Arwen's meanderings

Hi everyone and welcome to my dinghy cruising blog about my John Welsford designed 'navigator' named Arwen. Built over three years, Arwen was launched in August 2007. She is a standing lug yawl 14' 6" in length. This blog records our dinghy cruising voyages together around the coastal waters of SW England.
Arwen has an associated YouTube channel so visit to find our most recent cruises and click subscribe.
On this blog you will find posts about dinghy cruising locations, accounts of our voyages, maintenance tips and 'How to's' ranging from rigging standing lug sails and building galley boxes to using 'anchor buddies' and creating 'pilotage notes'. I hope you find something that inspires you to get out on the water in your boat. Drop us a comment and happy sailing.
Steve and Arwen

Friday, 1 July 2022

The Dinghy Cruising Association new photography, videography and art work competition

 You may be aware that the British Dinghy Cruising Association has created a competition to go alongside ones for the best technical article and best cruising log in its journal. This new competition centres on photography, videography and artwork with monetary prizes in the form of Amazon vouchers. 

DCA website: 

An article I wrote for the DCA journal about the competition is published instead as a PDF download on their website and can be found in my previous blog post. At the end of that post, I promised that I would also post answers to two further questions, which being very specific about photography, probably weren’t appropriate for inclusion into the journal or on the DCA website

These two questions were:

               What equipment can I use to get a ‘pleasing’ dinghy cruising related photograph?

               What basic photographic skills would I need to develop in order to obtain this photo?

If you have read the article/first blog post and are now feeling inspired but left wondering whether or not you have the right camera gear (you do by the way), then perhaps this section below will help you further.  


What equipment can I use to get a ‘good’ and suitable dinghy cruising related photograph?

Simple answer – any practically any camera you have as a good photo comes from the skill and knowledge of photography employed, not necessarily the actual camera used. In saying this however, there are some things to consider and I discuss these in the context of my own camera equipment.  Let’s start by looking at what camera equipment I carry on Arwen (figure 1).

Figure 1: what photographic equipment do I carry on Arwen?

As standard:

·        GoPro Hero 9 on long selfie pole (plus spare batteries and various mounts etc)

·        Two GoPro Hero 5’s and assorted mounts/fittings (plus spare batteries etc)

·        Sony HX-90 compact digital optical zoom camera (plus spare batteries) in waterproof pouch and dry bag

·        Spare micro-SD memory cards which can fit any of the cameras) – minimum 64Gb class 10

·        Camera cleaning kit – cloth, lens spray, puffer brush)

·        Clamp mounts for GoPro

·        Mini Gorillapod tripod for compact zoom

·        One portable power bank

·        Either a Camera rucksack or a camera strap bag – On a small boat, you may find a rucksack too bulky, so a shoulder bag is better. On shore, I keep the latter securely on me by slinging the strap over my left shoulder and across my chest front so that the bag lies on my right hip as I am right-handed. Everything is then secure and easily accessible. Contents are in small waterproof drybags which are labelled on the outside. In the boat, I have it all in a small photographic rucksack, inside a large drybag.

·        Lens wipes – I use them rather than the bottom of my fleece (We have all done it!)


·        DSLR Canon 800D plus 18 – 55mm F/4.0 and 55 – 250mm F/4.5 zoom lenses (spare batteries)

·        Lightweight full-sized tripod

·        Spare lens caps

·        UV filters on lenses - protects them from scratches, salt and spray

·        Circular polarising filters for both lenses – great for sunny days - eliminates unwanted glare off the water, saturates colours and increases the contrast between the different elements in a shot

·         Lens hood prevents light flaring on lens and protects camera against accidental knocks.

Very occasionally – for astrophotography

·        Above camera plus Samyang 135 mm F/2 lens

·        Skywatcher Star Adventurer 2i pro star tracker

·        Benro carbon fibre full tripod – you can get very cheap second hand tripods off Facebook marketplace etc  - a tripod allows you to use telephoto lenses in low light on a DSLR  - stability without camera shake when you need wider apertures and longer shutter speeds but no flash.

·        Samsung Galaxy Tab A tablet

·        If you are taking photos at golden hour from land – get a remote shutter release cable as well to avoid any camera shake when taking a photo.

My compact zoom camera (a Sony HX90 – also a great vlogging camera by the way) and GoPro Hero 9 (for those exciting spray over the coaming/raining moments, when a small waterproof camera is needed or for getting those good close-up shots of crew in action) are the two main cameras I carry regularly onboard. My smartphone, a middle of the road one with ok-ish images (but not ones that could be enlarged for printing off) lives in an aqua-pouch when onboard so effectively eliminating its function as a camera.  Occasionally in relatively sheltered inland waters like the River Tamar, I take my bigger DSLR although I rarely use it when actually sailing. One handed DSLR camera photography is something I’m unlikely to master any time soon.

A recent ‘digital camera beginners’ course’ enabled me to ‘get off auto’ and ‘engage with ‘manual’’ on both my compact and DSLR cameras. My Canon 800d DSLR with various kit lenses gives me the most choice, control and quality over images. DSLRs (and mirrorless cameras) give very high-quality images, are bigger and easier to hold, have larger rear touch screens and relatively quick autofocus.  Great onshore, or if you are in a boat not helming or crewing; impossible to use well if you are ‘active’ in the dinghy. If it isn’t a weatherproof one, they aren’t great with saltwater spray!  Mainly used when I have finished sailing and am moored or dried out, the DSLR accompanies me on shore explorations and is my astrophotography kit for night time. I can choose aperture, shutter speed, ISO and control depth of field and focus. Tack sharp background or bokeh blurred? This kit gives me those options.

An alternative to the DSLR is a ‘bridge’ camera. It is mid-way between a point and shoot compact and a DSLR. It has a tripod thread, a flash shoe and control over exposure, aperture, shutter speed and ISO (light sensitivity). Visit the ‘Lone kayaker’ website at     to see one used well. All of Rupert’s images taken from his kayak are on a bridge camera which he stores inside a dry bag!

Figure 2 gives some reviews of bridge and DSLR cameras on the market today. If you chose a bridge camera or DSLR – find one which has a dial or buttons to manually control exposure, ISO, aperture etc. Trying to access a menu on a screen with wet fingers is a disaster waiting to happen!  Avoid digital zoom as any image done this way will lose sharpness and stores little information for later post processing. You want optical zoom!

Figure 2: reviews of DSLRs and bridge cameras (I take no responsibility for the quality of the reviews)

Best entry level DSLRs 2022

and slightly more generally

bridge cameras

The Sony HX-90 digital/optical zoom compact gives me great picture quality, a x 30 optical zoom lens, a flip up backscreen and inbuilt flash. Small and lightweight, it almost does what my DSLR can do. Most sailing days I’m happy to get this out of its waterproof storage bag to take photographs at its widest lens opening and I can use it one handed. I can shoot in RAW mode (better for post editing, enlarged prints and magazines) and I avoid ‘digital’ zoom which degrades the image quality. Bobbing about on waves and trying to do telephoto zoom shoots with it are just never going to happen, so I use it on its widest focal length and best quality settings; enabling me to then crop the image in post editing without losing image quality. Of course, it’s now dated, overtaken by action cameras and waterproof smartphones and newer compact cameras, but it still does the job and I’m sentimentally attached to it as it was a gift given to me when I retired.

Those who know me well know I am an action cam – GoPro aficionado! There are many good action cameras available now and my previous articles on vlogging in the DCA journal and also posts on this blog give a good overview of these. Personally, I only use GoPro or DJI Action for photographs and I favour action cams with a front screen that shows me what I’m photographing when using for selfies (it’s also a vlogging advantage).  My various GoPro’s have been bomb-proof over the decade I have been using them. There are plenty of YouTube videos about settings for your GoPro camera and figure 3 shows what photo settings I have for my Hero 9. Remember on any camera or advanced smartphone, RAW format gives you best quality images and plenty of options for creative post editing.  Magazine editors prefer RAW as well! 

Figure 3: my GoPro photo settings for Hero 9  Note -  it has a fixed aperture of F/2.8

Photo – linear, Superphoto, timer 3s, zoom 1.0x, WB – auto, sharpness – low, colour – GoPro

Night photo – wide, shutter – 30s, RAW, TIMER – 3S, ZOOM 1.0X, wb – 5000K, ISO min – 800, ISO max – 1600, sharpness – low, colour – flat

Burst mode – wide, burst rate – auto, output – standard, timer – off, zoom – 1.0x, WB – auto, ISO min – 100, ISO max – 3200, sharpness – high, colour – GoPro

Use self timer – if you want to be in a shot. Touch zoom slider can bring a closer view of the action. 

My GoPro excels at those really big landscape shots (choose linear mode) and those onboard boat close ups. Avoid super wide settings (distorted fish eye results with curved horizons) and don’t use them for distant shots – they were never designed for telephoto images. You just won’t be able to crop in effectively during post production editing!

Now, I am going to be slightly vague here because I have to confess, I have never owned a decent smartphone. SWMBO draws the line at expensive smartphones. Mine is a lower middle end smartphone, non-waterproof, but which does reasonable images. Great for social media but not much else. It gets used mainly for navigation and texts and that’s it. Great for wide angle images, upmarket smartphones now do great telephoto shots as well but the risks of dropping it overboard? Getting it wet? I’m not that brave given the higher costs of the better equipped phones.  If you are braver than me, then your high-end smartphone should do portrait and landscape mode, render good flash and allow a fair degree of manual control over exposure and some settings like aperture. Some will blur the background whilst keeping the subject of the image pin sharp. Several even allow you to ‘magic away’ distractions in your photos. And of course, they are great for spontaneous use; after all, we carry our smartphones with us everywhere.

Figure 4 gives some websites that review waterproof compact digital cameras and smart phones

Figure 4: reviews of waterproof digital compact cameras, digital zoom cameras and waterproof smartphones  (I take no responsibility for the quality of the reviews)

Best waterproof digital cameras:


Best budget compact digital zoom cameras:


Waterproof smart phones;

If you have an existing compact, bridge or DSLR camera here are some quick tips to help maximise the image quality in your photo. Firstly, more pixels do not necessarily mean better quality pictures. It is sensor size which is important. The more information your sensor holds, the bigger you can enlarge a photo when printing it off. Secondly, if you are buying a new camera, get a reputable make – Canon, Nikon, Sony etc. Thirdly, APS-C on DSLRs means it is a crop sensor but it will do absolutely fine. Full sensor size DSLRs are very expensive!

Fourthly, no surprise here but salt water smears lenses lens and rusts metal fittings! Some DSLRs are not weatherproof. Those that are tend to be very expensive. Protect your DSLR by getting a giant zip lock freezer bag, cutting a hole for the lens to poke through, sealing the camera in the bag and securing the bag opening over the lens with a thin stretchy elastic band. Well, that’s how I do it.  For your compact, if it isn’t a waterproof one, you can buy water proof pouch bag specifically designed for optical zoom lens compacts. Make sure you get one that can accommodate your compact on its full optical zoom lens stretch – go on – ask me how I know that’s important!!  Invest in a good brand if you buy an aqua pouch for your compact or smartphone. Cheaper versions leak – go on, ask me how I know – again!!! Put two little bags of desiccant into any bag that holds a camera or smartphone – they absorb any moisture trapped in the bag. 


Ok, so at this point we have briefly discussed basic photographic equipment considerations. Now a public service health warninggo no further unless you want to learn how to get off ‘Auto’ mode and into ‘Manual’ mode on your camera, smartphone or action cam. The last bit of this blog post finishes by examining some very simple, basic, beginner principles about shooting photographs. This is just for those who like me dream of getting off ‘auto’ camera mode just once in their lives!

Our final question:  

What basic photographic skills would I need to develop in order to obtain that ‘good’ photo?

If you haven’t done so yet, I would strongly urge that you read the article in the DCA journal or the first blog post about the competition and what makes a ‘good’ boat photograph. By doing this, the following will then make better sense! The article looks at what makes a good photo and discusses aspects to do with composition.


Some pre trip thinking about camera settings is very important. If you want the best possible quality photographs for inclusion in a magazine or to enlarge as prints of 8” x 10” or above, shoot and save images in RAW format but expect some post editing in a photo editing software program afterwards to get the best out of the image. RAW format images give you the most information and detail.

If you want photos for a personal album, a blog or an ‘Instagram’ post, JPEG’s are perfectly fine and take up less room on your memory card; just dial in the highest quality JPEG setting your camera can do. My DSLR, GoPro and compact camera can shoot both simultaneously. My smartphone shoots JPEGs only.  Newer smartphones can shoot in both JPEG and RAW. Quick warning reiteration – RAW images never look as good on your rear-view screen as JPEGs do – but after post processing – oh my do they pop then. Always, always select the best/highest quality megapixel resolution/ image size setting your camera can do. It will need a bigger memory card but will be worth it. Magazine editors by the way, will love you for that choice!

And talking of these worthy individuals, resist any temptation to digitally auto enhance any images you take for magazines. Let the editors and their team do it as they know what they are looking for and what will best fit their page layouts.

Your camera on auto setting will give you good pictures straight away as it selects the optimal exposure, shutter, aperture and ISO speeds. Don’t be afraid to use auto mode at sea. In lower light or where you are suffering camera shake, select TV (shutter) mode as it allows you to choose the shutter speed. The camera will then automatically select the most appropriate ISO and aperture settings to get you a correct exposure at that shutter speed. However, I like to exert greater control and thought over exposure and focus in an effort to really boost image quality and detail, and so I have been familiarizing myself with manual, shutter and aperture modes on my cameras. It is not within the scope of this article to give detailed advice about camera settings but getting off ‘auto’ is fun and there are plenty of YouTube tutorials explaining how to adjust shutter and ISO speed, aperture and exposure compensation. Look up ‘The exposure triangle’.

On some compact zoom cameras and most DSLRs, either via a dial or through a menu set up, you can select from M (manual), AV (aperture), TV (shutter) or P (auto) modes. By now, you are beginning to realise that there are three things to consider in getting a well exposed photo: shutter speed, aperture and ISO. So, let’s look at each of these a little more closely, through the context of this ‘Exposure triangle’.

Shutter speed is how long your shutter remains open and is measured in seconds or fractions of seconds e.g. 1/60th, 1/500th. Fast shutter speeds freeze action e.g. water splashes and spray over the deck and let in little light; also good to use if using long telephoto lenses or shooting fast moving boats. Long shutter speeds (shutter is open longer) allow more light onto the sensor.  Turn on the camera’s image-stabilization system and you can shoot at slower shutter speeds (1/15, 1/8, or 1/4 of a second) to keep the boat in focus while blurring the water. The latter technique is easier toward sunrise and sunset, when light levels are lower.

Changing the ISO (sensor sensitivity) will capture more or less light. The higher the number you choose, the more light it captures, but at a cost. The higher the ISO, the ‘grainier’ the picture will become!  To capture images of boats sailing, set your ISO speed to between 100 – 400. For example, on bright sunny days choose a low ISO around 100 because you have plenty of available light. On an overcast day, you might set it to 400. Remember, don’t go higher though as this will lead to a ‘grainy’ picture and that is something you want to avoid. High ISO speeds do however, allow faster shutter speeds. (See shutter speed above).

Your choice of aperture (how wide open your lens diaphragm is to let light through) determines how much of your shot is in focus. A wide aperture, (the smallest ‘f-stop’ number) allows a fast shutter speed and more light through, thus reducing motion blur. It ‘freezes’ any action and gives a shallow depth of field (only the subject is in focus, the rest of the image may be blurry). Increasing the aperture (a higher F number) brings in more motion blur, less light but more depth of field so the background comes into focus more.  In low light, use a wide aperture (a small F stop number) and a slow shutter speed but remember you will need to use a tripod or prop your phone/camera on something to hold it steady to avoid shake blur. I would also set a shutter timer delay (on most phones and cameras) so that when you press the shutter button, the camera delays taking the photo for a few seconds so that any camera shake settles down before the image is taken.

If you want that ‘looking along the length of the boat’ shot to be in focus from foreground to background then you need a big depth of field so select aperture priority mode on the control dial and set aperture to between f16 - F22. The bigger the f/number, the bigger the depth of field. The camera will automatically set shutter speed and ISO appropriate for the day’s conditions. If I wanted just the boat’s foreground in focus but the background blurred (called bokeh), I need a small depth of field, so apertures of f8 or below.  A good general shooting setting for reasonable depth of detail across your image is f8 - f16.

You can read more about the exposure triangle here at:

Diagram 1 – the exposure triangle. This diagram shows the simple relationship between shutter speed, aperture and ISO and what impacts altering each has on depth of field, grain and sharpness.

For a good video explanation try this one from PhotoPills

And for smart phone camera users, this may help as well:

Remember, it sounds complicated but once you have your head around the basics, it becomes easier to understand. If you want to move onto manual – practise onshore before trying it for the first time from a boat!

Some quick tips about other settings, mainly on DSLR cameras. If you are using a DSLR camera to take a photograph of a boat, from another boat, keep lens auto focus and image stabilization switched on. If you want to keep the moving boat permanently in focus switch your camera autofocus mode from ‘One shot’ (or AF-S) to ‘Servo’ (or AF-C) and this will allow you to half press your shutter button to continually focus on the approaching boat until you are ready to take the shot.

I set white balance to auto when saving RAW images as I can alter them in most post editing software programs and if truth be known, trying to remember to manually set up my camera for the correct white balance every time I take a shot is beyond my limited brain capacity. My friend, saves in JPEG’s, and chooses a white balance option mode from his camera menu, suited to the conditions on the day - bright sunlight or cloudy skies.  Remember out on the water, the sky, water, sails and hull may be over bright so familiarize yourself with how to alter your exposure compensation if using a DSLR. When your camera’s light meter reads ‘0’, then exposure is correct. +1 means the image is over exposed (too bright) by one stop. Conversely, -1 on the meter tells you that your image is under exposed (too dark) by one stop.

If you have worn polarising sunglasses at the seaside, you know that glare disappears, and in clear water, you can see the sandy bottom, the seaweed and scuttling crabs with startling clarity. A polarizing filter on my DSLR lens achieves the same thing, reducing glare, removing unwanted reflections and intensifying the blues and greens in the scene. It also makes white fluffy clouds really pop in bright blue skies. Be aware that the filter will often reduce the light entering the lens and so if shooting in aperture priority mode, your camera will slow shutter speed slightly to compensate for this. To ensure I get that ‘freeze the water’ shot, I have to remember to raise the ISO setting a little higher.


Oh, and one more thing, I turn off any date, time or GPS location stamps that might imprint on the final image. An irritating way to spoil a perfect shot!


When you have got the images, it is time to take them back and process them. If you are doing them for inclusion in a printed magazine, definitely talk to the editor before processing your images. They may just want you to send them the RAW file so that they can make editorial decisions about processing, cropping etc. If you are wanting to print it and frame it, try not to amend the image too much. Don’t over process it!  Less is more! Do just enough to keep yourself happy. Focus on subtle iterative adjustments to exposure, contrast, highlights, shadows, clarity, vibrancy and saturation (depending on the post editing program you use – I use Affinity photo). Use Youtube tutorials to get better at the post processing skills.

If using a DSLR or a GoPro you will do most of this editing once home. With a smartphone, there are many apps which will allow you to do it there and then. Editing and posting on the move – amazing!


What about using a drone camera? You haven’t mentioned that yet Steve! Um, possibly with good reason! On My drone I have some control over exposure, aperture and shutter speed settings or I can just go auto! You’d better be a really good drone pilot before venturing it out over water or taking off and landing on a boat! Know exactly how long your batteries last and leave spare battery time for possible tricky landings. Disable the ‘return to home’, ‘collision avoidance’ and ‘distance limitation’ settings. On a moving boat, you won’t still be where you took off, even if you are anchored! You may need to grab it by hand on landing! So, wear protective gloves! Learn to watch the screen not the drone and have an observer watching the drone position. Take into account wave and wind conditions. Good drone shots include looking vertically down on the boat, centred over the mast. Try not to over expose your image. If you have polarising filers to fit the drone camera, use them. Set exposure settings to the boat not the surrounding sea. Great location shots are when the boat is anchored in a stunning bay in the evening and you can fly the drone lower to catch the boat against the backdrop of a cliff and/or beach.

And finally, (well done by the way on making it this far), lets finish with a few more useful tips.  Ready to take a photo of Arwen and armed with correctly set equipment and shot lists (see previous post), I do try to ensure she is tidy and clean and looking her best (tip 1). So many of the photos my friend took of my boat last year were rejected because I’d forgotten to take in fenders on the starboard side or allowed strands of reefing line and snotter control halyards to dangle across my face. Worst was my display of poor seamanship skills, through a sail with a huge clew to throat crease. So, no baggy sails, no loose lines, no cluttered cockpits and no dragging fenders; just a tidy, clean, boat displaying a good turn of speed, full sails and water flowing serenely along its hull. If only!

My planned ‘shots’ list for the day serves as a memory aide but I won’t stick rigidly to it. I will develop situational awareness (tip 2) from the start by sitting back a while before shooting and taking a look around the sailing area I’m passing through. If I’m crew in another boat shooting other peoples’ boats, I’m looking for those unusual shooting angles as the boats sail around me.  I try to anticipate what boat and helmsperson might do on different reaches and tacks and also look for those unscripted interactions between helmsperson and boat which show their sheer joy in sailing their own boat. Some images of crew intently engaged in ‘action’ such as raising a sail, commencing a tack or furling a jib capture ‘movement’ that conveys the sense of a boat being ‘under way’. My previous post gives further ideas.

And lastly, a plea about safety (tip 3). Even in an anchored boat, it’s one hand for yourself and one hand for the boat. Keep your camera on a short neck strap so, if need be, you can quickly let it go to use two hands for safety. Try to shoot from a seated position so there is less chance of slipping or being a MOB casualty and wear appropriate grippy footwear, deck shoes or yacht boots.  With suitable clothing and sunscreen for the day easy to hand, always wear your life jacket or PFD as well.

I hope across the two blog posts you now have all that you need to help you go out there and get some really good photographs of your dinghy and of those belonging to other dinghy cruisers. Don’t be shy, if you think they are ‘good’ shots, then enter them for the Dinghy Cruising Association photography competition. Details on the DCA website, given at the start of this blog post.

Good luck now, fair winds and see you out on the water.

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