Zodiac Photography Like A Pro, Plus Shooting Video At Sea

Want to get the best possible photos while on your expedition cruise? Follow these tips by maritime photographer and writer Mike Louagie.

Maritime photographer and writer Mike Louagie.

Before the cruise

  • If you buy new equipment for an exceptional expedition cruise, it is important to practice a lot at home. Don’t buy a new telephoto lens or camera the day before you travel. You need to know how to handle everything, without even thinking.
  • If you intend to shoot wildlife it is really important that you learn how to focus on moving animals, like birds. Witnessing a magical moment when a humpback whale leaps out of the water, and having blurry photos (or no photos) is a painful experience.
  • Know the difference between AF-S and AF-C, and all the possibilities your camera offers, with different AF-points etc. AF-C (short for auto focus continuous) and AF-S (short for auto focus single).
    Imagine a catwalk with fashion models coming into your direction. The AF-C function will continuously follow the model in order to have the focus always right. If you would use the AF-S, by the time you press the shutter, your model would no longer be in focus.
  • By default, most automatic autofocus systems work by half releasing the shutter release before making the picture. If possible on your DSLR camera, it is a good idea to change this to the back-button. This will allow you to keep the focus (with your thumb), while releasing the shutter. This avoids that you have to refocus all the time.
  • Probably you do have a photo bag. Consider buying one that is waterproof. It can get wet on Zodiacs. A few drops of water can already be lethal for your gear. Everybody has different needs and different camera equipment. You can buy a waterproof backpack or drybag that is also suitable on bike rides at home. Some examples by Aquapac and Overboard.
  • If you’re only going to use your phone it is a good idea to buy a security hand strap holder. It will be very helpful.
  • For cold water cruising, buy touch screen gloves.
  • Buy the fastest memory cards, and buy enough. Erasing during a cruise is not done.
  • It is good to have a good-quality UV or Skylight filter, because at sea, and especially with ice, you could have an unwanted blue-color cast. Yes this can be removed in post production, but it is not always easy. The filter also protects the lens surface..

How much equipment can I take in a Zodiac?

  • Make it yourself easy. One camera, one zoom lens, depending on what you might see. If you go for a polar bear or puffins, then put a telephoto zoom lens on your camera. For landscapes a 24-80mm is enough.
  • What I do is to hold one camera with one lens, and one or more other lenses in my backpack.
  • Be respectful to your fellow passengers. If photography is your passion, and if you are courteous, your fellow travelers will be glad to help you to realize that little extra. If you are of the nervous kind, plunging into your camera bag to change lenses every two minutes, then people will be irritated. Not all passengers take pictures with DSLR’s, but all have the right to experience.

Before a Zodiac excursion (with or without landing)

  • Put your equipment on a safe place in your cabin. At sea the safest place is on the floor: it cannot fall down.
  • Make sure to create a certain routine when preparing your camera equipment for an excursion. A Zodiac tour or landing requires your attention. You need to be there on time, dressed properly (for cold, rain, burning sun, wet … ), eventually with boots, parka and always with life jacket.
  • Have your batteries always charged (overnight), and plenty of space on your memory cards. (be sure to have enough FAST memory cards, for when you want to use your camera in sports mode. Be ready! I have seen people who forgot to put a battery in their camera.
  • Bring lens cleaning wipes. Salty spray might build up on your lens. Keep the wipes in a dry pocket and don’t mix with wet ones. Do not use paper tissues as they might scratch your lens. Check your lens often.

Climbing into the Zodiac

  • First, if you really want to have a good place (either all the way forward or backwards in the Zodiac), then talk with the responsible staff member. Not everybody is keen to take photos or to sit in the front. Talk with people and negotiate a good place BEFORE entering the Zodiac.
  • You might need to hand over your bag, in order to safely step on board using both arms. Make sure it is closed and secured.
  • Sit down as soon as you can.

During the Zodiac tour, be constantly aware…

  • … of the fact that something interesting can happen: a whale, a bird, a penguin …
  • … that Zodiacs move, and that you can lose balance. Don’t stand before asking the driver.
  • … that water can ruin your camera. Protect it with your body, your hands, with a lens hood etc
  • Behave like a seaman with a beard: feel constantly where the wind comes from.

More tips during the Zodiac tour:

  • Sit straight up. Strangely enough, if you have a wrong body position you might end up with tilted horizons. When making a composition really try to have the horizon straight, or that you have at least some space to crop and adjust afterwards.
  • A Zodiac does absorb shocks pretty well, but this things till moves! Use a high shutterspeed (or use sports modus) and if available switch on vibration reduction.
Shooting Video From While Moving
Mike has since signed up for Zodiac expedition training, which he made a film about, using only his iPhone 11. “I did not use a stabilizer,” he says. “I filmed at 60fps and mounted my phone in a rig with a small tripod, which acted as a grip.”

Like this article?

Share on facebook
Share on Facebook
Share on twitter
Share on Twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on Linkdin
Share on pinterest
Share on Pinterest

Our latest articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *