5 Tips For Taking Pics On A Fishing Boat 📸

Last week’s interview with photographer Hannah McGowan included some *bomb* advice on shooting photos on a (moving & working!) commercial fishing boat that I felt deserved its own post! So, I took it out of our original interview and posted it here. This small-but-mighty blog is packed with 5 tips that teach us how to go beyond a selfie. Basically, in less than a minute, we’ll learn to shoot like a pro. 😎

(And if you want to see more of Hannah’s work, pop over to her website for more inspo!)

Let’s get schooled, shall we?

Photo by Hannah McGowan
Photo by Hannah McGowan

5 Tips for Taking Pictures on a Commercial Fishing Vessel by Hannah McGowan:

  1. Be prepared to be completely unprepared. Your “shot list” is a great way to prep and find inspiration with what types of imagery you’d like to create, but when you get there, just go with what is in front of you. When you’re documenting commercial fishing, you quickly realize you’re working with three of the most unpredictable and volatile things: the weather, the ocean, and boats. 
  2. Ask before you start shooting everything. This is a good rule for photographing anyone, really. We all have parts of our lives that we’d rather not have recorded. Be kind, and don’t be invasive.
  3. Stay out of the way. The work is really dangerous, and I always think about what a sternman told me on one of my first boats: “If I say to stand still, do not pick up those feet!” It doesn’t take much to get caught in a line and whipped overboard. I like to watch the rhythm every crew has before I start shooting in different spots on the boat, and I always ask the captain if it’s ok before I reposition to an area that is high activity. So be a good listener and be aware of your surroundings.
  4. Something else to consider is your angles. Don’t just shoot from the waste or at standing/eye level. I kneel in puddles, climb in wheelhouses, tuck in beside lobster tanks, and dangle from edges (when it’s safe enough) to get shots. I’ve even laid on the top of the cabin to shoot a kelp harvest from above. Move around and try getting some solid angles – just don’t kill yourself in the process. 
  5. Regarding gear, having your own set of oilskins or waterproof gear can be helpful when you’re kneeling next to bait, and the juice keeps splashing you with every new wave. So, I’d recommend dressing accordingly. It certainly isn’t a fashion show! Bring some sunscreen, chapstick, extra socks, and water, too; trust me. Don’t worry about using fancy straps, clips, or weatherproofing gear for your camera. If you’re on a commercial fishing boat, things are going to be oily and wet, and it will ruin your $80 camera strap very quickly. I shoot with an $11 camera strap on boats and $8 plastic rain covers. I did invest in a waterproof hiking camera bag with a non-fabric coating on it that I can scrub after shoots. Last summer off of Vinalhaven, a bait bin got dumped, and I realized that I hadn’t moved my bag. Thankfully those waterproof seems held! I washed it with some Castile soap and white vinegar later, and it was perfect.

So, keep out of the way, keep your angles low, keep your feet and gear dry, and stay respectful of the crew and the real dangers that are involved in the job. Go get filthy, learn about anything you can, and have fun!

Have you ever shot pictures on a boat? Which one of the tips above will you next time you go out to sea? We’d love to know! Please answer in the comments below! 

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