How I Got That Shot - Tom Bol and the Glowing Kayak

Tom Bol ( is a regular contributor to Digital Photo Magazine and Outdoor Photographer Magazine, and an instructor at Kelby Training. Tom also photographs a story each month for his column 'On Location' in Light It magazine. Tom was on the list of National Geographic Adventure's "50 of America's Top Visionaries" for his photography, and his images have been featured by LoweproNikon and American Photo. He is a Sandisk Extreme Team member, Lensbaby Gurus and Elinchrom has recognized his portraiture. PDN listed Tom as one of the best photo workshop instructors in the country. His images have been used in magazines, brochures, billboards, books, postcards, calendars worldwide. Tom's book, Adventure Sports Photography; Creating Dramatic Images in Wild Places, is a popular reference for adventure photography and lighting in the field. He regularly teaches photo workshops, and is a member of ASMP.

Tom: "I spent many years guiding sea kayaking trips around the globe from Patagonia to Alaska. I have watched Orcas swim under my boat and dodged icebergs in tidal rivers in Chile. Naturally, I always carried a camera in hand. Sea kayaking gives me an intimate ocean view of landscapes, and allows me to land on remote beaches for images that would be inaccessible to others. You get a very unique perspective shooting two feet above the water.

"But as with all things that become familiar in photography, the fresh perspective becomes routine, and you have to reinvent new ways of shooting familiar subjects. When I was writing my book "Adventure Sports Photography: Creating Dramatic Images in Wild Places", I revisited many familiar adventure sports and looked for new ways to photograph them. Sea kayaking was on my list. How could I shoot something totally different, something I had never seen done with sea kayaking photography? Since I love to incorporate flash into my outdoor imagery, an idea began to form.

"A few summers ago, I was sea kayaking on lakes in Grand Teton National Park, and knew I had found the right location for my image. String Lake lies directly below the Tetons, and on a calm day the water is like glass. The water is very shallow along the shore, which would be helpful with rigging the image. My idea was this: Put four Nikon SB900 flashes in various compartments of a yellow sea kayak, and trigger them right at dusk to create a glowing kayak reflected in the calm waters of String Lake. To waterproof the flashes, I put them in clear ziplock bags. Since they would be out of sight from my camera, I used radio Elinchrom Skyport transmitters to trigger the flashes. I put my speedlights in manual mode at ½ power to get the right glow that matched the twilight exposure. The one technical glitch that came up was the paddler’s face was dark. I thought about adding a fifth SB900 to illuminate her from shore, but this would spill into other areas of the shot and ruin the mood. Instead, we peeled back her spray skirt so the flash in the cockpit would spill onto her face. This worked perfectly.

Often one new creative idea prompts another one. I am working on recreating this shot, but this time in deeper water with SB900s underwater as well. Just imagine glowing water and a glowing sea kayak in the same shot! Stay tuned!"

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Flash photographyGrand teton national parkHow i got that shotJoel addamsMay 2012Nikon sb900 flashesPicturelineSea kayakingTom bolWater