Fall is officially here and in Montana, it already feels like Winter. Yes, the big storm that hit Montana did hit Bozeman but unlike Great Falls the Gallatin Valley didn’t receive nearly the same amount of snow. The mountains are coated with that beautiful white stuff which means that the water temps are going to drop and the fish are going to change color as they get ready for the Fall spawn. Brown Trout are especially sought after during this time period but it is important to use proper etiquette when holding the fish as they need the warmth of the water. Taking a fish out of the water for too long while getting a photo can be detrimental to the longevity of the fish.
One thing I learned a long time ago when working with aquatic species is to get low and shoot wide. Getting low helps to make the subject look bigger and as well as making it easier to hold the subject closer to the water, thus helping to reduce the amount of time the fish is out of the water. Remember the goal is to get the shots quick for a fast release. The wide angle helps to exaggerate proportions while also dramatically changing the focal plane when shooting wide open. The results can be really fun.
I’ve really been enjoying fishing photography lately because it allows me to explore the relationship between subjects more thoroughly. You have this contrast between wanting to take a good photo of the person so that they have that memory and then you have the “really cool” fish photo of just that fish. If you were to ask the fisherman, they would say just photograph the fish, it’s more important. Both are key elements of the story, but the story isn’t complete without the other. Combine this with the urgency to take the photo fast for safety purposes and it makes for some interesting photography.
Once a year the Salmon Flies reproduce along the rivers in the west. Every year the avid fly fishermen goes out day after day to hit the hatch at just the right time to watch the feeding and participate in the fun. The fish go crazy and pig out. Even the little guys become little chubbies as the giant bugs hit the water. The Brown Trout especially enjoy this time of the year. For a photographer it’s a lot of fun with a couple of buddies hitting the water and taking some snaps.
Nope I was talking about Flash not the fish, although it’s doing a pretty good job of that too. Flash doesn’t just make things brighter, it makes color pop and sometimes that’s more important then how bright the subject is.
When it comes to working with a reflective subject you really have to be careful how close the flash is to the subject and how much power you’re using. It’s really easy to cause a hotspot. Also watch the angle of the flash to the subject because again having it straight on will cause problems. Reflective surfaces are one of the hardest to work with and require practice. Even after all the subjects I worked with this summer, I still need more practice.
There are a number of ways to mark the fall season whether it’s Football, Baseball, Halloween or even Mid terms, but my favorite for the last couple of years has been Brown Trout. Fall is when the bigs boys move back into the streams and big their spawn and for any angler it’s the one time we look forward to seeing them the most because of the change in their color. They turn this amazing brownish, yellowish, red that just screams for attention. In Montana October is one of the best months to chase them as November often brings the spawning to an end. The hunt is still on but will be over shortly, which means more time outdoors is needed!
When it comes to this type of photography I got light and quick. One body, one lens, one flash. Nikon D5, 24-70 AF-S and SB-5000. Easy setup for a quick shot.
This is something I’ve only seen in photos but finally saw firsthand this past weekend. I don’t often talk about pollution or conservation on my blog beyond the importance of telling the stories with our cameras but I kind of had too on this one. This 12″ Brown Trout was caught by my buddy and we were both shocked to see this plastic water/sports drink bottle ring stuck behind the gill plate of the fish. It had slowly taken chunks out of the fish as you can see in the photos. What this comes down to is being responsible. It doesn’t have to be something big, as this photo shows, these little things are important. No matter what the subject or where the area you have to take care of both because there may come a day when these places and these creatures will be gone. Believe it or not but seeing this sort of thing really isn’t enjoyable. It’s just sad. So if you see trash while out with your cameras, pick it up, you never know how much good it could do.
In Montana there are a few crazy people that go out in the middle of winter to try and catch “the big boy.” On a day where the high is 16 degrees most people tend to be inside or at most on the ski hill, not freezing their hands off trying to catch a fish. Well, on the Missouri River certain areas are setup as spawning grounds for Rainbow trout in the fall and in the winter time after the spawn is finished, the fish start to move out but a lot of the healthy population is still there. The water is warmer and the left over roe provides good habitat. This is true for numerous species that hang around in that area including the Browns.
My friend Alex has been chasing the Big Browns for years an he finally managed to get one that truly is worthy of being called a Missouri River Brown Trout. I was fortunate to be there to see it. Of course having a camera didn’t hurt.
Photographically when it comes to this kind of subject there are two main shots to get, the portrait shot and the species shot. Every fish story is just that, a story, unless there is documented proof. And every fisherman likes to tell their stories. Getting the portrait shot with the fish is essential! I keep them simple and quick and for that I use the D5, 24-70 f/2.8, and SB-5000 flash. This is a good general setup that can be very versatile. The flash is key for two reasons, bringing out color and removing shadows. Shadows weren’t a big deal this day but the ugly light meant that the only good light was coming from the flash. The second shot is what I call the species shot. A simple click of just the fish to show the detail in the species and specimen as well as it’s environment. Each shot serves different goals and have different uses but are necessary. Lastly you have to move fast. On days where it’s below freezing you can’t take long with the subject.
I’ve talked about this before but it such an important lesson with photography that it really needs to be remembered. The relationship between dark and light colors can make a bigger statement then the subject matter. It can also give more expression and emotion to an image. I thought this would make a good example as it has such a distinct color difference.
Now I am partly bragging because that’s mine and my friend is holding it for me to get some good shots but the color relationship here is so strong between the yellows and reds that it sucks you in, especially with the black background. Since we are still in fall and fall color is so popular you need to really focus on those color relationships when working with groves of trees.
If you are a photographer or a fisherman then this is really important. We are in a warm summer which means that water temps will be warm and water levels low. A number of rivers in Montana right now are closed because of this which makes the spots that are open more heavily fished. It is very important to remember that when fishing or taking pictures afterwards that you be as quick as you can with your aquatic subject.
Outdoor recreation is a ton of fun but it does require respect if we want these places to exist in the future. Fish don’t do well out of the water after they have been played. It’s critical that you get them in as soon as you can and if you intend to take photos to be as quick as possible. Make sure that you put the fish in the water in between shots or do only shots where the subject is partly submerged. There are many stories and news reports going around right now of fish being dead on the shoreline because of selfies. Please be respectful! They might be fish that we like to catch but they are still another living animal on this planet.