Boat Photography Basics: Tips for Selling Your Boat

If you’ve decided to sell your boat, one of the most important items that can help you (depending on how much effort you put into them) is pictures of your vessel.

Whether your boat is big or small, it’s important to keep in mind many of the following factors. With boat photography, you get to decide on the when, where, what, and how of shooting, including all the cameras, lenses, effects, and accessories you want to make use of. Although you can’t change the weather or control the timing of natural events like sunrises and sunsets, there are many other elements that you can use to your advantage to show off your watercraft in the very best ways possible.

woman taking a picture of boats docked at a marine with a professional camera


Light is everything in photography, including pictures of boats. Much like landscapes and buildings, boats are best photographed in the early morning or late afternoon.

The waterline is the point where most boats’ hulls begin to narrow. The sun’s rays are the brightest in the morning and the evening, illuminating the lower levels of a boat’s hull. As the sun rises, the contrast increases, and these nooks and crannies are cast into darkness. As opposed to the harsher tones of noon sunshine, the color balance is warmer and less contrasty both earlier and later in the day.


Sunrise and sunset are the best times to shoot boats in a stationary position because the calmer winds allow for clearer reflections in the water. However, if you want to shoot sailboats, you might find that a lack of wind prevents you from having the sails filled and the boat moving quickly enough to capture interesting photos of it in motion. Many sailboats are equipped with backup engines in case the wind stops blowing; however, keep in mind that sailing using the wind creates a different wake and fills the sails in a different way than when a motor is used.


As long as you know the limits of your equipment, you can take great photos of boats with nearly any camera and lens. Sharper photos can result from larger image sensors, but this is far from the only factor that matters in getting the perfect shot of your boat.


Wide-angle and telephoto lenses, when utilized at the right angle, capture boats both realistically and convincingly. The focal length you choose when shooting a certain boat might depend strongly on the distance between the camera and the boat. Fixed focal-length lenses are great for photographing stationary boats. On the other hand, a zoom lens is essential for capturing a moving boat, whether you’re shooting from a stationary location on land or from another vessel that’s in pursuit. The trick is to strike a harmony between your boat, the water, and the sky.

The lines of the boat you’re shooting can be shown most precisely using a normal lens, although this may depend on the boat’s orientation. If you keep your distance from the boat far enough to allow for a level camera setup, you can also take distortion-free images of boats with ultra-wide and telephoto lenses. When shooting with a wide-angle lens, it’s best to keep your distance from the front and back of the boat to reduce the likelihood of image distortion.


The merits of filters are arguable, but when you’re photographing boats, polarizing filters help to eliminate glare and unwanted reflections, in addition to more fully saturating colors and making clouds pop from intense blue skies. UV filters are also advisable, if only to keep water and salt spray off your front lens elements.

Polarizing filters eliminate unwanted glare and reflections. They also darken skies, which, in the case of marine photography, is typically desirable.


When photographing boats, try to avoid distorting your images. Unless you’re going for a justifiably alternative point-of-view or are perched on top of the main mast, avoid getting too close to your subject, regardless of the focal length of your lenses — especially if you’re using wide-angle lenses. In order to prevent keystone distortions, avoid tilting your camera up or down; remember that the goal is to render the shape of your boat accurately.

Shooting Platforms

Boats can be photographed from the shore, docks, jetties, chase boats, aerial drones, or even helicopters — preferably those without doors. When shooting from land or other stable, non-floating platforms, a tripod is recommended.

If you’re shooting from a non-rigid dock, boat-to-boat, or from a helicopter, you’re going to need to steady your camera through the use of an image-stabilization system (many cameras have them built in) and/or gimbaling, i.e., countering the motion using your body’s innate sense of balance.

If you want to shoot from a higher angle (and helicopter rentals are out of the question), consider shooting from a bridge if there’s one in the vicinity. Your other alternative is to shoot stills from a drone (and possibly utilize 8MB stills if it only shoots video).

Always be aware of your surroundings when taking pictures boat-to-boat, from flying aircraft, or from moving platforms. Deck shoes are highly recommended when working on wet surfaces, and if a situation arises that requires you to make a quick decision between protecting your camera gear and minding your personal safety, don’t hesitate to ditch the gear!

Shutter Speed

Shoot at faster shutter speeds if you want to freeze the action, especially when using telephoto lenses or shooting fast-moving boats. Conversely, you can also turn on your camera’s image-stabilization system and shoot at slower shutter speeds (at, say, 1/4, 1/8, or 1/15 of a second) to keep the boat in focus while the water is blurred. The latter technique is easier at sunrise and sunset, when light levels are lower.


Sometimes, it’s the details that make or break otherwise great photographs. When shooting a boat, be it underway or at rest, always be on the lookout for loose lines and hardware that aren’t in place or stowed out of sight.

If it’s a sailboat, ask yourself if the sails are full or if they’re hanging like laundry. Are unsightly bumpers dragging from the boat along the waterline? And speaking of waterlines, is the hull clean? If it’s not, try taking pictures from angles that hide or minimize dirty waterlines to minimize post-capture editing time. Remember: neatness counts.


Most boats are white. Skies are blue, sometimes accompanied by white clouds. Water is usually (although not always) blue. White and blue go well together, but if you want to liven up your photos, try introducing a splash of red or yellow into the scene. It could be from a shirt, a sweater, life vests, or flags; anything that jolts the eye can prove visually powerful. If the boat has colorful sails, unfurl them!


Full-length portraits of boats racing through open waters or at rest can be exhilarating, but in truth, some of the best pictures can be found in fine details — close-ups of any wood trim, stainless winches, folds of canvas, or the curve of a bow as it meets its own reflection at sunrise.

As with every story, if you want to capture the big picture, you may need to step back, as well as step up, to your subject. Long shots can be powerful, but the real flavor is often in the details.


As mentioned earlier, light is at the heart of every photograph. Equally important is the composition. While there’s a limit to how much you can control light, composing photographs is something over which you have a complete say. For instance, keep your photo backgrounds clean by avoiding distractions behind the boat and/or along the horizon.

By following the above guidelines, you’ll be able to get some great photos of your boat. The better your photos, the higher the price you’ll be able to command when you decide to sell it!