Editors note: Click photos for larger version – where picture numbers are referenced, you can see the picture number by hovering your mouse over the photos.
Fishing photography primarily consists of either snapshots — proof you were fishing, caught some fish, or caught the fish of your life — or a more ambitious attempt to capture a particular moment such as a sunset, a river canyon, a school of fish; occurrences which by their sheer beauty, or rarity, have the potential to reach and delight a larger audience. While the requirements for a simple snapshot camera can be easily defined, the complexity of one’s camera needs for more ambitious photographs is virtually unlimited.
What Kind Of Camera ?
The best camera to have is the one most likely to be within reach and ready to snap a shot when the Hindenberg blows up, or in this case, when the school of false albacore start plowing into the bait ball hiding under your boat. If you want a picture that could make the cover of a national magazine, the camera that can achieve that fast snapshot is NOT the one you are likely to be carrying. These are the two extremes â€“ rapid convenience or high quality perfection. Let’s look at them because everything else fits in-between.
The perfect, always there, fool-proof fishing camera must be:
- small and light
- ABSOLUTELY WATERPROOF! (â€œWater Resistantâ€ does not cut it)
- Have auto focus and auto exposure
- Have a built-in automatic flash
- Be rugged and indestructible
Such a snapshot camera shouldn’t require any special consideration. I have retrieved mine from floating around in the bilge innumerable times. It should always get the snapshot, yet will rarely capture a high quality photograph desirable or capable of great enlargement.
Here is my snapshot fishing camera. It is several generations of technology old butbecause I use it so infrequently I cannot justify replacing it. But it is always there and ready. Drop it in the water? Heck, I snorkel with it!
The minimum requirements for a professional quality fishing camera consistently capable of taking a great photograph if one should present itself are:
1) high resolution lenses, preferably a zoom lense
2) high resolution recording medium, whether film or digital sensor chip. Resolution is like money. You can’t ever have too much!
4) It must have a through-the-lens (and filter) viewing system (and that means a single-lens-reflex type or SLR)
5) It must have a built in or attachable fill flash
6) Must be protectable! By that I mean it must fit into a reasonably sized waterproof, hard sided case! (Picture 2)
Not necessary but desirable would be auto-focus and auto-exposure. By this point forget small, light, foolproof, and inexpensive. Such a camera is expensive, heavy, fairly large, and requires protection and care.
Photo #2 and #3 are of my camera case. Both the snapshot and serious cameras described above go with me everywhere. The water-proof, indestructible case filled with gear weighs 20 pounds. It is heavy, a constant hassle, especially inÂ airports, and must be dealt with somewhere in boats. But, given the current existing alternatives, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
My waterproof point-and-shoot would seem likely to be the most used, but exactly the opposite. I leave the water after a successful day of fishing having caught fish and taken photographs. Within a few days I have forgotten the fish, and I deal with, use, look at, and in many different ways share the photographs for the rest of my life.
Film Or Digital?
Digital technology has revolutionized photography because it lets you cheaply and easily manipulate, enlarge, and print digital files. The technology is moving so fast that it is difficult to write about it and be up to date with the latest developments.
There are still a few situations where film is favored:
- Speed. Digital cameras are slow! Most must “boot up” and all must pause while they “save” the shots to the recording medium; terrible characteristics where shooting speed is critical for shooting fast moving action such as a leaping tarpon or billfish .
- Slides are still very useful for group presentations (digital projectors are stilluncommon and expensive), and slides are still the preferred medium of professional photo-journalism.
- Because nothing has the take-your-breath-away visual impact of a beautifully projected Fujichrome, Kodachrome image. For sharpness and color saturation, digital does not come close. Yet. From a slide, once one has a good scanner, one has all the options open to them. The downside to film is the expense of the film stock and development costs, being stuck with one “speed” for an entire 20- or 36-exposure roll, and protecting the film from age and heat.
Types Of Film
Consumer films are characterized by fool-proof characteristics. They are high speed (high ASA, ISO rating), wide exposure latitude (one can â€œmissâ€ the proper exposure by four stops and still get a reasonable photograph), shade and contrast tolerant, and chemically stable. They have a long shelf life and are temperature (heat) tolerant. They tend to be grainy which limits sharpness/resolution and enlargement ability. You will always get good pictures, but rarely great pictures. In some scenes with both full sunlight and complete shade they are better than the professional films. They are also cheaper. Between slide and print films, print film is the more tolerant and bland of the two in all these parameters. Slides always have more color.
Professional films are characterized by slower ISO/ASA speeds, finer grain (and that means resolution!), higher contrast and deeper color saturation. They necessarily have a narrower exposure latitude. The best are the most touchy. They are also chemically unstable, deteriorate month-by-month unless refrigerated, and can be completely destroyed by the temperatures in a hot car or trunk on a sunny day, before or after exposure. They are more expensive. In short, they are a royal pain in the neck to work with. But they can achieve what makes photography worthwhile. There are a few special things in life everyone should experience: unconditional love, the birth of their child, and the projection of their first well exposed, professional “chrome” slide. (Fujichrome Velvia and Provia, and various Kodachromes).
Right now the photographic market is flooded with excellent medium resolution digital cameras, some of them waterproof, functionally bullet-proof, and otherwise satisfying all of the best characteristics of the snapshot cameras without the more onerous characteristics of the professional cameras. What about them? The biggest two problems, that, if solved, would let me stop carrying a 20-pound camera case all over the country are resolution and the polarizing filter issue, and I think it is only a matter of time before the resolution is solved (it is, but I mean affordably). So that leaves the polarizing filter problem.
If Digital Then How BIG A Digital File ?
Three to five megapixels is, in my opinion, a “medium resolution” digital camera and gives you the option of reasonable enlargements, say up to 8â€x12â€. Depending on the camera, the larger files might make the camera slower. You must try out the individual camera for speed and then decide if that will work for you. Try before you buy. Go to a store and shoot the camera. Ordering online without seeing the camera and determining its speed is foolish.
The Mid-Range Digital Camera
A water-proof digital with all the other automatic bells and whistles with up to a 5 MB file capture size would, if the polarizing filter issue were solvable, be sufficient as a fishing scene camera for enlargements up to about 11â€x17â€. It was always more than sufficient as a “fish picture” camera. But without a polarizing filter it is inadequate about half the time or more for scenic or water shots.Air Travel And Cameras
The heavy duty x-ray scanners now in use for checked baggage make another strong case for digital cameras. Make no mistake. If you leave ANY film in your checked luggage it will be fried! Whether exposed or not, totally ruined. You won’t know until after you pay for the processing and get nothing! There are leaded bags available but then you have to worry whether they are rated for the current generation of scanners and about the luggage being opened to see what’s being hidden in the bags. Film MUST be carried with your â€œcarry-onâ€ bags. The screeners will tell you that their carry-on screening will not affect film slower than ISO 800. That may be true for snapshot intended film scanned once, but begs the question for professional use film that may be part of a large film stash and get taken (and scanned repeatedly) on multiple trips. There is only one way to keep film dependable, and that is to have a bag containing film that you remove from your carry-ons before they are scanned and ask the personnel to hand check it! They will ask you if the film is faster than ISO 800, tell them yes!
The Basics Of Fishing Photography
Everything beyond the snapshot ventures into the infinite world of fine art photography. You want to capture a beautiful, special moment as a photograph. Only for yourself? Would you be satisfied with an 8×10 in your office, or is the scene deserving of a front and center 24×36 framed over your mantle? These days the potential to post/share pictures on the Internet is often listed as a goal, and if it never went further than that, things would be simple. But who wants limits?
If you see aÂ good scene and can only take a good photograph, well, OK. But what if you see aÂ great scene and can only take a good photograph. Being limited by your hardware is as frustrating as having a school of monstrous stripers breaking on bait ten feet further away than your medium equipment’s casting range.
How To Take The Basic Person-Holding-A-Fish Photograph
This is the basic, â€œI caught thisâ€ photograph. These constitute 90% of all fishing pictures. There is basic problem. Having just landed a new or unusual fish (for you), you are pumped up and filled with adrenaline. At that moment, that is the biggest, most beautiful fish you could imagine. If you throw it in a cooler or on a stringer that fish will start to shrink as your excitement fades. By the time you get home hours later, you will wonder what the hell happened to the fish you caught. This alone is the best reason for catch-and-release. A picture, any picture of that fish is not going to reproduce your awe and excitement.
I think we all are profoundly disappointed by our first fish photographs. The fish look so small and static. We get used to that as inevitable. What can we do to make the photographs approximate our excitement and how big the fish either looked to us or really was?
The single worst fish picture is the most common: a guy standing (back from the camera, whole body seen) in a parking lot at the end of the day, a dead fish hanging from a finger. That is a â€œproof of catchâ€ picture. Given the photographic realities, the fish is always the smallest thing in the picture.
Here areÂ Patricelli’s Rules for a more interesting fish picture:
1)Â Fill the frame . I don’t need (or want) to see the fisherman’s feet, or belly, unless the fish’s size dictates that as a necessity. A 16-inch fish hanging next to a 72-inch human will always look small and dinky by comparison! Fill the picture with the fish!Â (picture 4)
2)Â Get closer! All snapshot cameras are set with wide angle lens settings. This simplifies focus, but exaggerates both distances and closeness. A person standing 10 feet away looks like 30 feet. And something two feet away looks one foot away. Use this lens characteristic to emphasize the fish’s size. Stand close, hold the fish closer, until it either
fills the frame or is too close to focus.
3)Â Get the fish horizontal ! The horizontal presentation is more natural and therefore more interesting to the eye than a vertical fish. If the fish is too big to hold horizontal, then ok, I’m impressed.Â (picture 5) But also hold it square to the camera.
4)Â Take the picture of the fish while it’s alive . A live fish is more interesting than a dead fish, even if it is doomed to become sashimi. The same is true for the fisherman. Take the picture as soon as the fish is caught. After 3 hours in the cooler it looks about the way it feels! And your excitement and wonderment is at it’s peak as well.
5)Â Highlight the fish’s best characteristics. It might be a Rainbow’s red stripe, a Brown’s long jaw, or a False Albacore’s vermiculated, neon back striping. But this is what is interesting about this fish, so let us share it!
8)Â Show your face ! This can be quite complex to achieve, because it means not just getting enough light onto the face, but removing your sunglasses and hat. Ideally, for a quality photo, there should be fill-flash to eliminate the facial shadows. The more facial details the more food for the eye. On my personal list of details should be remove the cigar from my mouth and tuck in the geeky chin strap.
The above rules will make for a more interesting fish photograph, maybe even come close to capturing what you felt and what the fish looked like (to you). There are even more details that can be added, but that is only if you are striving for perfection. And if you were, you wouldn’t be using a point-and-shoot camera.
The Elements Of Good Photography
As wildly subjective as it is to define, the single characteristic of all great images, paintings or photographs, is that they capture the eye and do not quickly release it. I consider a photograph successful if it captures and holds most people’s attention for three seconds. A great photograph holds it for five, and the ones that make my year catch the same people’s eye over and over each time they see it. It is a busy, competitive, visual world.
There are basic rules of composition. One should start composing the picture by satisfying the rules, and then break them only when you are sure that your variation looks better to your eye. Better yet, take a picture of each variation, and decide later. You can rarely re-create your scene.
2)Â Elements. Whether visual elements (color/shape) or story elements, ideally both, the more the better as long as they fit into a compositional whole and do not create clutter.
3)Â Horizon. The horizon should be in the upper or lower third of the image rather than in the middle. But keep the horizon horizontal! Tilted pictures can be corrected digitally with some effort, and usually must be.
4)Â Compose around, not in, the center . The major elements of the image should balance.Â (picture 10).
5)Â Depth. One should have near-, mid-range, and far elements to give the picture depth.. That way the eye-path â€œtravelsâ€ through space through the image.
4)Â Resolution.Sharpness promises additional details and information and captures the eye.(picture 11) The secrets to getting sharp pictures are:
a) use a tripod whenever possible, and lacking that, Squeeze off shots like you were target shooting, and use â€¦
b) the fastest shutter speed possible. This dictates â€¦
c) a wide open aperture. Luckily most lenses are most sharp either wide open or one stop closed from wide open. What one sacrifices is depth of field.. All my cameras are set on Aperture Priority – f-2.8 as all my lenses are f-2.8 lenses.
d) use the finest grain film possible, or the largest digital file size.Â (picture 12)5)Â Blur .Â (picture 13) Blur is an element of movement. Some of my most successful photographs have occurred by accident, by either not realizing that the shutter speed was too slow, or when I was unable to stabilize the camera even when I did. Blur around sharp elements can bring a static picture to life!(picture 14)
6)Â Compose – shoot, shoot shoot: Compose- shoot, shoot, Zoom lenses are marvelous for letting the photographer rapidly scan all the compositional possibilities. And then shoot, shoot, shoot! A good photographer mines the situation for all the possibilities.(picture 15) Take several shots of the same composition, especially if hand-holding the camera. One will be sharper than the others. Then â€œbracketâ€ the shot, vary the exposure up two stops and take several more, squeezing each one off . Then drop the exposure two stop and squeeze off another group. Zoom in, zoom out, spin the polarizing filter, check out every possible variation before you stop shooting.
Never think about the cost of film and development, those are the cheapest elements in the equation of your travel, license, gas, boat, camera, etc., etc.. Digital media eliminates the cost of film. One or two good shots a roll is great!Â (picture16) The sobering truth is a National Geographic photographer (the best of the best) may go on a six-month trip through the Amazon, shoot 6,000 rolls of film (36-exposure each) and just thirteen pictures might make the story in the magazine.Â (Picture 17)
About the author…
Raised in Seattle, Wa, I began fly fishing at age 13 and now, 45 years later, I am still amazed at how much there is to learn and how many more horizons there are still to cross. During my college years in Cambridge, MA and medical school in Boston in the 1960’s I fell in love with salt water fly fishing, Striped Bass, and Cape Cod. I eventually chose to live in Oregon primarily to take advantage of the, then (now long gone), world class Striper fishery in the Umpqua River and still be among the trout, salmon, and steelhead of my youth. As a â€œstarvingâ€ student I simply couldn’t afford to continue to pursue photography until it was simplified and made affordable by computers, even before digital cameras, and picked it up again about the time the striper population on the east coast rebounded. Now I fish the east coast on the Cape, NC, and Florida almost more than I do in Oregon