Sat - April 21, 2007

10 Tips How to Avoid Blurry Pictures when Shooting on Water



Please check the updated version of this post.


Compact waterproof digital cameras like Pentax Optio W-series (WP, WPi, W10, W20, W30) or Olympus SW-series (720, 770) are popular among paddlers. They may not offer the highest image quality among point-and-shoot cameras, but they still produce decent pictures. Most importantly, you can photograph in conditions where other cameras are better kept in a dry case or box. However, shooting on water from a kayak or canoe requires some extra efforts and practice from a paddling photographer.

Here is a message from one of my readers:

Marek, I visit your site often and have recently purchased a Pentax Optio 20 based on many of the recommendations you have made and the quality of your images (as well as the 30fps video option). I was wondering if you could give me a couple of pointers on keeping my on water photos sharp. I used to use an Olympus 3000 Zoom when I paddled but it was bulky and not waterproof. My photos, on the other hand, came out much clearer.

A friend of mine had the original Pentax waterproof and often said the pictures he took when paddling were blurry. I recently took my camera out for a paddle with a friend and the pics I took on shore were great but the ones on the water were not usable.

Can you give me a few tips on settings, etc that might help me have sharper on water photos? I, unlike you don't know all the ins and outs of depth, lighting, etc. but there has to be a few things I can do that will work without knowing a lot about cameras. I've checked your site and have not seen anything that addresses this question except for maybe stabilizing the camera on your paddle shaft. (I also don't fully understand how to best use the "Green Button" even after reading the manual.)

partially submerged Pentax Optio W10 camera

kayak photography

shooting with Pentax Optio W10 camera

I have been sharing my experience with Pentax Optio WP and W10 in this blog for a while. Please check the links below. Here is another list of tips which comes to my mind in the response to the above e-mail:

1. Use the automatic mode

I do not have any special settings for my camera. On water I use exclusively the P (program) mode. Of course, in addition to the P mode I use the movie mode and interval drive mode quite often.

You can program the green button to do useful adjustments without a need to go through a setup menu. I am using two functions assigned to the green button: exposure correction and, much less often, white balance setups. Typically, I underexpose my shots to avoid overexposed areas with wash out details. Coincidentally, it shortens the exposure time which helps to avoid blurry pictures, but this is not a main purpose of this adjustment.

2. Keep the camera steady

This is the most important tip. However, it is not so easy when paddling, especially, when water is not calm. Ideally, you should hold the camera in both hands. In addition, it is quite easy to shake the light and small camera just by pressing a shutter button.

3. Use a paddle shaft to stabilize the camera

Here is a short video clip demonstrating how I am doing it. This technique really helped me when I was starting to paddle a tippy Sisson Nucleus kayak. You can achieve two goals: to stabilize the camera and to stabilize your kayak. You have your paddle ready for bracing. This technique does not work with strong, gusty winds.

You can go further with this idea and attach or mount your the camera more permanently to your paddle - see a camera cradle by Mark Sanders.

4. Use a self timer

The 2 second selftimer available in Pentax Optio is very useful to avoid shaking the camera when pressing the shutter button. I recommend it, especially, when you are holding the camera with one hand (shooting on an extended arm or from some unusual angles).

5. Keep your lens clean of condensation, water drops, water residue

I keep my camera in a small neoprene pouch attached to my life jacket and usually do not have problems with water or dirt on my lens. The camera is always on a tether. Shooting with a camera mounted on a deck and exposed to splashes is another story.

6. Pay attention to light and sun position

Try to shade you camera lens from a direct sunlight to avoid a lens flare. Do not shoot against the sun.

You can expect the best "sweet" light for shooting when the sun is low, so after the sunrise and before sunset. Do not expect too much from this camera in low light conditions, but do not give up with shooting as soon as the sun is down. Consider shooting some silhouettes or water reflections then.

7. Use flash

I use flash to add some light to objects in my fore plan. Usually, a soft flash option works better for a kayak deck.

8. Shoot multiple frames

Don't limit yourself to a single shot for a given scene. Repeat the shot. Try different angles, horizontal and vertical format. You will increase your chances to get that great shot. Digital memory is cheap. You can always erase unsuccessful pictures later.

interval mode Pentax Optio W10 camera

9. Photoshop ...

Downloading pictures from the camera to your computer is not the end of your work as a photographer. Use Photoshop or other image editing software to post process your pictures. Most often, I rotate my pictures to make horizon horizontal, adjust the exposure with levels, crop and resize them, and, finally, apply some sharpening. You cannot save completely blurred pictures in Photoshop, but you can improve most of them.

10. Practise

There are no reason not to take and use the camera wherever you go. It is small and waterproof. Experiment and have fun.

Time to to time it is useful to browse through the camera manual. You may find something new and exciting in a jungle of all these options and settings.

More tips?

Could you share tips from your experience with a kayak or canoe photography? Are your on water pictures worse than these shot on land?

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