Not only does a well-taken catch photo enhance your angling enjoyment, it can also help fishing magazines fill in the blanks…
Jeff Prest examines the somewhat lost art of photographing fish
CONTRARY to popular mythology, fishing magazines don’t get everything teed up for them when they venture into the field. While Trout-Fisherman contributors frequently confound the odds and winkle photogenic fish out of unpromising waters, “We should be okay,” is as far as I ever dare call it in advance, and I’m not the superstitious type. Inevitably, there are occasional blanks, particularly where wild trout waters are concerned. If it’s the kind of day where fate is holding a royal straight flush against our pair of twos – where rain is accompanied by gales, the boat engine co-operates only intermittently and someone gets a hook through his ear – we can write those days off as just not meant to be. On other days, though, the occasion is not so easily relinquished. Imagine a West End show where the set and chorus-line are magnificent but the star fails to appear. There are fishing days like that. Just one fish away from perfect, and if you know that there’s a great article begging to be written about the place, you don’t rule a line under such days without a fight. I had one such day in Scotland last year. A photogenic loch, an interesting manager, deer skulls piled high in his garden, and an angler who couldn’t have tried any harder. Just a nice fish photograph or two from your regulars later on this season and we’d be in business, I told the manager, when we returned empty-handed, a point I reiterated in two subsequent messages left on his voicemail. Either he didn’t like me, or he has come to shun voicemail as a fount of exclusively bad news. In fairness, if it’s the latter, he’s not alone. Or maybe his regulars have simply ducked the challenge of producing magazine-standard photographs as a creative bridge too far. Which made me think that an article highlighting what type of photograph we’re looking for in these situations might be useful, especially it helps you improve your photographs generally.
Little shots of horror
First the good news, you’re already a lot more clued-up in this respect than some of your sea angling brethren. It was a source of continuous bafflement in my time with Sea-Angler magazine; the number of fishermen who thought that nothing finished off a catch picture to perfection quite like taking it in the comfort of their own home. We lost count of the number of people photographed showing off trophy cod and pollock against a backdrop of fridge-magnets or flock wallpaper. ‘Readers’ Kitchens’, we collectively called such contributions, but their entertainment value heavily outweighed their usefulness. When it comes to size, you can’t dictate what ends up on your hook but you can determine what’s catered for by your camera. Magazines need at least three or four megabytes of image size to work with; more if the image is to be used large on the page. Even though I’ve been providing pictures as well as words for almost a decade now, I’m still slightly thrown by all the things I’m supposed to think of when I raise the camera to my eye, so I’d invite you to narrow it down to the two essentials – is everything in shot that needs to be, and, above all, is it in focus? Processing software can heal many ills of light and colour, but blurring remains photography’s terminal condition.
Hold it – if you really must
As for composition, only the trophy fish need share the frame with the person who caught them. A 17-stone human grinning manically behind a 1lb fish is not a good look for either species, but even smaller fish can photograph well if you close in tightly on them as they are about to be released, even half-in and half-out of the water. Angling photography is moving away from the hero-shot these days, showing fish and angler together, and more towards just the fish or even fragments of them: a sharp tail or the beautifully-speckled flank of a brownie can make interesting images just in themselves. As long as the focus is pin-sharp. It’s when a fish has to be held by its captor for the photographer that the fun starts, particularly if it’s a fish that is impatiently awaiting release. The balancing act is far from easy, I know, but we need to see as much fish and as little hand as possible. The tail end should be held in a circle formed by thumb and forefinger, with the rest of the hand behind the tail rather than in front of it. The head end should be supported on the palm of the other hand, with the fingers curled into the palm, rather than spread all over the flank of the fish. Try to avoid the compromise whereby an extended middle finger restrains the fish: it looks like the angler is trying to send our readers a subliminal message they can do without. If the fish won’t play ball, try lying it on the mesh of your net on a wet patch of grass and pray it stays still for a few seconds. If it’s a big fish, have the reel of your rod lying nearby in-shot, to provide perspective. Make sure the fishery owner knows you’re trying to help publicise the fishery and is okay with it, and if the fish just won’t have it, let it go. Much as we’re trying to promote fishing, the idea of a trout dying for a photo is something I’ll never get used to. Hopefully, it will never apply, but should you ever find yourself working with us on a feature that has everything but a fish, these pointers may make it slightly less intimidating if we ask you to photograph something after the event. And if you’re really, really proud of your kitchen, feel free to send us a separate photo. It won’t be published, but we’re not oblivious to a nice black-sparkle worktop.
“Imagine a West End show where the set and chorus-line are magnificent but the star fails to appear. There are fishing days like that.”
More fish than fingers visible, you’ll notice. Someone’s done this before...