that bounces from undulating water can add a magical, reflective sparkle to the hull. Ask the captain to rotate the bow until it lights up. It’ll be like someone hit a light switch – you can’t miss it.
APPLY THE “RULE OF THIRDS”
There are occasions when backlighting produces a desirable effect.
Typically two-thirds sky to one-third water is ideal. In certain situations you can swap that ratio and use a yawning water foreground with a powerful result. If you’re shooting a boat on plane, give it “running room,” simply more space ahead of itself than behind.
THROW SOME SHADE
People photograph most beautifully in the shade, where there is no shadowing. Overhead sun is most harsh on humans, and also on boats and scenery. If you really want to snap a midday pic in which the sun is directly above your subject, see if your camera will let you choose a fill flash mode, where the flash fires even in bright light to soften some of those unflattering shadows. I typically let my cameras rest this time of day, or if I shoot, I’ll pull people under the bimini or hardtop for the best results. The most spectacular time of day for shooting everything is in the golden light of late afternoon. So, remember, don’t shoot the sunset, turn around and look what’s being touched by it.
SUNGLASSES FOR ONE, SUNGLASSES FOR ALL
If you really want to photograph people in direct sun, have everyone wear sunglasses – it makes a huge difference. Squinting rarely looks attractive. And when shooting a group make certain you can see every person’s face. This is a very common error that will ruin an otherwise nice photo.
GAIN YOUR COMPOSURE
Framing is among the easiest things you can do to make your photos look great every time. People often forget they can shoot vertically as easily as horizontally. Turn that camera! Shots of people almost always look better if they are perpendicular. And if you do shoot people’s full bodies don’t forget their feet. This is the most common and unforgivable faux pas.
GET CLOSE UP
For compelling close-ups, get right in there and fill the frame. Capture the whole face, but don’t quite center it. Offsetting singular subjects-boat, person, bird, mountain-almost always makes them more interesting to the eye.
TRACK THE ACTION
Today’s digital cameras are getting much better at capturing subjects in action-say, a moving boat or belly-flopping kid-particularly the models equipped with a setting for movement. A good trick to ensure a sharper shot is to track, or pan, the camera with the moving object, instead of trying to grab the action as it passes through the frame. If done correctly, a pan will also create a motion blur in the background (see above) and a little creative framing can make motion look extra exciting.
ALL A BLUR?
If your photos are turning out blurry, chances are good you’re shaking the camera. Try holding your breath if you’re shooting action, and also in low light when imperceptible movement can soften a shot. Tripods are great for utilizing the beauty of natural light and also for getting yourself into the picture with the camera’s self-timer. Some of the most useful types are tiny and bendable. My favorite for onboard shooting with a small camera is the 1.6-ounce Joby Gorillapod, which doesn’t require a flat surface and actually wraps and grips onto stuff like seatbacks or canvas frames.
SHOOT A MILLION FRAMES
The very best thing (and worse thing) about digital photography is our ability to shoot hundreds of frames at no extra cost. This family, for example, was so animated I had to edit through about 75 frames to find one where I could see all the faces and no one was blinking, chewing or spitting out food as they laughed. Just shoot and shoot some more. The editing is time consuming, but when you get that one great shot of everyone it will be totally worth it.
CAPTURE THE FUN OF IT
Take photos of your guests/subjects actually doing things on the boat, not just posing. It will make more interesting sharing, one provide real memories of what the day was about.
Undoubtedly, the most precious photos are the ones where your subjects are totally unaware you are shooting. When I board a boat on assignment I always say, “I’ll be shooting lots of photos today, but don’t worry, I promise to throw out any that are unflattering.”
THE BIG FISH STORY?
Make sure you have your fisherperson hold the fish away from their body, out toward the camera. It creates a very effective optical illusion that will make the smallest fish look fierce.
Just remember, you don’t need to have the fanciest boat or the biggest fish to create a photo that will become a highlight of your subjects’ timeline. Lighting counts. Framing counts. But it’s the big smiles we get from boating that make the shot perfect every time.