A series of columns on outdoor photography
The f-Stops Here
Catching The Fish Action
Shots of people holding up dead fish and birds, or posing with guns beside downed big game are common, and sometimes "work", but generally are among the dullest of outdoor photos.
by Sharon Watson
Even so, personal albums often show little else and even magazines publish a few of these simple and uninspired shots. This may be OK if the fish or animal is especially big or relatively rare. Plus, in the case of big game, it’s pretty hard to pose a picture any other way, unfortunately. Still, there are fresher, "prettier", and more exciting ways to depict game and fish.
Since we’re into fishing season, let’s consider ideas for capturing fishing action. And, "action" is the key element for more exciting fishing photos. This one factor will give photos immediacy no matter how old the picture. If photos are to help us re-live the moment, "living" images will do it best of all.
"Emotion" is another element for dynamic people-with-fish pictures. Even when family and friends are accustomed to having their picture taken, they tend to let their faces go blank when posing. Always ask them to smile at least. It will make a big difference in the photos. If possible, shoot when folks are caught up in actual fishing excitement. Your pictures will then be even more energetic!
Naturally, you have to be ready to capture these moments of action and emotion. It takes more time with the camera, which means laying down your own fishing rod -- a very difficult choice I struggle with ALL the time.
Who promised you no tough choices?
A "script" might be helpful. Go through the fish-catching process in your mind and write down what you’d like to capture on film. Examples: putting boat in water; getting into float tubes; hiking along shoreline; baiting up for a child; casting lines; wading rivers; fighting and netting fish; close-up of fish with lure or fly; joviality between fishing friends; lunch break; overall fishing scenes; the camp fish-fry, etc. Or, look at photos in magazines and ads and find those you’d like to try to duplicate. It will never look like a duplicate; you’ll get something fresh if you keep working on it.
With each shot, try to find a new angle, a different way of shooting it. Instead of a fish in the hand or on a rock, try a close-up of a fish’s head coming over the gunwale, or of the fish still in the water. Or, shoot down into the net. Get into the water yourself and get a low angle of fish being brought into the boat. Instead of a same-level shot of a fisherman or fisherlady casting his/her flyline, find a place on the stream where you can aim from above that person. Get in front of him or her, if possible. Have the fisher-person cast towards you from a boat while you stand on shore.
When shooting the fighting and netting of fish, get water splashing or dripping. You can create more splashes by asking the angler to bring the fish out of the water with more vigor, and faster. (If a fish is to be released unhurt, don’t get too vigorous.) Set up dramatic foregrounds of plants, tree limbs, lures, campfires, forked sticks, open tackle boxes, spider webs, and other fisher-people.
"Variety" is the spice of photographs. Shoot all kinds of activities in all kinds of ways. Change your camera perspective from close-up to medium distance to more distant fishing scenics.
Capture the complete essence of being there!
Don’t be afraid to experiment. Your efforts may fail the first time, but looking at your pictures will tell you what would have been more successful. Then try again next time!
Being in the middle of fishing action can make it difficult to spot the best photos. They go right by before you realize -- Hey! That was a shot! It helps to just watch for a while -- maybe even for an entire trip. Put the camera down, and just watch. This might enable you to write that script. On the next fishing trip, you’ll be better prepared for "seeing" and shooting creatively on-target.
In summary, to capture the fishing action, remember: ACTION (the more the better), EMOTION (more than just a smile, hopefully), fresh camera ANGLE, and VARIETY of subject matter. (Or, switch them around to spell the acronym, EVAA, to help remember them.)
Further tips: Get the angler’s face, not his backside. However, it is better the angler is not looking directly at you. He or she should be paying attention to their business. Never shoot an inactive fishing rod, unless you’re after a "mood." Get the rod bent from a snag-catch, if you must. Skip plain scenics, put fisherfolk in them!
Take hats and sunglasses off fishermen (if they’ll let you) to prevent shadows on the face -- or else use fill-flash. Don’t shoot into the sun without fill-flash. Use fast speeds (1/250 th of a second or faster) with action shots like casting line out or splashing fish (though slow speeds sometimes produce wonderful special effects). If you’re in a rocking boat, wait until the horizon is level before pushing the shutter.
Most anglers know more fish are caught by "doing your homework" and staying alert while fishing. The same is true for getting fish photos. To avoid being "skunked" photographically, some planning is required.
Getting memorable fishing shots can be as much fun as fishing itself, and it makes both joys last longer.