How To: Boat Photography-Taking Better Pictures of your Sportsman Boat

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How To: Boat Photography-Taking Better Pictures of your Sportsman Boat

Don't be scared to take photos because you don't have the best gear or you can't compare to the professionals on social media. Just a few tips and you'll be out there shooting images just as good thanks to techniques and not the gear.

April 20, 2023
Cover image for the post How To: Boat Photography-Taking Better Pictures of your Sportsman Boat

Michael Cheser
Content Marketing Supervisor

Social media is full of photos, some great, some lousy, and some mediocre. There’s pictures of all different subjects, landscapes, families, objects and even the dreaded selfies. All pictures paint a picture of some point in time, they mean different things to different people, but depending on the story it portrays you’ll judge that photo in one of those three ways, great, mediocre or lousy.

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When you see a photo you love, is it always the sharpest image with top notch colors from a high-end camera? Do you even think about that when you see that great photo? As a photographer I am guessing you probably aren’t thinking about the camera when you see a great photo, you’re probably unknowlingly considering the framing, the subject and the story it tells. I take, what I believe to be, great photos on a nearly daily basis, I fill my social media feed with them but, there’s days where I see an old black and white photo of someone and it’s just from an old disposable camera, the lighting isn’t great, but the story is there. Those photos will draw me in and have me looking at them, studying and reliving that moment in time that I was not even a part of.

With the introduction of social media, we see these high-end photos and think we can’t take good photos, so we don’t. That ideology is so far from the truth because you’ve got a great camera in your pocket if you have a phone made in the last 3-5 years. It’s all about how you use it. Today we will look at a few techniques to help you boost your photo game and in particular we will focus on shooting boats and for our Sportsman Boat owners, this will be your Sportsman Boat. You can then take these newly produced awesome images and submit them to our photo contest where you’ll get to share off your work and possibly win some prizes in our online apparel store.

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As the main content creator for Sportsman Boats, I oversee the production of all photos and videos for all of our products, series and departments who may need content. I am using a handful of different cameras and thankfully our outstanding support from upper management has allowed me a budget to have some of the greatest pieces of equipment in the industry. The crazy thing is, 9 times out of 10 when it comes to anything personal, I leave cameras in the office, I don’t want to mess with it, I just grab my iPhone 13 Pro. The iPhone is always in my pocket, it doesn’t take up any more space and I don’t have to look like a tourist when I am taking a cool photo of something I see.

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Using the Ronin 2 stabilizer with the RED Dragon 5K Cinema Camera to record offshore running footage of the Open 302.

Now that you’re also okay with taking photos with your iPhone let’s look at how to best take that photo contest winning photo. There’s two steps that I am going to cover that will change the way you take photographs on and off the water.

Identify Your Subject:

This is key. This theory is something that I must really teach when working with a new photographer on a photoshoot. The question you’re asking yourself is am I focused on the boat or the pretty person on the boat. In your scenario you may just be focused on your beautiful wife and kids and that’s totally fine, focus on them. However, when I am shooting a boat, I am using the beautiful family to highlight the boat and really show off the features. So new photographers tend to get amazing photos of the talent and forget their shooting the boat. So, you must identify what the subject is and then you can have secondary subjects. In my case my subject is the boat 99% of the time and the talent is my secondary subject. You however have the freedom to choose your subject.

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In this image the boat is my main subject, the talent is my secondary subject and they're actions are highlighting two major features of the Heritage 261; the dive door & ladder plus the rear facing helm chairs.
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This image focuses on the talent as the main subject with the boat in the background as a secondary subject. This is because the goal of this photo was to show the lifestyle associated with owning a boat, in our example the family playing on the sandbar.

Composition & Framing:

Anyone can hold up the camera and take a photograph. However, to tell the story correctly you must have the right eye for that photograph. It’s not just point and shoot you need to see the story and find the best possible way to showcase it. You can do this by changing angles, you see everything at eye level but change your eye level, look at the boat from higher up, from down low on the water. Look at it with some foreground element in the view. Change up the way you look at the boat and you’ll find new ways to take great photographs. If you’re subject is a person, use the lines of the boat or the features to draw the eye into that person. If your subject is the boat, then use the background and surrounding elements to frame your boat but still show where you’re at. These techniques will come as you analyze photos and begin looking at how to take photos differently than you were before.

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This photo has more abstract framing, using the waves to frame the shot of the boat and the talent relaxing on board portraying the story of a relaxing day in the sun at the sandbar.

Combining Subjects & Composition:

Let’s say today you and the family are headed out to the sandbar, then afterward you plan to stop at a dockside restaurant to grab some dinner before you head home. You’ve got your brand-new Sportsman sitting there on the sandbar, is the boat your subject or is your family the subject. This is going to help you frame the shot for the story. So, story number one is we want to show off the boat in this pretty water. Well, you’re going to want to find the angle that makes your boat look best. Too often you just grab your phone and snap a quick shot, yeah, it’s pretty boat but you can make it look much better very quickly. All you need to do is move around and find the angle that makes the boat look best, generally this is going to be lower looking up at it. You’ll eliminate a lot of distracting background elements and really focus on the boat, bonus, it makes it look bigger too.

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This image shows the boat in pretty water, nicely anchored and really captures the boat and it's lines. The angle shows off more than just a side profile and makes the boat look big and pretty in the scene.
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The second image is very wide, it clearly shows the location but it doesn't make the boat look great, it looks small and is pretty basic. It doesn't highlight the subject and make it the star of the shot.
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The third photo for this example is more of a medium shot, it's showing more location than the first but still highlights the boat unlike the second. The angle of the photo is just below eye level and makes the bow look large. In terms of a product shot this is the best image of the three because it shows the entire boat without any distracting elements around.
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This image is a bonus as it's similar to the first image, the difference is this one incorporates the underwater aspect and adds an extra element to the framing of the photo and really highlights the boat and its location.

Story number two, you want to show the entire boat, but you want your family in it, I mean they’re your favorite people in the world…most days. So, your kids love jumping off the boat and doing a cannonball into the water, why not take an awesome picture of that. Frame up the boat so you can clearly see the entire boat but still centered is the area of the boat your kids are jumping from. In this example the kids are jumping off through the two transom walkthroughs on the Heritage 261. You can still see the entire boat looking fantastic in the clear water as a secondary subject, but your main subject is the kid’s mid-air with huge smiles on their faces. That’s a memory you’ll love having on camera and it tells much more of a story than a quick shot of everyone sitting on floats around the boat.

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The main subjects of this image are the kids performing their cannonball. This is because of the angle and framing of where the children are positioned in the photo.
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In this second image we've changed our angle of the photo. This time we are looking down into the boat to see the layout and features. The boat is our main subject and the kids action is out secondary subject showcasing the boating lifestyle.

For our third scene, lets focus on a single person, for this example your wife. She loves sitting on the boat and watching the kids play, always smiling and so happy that she gets to enjoy such great moments with her family. You can still show off the boat but you’re really focused on your wife now. The subject is smiling and we use features of the boat to center her in the image, in our example the structure and lines of the boat center our subject. Her smile and comfort on the boat show she’s having a great time and our eyes are led to her through the composition of the shot.

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The composition of the first image frames the subject with the natural features of the boat and nothing in the background distracts you from her. In the second image, by taking a step back and widening the shot notice how the elements in the background distract you from the subject. This shot is nice but the background elements do distract from the story you're portraying.

Then our last scene lets grab a few photos of the family at the dockside restaurant. We want to show the boat but we are mostly focused on everyone enjoying some great food at the local watering hole. Your first instinct before reading this blog would have been to jump off the boat, hop on the dock and grab a wide photo of the entire boat and the family sitting in those comfortable Sileather seats at the bow with the table up and food all around. We’re going to do just that but use some of the techniques we learned at the sandbar. Every dock is going to have some pilings on it, these are great for a foreground element, they provide the visual info that we are at a dock, add a cool element to the photo and help draw our eye to the subject which is our family dining. You’ll want to put just a part of that piling in the photo and fill the rest of the frame with the family. This shows us that we are parked at the dock having a quick bite to eat.

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But that’s not enough, this place has a great outdoor area that is gorgeous. It’s not your subject but it’s a secondary subject. Jump back on the boat, find another good way to frame up your family but make sure it draws you into them and then in the background you see the secondary subject, the lovely outdoor area. In my example I use a foreground element yet again, this time it’s the boats console, it makes you focus on the family at the bow having a great time, but in the background is this beautiful outdoor area where everyone could walk around and play after a nice meal.

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Now you take all five of those photos, you could share them individually and they’d all tell a different yet relatively similar story. Put them all together and you’ve now combined them into 4 chapters telling the story of your day at the sandbar. You’ve got a beautiful boat on the sandbar; the kids are having a blast and your wife is in her happy place watching the kids have so much fun.

You can use these techniques with anything, I didn’t go to school to learn to photograph boats, I used the techniques I learned while filming and photographing everything from movies, to weddings, to hunting shows and documentaries. These techniques will help you be a better photographer all around and they’re pretty simple to master once you have them pointed out to you and you start to look at everything with a different eye. Take note of what makes those social media posts you’re bombarded with daily so great. Soon you’ll be saying, “oh, I know how they did that” or “oh, that’s why they shot it like that” and then you’ll have those gorgeous images on Instagram. You don’t have to be a professional and you surely don’t have to have top of the line equipment. Pull out that phone you’re so frequently swiping on and start creating some photos that will have others pausing their swipe to admire your shots.