During the 20 years I worked as editor of a state wildlife agency magazine, there was a bulletin board covered with scores of fishing photos just outside my office. We used it to display photos sent to us by readers.
Most of those photographs showed a person grinning at the camera while holding a big fish. Probably 90 percent were shot indoors or in a carport; very few were taken in a boat or even at a dock. They were, with few exceptions, terrible photographs.
Taking good fishing photos isn't that difficult, and if you're the person being photographed, or the one shooting the photos, wouldn't you want them to be good? Following these simple guidelines can get you started.
Carry a camera when you go fishing
The reason most big fish get photographed indoors or in the carport is because there's no camera available on the river or lake. The only way to avoid this is to have a camera loaded and ready on the water. Keep it handy in a waterproof bag until you need it.
The right lens
If your camera works with interchangeable lenses, consider using a wide-angle zoom lens in the 28-80mm range. Such a lens is perfect for shooting most fishing photos. It lets you capture your entire subject, even within the confines of a small boat, and also allows you to zoom in or out so you can compose a variety of unique shots.
For the best images, stop fishing and shoot several photos as soon as you've landed a fish. A fish's brilliant colors fade quickly if it's kept too long. And if you intend to release the fish in a healthy state, you need to do so within seconds. Have a fishing companion hold the fish in the water while you grab your camera.
Shoot "outside the box"
It's difficult to position a fish for a good shot when you and your companion are in the same boat. If possible, position two boats side by side and shoot the fish as it is being held by someone in the other boat. Or, get out of your boat in safe, shallow water and photograph the fish while your companion holds it. You may want to carry some waders or hip boots so you can do this without getting soaked
Focus on the eye
Most fish have rounded bodies. That means different portions of the fish lie in different planes of focus. If you focus on the fish's side, the eyes might be out of focus, making the fish look lifeless and dull. So when snapping your shot, focus on the eye instead. This will help assure you get vibrant photos of a healthy looking fish.
When shooting in bright sunlight, get in a position where the fish is well lit, but keep the sun off one shoulder, not directly behind you, so no shadows appear in your photo. It may be simpler, and the results are often more dramatic, if you move in close and use fill flash to light up your subject.
Ask your friends to wear solid, brightly colored clothing on your fishing trips. Shirts, jackets and hats that are some shade of red, yellow or purple stand out best in most fishing scenes.
Avoid a posed look
When photographing people with fish, try to avoid a posed look. Have the person look at the fish, not at the camera, and ask them to keep the fish properly turned to display it best-not belly up or turned at a funny angle. Avoid those "grip-and-grin" shots all too typical of the bait-shop bulletin board.
Avoid clutter in your photos
If you're in a boat, get rid of drink cans, used fishing line, bloody cut bait and other items in the background that can ruin a photo. Also make sure your photos don't show a fishing rod or fishing line across the angler's face. And watch for the tip of a rod behind an angler that may appear to be growing from his head or shoulders.
Shoot a variety of photographs
Photograph as many different aspects of your trip as possible. You'll certainly want to shoot photos of the fish you catch, but also capture the setting, the season and the people.
Take pictures near dawn and dusk
One great way to shoot dramatic fishing photos is to take some pictures at dawn or dusk when the sky is blazing with brilliant colors. Near dawn, fog and mist are likely to rise from the lakes and streams, creating a veiled light that gives the sun and landscape elements a soft magical appearance. When the sun sets, you can use fill flash to light your subject and capture dramatic images with vividly colored backdrops.
Keep your camera preset and nearby so you can shoot when fishing action is best. Try to capture your companions fighting or netting fish. Photos of fish jumping as anglers battle them are difficult to get but worth the effort when they work. Be sure to set your camera to a fast shutter speed.
If you've missed the original action, consider reenacting the scene. Have a buddy place his hand (or a landing net) and the whole fish under water and bring it up sharply to create splashing water. Do this immediately after a fish is landed so it will still be fresh-looking, and shoot with a fast shutter speed to stop the action.
Make it easy for companions to shoot photos
If you're the only person with a camera, instruct a companion in the use of your camera before the action starts. Use automatic settings, if possible, to simplify the process of getting a good shot. Then position the camera where it's easily accessible to both you and your friend. After all, you're an important part of this story, too.
Plan your photo time
If you can't bring yourself to put your rod down and pick up a camera, plan an hour or so of your trip, near the end of the day if possible, just for shooting photos. Set that period aside, and get the pictures you want for your family scrapbook or the bait-shop wall. You'll be glad you did.
Keith "Catfish" Sutton is the author of several books on the outdoors. For more information, visit his website, www.catfishsutton.com.