Pro Tips for Capturing Epic River Photos

By Phil Lehman

Capturing the Moment

We can’t always be on the river we love. Sometimes we must fulfill other obligations. We wish it weren’t so, but, alas, none of us has a box full of wishes. However, in times when we can’t ride the river, we can always look back at the good times we had, or at least we can if we took some good pictures.

A camera on a raft or boat is vulnerable and can leave us feeling anxious. But, if you take proper precautions and prepare, then your anxiety is replaced with excitement for the gratifying photos you’re going to take. Let your mind be at ease, and we’ll go through the best tips and advice for taking great pictures on the river without sacrificing equipment.

1. Let’s get the obvious out of the way – waterproof!

Rolling down the river hitting jaw-jarring rapids, or reeling in gorgeous brown trout, chances are there’ll be water in the boat. You’ll want to make sure your camera is either waterproof or protected by a waterproof cover. Don’t risk it! While keeping your camera safe in a dry bag is an option, if you want to get the perfect shot, the dry bag becomes more of a hindrance than a help. Which brings us to our next point.

2. Be Ready

Take tons of shots! Don’t be shy. When the perfect shot comes around you don’t want to miss it digging your camera out of a dry bag. Have your camera at the ready at all times and take photos liberally. In the digital age, you don’t have to calculate each shot to save film. Just click away. Your chances of getting the shot you want increases with every click. “Hey guys, let’s go back to the top of the rapid and run it again. This time make sure you smile.” Fat chance. You won’t get a second chance, so be ready, and make it count.

3. Use Easy Mode

Hey, it’s there for a reason. Use it. You don’t have time to flip through manual settings. Stick to the auto-adjustment setting. Even the pro’s use it. That’s why it’s there. You only have a few seconds to capture the look on your buddy’s face as a huge wave obliterates him, don’t miss it fiddling with your settings. Also, people can get annoyed when asked to pose for pics too frequently.

4. Candid Are Better

Sure, the classic get everyone together pic is good for albums, but the candid shots are the ones that tell the story. This is another reason why it pays to always be ready with your camera. Keep your camera close by then when the perfect moment presents itself, strike.

5. Angle and Position Matters

In general, you’ll want to keep the background angle flat with the horizon. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t play around with angles to find what you like. Just generally, staying inline with the horizon looks the best. For close shots, get close. Closer! If you think you’re close enough, move in a bit more. Get on their level. Faces look best when you’re looking at them, not down or up at them.

photo by Michele Testini

If you’re getting that shot of your catch, avoid the straight side view and play with the angle. Try dipping the fish in the water just before taking the photo. This will add some action and stunning detail to your photo. Be sure to get wide angles as well, to show off the scenery. Landscape can add a lot to a photo, so play with your shots to get more scenery in. Offset the person being photographed to add background and better composition. Have fun with it!

6. Look Up

You want to enjoy the adventure now and not just later. Keep your camera ready but be in moment. Not every shot needs to be taken. Having a list of shots you want to get, but not have to get, can be helpful. If you’re coming away from a trip thinking about the picture you didn’t get, you missed the boat. The point of having the pictures is to look back on the wonderful time you had, not how fantastic the photoshoot on the river went. Keep a perspective.

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