Please note: this article is now a little out of date. Whilst much of the information is still relevant, my techniques, knowledge and equipment has imporoved so I intend to completely rewrite this guide in the near future, to bring it up-to-date. I continue to host this page mainly for archival reasons.
A large part of the joy of angling, to me, is being able to reflect on the memories of specific captures in months or years to come. A good quality photograph helps to keep those memories so much more vivid and alive. So, when you land that prize specimen – will you have the know-how to get a great photo and do the fish justice?
Keeping a few basics in mind can improve your angling photographs considerably, so this is my common-sense guide to building a fishing album to be proud of. Remember though – to take a good fish photograph, you must first catch a fish!
Unless you already have a lot of experience with a camera, I would not suggest the use of an SLR camera for fishing. Although I’ve taken some great shots with an SLR, I find it far more practical for fishing to take along either a good-quality compact 35mm film camera, or a very light & compact digital camera. With the quality and features available on compact cameras nowadays, you really can achieve great results, without over-complicating things or risking damage to some very expensive kit.
At the moment, I am using Olympus compact 35mm and digital cameras. There are three main reasons for this:
1. Their construction is ‘weatherproof’, so they will resist a bit of moisture, as well as grit and dirt, which could otherwise cause havoc with your camera.
2. You can purchase an infra-red remote control for some of their models. This is very useful for self-taken photography, which I’ll come to later.
3. The build and image quality from any Olympus I’ve ever used has been superb. Other brands I would recommend are Nikon and Canon, but remember that you don’t have to spend hundreds to take a good photograph.
If you use a digital camera, it is worth investing in a good-sized memory card, so you can take photographs on the highest quality setting without fear of filling your card up. Remember that you can always edit or down-size your photos when you get home. My current digital camera has a maximum 4 million pixels (or 4 mega-pixels), which is ample. Higher resolutions are available and I wouldn’t recommend using anything with less than 3 mega pixels for angling photographs. When using a 35mm film camera, I like to use 200 ASA film. For beginners, I would suggest 400 ASA film, because this is a slightly more versatile film. It is also advised for use with flash photography, although I take many after-dark shots with 200 ASA, to great effect.
Photographing Someone Else
Having a regular fishing buddy has many advantages. You have someone to talk to on the journey to the fishery, in anticipation of the ‘great day’ ahead of you. On the way home you have someone to reflect with on the ‘disappointing day’ you actually had! You have another viewpoint to discuss tactics and venues with. You also have someone there to take a photograph of you and your catch. I personally feel that you owe it to your fishing partner to be at least as good at photography as you are at angling. If you have confidence in each others photographing abilities, you will look far more relaxed and natural on the resulting pictures. By letting the other person worry about how they are taking the shot, it gives you chance to perfect your pose! Random passers-by are always a tempting but unreliable option. Most will take a photo of you with pleasure, but the law of averages says that you’re unlikely to find the next David Bailey walking their dog around your local lake!
So, now you have the kit, let’s assume you’re fishing and your mate catches a specimen. What little things can you do to improve how the photo will turn out?
If the capture is in the daytime, making optimum use of the sunlight can make a vast difference to the quality of photograph you take. Firstly, never have the sun behind your subject. All you will see is a silhouette of your friend – at best! so, try and make sure the sun is somewhere either to the side or behind you. Experimenting with where you are positioned in relation to the sun will reveal different shadowing effects on your subject. One thing to remember is – if you have the sun directly behind you, crouch down so that your own shadow doesn’t cover your friend and their fish!
Matt, above, my regular fishing buddy, with a good amount of sunlight in the shot, but no shadows and a pleasant background.
Most compact cameras – digital or 35mm have an autofocus feature. You absolutely must get this part right, or the important parts of the composition (your friend and their capture) will be blurred. Usually there is either a cross, or a square in the middle of the viewfinder. This should be placed over the area you wish to focus on. So, first set up the shot until you are happy with positioning, light, etc. Then, move the square/cross until it is over the fish. Depress the shutter button halfway, and a light should illuminate (some digital cameras also ‘beep’), which means the camera has now focused on the fish. Keeping the shutter button half-depressed, re-align the shot you want to take and push the button fully. That’s it! Properly focused photograph taken. Simple as that. Too many people just “point and shoot”, which can work, but you’ve more chance of focusing on something else 100 yards over your mate’s shoulder!
Right, This photograph was taken without a flash and the camera was focusing somewhere in the sky over my left shoulder!
Another, slightly less important factor, but one which can turn a decent photograph into a great photograph is background. Having your fishing tackle or a shopping trolley in the background of the shot is not going to compliment you or the fish at all. If you can, find a nicely vegetated area to stand in front of. That way, angler and fish are always going to be the main focal point of the photo.
Here, in one of my favourite fishing photos I’ve ever taken, I’ve purposely shown plenty of background to exaggerate the atmosphere of the shot, which brings about other memories of that day, which would otherwise be forgotten.
In the dark, I would strongly advise to stand in front of some structure, such as high vegetation or a tree trunk. This way, more light from the flash is reflected at the camera, making the detail of the photograph much sharper and more defined. Another little tip to help your friends focus on you in the dark is to angle your headlamp onto the fish, so that the camera can sense it more clearly. This should result in more accurate focusing and better pictures.
Here are two examples of night photography – one with a background and one without. Do you see what a difference the background makes?
If you’re experienced in catching fish worthy of photographs, then one thing you can practice is how to hold the fish to the best effect. If you have no confidence in holding a fish without dropping it, then you’ll probably get plenty of photographs where your fingers are more visible than the fish! However, with practice you can hold a fish comfortably and safely, whilst showing off all of its best features. Try to hold your fish quite close to the ground, above an unhooking mat, then try to get acomfortable grip of the fish without covering its fins, eyes, or flanks. Make sure you angle the fish parallel to the camera, to best show off its length.
Here you can see the difference between an obscured fish and one held properly, with as much of the fish showing as possible.