How To Take Stunning Photos From Your Canoe

Create photos that are as memorable as your paddling adventure.

Cameras might take a backseat only to canoes and paddles as the most appropriate equipment for enjoying the innumerable lakes and rivers of Northern Ontario. Having a camera, even if it’s on a smartphone, and knowing how to best use it will help you make the most of everything from foggy mornings to crimson sunsets, and from campsite chaos to quiet creatures. 

For your next paddling excursion, here are seven tips on how to make sure the moment doesn’t float by. If you want to learn more, I recommend taking an outdoor photography workshop offered by some of Ontario's best photographers

1. Wait for Water Droplets

Back of woman paddling on large lake.

When water falls from a paddle and hits calm water, it catches a viewer’s eye and adds a suggestion of movement to an otherwise still scene. The time to plan for taking the photo is the moment immediately after the end of a paddle stroke, just as the blade is being carried forward and the droplets are hitting the water’s surface.

2. Get Low Down on Silhouettes

Silhouette of a man paddling a canoe with a dog in front of canoe.

In the pre-dawn glow or the moments following sunset, keeping your camera low to the water creates a perfect backdrop against which to silhouette a canoe and paddlers. Not only does this make the most of the sky’s beautiful colours, it adds a personal, more intimate feel to a wide scene.

3. Watching for Wildlife

Bald eagle with raised wings taking off from a branch.

Northern Ontario is home to an abundance of wildlife, but one of the top draws has to be eagles. Bald and golden eagles will sit high up in sentry white pine trees where they enjoy a hunting vantage. If you spot one, don’t be surprised when it decides to lift from the branch and circle your boat. Make sure your camera is secured in a way that doesn’t prevent you from being ready to capture the moment. Learn more during a moose or bald eagle photo safari.

4. Water In Motion

Person with paddle in yellow canoe with water movement in foreground

While out on the water, we are always in motion. Capturing this movement can be a creative exercise. By adjusting your shutter speed you can create two very different effects. Slow the speed down to blur steady action, like a fast-flowing river. This imparts a sense of time-lapse motion in the frame. Speed up the shutter to freeze high-impact action like a crashing wave or paddle whirlpool.

5. Foggy Magic

Woman in yellow canoe paddling with mist rising from water.

Perhaps the most atmospheric moments in Northern Ontario are those cool mornings when the fog rises up from the water. Though it’s difficult to do the scene justice, there are a few things that will help capture that three-dimensional beauty. The top tip for photographing fog is getting the light behind your subject. This will add a sense of depth and separate the canoe—or person or moose—from the background haze. The other tip is simple but effective: remember that the further away you are from a background, the thicker the visual effect of the fog in between.

6. Pictographs

Woman in bow of canoe looking at pictographs.

Whether on the Bloodvein River, Missinaibi Lake, or at Agawa Rock in Lake Superior Provincial Park, there are many First Nations pictographs you can view by canoe. Approaching from the water connects you to the way the original paintings were created, so it’s worthwhile to make a picture that highlights your approach. A photo that encompasses both your canoe and the artwork will add context, and even some historical scope, to an image.

7. Look Back

Looking back from stern of canoe into a sunset.

It seems canoe trips never last long enough, and after a trip in Northern Ontario, we are always yearning to get back to the remote shorelines and picturesque lakes we daydream about. With that in mind, don’t forget to look back at the rippling wake your canoe creates and snap a photo—it just might be the most memorable picture from your trip. Whether it’s a setting sun behind your stern, or the lone V in an otherwise still lake, take the time to turn around and mark your passing.

About David Jackson

David Jackson is an assignment photographer based in Thunder Bay who spends his time between stories by paddling canoes and searching for fish in the north.

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