The natural beauty of a fish is challenging to capture in a photograph. Contending with the water reflection, natural lighting, a wriggling fish, and worrying about keeping both the fish and your camera protected is stressful. Regardless of your skill level, or grade of your equipment, we wanted to share our simple photography guidelines we use in the field to help you get the perfect shot of your fish.
Setting up the shot:
The first step is gaining an appreciation of all the fish you catch. Not all fish will be trophy fish, but oftentimes, it is the more average sized fish that make for the best photos. Smaller fish are easier to handle, and are usually less tired by the time they reach the net, so taking pictures of these fish will greatly reduce your release mortality rates. While you are setting up your shot, make sure that the fish is resting safely in the water, in your net. If you are not in a position to do this, considering releasing the fish without a photo and waiting for a safer opportunity.
Next, take a bearing of the sun’s position. Shooting in very bright sunlight is tricky. Remember, the fish will reflect any bright light back at your camera. You can generally avoid unwanted glare from the fish by shooting in shaded settings
Plan with your fishing buddy exactly where the fish will be held for the shot. Before the fish is taken out of the water, aim your camera at the position and make any adjustments you predict will be necessary.
Let your fishing buddy position their hand in a manner that will safely support the fish, but will not obstruct the view for the camera. Generally, a hand supporting its underside and a hand around its tail is best. Make sure that your buddy’s fingers are as hidden as possible so that the form of the fish is visible. When ready, give a countdown, and have your buddy lift the fish out of the net to the pre-planned shooting position. Whenever possible, the keep the fish in the water or just above the water to reduce stress on the fish. Never hold a fish over rocks to prevent injury in case it flops.
Taking The Shot:
Take as many pictures as you need for a couple of seconds and then have your buddy lower the fish back into the water. If you need to redo the shot, let the fish rest in the water before shooting again. Keep in mind that every time the fish is lifter from the water, it’s chances of survival post-release become reduced.
The whole point of your picture is to show off the fish. A fish looks best when it looks natural. Keeping the fish in or on top of the water not only is safest for the fish, but also maintains the connection between the fish and its environment and maintains the fish’s authority in the water. Get down on the fish’s level and shoot it as it would see you. Unless you are specifically going for a bird’s eye perspective, shooting the fish at eye level illuminates its natural form.
In Emerson’s 1841 essay “Circles” he opens with: “The eye is the first circle; the horizon which it forms is the second; and throughout nature this primary figure is repeated without end”. Think about this line when shooting a fish and focus the camera on the fish’s eye. If your buddy is also in the photo, remember that a viewer’s concentration naturally gravitates towards eyes and lines of sight. If you want the focus to be on the fish, then have your buddy look at the fish. If the main focus of the photo is meant to be your buddy, have your buddy look at the camera.
After the shot:
Do not be afraid to edit your photos! Very rarely do we take raw photos that need no adjusting. You do not need professional editing programs. Adjusting settings like brightness, exposure, contrast, etc., can easily be performed right on your phone or when you download your pictures to your computer. Play around will all of your photos, even the ones that may first appear useless. You may be surprised to see that making even a small adjustment to your photo can turn it into the hero shot you have been after.