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6 Top Tips On How To Photograph Boats

Most of us don't have to go that far to photograph boats which makes them a subject that's interesting, accessible and quite easy to photograph.

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6 Top Tips On How To Photograph Boats: Boat



Due to the size of the UK, we're usually not a million miles from the coast where you'll find fishing boats and tourist boats galore to photograph. Further inland, there are rivers with boats, canal and inland waterways or even water-sports centre where you can capture action-packed images as well as shots of pedalos and canoes.


1. What Kit Should I Choose? 

For most boat photography a standard zoom of the 35-80mm range is fine. It's usually wide enough to get the whole boat in shot and long enough to crop in on sails, hull, lifebuoy on the side or other finer detail. You may prefer a longer lens 80-200mm if the boat is further away or to shoot small detail like mini flags, portraits of crew etc. and a lens with a close focus ability is good for detail in ropes, paintwork etc. when the boat is moored.

A polarising filter is a must to ensure reflections are reduced on the paintwork and to deepen a blue sky and cut down on reflections in the water. A graduated filter is useful if the boats are set against a bright sky, although watch for darkening of the mast and upper sails on yachts and such like.

If you plan on shooting panoramic photos of harbours and marinas, pack your tripod. 


2. Head To A Harbour 

Harbours conjure up picturesque scenes with colourful boats offset against beautiful blue skies, reflected in the waters below.  To get this sort of picture you need a sunny day with still waters. Use a polarising filter to make the colours more saturated and choose viewpoints without too much clutter. A single boat in the foreground makes a more impressive shot than one where several boats are fighting for your attention.


6 Top Tips On How To Photograph Boats: Boats


3. Wait For The Tide 

As the tide goes out you can photograph moored boats grounded in mud, or on the beach. Use the mooring ropes as a lead-in up through the photo. A small aperture is needed to ensure everything from the front of the rope to the distant boat is sharp. Shots will be more dramatic if you shoot from a low angle and include a brooding sky. Use a graduated grey or ND filter to darken the sky.


4. Walk Along A River Bank 

If you aren't near a coastal location you may have a river running nearby that has boats on it. You may get sailing boats, small cargo boats, river authority working boats or even barges. There will usually be speed limits of around 5mph which means that you don't need to worry about panning skills or the need for ultra-fast shutter speeds to shoot boats on rivers. For more impact shoot from a low angle (at the side of the river on a low bank point is best). Try to include interesting landmarks in the background, trees or the odd building at the edge of the frame to hold the viewer inside that frame and focused on the boat.

If there's a bridge find a position where you can use that as a frame as the boat passes under, but watch the exposure. The light under the bridge will be lower than the outside so it's easy to underexpose if your meter picks up the brighter area as the important part. Switch to spot metering where possible and take a meter reading from the sidewall of the bridge and use that as the starting point.


6 Top Tips On How To Photograph Boats: Boat on a river


5. Make A Canal Your Focus

Canals run through many countries too. With these, you not only have boats to photograph but also the activities surrounding them. Barges are usually hand-painted and are very colourful. They often have matching watering cans or flower pots that are crying out to be photographed.  Shoot with a telephoto and wide aperture to blur the background. Focus on small areas of paintwork for patterns and interesting window displays. Find a spot where there's a lock and then you can photograph the activity as the barge is taken to the next water level.


6. Interested In Watersports? 

For those who prefer a little more action consider a day out at a water-sports centre. These locations are usually on man-made lakes around the country and offer sports enthusiasts opportunities to sail, water-ski or jet-ski. It's at these locations where you can shoot the speed. For the best results, it helps if you pan with the craft.

Experiment with the shutter speed to get the right amount of motion. Follow the boats and shoot as it reaches a central point of your pan. This will blur the background but if you are keeping at the same speed as the boat as you pan it will be sharp. Try to avoid moving the camera up or down as you pan.

Some have rapids for canoeing. here a fast shutter speed can be used to get the water droplets frozen as they splash around the canoe. Take shots as the canoeist comes up from a 360 roll water will be dripping off his face and he's likely to have a great air gasping expression.


6 Top Tips On How To Photograph Boats: Boats

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