When I first starting taking pictures on the river, I realized that everyday might not be a good picture day, yet everyday would be a good river day.
I have been kayaking and photographing on the American River for close to 5 years now. I was gone for almost 2 weeks to Florida to teach in February, so I hadn’t been on the river in a while. When I got back was anxious for the weekend and my chance to go out paddling and picture taking. That first day back was the first time I ever went out on the river and did not take a single picture. The light was flat, the wildlife sightings were poor and I could not find anything interesting enough to photograph. At least it was a good river day! I only had one day to go out that weekend, because I was teaching a workshop on Sunday morning. It would be another week before I got to try again.
They were calling for partly cloudy at sunrise on Saturday and I was all excited because that is usually when I have the best sunrises. I set the alarm and extra 15 minutes early to make sure I was at the river early in case the sky lit up. I walked down in the dark, pulling my kayak. I had one camera with my 150-600mm lens on my Cotton Carrier (click here to a link and coupon code for Cotton), and a second one with a wide-angle lens in a dry bag in the kayak.
I ended up standing around a lot because the sky never lit up and the thick clouds kept it fairly dark. When it got light enough I launched the boat and just drifted down the river. Very quickly the clouds started to break up, and although the sun was above the horizon, it was not above the top of the steep levee on the south bank. I positioned the kayak pointing south, into the sun, and brought out the wide-angle lens. The lens is very wide 15-30mm, and I wanted to shoot at 15mm. It gets real tricky not getting any of the kayak or the paddles in the frame when shooting that wide.
Since I was pointing into the sun, I knew I would want to shoot HDR and take 3 exposures 2 stops apart. This isn’t easy to do when you are hand holding the camera in a kayak that is drifting with the current. I have learned to hold the camera a few inches from my face and to keep my hands steady as I pivot my shoulders to keep the lens pointing in the same place for all 3 exposures. Fortunately the software has gotten really good at aligning the images. I know that if I stop that lens down to f/11-f/16 I will get a very good starburst if I can align the sun to peak out around an obstacle. In this case I used the levee as that obstacle.
It felt good to get one image I was going to be proud of.
3 exposures 2 stops apart for HDR; f/11: ISO 100; 15mm; hand held from a kayak