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After a frenetic end to the school year my kids are finally free for the summer, and they couldn’t be more excited about it. Prescribed bedtimes have been abandoned, the Superman outfit has moved into everyday usage, and shoes, so often considered mere foot-prisons, will go unworn for the greater part of the long, glorious summer days to come. I’m sure my kids will change their routines too.
We’re exceedingly lucky to live close to water. The very knowledge that it is nearby and the waft of sea air that drifts inland at low tide is something I really cherish. We’re also lucky to have an awesome sailing club nearby that is super friendly and welcoming, and friends who recently bought a little sailboat.
Getting out on the water offers a totally new arena in which to practice your photography and shoot some really interesting images. And today I’m going to offer you 7 tips to help you make the most of your time on the high seas, or the glassy lake, or the running rapids.
1. Consider your equipment
Before you head out on the water, stop and spare a thought for the precautions you’re going to take to protect your equipment. At the very least you’re going to want to use a neck strap to prevent your camera falling into the water should you need to use your hands to keep yourself onboard. You could also invest in this neoprene wrist strap. And there are some really useful waterproof bags on the market to help keep your gear safe. DSLRs do have a certain amount of water resistance; I never worry about shooting in the rain with my Canon 5D for example, so I wouldn’t worry too much about a little bit of spray. If you’re interested in shooting underwater you’ll need to get a waterproof housing, which are really expensive, or else invest in a waterproof camera. The Nikon AW1, for example, is a mirrorless interchangeable lens camera which is waterproof to a depth of 15m.
2. Shoot into the sun
I mentioned this in my last article, ‘6 Tips For Photographing in Bright Sunshine’. Although it may seem kind of counterintuitive, some of the most interesting lighting scenarios happen when you shoot towards the sun, rather than with your back to it. Obviously I don’t mean directly at the sun, but just so that it is somewhere in front of you, and behind your subject.
3. Use a polarizing filter
A polarizing filter can be really helpful when you’re shooting on the water on a bright sunny day, particularly if you take my advice about shooting towards the sun. One of the potential downsides of this strategy is glare and reflections coming off the water. A polarizing filter, like polarized sunglasses, reduces glare and reflections to give you a clear image. Of course you may want to play with the intense light reflections for stylistic reasons, and I personally love doing exactly that, but if you do need a tool to counteract those effects, the polarizing filter is a great thing to have in your bag.
4. Wait for the wind to drop
Water is often associated with calmness, which is why people like to install water features in their gardens. In order to capture the essence of calm in your images on the boat, pay attention to the wind conditions. More often than not, there’s at least some form of breeze on the water, and the effect is to cause ripples on the water. Ideally you want that perfectly still, glassy look, and in order to achieve that, you may need to be out on the water at the crack of dawn, before the breeze picks up. It is well worth the effort though, as you’ll also be rewarded with amazing light at that time of day.
5. Look for reflections
When you do find those calm, glassy conditions, look for opportunities to capture objects reflected in the water; mountains, ships, other boats, for example. It makes for a really interesting and unique composition.
6. Shoot for sunset
This is another point that I mentioned in my last article, and it is a really valuable piece of advice so I don’t mind repeating it this week. If you want to take your images to the next level, and get that beautiful, nostalgic summer feeling, then you need to pay close attention to the position of the sun. When it is straight overhead, the light is basically at its most intense and least interesting. When it closer to the horizon, however, it starts to cast this wonderful golden hue over everything, and the direction from which it is coming adds much more drama and interest. And tying in with tip number 5, the reflections that low sun creates on the water are truly a beautiful thing to behold.

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7. Play with negative space
There a number of different criteria by which we can judge a good photograph. For example, light, form and gesture can all play a role. Composition is another factor that can have a huge influence on the effectiveness of an image. One of the really interesting compositional techniques that savvy photographers employ is the use of negative space, referring to the area of the image in which no subject matter of interest resides. Graphic designers love negative space because it gives them somewhere to place text. When you’re out on the water there are lots of ways that you can play with negative space, using either areas of water or sky. For example, try placing the tip of a mast in the bottom corner of the frame and allowing the empty sky to fill the rest of the frame.
Hopefully you’ll get a chance to get out on the water this summer and practice some of the tips I’ve offered. But please take lots of precautions to ensure your safety. Apply lots of sunscreen, wear lifejackets, and always tell someone on shore where you’re going and when you intend to be back.
Happy boating!