A Guide to Sailing Photography with Expert Tips
Pilot cutters in Falmouth

A Guide to Sailing Photography with Expert Tips

Sailing is a timeless pursuit that embodies adventure, freedom, and the beauty of the open water. For photographers, capturing the essence of sailing presents a unique set of challenges and opportunities. In this guide, we’ll explore the art of sailing photography, discussing techniques, tips, and insights to help you capture images that convey the exhilaration and beauty of life on the water.

Understanding the Basics

Sailing photography is more than just capturing boats on the water – it’s about telling a story of adventure, teamwork, and the symbiotic relationship between humans and nature. Before you hoist your camera and start shooting, it’s crucial to understand the basics of sailing and photography. Familiarise yourself with sailing terms and the different types of tall ships. This knowledge will help you anticipate movements, understand the sailors’ actions, and ultimately capture more compelling images.

black nikon dslr camera on black surface

Choosing Your Equipment

The first step in your tall ship photography journey is choosing the right equipment. Your choice of camera and lenses will largely depend on your budget, but there are other factors to consider.


When it comes to cameras, durability and weather-sealing are key. Tall ship photography often involves harsh weather conditions and plenty of saltwater spray. Therefore, a robust, weather-sealed camera is a must.


As for lenses, versatility is crucial. A wide-angle lens is great for capturing the vastness of the sea and the full view of the tall ship. A telephoto lens, on the other hand, allows you to capture close-ups of the sailors in action or distant ships.


In addition to traditional cameras, drones have become an invaluable tool in tall ship photography. They offer a unique perspective, allowing you to capture breathtaking aerial shots of the tall ships and the surrounding seascape. However, operating a drone requires additional skills and may be subject to local regulations, so be sure to do your research before taking to the skies.

Protecting Your Gear

Investing in protective gear for your camera, lenses, and drone is equally important. Waterproof bags and cases, lens filters, and cleaning supplies are all essential to keep your equipment safe and functioning in the challenging sailing environment.

Lady working the ropes on a tall ship at sea

Capturing the Action

Tall ship sailing is a dynamic activity, and capturing the action requires a good understanding of your camera settings. Fast shutter speeds are often necessary to freeze the action and avoid motion blur. However, don’t be afraid to experiment with slower shutter speeds for creative effects, such as conveying the speed of the ship or the choppiness of the sea.

Composition and Timing

In sailing photography, composition and timing are everything. Look for interesting lines formed by the ship’s rigging, the curve of the sails, or the horizon. Be ready to capture dramatic moments, like a ship leaning into a strong wind or a sailor skilfully navigating a wave.

Sailing lifestyle portrait

Embracing Natural Light

Lighting plays a crucial role in sailing photography, as it can dramatically impact the mood, atmosphere, and visual impact of your images. Pay attention to the quality, direction, and intensity of natural light, and how it interacts with the water and sails. Golden hour, shortly after sunrise and before sunset – is often considered the best time for sailing photography, as the soft, warm light enhances colours and textures, creating a magical glow. However, don’t discount the potential of other lighting conditions, such as stormy skies or dramatic clouds, which can add drama and mood to your images.

Exploring Different Perspectives

To capture unique and compelling images, don’t be afraid to explore different perspectives and angles. Get low to the water to capture reflections and ripples, or climb high above the boats to capture sweeping vistas and expansive views. Experiment with wide-angle and telephoto lenses to capture both intimate details and panoramic scenes. Look for opportunities to capture the interaction between sailors and the elements, such as adjusting sails, navigating obstacles, or celebrating victories.

Pilot cutter Pellew sailing in Falmouth from a drone

Tips for Sailing Photographers

  1. Get on the water: To capture the most authentic and dynamic sailing images, consider getting out on the water yourself. Whether you’re sailing alongside the boats or shooting from a chase boat or drone, being on the water allows you to immerse yourself in the action and capture unique perspectives.
  2. Anticipate the action: Sailing photography requires anticipation and quick reflexes to capture decisive moments. Pay attention to the wind, currents, and the behaviour of the boats and sailors, and anticipate key moments of action and drama.
  3. Experiment with settings: Don’t be afraid to experiment with different camera settings and shooting modes to achieve the desired effect. Try shooting in manual mode to have full control over exposure settings, or use burst mode to capture a series of images in rapid succession.
  4. Tell a story: Sailing photography is about more than just capturing pretty pictures – it’s about telling a story of adventure, teamwork, and the beauty of the sea. Look for opportunities to capture moments of emotion, camaraderie, and triumph that convey the spirit of sailing.


Finally, don’t neglect the power of post-processing. Adjusting the exposure, contrast, and color balance can bring out the best in your tall ship photos. Cropping can also help improve the composition or focus the viewer’s attention on the main subject.

Tall ship photography is a challenging yet rewarding genre that combines the thrill of sailing with the art of photography. With the right equipment, skills, and a lot of practice, you can capture great images that truly convey the essence of tall ship sailing. So hoist your camera, set your sights on the horizon, and let the adventure begin!

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