Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Art of the Grip & Grin: How to take better fishing photos

We fishermen have been attempting to capture the memory of our catch since the beginning of mankind. We are no longer left to paint our prey on cave walls. Since the invention of the camera the perfect “Grip & Grin” photo has evolved to a true art. We want to capture all aspects of that great moment in time. We want to be reminded of our mood, our choice of equipment for the day, our surroundings, the weather…and of course our prize! The fish. This article will help you take better fishing photos. Your friends may even thank you.

Always be prepared to either take a magazine cover photo, or be the one on the cover. Dress like you know how to fish. You don’t have to always be clean shaven and snazzed to the nines, but a haircut and nice shirt are a great idea. Always fish with a partner who also carries a decent camera, knows how to use it and is willing to stop casting and actually use it. If your favorite fishing partner is lacking in any of these departments, forward this article to them! Also, if a rifle without ammo is just a club (as they say in the Army) then a camera without film is just a rock. Charge it up the night before and be sure the memory card has space available!

Stop and Poke at Bugs
If the fishing action is slow, take time out to smell the flowers (and then photograph them). Take plenty of shots of the local flora and fauna. Close up photos of the aquatic bugs hatching on the stream that day are always of interest to fly fishermen. These photos are always great to have as reference during a long winter at the tying bench, or if you are ever needing material for an entomology presentation. Choose a camera with a good macro setting.

Postcard Moments
Pay close attention to your fishing partner during your day on the water. Never pass on the opportunity to take that “postcard pic”. Few photos capture a sense of place better, and these are usually the photos that other fishermen enjoy the most. The person in the photo is only a small element of the overall scene and is often unidentifiable, thus allowing the viewer to impose himself into the scene. Paying attention to your partner also enables you to be jonnie-on-the-spot when he/or she eventually hooks into that trophy fish.

Bent Rods
Do your best to capture the action and thrill of the fight. This is one of the hardest photos to get perfect, because it often happens quickly and neither you nor your fisherman has much control over the situation. The number one detail that must always be featured prominently in a Fighting Shot is the bent rod. The entire rod needs to be in the frame (ideally silhouetted against a light background) and both fighters need to be present. The fisherman is easy—get at least his upper torso in the frame—but the fish is harder. Rarely will you be able to snap the shot just as the fish is jumping, but attempt to capture the point where the line enters the water. If the water is clear enough to see the shape of the fish, or if it is splashing on the surface, then your photo will be even better.
During a lull in a long fight encourage your fisherman to put the fish on the reel (reel in excess fly line). Some line hanging loose over a knee or rock looks cool, but 40 feet of it wrapped around cattails and wading boots looks ridiculous. There will not be time to reel in this line once the fish is landed.
Also, during the fight the photographer should be formulating a game plan. Where is the sun? The sun should always be at the photographers back. What will make the most interesting background? We want to get a feel for were the fish was caught. Will this photo desperately need some color because the fisherman is wearing drab clothing? Will I need the flash on or off? Have I turned off the macro from the shot of the Green Drake mayfly? The camera should be ready and the photographer in the proper position.

The Money Shot The ultimate Grip & Grin…the money shot…the photo your buddy will have blown up, framed and hung in the living room. Consistently getting great shots has much to do with proper teamwork and communication. If you and your fishing partner are properly equipped and prepared to assume either the roll of Fisherman or Photographer at a moments notice you will have success. As the fisherman, your responsibilities are to mind the fly line, remove your hood (if you’re wearing a jacket) and tell the photographer where you would like to land the fish. Once you land the fish your only tasks are to keep the fish clean (no mud or leaves) keep your hands off the photo side of the fish and SHUT UP. Once the fish is out of the water the clock is ticking…listen to everything your photographer tells you (he is now in complete control). Besides, we want to see your smile, not your silly “oh-face”.

Note: The photo of a fish of a lifetime is never worth the life of a fish of a lifetime. Treat the fish as though it were your first born…and get it back into the water within seconds!

More spots, less knuckles!

As the photographer your moment to shine begins when the fish is brought to hand. You should only take enough time to get three quick shots before the fish is released…so think fast and act faster. Check to see that the face of your fisherman is not in shadow. Have him turn or even move into the sun. Reach out and adjust his collar or lift up the bill of his ball cap. Whoop it up a bit if you have to…get your fisherman to show some emotion! Leave plenty of border, you always want room to crop later on. NEVER scalp your fisherman! Get all of his head in the frame. Try to get the fly rod and reel in the photo. You may have to prop the rod up against your subject, or stick it under his arm. Make sure no mud or leaves are on the fish…this was the fisherman’s job, but now he should be looking at you, not the fish. Lastly, encourage him to hold the fish up and out. He will want the memory to be 2 inches bigger, not 2 inches smaller!

Don’t Forget the Fish
Take photos of the fish, not just the fisherman. This becomes more important if the catch happens to be less than gigantic. The fish may still be a memorable trophy…a 14 inch brown trout from your favorite small stream taken on a dry fly, or a breathtaking little cutthroat from a high altitude lake most people never dare hiking to. In these cases it becomes important to focus on the fish. Only resort to the “another fish in the grass” shot if you are alone. Remember we want the human element in these photos. Know the difference between a photo of a fish and a fishing photo! Also, second only to a human face a human hand exhibits the most personality—and as Martha Stewart says, “That’s a good thing.”

And…The Release!
Never pass on the opportunity at a release shot. The criteria for a good Release Shot is a bit different than your typical Grip & Grin or Fighting Shot. Similar to the Fish in Hand shot, the main focus should be the fish, but the entire “personality” of the fisherman should be present. We should only see the important parts of the person, but feel as though we can see all of him. We should not notice that all that is in the photo is the forearm and side of the face. We can see the emotion and the action. After all, this is when the fisherman is letting go…he is relinquishing control of the fish as well as the center of attention. For the same reasons it is also important that the fish be partially in the water, but not so far as to obscure the open eye of the fish. We want its personality, too!

Awful Photo: Why? Head of fisherman is scalped. Photo is cocked awkwardly, which wouldn’t normally be a big deal (straighten it later on the computer) but the head is scalped so we can’t afford to loose anymore during the straightening possess. Fisherman is wearing drab clothing (hard to always wear a bright “photo shirt” when stalking carp) but the photographer didn’t bother to capture some interesting background color. And the fisherman is scowling and looks like a homeless man (it is me in this photo, by the way). I certainly could use a shave, haircut and attitude adjustment. I am doing a good job displaying the fish, though…

Awesome Photo: Why? Perfect melding of fish and fisherman. This photo oozes a primal feeling of “I am Man and I caught fish!” We see it was a sunny day, blue skies…sleeves rolled up, must have been warm. Behind him is the cool, undercut bank of the lake—now we have a small sense of place. The fisherman is totally stoked (casting all day before this big wiper struck!) We can see almost all of the fish (wow!) and we can even see the rod and reel lying naturally across his knees. Nice.

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