We’re two regular, not particularly athletic, people with 9-to-5 desk jobs. Freelance photographers who love to explore and share those explorations with our friends, we get asked a lot of questions about, and while in the process of, the creation of Scenes From A Kayak. Below are some of them, answered by Kippy.
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- Did you build those boats?
Yes, we sure did. The foreword to the book takes you through our process, including lots of photos taken during that 2-year period. We even have a short video of the process here on the site. As you can see, while we helped each other, I worked on mine and Jeremy worked on his. It really frustrates me when people assume Jeremy built my boat for me, and that happens more than you might think.
- Aren’t you afraid of your camera equipment getting wet?
Absolutely. If you’re into photography, you know the value of the equipment we’re using out on the water. That’s partly why Jeremy designed that custom well up in front of our cockpit, to hold the Pelican cases full of our gear. In general, if we’re in a situation where we don’t feel stable and secure on the water, we don’t take the cameras out of the boxes. All that said, we all know that Mother Nature often has the last laugh, so all of our gear is insured, just in case.
- What if you do capsize?
Well, it certainly happens. The way and places we kayak very rarely require us to wear spray skirts, so when we go over we just float right out of the cockpit. Of course, so does all our gear (and we have a video of that as well). But so far, with the exception of a set of car keys early on in our paddling career, we’ve never lost anything we couldn’t retrieve. Years of practice (and diving to retrieve items like a dropped GPS unit) have taught us how to load our boats for that possibility. We took a class in Half Moon Bay, California, a few years ago, that taught us how to get back into our boats while out in the water, so we always have paddle floats with us, and we also carry radios to keep in touch with each other in case we get separated. We try to plan for the worst, and we’ve so far been very lucky.
- Isn’t it dangerous to kayak in the winter, or at night, or …?
It certainly can be. At night our boats are lit, but we do sometimes turn the lights off temporarily for a photo, when we’re out there alone. And in the winter, we carry a lot of emergency gear with us including flares, mylar thermal blankets, waterproof matches, and a first aid kit. We endeavor not to wear cotton, and often have wet suits on under our clothes (we haven’t pulled the trigger on dry suits yet). Also, we’re pretty big PFD proponents. We usually wear coastguard-certified self-inflating vests, and then each carry an extra PFD on deck, next to a spare paddle. At times when conditions don’t look great, we just wear the standard PFD (mostly because we don’t want to pay for a re-arming kit if we don’t have to. haha). You may see a few photos of us without PFDs in the book. Those photos will be in our blue boats (early on we weren’t always very smart about what we were doing. Mother Nature has taught us a lot of lessons in respect), or in very specialized situations, like the Black Rock Desert, where the water was just barely deep enough for us to paddle, and in Africa, where they weren’t provided. In that case, the water also was mostly shallow, and to be honest, if we ended up falling into the Okavango Delta we likely had far worse things to worry about than drowning. But these days we always wear a PFD and usually carry a spare.
- How do you carry everything you need to get the shots you do?
It’s not always easy. Thankfully, the box that houses our drone gear is exactly the same model we were already using for our cameras, so that was fortunate. At any given time out on the water, we have two Canon 5Ds, lenses, cell phones, Mavic Pro + accessories, Insta360 OneX, and a GoPro on a motorized gimble. As you might expect, Jeremy has designed systems for mounting the GoPro and the Insta360, and the rest we split between the hard cases and dry bags.
- What are your biggest challenges, shooting from a kayak?
Well, balance is probably the biggest one. It takes a little practice to figure out how to do things like rustle around in the case for gear and change lenses, all while making sure you don’t flip, drift, or run into anything that can throw you off balance or scare the animal you’re trying to photograph. And after you’re ready to shoot, especially if there are waves, you have to figure out how to pull your elbows in, brace against your own body, and not breathe while actually shooting. You have enough movement working against you at that point – you don’t need any extra. It’s not always easy to hold your breath, either, especially if you’ve just paddled like heck to get into a good position to photograph a bird that might fly at any moment. Of course there are the usual challenges to kayaking, too: weather, current, wind, wake from powered boats, etc.
- What made you think of trying to take photos while kayaking, and then turning that into a book?
We were photographers before we were kayakers. Once we tried kayaking and realized how much we loved it, bringing a camera along was a pretty natural transition. We were seeing such amazing beauty out on the water, and we really wanted to share it with our friends and family. In the beginning we carried everything in dry bags, which was a real pain. Once we figured out the Pelican Case solution, life got a lot better. As for the book, well, as so many nature photographers hear at one point or another, people kept telling us, “You ought to publish a book!” The reality is, in this day and age, the chances of us finding an actual publisher for what we do are likely pretty slim, so we took matters into our own hands. The first book, from 2010, was a huge disappointment to us (and likely to many people who purchased it). It was small and the printing wasn’t very good. Also, I misjudged our audience. I thought people would just want to see the photos, but one of the biggest complaints we heard was regarding the lack of accompanying stories. So this time around, we changed everything. We went with the oversized format and worked with a real printing company, rather than an online print-on-demand company where we had no quality control. We also decided to go with a hard cover, even though that added to the cost. When you hold this substantial book (nearly 3 pounds!) in your hands, we think you’ll agree it was a good decision.
- Can I go kayaking with you sometime?
I have to give you a solid “maybe” on that one. It’s a big responsibility, going out on the water with someone you don’t know, and it depends why we’re going out, whether you’re a kayaker, how well we know you … a lot of factors. If we’re going out specifically to shoot, well, probably not. If we’re going out in dangerous conditions, also probably not. Funny side story about that: One day I shared on social media that we were planning to kayak Tahoe after a particularly huge snowstorm. An online friend (whom we’d never met in person) commented about how great that sounded and how jealous they were, so I, with my big mouth, didn’t think twice about joking, “Hey, if you can make it here by next weekend, you can come with us! We have a spare boat!” I was kidding! She, however, was not, when she excitedly said ok and then showed up the following weekend, ready to go. It almost ruined my entire day, until I finally met her in person and saw how she handled the boat on the water. Then I realized she was a safe, responsible paddler, and also one very cool person. We had one of the very best times, kayaking on the liquid silver of snowy Tahoe on an overcast day! A much stronger friendship began that day. All that said, we do enjoy paddling with friends, and also enjoy sharing our favorite paddling spots, so if you’re ever in the area, give us a shout and we’ll see what we can work out.
- What’s the next big photo/kayaking trip?
Once everything with the pandemic settles down and international travel is an option again, probably Croatia. We were supposed to go there for our honeymoon, back in 2010, but I lost my job right after our wedding and we couldn’t afford it. Domestically, again presuming covid restrictions allow, we’re hoping to maybe paddle/hike/camp Isle Royale National Park, in Lake Superior next year. I grew up in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, but I’ve never been there.
Please fill out this out to send us your questions, comments, or to let us know what you think of the book! We’d also love to hear what you think would make the next volume even better.