TIPS FOR TAKING GREAT BOATING PHOTOS
Good photos do make a difference to the way your boat can be presented in a book. However, there is a lot to digest in the following tips and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. Just read through it all though and get a general idea of what will help.
It can be great fun doing a photo shoot!
However, don’t sweat the details - simply take the best photos you can.
​​Click on the above image to see example photos.
Mostly these tips are common sense, but I’ve had plenty of images contributed along the way, even from professional photographers, that miss one or more of these points, so please consider them.
Taking good photos of boats is not as easy as it seems!
Of course we can use existing photos you may already have if they are clear and sharply focussed. If your photos date back to prints or slides, no worries as I can scan those for you, or you can get that done yourself. The quality of scans naturally depends on the original. I’ve had good results with scans although typically they are not quite as crisp as digital images of a reasonable size. Plus it costs a bit extra to do the scans – we can discuss that if you want me to do them.

Now, here are some tips on taking boating photos:
​​ It’s fortunately true that most cameras can take good photos these days even if they are not being taken by a keen photographer. The best camera though for boat photos is an SLR-type and lens combination with fast auto-focus, an image-stabilisation facility and a manual zoom.

For example, I use a Nikon D5200 with a Tamron 16-300 zoom lens which has proven excellent in use. The large zoom range from wide-angle 16 mm to long-range 300 mm is great; in the past I had to use two lenses to achieve the same results. This lens allows most all interior onboard shots as well as boat-to-boat action shots. Ideally, whether with one lens or two, you should try to cover a range from at least 24 mm wide-angle to 200 mm telephoto. I usually have the Nikon on full auto except when shooting really fast boats when I switch to the ‘Sport’ setting.

When I was a magazine editor, I often had images sent in by professional photographers but very rarely were those shots as good as the Nikon on its auto setting. I have the camera set to produce jpg-format images around 4300 by 2900 pixels with a file size of between 5 and 8 Mb. For the books, I can enlarge such images to full page size when needed with good results. Most cameras these days will have options in their menus to achieve similar file sizes.

The wonderful thing about digital cameras is that you can click away with abandon to get as many shots as possible, then go through and pick the best ones later. With boating photography, so many things out of your control can ruin an otherwise good image. Reflections or glare from the water, spray or wash alongside the target boat or from another one close by (or from the camera boat), shadows that appear from nowhere, unfortunate backgrounds such as a tree, power pole/line or mast from a passing sail boat appearing to grow out the top of the target boat, the driver or crew looking tense rather than happy as they concentrate on driving, unexpected changes of light and so on.

Running shots can be taken from a wharf or shore-side vantage point. But that allows only a few frames at each pass, and the sun may not be at the best angle, nor the background the most suitable. If at all possible, it’s best by far to take photos from a camera boat running alongside the target boat. Ask a friend if they would help in this regard with their boat. You could take photos of each from the other – obtain two sets of photos in the one day!

A key point to emphasise to the target boat driver (you?!) and crew – always be smiling and happy! It’s not that easy to keep up a smile for a long time, especially when concentrating on driving. However, it does make a huge difference to a photo. I’ve had superb images of a boat ‘spoilt’ by the driver or crew looking tense or worried. Boating is meant to be fun! As well, unless intentionally posed this way, it’s best that nobody on the target boat looks at the photographer, nor (worse still!) waves at the photographer.

On the other hand, have someone onboard watch the photographer from the corner of their eye so they can see signals as to where the boat needs to be positioned for shots from different angles and distances. Where possible, I use mobile phones or radios to communicate with the target boat as to what I need – relative angles, speeds, sun aspects and so on. Note though that assistants/crew are needed to do this as neither the photographer nor the skipper of either the target or camera boats should do the communicating – they need to concentrate on what they’re doing. The photographer should tell an assistant what’s needed and they should communicate that to the skipper of the camera boat and to a crew member on the target boat who tells their skipper.

It’s not always possible, but the best photos are taken early on a sunny, clear and calm morning, before the sun gets too high or the breeze picks up to create choppy conditions.  Mid to late afternoon on a nice day can also be good but try to avoid photography during the middle of the day.

Always position the target so the sun is behind you as the photographer, and try to avoid shadows falling on the target. Avoid crowded backgrounds if you can such as heavily populated areas – the best is natural bushland or similar. Avoid too if you can jetties, wharves and marinas or lots of boating activity in the background.

Position the camera and adjust the zoom constantly to have the subject as full-frame as possible in each image – especially when taking running shots of the boat - but not so tightly framed as to cut off anything at the front or back of the boat! Framing each image for best effect is a key part of getting good photos; always check the edges of the image in your view-finder for unwanted or distracting items.

For the running shots, have the target boat running at a speed that creates minimal wash and has the boat at a good running angle. For fast boats, that means it needs to be on a clean plane and probably somewhere between its best cruise speed and its top speed. In particular, watch that any shadow on the flair of the hull on the forward topsides is minimised; that can mean changing course relative to the sun. If there is signwriting on the boat (for example, its name), ensure that wake/waves and spray do not obscure it.

It pays to have a practise run or two without the camera where you and/or the photographer can observe the target boat and find the speed at which it looks best with minimum spray/wash. If both the target and camera boats (and drivers!) can happily go quite fast, take some shots at those speeds too.

Safety is paramount though! Both skippers should be reminded with emphasis that they are responsible for the safety of their boats and crews, and that they should not do anything if they are not satisfied it is safe, even if asked to do so by the photographer.

Obtain quite a few shots of each aspect of the boat as listed below because changes in light and other factors from moment to moment can mean one image will come up best.  Where practical, it’s best if the camera can be positioned slightly above the target boat.

     1. Start with static shots of the boat. If it’s a trailer boat, take some shots before launching. Take some photos from alongside as well as of the bow and transom; include the rudder and prop if possible, plus any cav-plates or trim tabs and similar. If it’s a wooden boat, take some shots that show its construction. Keep the background as clear as possible.
Then, with the boat in the water, take static shots there from different aspects – from alongside, from forward and aft quarters, of the transom, bow, stem/cutwater, and so on. If you can, take some shots from above down onto the boat – full length, of the cockpit(s) and so on. Take close-ups of the boat’s name, any builder's plaque or other appropriate signwriting.

     2. The running shots start with shots from alongside, then from the bow and stern quarters. Usually the best running shots are from diagonally forward of the target boat. Watch the sun aspect all the time; run toward the sun for shots from ahead; run away from the sun for shots of or toward the transom. Try for shots that frame the boat running both to the left and then to the right.  As well, try for shots from directly ahead of the boat as well as from directly astern – these are generally only practical from a camera boat. If it’s appropriate to try for some ‘action’ shots, and if both skippers are happy to do so, run the target boat to criss-cross the wake of the camera boat and have the shots taken as it cleaves up through the wash of that boat. Typically, at least 50 running shots will be needed to end up with four to six good running photos.

     3. Finally, take the interior photos. Take these out on the water to have a clear background; try to avoid shots with shore-side facilities or other boats in the background. The boat will need to be turned continually to have the best angle of sun as photos of each area are taken, and/or have interior lights turned on. Depending on the type of boat, take as many photos as needed to show each aspect of it: cockpits, helm positions, saloon, galley, cabins, flying bridge layouts, engine(s) and/or the engine bay, bathrooms, any special features or construction, and so on – the photographer is best to work their way from the front to the back of the boat so as not to miss anything. Watch out for flash reflections in mirrors or shiny surfaces; use as wide angle as possible to have as much as practical in each image. It makes a big difference if some of the interior photos can also show the crew – the skipper at the helm, the skipper and partner together where appropriate, the crew enjoying drinks and nibbles or a meal, food being prepared in the galley, someone relaxed and reading a book/magazine, others skiing or wakeboarding - and so on to show the boat being enjoyed, highlighting the lifestyle it make possible. Have some images with the crew looking at the camera, and some with them apparently oblivious to it. Ask them to remove all hats and sunglasses for the photos to avoid shadows and reflections. And lots of happy smiling faces!

Finally - you should end up with at least 150 images, maybe twice that for a large boat. Of course keep a back-up file of them all, then copy them on to a USB memory stick, label it with your name, and post it to me – ask for my postal address - preferably via Express or Registered Post for tracking and safety. Please email me it is coming so I can look out for it – and I’ll email you back advising its safe arrival.
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