I thought I would start a new thread for all the kayak photographers out there. This is my favorite way to shoot wildlife and it presents a great way for us focal length limited folks to get some decent shots.
This first post I will devote to some info that I have learned so far. I don't claim to be the ultimate expert or anything, but I hope I can share my knowledge to help people new to wildlife photography out.
The Kayak: The kayak needed is going to depend on what type of photography you are planning to do. My main focus is wildlife photography, so I had certain needs in mind when purchasing. A couple of key things to consider are:
1.) cockpit size-needs to be very large if you want to use a tripod, or are using long lenses. It's very hard to dig a big lens out of a small cockpit quickly. I don't have a supertelephoto (yet), so I choose to shoot handheld only. I set my lens on a dry bag in front of me with a microfiber cloth set over the end to keep water splashes off the front element. The most popular choice is probably the Wilderness Systems Pungo 120 or either a Native Ultimate or Wilderness Systems Commander. It was a little expensive starting out, so I found a Old Town Vapor 12 on Craigslist and snatched it up. To start out with. I have now moved on to a Native Ultimate 14.5.
2.) width- you will want something that is at least 27" wide probably. This will provide a lot of stability. The more stability, the less motion when taking photos. A wide kayak is also harder to dump over, so you won't be as likely to mess up your gear.
3.) length- I like 12'- 14'. It's short enough that it isn't super hard to turn and long enough to go fairly straight and fast when out on lakes or slow moving rivers. I would go at least 10' to keep from wearing yourself out paddling a lot.
4.) sit inside vs. sit on top- sit on top are easy to get in and out of, but harder to keep dry in. I also like having a cockpit that is large enough that I could fit a tripod in if I was using a larger lens at some point. I don't take my good camera equipment out in conditions that I would need a sit-on-top in, so I'm not worried about "swamping." A sit on top can work as well, but isn't as good during the colder months in my opinion. I chose sit in for this reason.
The paddle- There are paddles out there for every budget. I recommend at least going with fiberglass instead of aluminum due to the lighter weight. Go to a store and handle both and you will see the difference. I started with a Carlisle Magic Plus paddle. It was ok, but I would recommend aquabound hybrid paddles if you are on a budget. They are lighter and have a better blade design. I now use a Werner Kalliste bent shaft paddle which is excellent (but expensive).
1.)approach slowly. Wildlife doesn't feel threatened as much from things in the water, but that does not mean you can just paddle up to anything you want.
2.)coasting is very effective. I have found that paddling, even slowly, can scare wildlife. I think the movement of the large paddle confuses them. I prefer to aim at a spot and let myself coast towards my subject. I usually take a series of photos as I get closer and closer. That way I can crop a distance shot if the animal runs or flies away before I'm as close as I want to be.
3.)go out early morning or late evening. I like the light this time of day and it tends to be the best time to see wildlife. It can also get really hot during the middle of the day sitting on the water. There is usually less wind in the morning and evening as well.
4.)hug the shore. This will usually keep you in the shade, out of the wind, and closer to where most of the wildlife is usually at.
5.)plan ahead. I look at kayak photos like defensive driving. You are often going to get surprised by what happens and could miss the shot or get in a dangerous situation. Always be looking ahead and thinking of what if scenarios and trying to plan your avenue of approach. I find stalking animals both fun and challenging. When they run away I try to keep at it rather than letting myself get discouraged.