Paddling photography using an action camera

Action cameras have revolutionized how we can share our sports and passions. But lets face it, the rules of photography are no less important using action cameras. Luckily it’s surprisingly easy making your own footage work a lot better.


Being a freelance photographer for Getty Images I´ve got a few tricks that might work for you when attaching you GoPro to your bike, kayakk, helmet etc. Here I explore a few simple challenges and solutions to achieving successful  action camera footage. To exemplify I’ll use one of my own passions – surfskipaddling – a special kind of very dynamic seakayaking. I´ve captured all the images below except from one tagged with the name of very skilled surfski photographer Lucas Tozzi.

Paddlers in Fish Hoek

Going out through the surf or down a cracking Millers Run is a feeling you just can´t explain. Who wouldn’t like to show their dear ones just how crazy the runs were.


OK stupid example, but like me you’d probably like to show off to your friends or just capture and convey the feeling of being on the water be it serenity, speed, elegance of the boats, seeing wildlife, inclement weather  etc.


A picture is worth a thousands words.  So how do you make sure that your footage will actually speak of motion, wind, roaring waves and drama.  You don’t want it to show a flat grey paddle and you hear yourself go “but it really was fantastic”



Two rules of photography and three specific kayaking work-arounds

Rule 1) 

Fill the frame. You want foreground, mid-ground and background. Don´t position you GoPro with yourself in the middle of the frame but a bit to the side to allow for mid-ground to the side (waves, boats, paddlers) and background. Here’s a Himba woman I photographed recently in Namibia to exemplify this principle.


Most fails happen when we just point the camera be it SLR or action camera to a mid-ground scene. Like the sea. This really requires an interesting mid-ground as a camera can’t scan, zoom and focus creating the interesting collage your mind remembers. Try to take a nice photo of the sea without beach or dramatic skies and you will be hard pressed.


Rule 2 )

Rule of thirds. Divide the image in 9 equal portions placing the main subjects in one of the crossings. Remember this when mounting your GoPro  – you should be in a crossing which will also make room in the other sweetspots of the frame for action like fellow paddlers, boats, waves, Wildlife – all adding depth, .

Chile; Province: Magellanes & Antarctica; National Park: Torres del Paine. Guanaco (Lama Guanicoe) beneath The Horns of the Paine Massif.

Chile; Province: Magellanes & Antarctica; National Park: Torres del Paine. Guanaco (Lama Guanicoe) beneath The Horns of the Paine Massif.

Why does it work. I don´t know. ABC, small medium large, RGB,  BLT, The three musketeers, Rock Paper Scissors, The Hansons – it´s all perfection in 123…

When portraying movement of a surfski or any object it´s important to leave room for the movement as the eye will track that movement and needs this space.


 Dawid Mocke training in Fish Hoek after returning from NZ as King of the Harbour in March 2014


Capturing surfskis on an action camera. A tricky triple whammy

1) If you want to show how steep a mountain, road or wave is don´t shoot parallel to it or will instantly go horizontal.

2) Action cameras shoot very wide to capture all it can of your surroundings, this also prevents motion blur from speed og changes in angle. But in slow sports this can have an effect on drama and the smaller field of view at the waves in front of you.

3) Mounted on bow, stern or head. Been, there done that, ate the burger. Boring.

Luckily the solutions to all three are very simple


Solution 1) Get onboard cameras off board.

Sometimes placing your GoPro on a rock, on a tripod on shore or on deckwill do Wonders. You could get a friend to bring a camera to a pier or other vantage point or if you´re really lucky in an escort boat . 1) Get yourself in close to the GoPro or 2) make your friend bring a zoom to compresses depth, drama and action. 1926083_10152125509573978_1876632365_o

Lonesome wave rider on Millers Run


Screen Shot 2014-08-22 at 23.50.15

Boyan Zlatarev in some messy Gibraltar water

By master photographer Lucas Tozzi. With permission of Lucas


Solo paddler braving the surf in Fish Hoek


Solution 2) Choose the least wide setting, get in close filling the frame

Get other skiers, surfers, boats in the frame. This gives the viewers a point of reference and now their brain acknowledge just how big the conditions were.


Taller than Nikki Mocke! Nikki paddling to the left

wave empty




okk2          okk3

Flat or choppy waves?


Speed reference


A cheap trick to is to simulate speed by going upwind and choosing the moment when you clear the wave. By no means the most difficult part, but good action. When going downwind there’s little difference between the speed of the waves and the boat. So one downwind frame will often tell a story of static balance. To most of us that just isn´t how it felt on the wave.


Solution 3) Try new angles

Speed, serenity, storm, midwinter. Whatever feeling you want to convey – move the camera around and experiment. If theres a rule, break it.


Kayalu has some seriously tall mounts. Here I mounted a camera on a 42″ SuckerPod tripod on my V10 Sport. Nice stability drill too with a heavy tripod.


Don´t get your face too close


Testing dry suit. Freezing Norwegian midwinter. Sea kept open by currents


Don´t mention the s-word



The boats are just elegant

The three solutions above will instantly get you fresh images of your passion. But naturally it´s just the tip of the iceberg. Editing routines such as pulling and pushing shadows, clarity, retouching and cloning can bring you a long way.

Let´s keep it simple for now and save that for a later occasion or maybe a photography blog.


Post and pre edits of very same frame

sweV14bckgrd2 copy

Screen Shot 2014-08-15 at 19.54.30

Happy shooting!

My photography website is right here:

Sune Wendelboe

August 2014

One thought on “Paddling photography using an action camera”

  1. Great article. Thank you. Do you know of a good way to counter the wave flattening effect if the fisheye lense? Is the only option to narrow the field of view? Does fisheye reduction editing software help?


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