Monday, July 28, 2008


Taking photos while kayaking & rafting on whitewater rivers is really challenging.

Tips, techniques & strategies for whitewater river photographers.

1. Olympus 720SW water resistant camera.

I'm even more happy with my Olympus 720SW water-resistant camera as I learn how to use more of its capabilities. I use the Super High Quality setting to get big pictures from which I can later crop out smaller pictures. I use the sports setting and no flash for both action photography and landscape photography during whitewater river trips. This seems to work fine under typical summertime high light conditions and saves the trouble of changing settings. On a shady creek run or on a gray, cloudy winter trip it may be necessary to make the settings adjustments from action to landscape. I've learned how to quickly switch between photo and video mode. I'm really enjoying the capability to take both photos & videos on the river with the same compact, little water-resistant camera.

2. Taking photos of kayakers from the seat of my own kayak.

It is really hard to take pictures of whitewater kayakers while being bounced around in the river sitting in my own kayak. Currently I'm carrying my camera on a strong two-foot cord tied to the shoulder strap of my pfd. When not in use I just slip my camera inside my pfd so I can get it out quickly when needed. I think this is sort of OK for the conservative class II and III boating that I'm doing lately, but if I ever get back onto kayaking on class IV whitewater I'd need to insert a weak link into the camera cord. If the camera ever got snagged on something in the river it would be important for it to break away and not keep me trapped. No matter how much I love this camera I'm not willing to drown to avoid letting go of it in an emergency.

I'm learning how to get myself sufficiently stabilized and close enough to the action to get good photos without detracting too much from the fun of paddling my own kayak around in the river. Larger groups of kayakers are better for photography. There are more subjects to shoot, and other kayakers can be the rescuers whenever needed, so the photographer can just focus on taking great pictures.

The Olympus 720SW is the first camera I've owned that has only the digital monitor and no optical viewfinder. In some sunny conditions while I'm wearing my dark, polarized sunglasses it is difficult or impossible to see anything in the monitor. I've been able to compensate for this by looking past the camera and making my best guess about shooting the camera when the subject might be in the frame of the photo.

Autofocus delay is another big challenge. Kayakers can move a long way through a whitewater rapid in the time it takes the camera to focus and choose the exposure. Thus, I need to anticipate the shot and push the camera shutter button just before the kayaker gets to the area where I want the picture to be taken. This was agonizing at first, but as I have gained experience at on-river photography and familiarity with my camera its becoming less and less of an issue. Of course I still shoot too late on many of my photos, but as long as I get it right on many other photos each day I'm happy.

3. Take a variety of pictures that tell the story of the whitewater river trip.

I'm making a special effort to take a wide variety of pictures that tell the story of the trip and show the multiple dimensions of a whitewater river experience. I try to remember to take some photos at put-in, lunchtime and take-out. I look for wide views of the landscape and close-ups of the local wildlife, as well as the mandatory whitewater action shots. Photos & videos preserve the memories of our great days on the river!!

4. Instructional feedback from photos and videos help us to improve our kayaking skills.

Photos & videos show us what we're doing or not doing on the river. Looking at photos of better kayakers shows us the good kayaking skills and techniques for which we should be aiming. (Example 1. Example 2.)

5. Photo editing software enhances the photos.

        Despite my great equipment, great skills and considerable effort, the original photos that I bring home from my whitewater kayaking trips are typically quite poor. I'm using IrfanView photo editing software to enhance my kayaking photos. This software is available for download from the Internet. You can get the software for free, but please make a donation if possible to encourage continued development of this great software.

IrfanView photo enhancement tools that I use on almost every picture:
• Cropping helps focus on the point(s) of interest.
• Auto Adjust Colors does an amazing job.
• Color Corrections (brightness, contrast, saturation).
• Resize/Resample to a size of 400 to 600pixels wide.
• Sharpen makes the pictures look more crisp and sharply focused.

6. Online photo albums rapidly display your photos to friends around the world.

I've been uploading my kayaking photos to my site at Picasa Web Albums and videos to my site at YouTube.

7. My camera takes pictures of you, your camera takes pictures of me.

Its really nice when the group has more than one camera, so everybody has a chance to get photographed during the trip.

8. Practice, practice, practice !!! Shoot, shoot, shoot your camera !!!

No matter how much you know, you have to take it out on the river and practice to train your photography skills and reflexes. In whitewater action photography there is little time to think about what to do. Wherever there is a chance to get a great photo you need to have the camera ready and then let your reflexes take over.

Take lots and lots and lots of pictures. Knowledge, skills & reflexes will improve your probability of success in photography, but be sure to also take advantage of the law of averages. Zoom in, zoom out! Shoot everything that moves or doesn't move. I'm really happy to bring home many dozens of pictures. Its a happy task to sort through a set of new files looking for the occasional magic moment captured in a photo.

More about:
Photos & videos on whitewater river paddleboating trips - are you serious about photography?
Equipment & Supplies for Kayaking on Whitewater Rivers - Critical Reviews.


I too do lots of WW Photography while on the River. Have you had any experience with the Pentax Optio series? I use the Optio W30, and would be Very interested in a Brutal comparison of the two different manufacturers.

I liked your Blog it was informative, and yet concise.
Photographers who use one of the Olympus water-resistant cameras are encouraged to add their insights and information. Please post comments on the blog posts where I have written about these cameras or on the web album where I show my pictures.

I also welcome critical review articles from photographers who use water-resistant cameras from Pentax or any other manufacturer. Hopefully this will include links to your online photo album to show the quality of pictures produced from your camera. I am happy to give guest author credit to anybody who sends a useful, relevant article to me. Contact me via web form to let me know the subject of the article you want to send in.

It might be fun to swap cameras for a day to try out a different camera and make some critical side-by-side comparisons.
I like tour blog, it's very interesting.
I use an Olympus 1030SW, because my Olympus 770SW is broken in a wave. I think, it's an opinion, the camera must be most harder to work properly. For example the open/close system is delicated.

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