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Tips and techniques

NATURE’S VIEW: Photographing from a Boat During a Cold Alaskan Rain, Part I

By December 20, 2013No Comments

Story and photograph by Jim Clark

Stellar Sea Lion next to Boat, Brothers Island, Alaska, (c) Jim Clark

Stellar Sea Lion next to Boat, Brothers Island, Alaska, (c) Jim Clark

I haven’t made much of a go at photographing from a boat, but when invited to teach photography during a private cruise along the Alaskan Coast last August, I couldn’t resist.  I soon forgot about that imbalance in my ear.

I captured many wonderful images from the 120-foot-long mother ship, Mist Cove, but I also photographed from smaller skiffs that could easily maneuver around the islands we explored.

The weather was unpredictable. Many times we encountered rain and fog. So, based on my experience, here are some suggestions for photographing from a small boat in the often chilly and wet conditions of coastal Alaska. In Part I, we explore how to prepare you and your equipment to ensure a safe and fun experience, while Part II—to be published in the next installment of eNews—will cover shooting techniques.

Personal Protection from the Elements

When photographing from a small skiff in choppy waters, expect to deal with splashing waves and wakes. Considering the fickleness of coastal weather, there will be a bit of bad weather to encounter. Oh yeah, breaching humpback whales might cause a splash or two as well.

Always prepare for inclement weather regardless of whether you expect it or not. For personal protection from the elements, dress warmly and in layers. Wear a layer of fleece for warmth, and over that, wear a breathable rain parka with a hood and rain pants to protect you from the wind, rain and waves. Wear a pair of photography gloves and an insulated hat to keep that noggin warm. For gloves, I opt for a thin glove liner along with a convertible fleece glove that has a flip-over mitt to keep fingers warm when not photographing.

Nothing is more miserable while shooting in cold, wet weather than to have cold, wet feet. To keep feet toasty and dry, wear sock liners; over those, a pair of heavy boot socks that both insulate and wick moisture. For shoes, I opt for “Alaskan sneakers,” which are simply top-quality wading boots. These are available in insulated models, which are a little heavier than the standard types. Bring an extra pair of socks or two stashed in your camera bag. I don’t think I need to emphasize that we all wore a personal floatation device (PFD) all the time, right?

Equipment Protection from the Elements

I used the LensCoat ® adjustable raincoat that not only protects the lens and camera from rain but also has handy arm sleeves on each side to provide easy access to camera controls. In addition, a supply of large garbage bags to cover gear and several dry towels to wipe off the gear when needed are essential.

While in the skiffs and boating to a particular location to photograph, I kept our gear either in a waterproof camera bag or neatly tucked into a large, thick-ply garbage bag.

Another way to keep you and your camera gear safe is to have a boat operator who knows how to maneuver the boat in such a way that doesn’t cause much wake. We had a skilled skiff operator on my trip, and he is also an accomplished nature photographer, so he instinctively knew when to cut the motor as we got in position to photograph.

In Part II, we’ll explore some shooting techniques when photographing from a small boat.

A past NANPA President, Jim Clark is a contributing editor for Outdoor Photographer and nature photography instructor for Chincoteague Bay Field Station, Wallops Island, Virginia. The author/photographer of six books, Jim is particularly proud of two children’s books he did with his son, Carson. Visit Jim’s website at, blog at or visit him on Facebook.

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