Photographing wildlife from a kayak
Are you looking for a stable kayak for photography?
You may already know what to look for, but you may also wonder what questions to ask and what issues you should be aware of. This article will attempt to encompass and summarize the main aspects of kayak photography that you may want to consider when you’re looking to choose a kayak for this demanding application.
Ergonomic and stability considerations
Many kayakers shoot scenic photos out of their kayaks as part of their fishing trip or paddling excursion, but not too many wildlife photographers like to shoot from kayaks, because these small, unstable, wet and uncomfortable craft don’t inspire their confidence, and it’s hard to get excited about spending long hours in one of them –
Photographers who specialize in wildlife photography, mainly bird photography, spend countless hours outdoors, paddling, motorizing, and just waiting in place, patiently, and they have or should have special requirements from a kayak –
The photographer needs to be comfortable in their kayak, and not suffer from the typical physiological issues these basic vessels are associated with, which are lower back pain (a symptom know as ‘yak back’), leg numbness, leg cramps, and in extreme cases even sciatica. In order to avoid suffering from these problems, the photographer should avoid being seated in the L position, which is the traditional kayaking position at the root of these problems. Sitting in positions that are similar engenders similar ergonomic problems as well as others that range from increased instability to bad circulation in the legs.
Wetness is yet another problem associated with sit-in, sit-on-top (SOT), and hybrid kayaks (hybrid canoe-kayak), since they don’t offer sufficient protection to their passengers, and most SOT kayaks even let water get on their decks and passenger sitting area through vertical tubes ironically dubbed ‘scupper holes’…
Currently, W kayaks are the only ones that offer their passengers to sit in the comfortable and stable Riding position – high, free of back pain, and dry.
It is imperative for wildlife kayak photographers to be able to stand up at will, with no need for particular efforts in getting up, standing, balancing and sitting down.
Standing up must be possible anytime and anywhere, regardless of wind, eddies, etc. , and this is true even if the photographer is middle aged or elderly and not particularly athletic. Standing up in your kayak is important as means for you to relax, stretch and overcome fatigue, as it’s important for scouting and shooting photos above the grass and vegetation. This obvious, common-sense requirement rules out all kayaks for this matter, except Wavewalk’s .
Practically speaking, there is no way or reason to dissociate the user experience in ergonomic terms from their experience of comfort based on the kayak’s stability, or lack thereof. A kayak that’s insufficiently stable, as most kayaks are, is by definition and practice uncomfortable and not suitable for photography, and no sensible wildlife photographer should consider using it.
This video demonstrates the stability of a W500 kayak, and while watching it, remember that the newer and bigger W700 and S4 are far more stable. Note how simple, easy and intuitive it is to get up and stand in it, sit down instantly, regain balance while standing and riding the saddle, and all while the cockpit and kayaker in it stay dry:
Range of motion
Ergonomics isn’t just about comfort, which traditional kayaks offer too little of. It’s also about the user’s range of motion – Imagine yourself seated in a traditional sit-in or SOT kayak, holding your precious camera in both hands, trying to follow with the lens a bird flying above you… Chances are you’d lose balance and overturn your kayak, or stop trying to shoot that bird simply because your kayak isn’t stable enough, and your ability to balance it is limited by the fact that you’re sitting in the L position, with your legs stretched forward. In contrast, the Wavewalk design offers you a much higher degree of stability, a better way to stabilize yourself while riding its saddle, and consequently a full range of motion, as you can turn sideways and backward, as well as raise your glance upward and look over your shoulder with no fear of losing balance.
Mobility- a kayak that takes you where you want to go
Mobility is is yet another key factor in using a kayak for photography – It’s not just about launching and beaching in difficult spots, but also about paddling (and poling) in shallow water as well as in areas where paddling can be obstructed by vegetation and obstacles such as rocks and fallen trees. In this sense, you need a kayak that offers you an easy way to go where other kayaks prevent you from going, including over rocks and fallen tree trunks, and the only kayak that does that is a Wavewalk, as demonstrated in these videos:
1. This video features the W500, and older and smaller model than the W700 and S4 –
Practically, you may not need to travel through difficult waters, but you need to be aware of the fact that unlike the W500, traditional kayaks of all types offer limited mobility, which could restrict you.
Storing your photographic gear on board your kayak
Photographers need ample storage space for their photographic equipment, which includes cameras, tripods and lenses, which must be kept dry. This is a problem when all kayaks are concerned, except the Wavewalk. This unique kayak design offer several times more storage space than any other kayak may offer, and its storage space is internal, meaning that it’s dry and protected from unwanted moisture, such as eddies spraying water on a SOT kayak’s deck, or waves splashing inside a sit-in kayak (SIK). A Wavewalk 700 or S4 carrying hundreds of pounds of payload still offers plenty of free board – several times more than any other kayak does. Moreover, since the Wavewalk does not feature hatches for storage but rather single, big, continuous space in the cockpit and hull tips, the photographer using this kayak enjoys unrestrained access to their gear, which isn’t the case for gear stored in kayak hatches. The Wavewalk’s huge storage space offers you to customize it through the use of containers of various size and shape, according to your specific needs.
Transporting and carrying your kayak
Kayaks need to be car topped, and they also need to be carried to the water and back from it to your vehicle. If you’re serious about wildlife photography, chances are that getting from your vehicle to the water could involve going over a significant distance, and often in difficult terrain. Both car topping and carrying (a.k.a. portaging) exclude the use of typical sit-in, SOT and hybrid fishing kayaks that are designed to offer more stability through sheer size: Such extra-wide kayaks are too heavy to be practical – Some of them weigh 100 lbs, and others up to 140 lbs, and since your photographic equipment can be heavy too (how much does your tripod weigh?…) you’d be effectively prevented from taking trips to places you could easily reach with a W700, which weighs only 80 lbs, and can be loaded with gear and simply pulled by a leash, like a sled, even in difficult terrain. If you don’t like the idea of dragging your W700 on the ground, outfitting it with a single transportation wheel or a pair of such wheels is a breeze.
Propelling your kayak
Paddling your kayak while looking for a subject worth photographing is fun if it’s done on flat water, or over relatively short distances, but when it comes to long trips and long distances, especially in moving water, motorizing your kayak is an idea that’s worth your consideration. This article is not the right place to discuss all aspects involved in motorizing your kayak for photography, but it’s worth mentioning that while electric motors are silent and offer the advantage of stealth, gas outboard motors are a better solution for covering long distances in moving water, and you can enjoy stealth when you need it by reverting to your paddle. In any case, using a kayak equipped with a pedal drive is the least productive idea because doing so wouldn’t necessarily increase your range of travel, using such kayaks in shallow water where aquatic vegetation is abundant is impractical since those kayaks draft more, and their moving flaps and propellers get entangled in weeds. Too bad that such shallow water and vegetation-rich environments are great for photographing aquatic wildlife…
Kayaks from the W700 series are offered in two standard colors – Yellow, and Gator Green, which blends well with aquatic environments that are popular with wildlife photographers. The S4 is offered in white and Gator Green. The Gator green color is also good as base for camo colors and patterns. Camouflaging a kayak is very easy if you use spray paint for outdoor plastics.
Few people use outriggers for kayak fishing, and these accessories are even less popular among people who use kayaks for wildlife photography. In both applications, outriggers impede you, restrict your range of travel, and tend to be problematic in shallow, vegetation-rich water.
In sum, Kayak photography and kayak fishing have many things in common, and it’s possible to infer what could work for photography from reading what works for fishing, as well as from watching videos on this subject. You are welcome to visit this website, read customer reviews and articles, and watch videos contributed by clients and produced by us.
Please feel free to call or email us with any question you have about photographing from a kayak. We look forward to your questions and comments.
2 thoughts on “A stable kayak for photography”
It’s a good article, but I was a bit disappointed to find you didn’t include any wildlife pictures in it. There are so many wonderful photos of animals and birds on this website, so why not include some of them in this article about wildlife photography? Your readers would love the pictures!
And btw, I recently learned that your Australian client Ofer Levy is one the world’s top bird photographers. His work is truly amazing!
Some pictures of animals and birds would have surely made this article more cheerful and less ‘technical’, but which pictures to choose? There are so many good ones… Instead, we inserted in it links to a search results page that features links to all blog entries on this website that have anything to do with photography. I recommend visiting them!
Ofer is one of our first clients in Australia, and a phenomenal photographer. He mounted a powerful 50 lbs electric motor on his W500, and designed a special transom mount for it. That was even before we started exploring the subject of motor mounts following Sungjin’s breakthrough with an outboard gas motor.