Midnight Kayaking

Saturday, July 10, 2021

At this point, it’s been less than three days with my new camera. So what do I do? The most challenging thing you can do! Low light photography.

At the time, I worked at The Community Boating Center on Bellingham Bay as the Lead Sailing Instructor. We offered a course where we would take people kayaking at midnight to see the bioluminescence. This required paddling to a location with basically no light at all on a new moon. This is far from ideal for any camera, and it would push me to my limits. Looking back, this was a bad idea, and I got bad results.

Starting, Nate and I walked down the train tracks, following the group of kayakers. We arrived at a railroad bridge where the kayakers would go under to enter a lagoon. We got there during twilight and we set up the tripods and got some great shots of the Northern Cascades in Canada with a container ship docked in Bellingham. The container ship was a strange sight, and this was due to backups in west coast ports because of pandemic labor shortages.

railroad tracks at twilight.

nate in the dark.

railing in the dark.

train approaching anf headlight causing huge lens flare.

Once the kayakers arrived, we turned our cameras to the lagoon. I captured many photos of the instructors, Sandy and Christine, in this set. The photos were either way too blurry or way too dark. It was just impossible to balance ISO, Shutter Speed, and Focus. I’ve included two of the same photo. In one of them, I turned up the exposure compensation afterward in RawTherapee. This was the first time I experienced the benefits of shooting in uncompressed RAW. Phones and most cameras take photos in compressed formats like JPEG or HEIF. These formats compress the 50-100 million bytes of data captured by the camera sensor down to only 1 million bytes. This means you can have tens of thousands of photos on your iCloud storage. But if you want to capture the original 100 million bytes, you must shoot in RAW. RAW allows for much more color depth and can be converted to JPEG later.

two kayakers in the dark.

two kayakers in the dark.

On our walk back, we caught the best photos I’d taken up to that point. The first one was of the kayakers paddling back to the boating center in the dark with their flashlights, creating trails. Then two photos of the night sky. These remained some of my favorite pictures, and it was the first time I stared back into my computer monitor and thought, “wow, that’s pretty.”

kayakers in the dark


starts, tree in foreground