Joe and Mary Ann McDonald's

Wildlife Photography

September 2006


Tip of the Month

Stablizers for Kayaks

I've often been tempted to buy a small kayak to use for photography, and recently I finally did so. Prior to doing so I borrowed a friend's two kayaks, measuring 8 ft or 11 ft, as a try-out. As it was pointed out, and as I discovered, a longer kayak runs straighter with each paddle stroke, while a short kayak has a tendency to weave left or right with each stroke. I felt, however, that I needed mobility and a short turning radius more than I needed a straight-rowing kayak, so I ended up purchasing a 10 footer.

Kayaks and canoes are stable, but they can tip over if you balance yourself incorrectly. On my maiden voyage with my new kayak, I mounted a 100-400 lens with my 1D Mark II on a small Mountaineer tripod, and positioned the tripod legs so that two tripod legs straddled my legs on the outside, and one extended toward the bow. With this setup I couldn't shoot sideways, but I had a very sturdy and effective mount for subjects straight in front of me. From previous experience, I feel a canoe may provide a bit more leeway for shooting left or right, but the weight of a kayak is so much less, and paddling it so easy, that the trade-off wasn't worth it.

My experiment went without a problem, and I felt, then, that I could probably risk mounting a 500 or 600mm lens for better reach. However, I'm hoping to use this rig to approach migrating tundra swans this March, when I'd need the longest lens possible, and where, if I'd tip, I'd not only loose thousands of dollars worth of gear, I'd also be at grave risk of dying from exposure in water that was recently ice-covered. I wasn't keen to risk that.

I figured that a buoy or stabilizing system would solve that problem, where I could place floats on either side of the kayak to prevent a tip. Doing a web search, I discovered that such a product exists, and after a bit more research, I decided to get a pair. I ordered on-line from Spring Creek Outfitters, (, the manufacturer of HD Kayak Stabilizers. You can check their website to see what they look like, but basically they look like two miniature kayaks that are secured by a rod that can be attached to a mounting clip that you install onto the deck of your kayak. Their catalog illustration shows a guy standing up, fishing, in the kayak, although there's a footnote somewhere about that not being recommended. No kidding!

Unfortunately, I'm writing this Tip right before I leave for a multiple series of trips -- I'll actually be in the office 2 days between September 10th and December 10th, so I didn't have time to do a field test and take some photos. However, I'm confident that the rig will work, and I'm adding this Tip now because if you're thinking of shooting in Florida this winter, or contemplating shooting waterfowl during the spring migration, it'd be prudent to think about using a kayak and getting everything ready months, rather than days, before a shoot.

In a later Tip I'll do a follow-up and an update on the Stabilizers, but I'm very confident that they will be the solution for safe kayaking with gear. Let me stress, however, that I'll be using my kayak on lakes, ponds, or sheltered bays where waves won't be a problem, and I will not be doing 'white-water' boating, especially if I'm carrying photo equipment. Common sense tells me that trying to do quality wildlife photography with a long lens, and boating through white water rapids just isn't compatible!


Our Past Photo Tips of the Month:


ProShow Gold
Digital Slide Program

Workflow and Workload -
You Can Keep Ahead

  New Lens Covers for
Long Lenses

 Effective Cloning in Adobe CS2

 The Helicon Focus Filter Revisited

 Keep Your Head Up
 The Best All-Around Lens

 The Pond-A Must-See shooting Location in southern Arizona

 DIGITAL- Digital Birding

 DIGITAL -Shoot for the Future

 DIGITAL-Shoot for the Future, Part II

 Capture 1's Most Useful Features

maximizing depth of field digitally

  Backing Up Your Digital Files - you'll need more than you think

 DIGITAL Photographing scenes with extreme exposure values

 NPN- Nature Photography Network - a digital forum for nature photography

 Digital Pro Image Management Software

 Watch Your Backgrounds
The potential of composites or shooting in RAW format

 A Great Website for Information - the Singapore Nature Photography Society

 Save Your Equipment from Crashing!

 The L-Bracket, the ultimate camera bumper

At the Pulse of Life
by Fritz Polking

 Carry Your Gear!

 Shooting in Inclement Weather

 Carry-on Luggage for small commuter flights

 Visual Echos Tele-Flash for the 580EX Flash

 Ask Questions
Before You Go

 Seize the Moment!

Geared Focusing Rail for Macro Work 

 Protecting your long lens from SAND, the pleasures of beach photography

 How do we protect our gear from dust, and carry our gear when on safari

 The Ultimate Flash Bracket
Padding Your Wimberley
Tripod Head

  Specular highlights and the flashing frog
 Using TTL flash with Hummingbirds  Testing your Flash's Aim
Maximum Depth of Field and Hyperfocal Distance - they're not the same thing!  If you see it, it's too late -- a lesson in anticipation  How do you shoot the Moon?
  Low level tripod work  A great depth of field guide  Wimberley 400 and 600mm IS plate

 Sigma's 120-300mm F2.8 APO HSM zoom lens

 Using The Wimberley Gimbal head with a camera body

 Sigma's 120-300 f2.8 APO
zoom telephoto lens

 Custom Function 4-1 for Nikon and Canon shooters

 Sighting in a very, very long lens
 The Nature Photography Network - a super website for images and information
  Take a Workshop First   Luck, what is it?  Don't take in baby wild animals

  Airline Carry-On Luggage -Let your concerns be heard!

 Disconnect -- travel precautions

Photograph America Newsletter
 Wildlife Portraiture

 Obey the Rules
The Ti Chi Stalk
Photographing Critically Endangered Sites Bushnell Night Vision Optics  Adobe Photoshop 7 for $300

 The Sibley Bird Guides

 Removing Cactus Spines

 Drying out boots with newspaper

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