If you are a novice at photography or kayaking, or both, you could use some advice. I’ve been taking pictures since LBJ was President, but being new to kayaking, I have discovered some pointers to pass on. The following instructions are for a point and shoot camera for two important reasons. First, it is beyond the scope of this essay to cover the vast variety of cameras in use. Second, this is the only kind of camera that I know how to use. Some important considerations:
1. Choose a waterproof camera. To discover at the end of the day that all your precious pictures have been ruined because your camera got wet would be heartbreaking. Your heart may get broken anyway, but at least you can eliminate this cause.
2. Secure your camera by its wrist strap or other means. You will not drop the camera in 18” of still water. It will dive in while you are clipping along at top speed, never to be seen again. While my top speed is modest at best, had I dropped my camera it would have been easier to grab hold of a fish. At least you can bait a fish.
3. Your camera should also be shockproof. While securely attached to your wrist, it will dangle just enough to bang against the rim of your kayak as you paddle. I reduced my anxiety by tying a cord to the wrist strap and securing it to the zipper of my life vest. When not using my camera, I tucked it inside the bosom of the life jacket.
Now we can move on to other considerations. Back in the 20th Century, when cameras still had film, all you had to do was press the shutter button and it would snap the picture. I’m sorry to say those days are gone forever. When I reluctantly joined the 21st Century by purchasing a digital camera, I found myself no longer in control but at the mercy of a gadget smarter than I am. My camera turns itself off to save battery power. That’s fine, but when I push the button to turn it back on, it will argue with me:
Camera: Are you sure you want me to turn back on?
Me (pressing the button for the second or third time): Yes! I want to take a picture!
Camera: Oh, all right.
Finally, camera ready, you aim at your subject, push the shutter button, and…nothing happens! A few seconds later, after either the kayak or the target has moved, it takes a photo. That’s a minor problem on solid ground if shooting a stationary object, but bouncing around in the water trying to photograph a bird in flight will result in many images of empty sky. Don’t give up. If you take enough pictures of the sky you are likely to find a bird in at least one of them. Here is one example of digital technology’s superiority to the old fashioned stuff. Can you imagine how expensive it would be to have all that film developed?
Motion can be an issue when you are a passenger in a moving vehicle, but it is even more so when you need both hands to paddle. You also need one or two hands to operate the camera. How many hands do you have? Read these instructions carefully before you attempt kayak photography:
1. You are happily paddling along, enjoying the sun and the wind and the water, when you spot something you want to photograph. For simplicity’s sake, let’s say it’s not a bird in flight but something sitting quietly on the bank minding its own business. Carefully set the paddle down across your lap so you won’t lose it (and find yourself up that proverbial crick).
2. In your excitement you fumble the camera and drop it into your lap, but since it’s shockproof and securely tied, it’s fine. So you pick it up again and have the usual conversation with it before it consents to turn itself on. You take aim, but by now one of two things (or maybe both) has happened – you have overshot your mark and/or the wind has blown you sideways. As you twist around in your seat you realize that, encumbered by a life vest, even a contortionist could not reach the angle necessary to take the proposed picture.
3. Tuck the camera back into your bosom, pick up the paddle, turn around, return to the place where you spotted your photo op, and try again. By now the camera has turned itself off. Repeat #s 1 and 2.
4. This time paddle further back so you will have time to turn on your camera, set it down, pick up the paddle, re-position the kayak, set down the paddle, and pick up the camera in time to snap the picture. If you are trying to photograph an inanimate object, you may be successful. But if it is a living creature, by now it has stopped wondering what that nut is up to and has decided to have nothing more to do with you. If you are fast enough, you may catch its hind quarters as it disappears into the brush. If not, you can file it in your memory bank of photos not taken.
If you are under the age of 40 you may elect to skip this next section. (You may want to read it anyway, as your day will come: your eyeballs will lose their flexibility, and you will have to hold things across the room to read them.) Mature photographers will need reading glasses to see to operate the camera. Otherwise the pictures may be sadly out of focus. (They may be out of focus anyway, but that’s not my fault.)
In addition to the paddle and the camera, you need to manage your reading glasses and it would be wise to secure them in some way. I just use a cheap pair from Wal-Mart which would be a small loss and tuck them into my bosom beside the camera. The procedure is the same as above with the addition of a few extra steps:
1. Same as above. When completed, take the reading glasses out of your bosom, put them on, and proceed to #2.
2. Same as above, except that you can’t see distance clearly through the reading glasses, so after you realize you are not ready to take the picture, take them off and put them back in your bosom.
3. Same as above with the additional task of putting on and taking off your reading glasses. Avoid taking the camera out of your bosom first as the reading glasses will come out with it and try to jump into the water. Then you have to grab for them, which wastes time and disrupts your concentration. You may need to repeat the previous steps a few times.
4. Same as above with the addition of the reading glasses. If your victim has not disappeared by now, you are all set, except – you have splashed water on your reading glasses and still can’t see clearly.
5. Try to find something dry to clean your glasses with and repeat #4.
6. Download your pictures at the end of the day. The memory card will be full of photos of empty skies and retreating wildlife, but there should be some good pictures as well But wait, as you download the images, you find that a number of them have a curious blur in the middle where water had splashed on the exterior of the lens and you were taking pictures through a bubble.
7. Take a deep breath. Clean the lens. Tomorrow is another day. Begin again with step #1.