Fifteen years ago I wrote a piece on photography for anglers. I came across a copy of that column in my file cabinet, and my how things have changed. Today film cameras are as obsolete as flintlock muskets, and Kodachrome has gone the way of the passenger pigeon.
I bought my first digital camera shortly after I wrote that piece. I paid $500 for it on eBay, a second-hand camera that stored photos on a floppy disk — now also obsolete. The resolution was pretty crummy by today’s standards. For magazine work I still relied on my 35mm SLR. But digital cameras were getting better and better, and six years ago I finally bought a point and shoot 8-megapixel digital camera with a 28mm- to 350mm zoom lens. Six years later, I’m still using that camera and it takes great pictures. However, a great camera is no substitute for a good photographer. Without the expense of film and film processing, and the ability to look at your image seconds after you push the button, there is no reason anyone can’t take great photographs.
This photo had to be cropped to straighten the horizon out.
Think Before You Shoot
What separates great photographers from the majority of shutterbugs is an eye for composition. The tendency to center the subject of the photograph is great, but it usually makes for a boring photograph. And when you center the subject, you tend to ignore the background, which is equally important in an interesting photograph. It’s better to put the subject off to one side of the picture. You also want the sun at your back — most of the time. But then there are times when a silhouette is most effective, so it’s good to break the rules now and then.
The camera can focus and choose the correct exposure, but you still need to be able to compose the shot. This means paying attention to the background, and using the light to its best advantage. Good photography is all about understanding light. Most of the time, you want the sun behind you, but there are exceptions. Silhouettes can often make for interesting photographs.
The best time of day to take great photographs is when the sun is close to the horizon; i.e., a couple hours after sunrise and a couple of hours before sunset. Photographers call this warm light. When the sun is high in the sky, the light is called harsh. That said, it doesn’t mean you can’t take good pictures in the middle of the day, but you always have to think about light and use it to your advantage.
Kids usually photograph well, but be sure to use a flash when the subject is backlit.
When I take photographs of anglers with their fish, I like the fish held at a 45-degree angle, or horizontal. I have a pet peeve about suspending fish vertically, particularly if the fish is to be released. It’s bad for the fish, and it’s bad composition.
I also like the angler to hold the fish 18- to 24 inches away from the body, and not at arms length. The fish may look bigger when presented farther away, but it also looks like you are cheating, and it’s obvious. If you are taking a picture in harsh light, use a flash. This eliminates shadows, particularly around the face if the angler is wearing a cap. Most digital cameras come with a built-in flash. Learn how to use it. I also prefer the angler to look at the fish, and not the camera.
Look Like An Angler
I also insist that the angler not wear his sunglasses or a muff when I’m taking a posed with fish photo. If you can’t see the person’s eyes and his face is covered, he will look like he’s ready to rob a bank and might as well not even be in the picture — just an opinion. Action shots are different, and sunglasses are not only appropriate, they should be mandatory — as should hats, especially in Florida. Fishing without a hat and polarized sunglasses here is the sign of a rank amateur whose photograph nobody wants to see. Another pet peeve is excessive amounts of blood on or around the fish, the angler, or the boat.
A nice action shot has the angler about to land a fish.
Your subject doesn’t have to look like he just stepped out of L.L. Bean, but he or she should be dressed to go fishing. I used to fish with a guy who dressed in ratty T-shirts with a rag on his head. I had to bring along a hat and a shirt for him to wear to get useable photographs. One of my favorite photos of myself was taken by a client with a particularly big snook we caught. We were wading and the shorts I was wearing were ragged, but that’s what you are supposed to wear when you intend to get wet.
I think fishermen should look like fishermen and not mannequins posing for retailers. I also dislike white fishing shirts. Not only do they screw up the exposure settings, they also have a frightening effect on fish, which associate a flash of white with being preyed upon by sea birds. Make sense?
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Captain Fred Everson has been a licensed fishing guide on Tampa Bay in Florida for 13 years. He has also written three books, and is a 20-year active member of the Outdoor Writer’s Association of America. You can visit his website for more information at http://tampabayfishingguide.com/