I have yet to master the art of capturing photos from a kayak. When I come back from a paddle, I’m often disappointed by how few of the photos meet my expectations. Invariably the photos are out of focus, blurry or have the wrong exposure. It’s a challenge to hold the camera steady with one hand while bobbing around in a tippy boat and holding onto the paddle with my free hand. And then the composition is always changing. I’ll see a potential opportunity forming and by the time I can get the camera in position the scene changes. Then while I’m trying to snap photos my paddling buddies are continuing on their journey. Time to put the paddle back in the water and catch up. And I’m always trying to position myself within the pod to take advantage of the light and composition. Glare on on the viewfinder is another issue, which means I’m more likely to just point and shoot and hope I get something. I like to capture candid moments on the water, water dripping off the paddle blades and the play of light and reflections and clouds. And then there’s the risk of getting water drops on the lens, or worse yet, a smudge of sunblock.
So this past week I decided it was time to master the art of kayaking photography. I use an Olympus TG-5 and on Thursday, November 4, I was determined to see if I couldn’t improve on the quality of the images.
Our launch site was Point Isabel on the east side of San Francisco Bay. One of my paddling buddies suggested this put-in since it is a short drive and I can just sort of fall out of bed and be there. I pulled out of my driveway at 9:02 and parked at the launch site at 9:13. A welcome change from the previous week when I spent two ours getting to our launch site. Our paddle took us to the north end of the jetty on Brooks Island. We had calm water, no wind, and dramatic clouds against a blue sky. Great conditions for photography, with the water offering nice patterns and reflections.
We could see the skyline of San Francisco peeking through the clouds in the distance. We kept our distance going past Bird Rock so as not to disturb the birds.
We were paddling on a high tide, 6.8 feet at 11:40, and as we paddled along we noticed that there appeared to be gaps in the jetty. The tide was so high that it was flooding over the jetty with enough clearance to float our boats. You can see David, riding a little bit of a tide rip over the rocks. We paddled over the jetty and back and continued on to Ferry Point where we stopped for lunch. Then it was back on the water for the return trip. We paddled across the shipping channel and along the inside of the jetty to avoid any shipping traffic. We were back on the beach at Point Isabel at 2:00 having logged 8.5 miles. You can take a closer look at our track here or on the map below. On uploading the photos to my computer, I found that that I had some 424 images! Quite a chore to sort through. But I discovered that the habits I had developed for land-based landscape and architectural photography were hindering my ability to capture photos from a kayak. On land I tend to use a small aperture to maintain a good depth of field. On the water a wider aperture and a high shutter speed seem to work best. I was quite happy with a number of the images. Of the 424 images I captured, I marked 44 as keepers. You can view those photos here. Overall it was a picture perfect day.
March 5 marked my 70th birthday. So what do I do on my birthday? I go paddling with friends. What better way to celebrate than being outdoors in the fresh air, doing something active with the camaraderie of good friends. I volunteered to be the trip initiator, and after reviewing the tides and currents with some knowledgeable fellow paddlers, I opted to plan the paddle from Emeryville to Point Isabel. With a strong ebb sucking water out of the bay for most of the day, paddling along the east shore of the bay would avoid strong currents. The announcement I posted on the BASK club bulletin board read “Thursday Paddle: Cake and Champagne.”
We met at the the boat ramp at the Emeryville Marina and, contrary to the signs that said “Paid Parking” and the a warning that parking might be an issue, we were able to park close to the boat ramp for free. It seems the signs are out of date.
We were lucky enough to have our good friends Danny and Susan show up with a double that they had just acquired; a very long boat. It took four people to get it on the water.
After a safety talk and radio check we were on the water at 10:30. We had calm water and overcast skies when we launched, with a prediction for winds of 8 knots with gusts to 12 knots in the afternoon.
Our paddle took us north along the east shore of San Francisco Bay. As we approached the Berkeley Marina, we were beginning to feel the effects of the wind as wind waves kicked up a bit. Everybody seemed to be comfortable with the conditions so we paddled on, past Berkeley, past the Albany Bulb and on to Point Isabel. The landing at Point Isabel only accommodates one boat at a time on a rocky beach, so we took turns bringing our boats in.
As we were breaking out the cupcakes and champagne, who should show up but our paddling buddy Tom, on a bike, decked out in a PFD and spray skirt. The best way to explain this is to share Tom’s post from the club message board:
At breakfast this morning, Ellen is perusing Buzz and says “Oh, Treve’s having a birthday pedal today to have cake and champagne at Point Isabel. He says you have to wear a PFD and spray skirt to attend.” She caught me at “cake”, and I replied “When will they be at Point Isabel?” The answer, “probably around noon.”
Now I’ve never ridden my bike wearing a PFD and spray skirt, but Treve’s an interesting fella and might know something I don’t about this.
So I got OTB [on the bike] around 11:15 and had a smooth pedal down to the bay and along the bay trail, no ferry angle needed. Approaching Point Isabel I am astonished to see Treve and his buddies not on bikes, but paddling kayaks! Huh?
Oh well, at least they did let me have one of Joann’s homemade cupcakes and a sip of bubbly.
How was it pedaling with PFD and spray skirt? Not recommended, but if you do, best to secure the grab loop to a buckle on your PFD to prevent tangling (thanks, Susan, for the tip). I didn’t attempt a roll.
Happy birthday, Treve! And it was great to see Danny and Susan on Danny’s Thursday paddle. As it should be.
After lunch it was back in the boats for the return trip to Emeryville. The wind which had been threatening to build moderated a bit, and we found ourselves riding a bit of chop heading back around the Albany Bulb and into Berkeley. As we approached the Berkeley Marina we opted to duck inside the marina. It seems Susan’s legs were going numb from sitting in the back cockpit of the double. Susan swapped places with Steve and we were back on the water. From Berkeley it was an easy paddle back to the Emeryville boat ramp, returning at 3:15. Our paddle covered 9.9 miles. Not a bad day for a 70 year old. You can view more stats on the tracklog here and more photos here.