boat photography tricks

Tools of the trade for better on-water boat photography

One of the nice things about marine marketing is that boating is a highly visual industry. When it comes to photography we have some great subjects to work with – beautiful boats, amazing outdoor landscapes and breathtaking waterways. Some may even call it sexy.

In today’s highly visual media world – from print to websites or social media – good photography is key to good marketing.

Most of the boat photography I use for SureShade marketing comes directly from the boat builders and their professional photo shoots. Other photos come from dealers or private boaters who may or may not have a good eye (or equipment) for taking a good photo. My favorite shots are always on-water shots that show a boat in use – which is obviously the harder shots to do well – unless you are a professional.

billy black photographyRecently I had the pleasure of joining a professional marine photographer on an on-water photo shoot with Billy Black Photography in Newport, RI. Billy is well known and respected in the industry and is often behind photo shoots for popular New England boat brands like Back Cove, Sabre or True North. The scheduling stars aligned and we got to work with him on a photo shoot for an upcoming sun safety in boating campaign (you’ll see more on that in the months ahead!)

Although I do a lot of amateur photography myself (from family on-water shoots to boat show photos & videos for SureShade debuts), this was my first on-water shoot working with a true marine professional. I was so impressed with all the tricks and tools of the trade Billy used while on the shoot – it truly does take a unique skill-set to be a good marine photographer. Just watching Billy do what he does everyday was a big eye-opener.

Here are some of the things I observed on our boat photo shoot as best practices:

chaser boat towerMarine Expertise

Having a photographer that knows boats and boating is critical. You can’t put a wedding photographer on a boat and expect to get good boat photos. Maneuvering around on the boat for the right angles or understanding how to position the boat for shots takes boating expertise. From operating a chaser boat to giving the captain proper directions during a photo shoot, you really need a photographer with sea legs.

Chaser Boat

A smaller chaser boat out on the water is a necessary to get alongside the subject boat for the right shots. The photographer needs an assistant to operate the boat and how to maneuver around for the right shot (so it helps if the co-captain knows photography too). On our chaser boat we had a small tower so we could get those all important down shots of our sunshade.

Gyro Stablizer

We’ve all seen those stabilizers on boats that keep them from rocky around in rough water – well a gyro stabilizer for cameras attaches to the base of a camera (or in some cases is used as a type of selfie stick) so that it keeps the camera steady as the boat moves around is really useful. When the water is a little rough, I’m guessing its the difference between taking slightly fuzzy shots and sharp on-water shots you expect to see from the pros.

Wide Angle Lens

boat photography shootFor photography on the boat, a wide angle camera lens that lets you get a full shot in close quarters is really essential. I’m sure the pros use all sorts of special camera lens for various tight shots, but at least a basic wide angle lens will give a much broader perspective for shots. This seems like a great investment if you are a boat dealer/broker that regularly takes photos for boat listings.

Video & Audio

If your photo shoot includes video and audio you’ll likely need to use a tripod and external mic. Using the tripod on the same boat (as opposed to on a boat or dock alongside the subject boat) will help the camera move with the boat at the same time. For the mic, an external microphone with a windscreen will help avoid any gusts out on the water from ruining your audio.

Another best practice I learned from my photo shoot with Billy Black is to take the photographer’s advice on time of day and/or weather. We wanted to take photos earlier in the day for scheduling reasons, but if we waited until later in the afternoon we would have had more sun for our photos (and less clouds). Just before sunset is also a very popular time for photo shoots because you get amazing colors in the sky and glowing light on the boat.

Some other photography trends and best practices worth mentioning…



Drone vs Helicopter

Most of the big boat brands use a helicopter for full overhead running shots on the water. Many of the photos we get from builders like Sea Ray or Formula came from helicopter photo shoots. The biggest benefit is that the photographer is in the helicopter taking photos and directing the shoot.

L590 photo shoot
Sea Ray L590 photo shoot
drone boat photos
Image courtesy of IG: fastlanefilmz

Drones have become a much more popular option for aerial photography and its no surprise that the boating industry is tapping into them for photo shoots. Drones equipped with cameras are much more cost-effective and you can get some nice HD quality video and high resolution photos.

Although I have never operated one, I suspect they take a lot of practice to get good still photos at the right angles. And of course pay attention to changing regulations and rules for using drones. Many major boat shows have already become “drone free zones” and I suspect more public waterways will have more rules in place as drones continue to grow in popularity.

GoPro Cameras

For on-water action photography and video, amateur photographer/water enthusiasts are using GoPro cameras. If your Instagram feed is boating related then you likely see many cool shots that were taken with a GoPro camera. Whether you are strapping them onto the bow of a boat during a cruise or using a selfie stick during watersports events (with tons of available accessories for on-water situations), you’ll get incredible wide angle photos and videos without worrying about using a camera near the water.

What are your marine photography tricks of the trade? Please share in the comments below!




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Diane is a marketer, avid boater and author of the award-winning book PR Tools to Toot Your Own Horn. In addition to being founder of MarineMarketingTools.com, Diane runs the small business site SBMarketingTools.com and the boating lifestyle sites BoaterLifeOnline.com and BoaterKids.com. Diane is also marketing director for SureShade, the new standard for shade on boats.

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