Fish Photography Tips


Fishing Photography Tips

Landing a trophy fish, an exceptionally beautiful fish, or even your first fish is a special occasion that will make you want to share the moment with friends and family. And since a picture says a thousand words, there’s no better way to share your story than with photographs of those remarkable moments you encounter on the water. Here are a few tips on how to take a great photograph of your catch, while keeping the fish safe and healthy, following catch and release guidelines.


Fish Safety

When practicing catch and release fishing, the proper handling of a fish is essential to its survival. Taking a photo of a fish almost always adds to the handling time of a fish—unless a friend photographs the fish as you release it. When alone, or if you desire a classic "grip '''n grin" photo (see below), there are a few tips to follow that can help you insure the health of the fish.


Basic Fish Handling

Some fish are more susceptible to over handling than others. Because of their dependence on highly oxygenated, cool water, and their fragile skin, Trout are most commonly subjected to dangerous over handling by unaware fly fishers. This blog post from Phil Monahan illustrates proper catch and release handling for trout.


Keepemwet Fishing™

Going beyond basic catch and release practices, Keepemwet Fishing™ focuses on three simple principles:

  1. Minimize Air Exposure
  2. Eliminate Contact with Dry Surfaces
  3. Reduce Handling

You can learn more about Keepemwet Fishing™ principles and tips at Keepemwet.org.


Regulations

Some fish species in certain regions are covered by protective regulations which would inherently prevent or limit your ability to photograph a caught fish. For instance, on many water bodies in Montana there are strict regulations on the targeting of Bull Trout and how to handle them if accidentally caught. The Western District of Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks states "It is legal to photograph your trophy catch; however, it is essential that you minimize or eliminate the need to take the fish out of water." This would be an instance where you would should Keep ‘Em Wet or rely on a friend to take a photo while you release the fish. You should always be aware of your local fishing regulations, so make sure you know before you go.


Common Fish Photography Styles

Grip ‘N Grin

This is the most common trophy fish photograph and maybe the most common fishing photograph, period. A second person photographs the subject facing the camera and holding the fish out of the water with two hands. There’s a real risk of over handling here, so make sure the camera is ready before removing the fish from the water, and only take the fish out of the water for a few seconds before immediately releasing it.

Pro

  • A Grip ‘n Grin photo captures the proud moment of the subject and the fish. There are few more exciting photos and memories to capture than this triumphant moment.

Con

  • High potential for over handling and injuring the fish.

Tip

  • Perspective is your friend. If the subject holds the fish straight out towards the camera, with arms fully extended, a 16 inch trout can look well over 20 inches. But beware, if you abuse perspective your friends will call you out.

In The Net

This is a great option for solo fly fishers, allowing you to keep your fish safely secured, while you snap a quick photo before release. Once the fish is netted and unhooked, lift the net so the fish is just visible above the water and take your photograph.

Pros

  • Easy for one person to take the photo.
  • Reduces handling of the fish, including hand to fish contact.

Cons

  • Perspective generally works against you in a net. Fish tend to look smaller than they actually are.
  • It still requires the removal of the fish from the water, if only for a brief second.

Tip

  • Anything you can add to the background besides water can help add perspective and make the fish look truer to size.

Tail/Net Release

If you don’t want to remove the fish from the water, but still want to get a photograph of yourself in contact with the fish, a release photo provides the perfect opportunity to combine both. Once you’ve removed the hook from the fish and it’s ready to swim away, snap a photo as you release your grip, or the fish kicks free from the net.

Pros

  • Minimal to no extra handling of the fish.
  • Shows more action/narrative and can put viewers in the moment.

Con

  • It can be difficult to catch the right moment, and there are no second chances.

Tip

  • Unless you have a second person to photograph, an action camera is almost a necessity to take a quality release photo.

Underwater Fish

While reeling the fish in or releasing it, have a second person photograph the fish underwater with a waterproof camera.

Pros

  • No extra handling of the fish required.
  • Provides a unique view and action.

Con

  • Most likely you won’t be able to frame the photo before clicking the shutter.

Tip

  • The lack of fish handling is not an excuse to play the fish on the line longer to insure a good photo. You should land and release the fish as normal.

Rising Fish

Capturing a photograph of a rising fish may be the holy grail of fishing photography. The photograph will make viewers salivate with anticipation. The photographer will require patience and the ability to decide not to cast a fly to said rising fish.

Pro

  • Photographing rising fish, whether rising to a natural insect or a dry fly, can be as exciting as witnessing the take on your own fly.

Cons

  • It can be difficult to capture.
  • You have to pass up fishing for rising fish.

Tip

  • It’s easiest to capture a photo of an active fish rising to a friend’s dry fly—you know to focus on the fly and even if the fish rises for other natural insects, if it eventually takes the fly, you’ll have it in focus. It’s a little more difficult to capture an active fish rising to natural insects since the fish could take any one within their feeding area, making a shallow depth of field more difficult. A fish rising to emergers or tiny BWOs is even more difficult, as it’s almost impossible to anticipate where the fish will rise. In that case, open your aperture to create a wider depth of field, point the camera at the feeding zone, and snap whenever you see a fish rise—hopefully you’ll catch something.


Cameras For Fishing

With modern digital technology there are seemingly endless tools for photographing fish. Here are some of the most common, with some of their pros and cons to help you make a decision on which camera(s) will be most useful to you.

Smartphones

Everyone has them now, and many fly fishers carry their smartphone with them for convenience and safety anyways. To paraphrase an old adage in photography, "the best camera is the one you have on you." So why would you need anything else?

Pros

  • You’re already carrying it!
  • You can edit photos right on the device to bring out colors, and upload from the device to share your experiences in real time.

Cons

  • Susceptible to drops and water – if you damage it you lose more than photos.
  • You can edit photos right on the device to bring out colors, and upload from the device to share your experiences in real time.

Tip

  • Most fishing waders and bags come with a flip-out interior waterproof pocket to keep your phone safe from water. Always make sure the zip-lock closure is sealed!

Action Cameras A.K.A. GoPros

Action cameras have swiftly entered the outdoor world as a must-have accessory for anyone wishing to capture the action as it happens.

Pros

  • Highly Convenient/Portable – They’re small, fit in any vest or bag, and can be worn using a variety of mounts so that the camera is always accessible for instant photos or videos without needing to dig it out of a bag.
  • Usually Waterproof – Not only will a waterproof camera allow you to take underwater photos, but it’ll provide extra peace of mind in case you drop it in the water or slip and submerge while wading.
  • Generally less expensive than other options.

Tip

  • An action camera attached to Sling Pack strap using a versatile mount works wonders.

Point And Shoot Cameras

With the explosion of smartphones and the drop in price of DSLR cameras, the point and shoot camera has become a less popular tool for many consumers. However, thanks to its small profile and versatile capabilities, it’s still holding strong in pockets, backpacks and fishing vests of outdoor adventurers worldwide.

Pros

  • They’re Small(ish) – Most point and shoot cameras are small enough to fit in a vest pocket or small fishing pack compartment, keeping them out of the way until they’re ready for use.
  • Manual Features – They provide greater zoom, f-stop and shutter speed controls than smartphones and action cameras, allowing you to give your subject depth of field, or provide greater light controls in your photographs.
  • Some are waterproof.

Cons

  • Focal lengths are limited to the built in zoom, meaning you’ll still need to move your body to get closer or further away from your subject than the zoom provides.
  • Limited Picture Controls – If you’re a perfectionist, the many automated functions may not provide enough manual control.
  • Smaller Sensor – If you’re hoping to print a larger photo, a point and shoot sensor may not provide a high enough resolution.

Tip

  • Point and shoot body sizes can vary greatly between models, so make sure your point and shoot can fit your desired pocket or bag before committing to purchase.

Interchangeable Lens Cameras – DSLRs And Mirrorless Etc.

The granddaddy of consumer cameras, DSLR (digital single lens reflex) cameras basically do everything you need them to. You’ll find 99.99% (a guess for the sake of argument) of professionals using a DSLR today, especially those photographing their fishing adventures for magazines and beyond.

Pros

  • Great Photo Quality – With big sensors, today’s DSLRs produce beautiful photos even with, or because of automatic settings.
  • Versatile Focal Lengths – Your focal length / zoom is limited by only the number of lenses you want to carry.
  • RAW Images – Most DSLRs offer the option to shoot uncompressed RAW images, which will allow you to more easily postprocess the image for a cleaner, finished product.
  • You can add a polarizing filter to your lens to cut water glare.

Con

  • They’re Big – Even smaller mirrorless cameras are too big for most bags you normally carry while fishing. If you’re carrying a DSLR it’s because you’re there as much (or more) for the photography as you are for the fishing.

Tip

  • Carry a Tripod – When photographing fishing action, the fish aren’t always reliable. A tripod will allow you to frame the expected action and wait for the right moment, without losing your planned composition. And if you’re lugging a DSLR around, a small carbon fiber or aluminium tripod isn’t going to add much comparable weight.

However you choose to photograph your fishing adventures, have fun with it and be sure to keep the fish’s health a priority if practicing catch and release. You learn more each time you fish, and the same is true of snapping fish photos. At some point, you may even feel the desire to photograph more than fish—most likely after already having landed a few that day yourself. Good luck in fishing and photography.


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