What It Takes

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.

Color Contrast

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.

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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.

Captured with Nikon D5, 24-70 AF-S, SB-5000, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

Please Be Respectful

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.

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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.

A Little Flash Goes a Long Way

I’ve received some very nice compliments over the last year when it comes to my fishing photography and I can honestly say that I truly enjoy it. It has been a great learning process between working with aquatic species, portraiture, flash technique and time management. That’s the great thing about photography is there is always something to learn as long as you find a fun way to learn how to apply it and for each person that will be something different.

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I’ve done a lot of fishing this year and I can’t to do some more. The great thing about going out with friends is it’s so much easier to get good photographs. My friend Al hooked these two beauties and naturally I had to spend some time with them. This time around I tried something different and used the 18-35mm instead of my 24-70 AF-S f/2.8. I’ve had the 18-35 since March and it is just a really great lens! It’s wicked sharp and has a great focal range. What really makes the difference in the end is the flash. To truly bring out the color of each fish you need that pop of light. Flash is also important when it comes to the portraiture because it helps to remove the shadow caused by hats. Thanks to camera functions like E4 in the custom shooting menu, flash has gotten much easier and more enjoyable.

What to do with Gray Skies?

I quite often post about working with gray skies on my blog and the challenges they present. Often times I don’t go out shooting on those kind of days because even if you find a great subject the light creates a more depressing or sad mood that can be seen in the photos. However, in order to become a better photographer you must learn how to work with these scenarios and produce a result.

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Lately I’ve been spending my Sundays out fishing. I truly enjoy it and find it’s not only relaxing but also leads to some great photography. Of course every time I go out I see so many critters that I wish I had my 600 f/4 with me. I think they come out intentionally because they know I don’t have the long lens but that’s just me. Anyways while I was out drifting with some friends, Alex here hooked a very pretty Brown Trout that was worth stopping for.

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Now when it comes to gray sky days there isn’t much you can do. Unless there are pockets of light or dramatic structure in the clouds, your odds of getting a nice shot aren’t going to be great. But by changing the situation with the addition of a subject and the use of flash you can then add more light and best of all more color. Gray sky days work really well in this regard because it doesn’t take a lot of power from the flash to make a good result. In this case it was a just the D4s, 24-70 AF-S and a single SB-900 flash. Real simple quick shot that made the day a little bit better.

Printing is Your Friend

Like any other business networking is a big part of photography and making friends is just as important as keeping relationships alive. I was taught early on that giving prints is a great way to keep those relationships going because everyone has something meaningful to them but they might not always be able to see or photograph it themselves. Prints are a great way for everyone to remember the good times.

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The first time I went to EAA Airventure, Oshkosh was in 2011. I had never been there before but I got to see another part of the aviation community and met a lot of nice people there. The Bergen’s, the owners of this L5, were among those people I met and worked with on an assignment. We quickly became fast friends and to this day every time I talk with them they mention the print of their L5 hanging on there wall.

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My good friend Alex is constantly coming up with new adventures, especially when it comes to fishing. Every time yields new funny stories and some photographs. However, each time he goes back to this one image because it is his favorite hanging on his wall. Nowadays it’s getting even more affordable to do printing especially with the release of Epson’s new Surecolor series like the P400. It seems like such a simple thing but in this business the more you give the more you get and in the end that’s how the best stories are created.

When the Lessons Pay Off

The one thing that’s hard to see when you’re teaching is the results. Often we don’t know how far and when the lessons we teach to others come into practice. It’s certainly something I think about time to time when writing this blog but the one place I didn’t think it was having an affect was with my fishing.

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Over the last few years I have been going out fishing with my good friend Alex, who has been fishing the Montana waters for over twenty years. Needless to say, I’ve learned a lot from him about how to fish the rivers around Montana. Well at the same time he was learning photography from me as often I would take his picture while holding is catch. For the first time this past weekend, the shoe was on the other foot when I landed this beautiful Missouri River Brown Trout. After putting in a few basic settings in the flash and the D4, the lens being the 24-70 AF-S, I handed the camera over with one simple instruction. “Don’t drop it!” Well he did a great job and all of those little things like composition, placement of me in the frame, angle of the fish and so on were spot on. For the first time handling the D4 I was impressed. It just shows that by having fun and talking through the fundamentals, anyone can be a photographer.

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Now he managed to get a lot of really nice shots but after the trophy shots were in the bag we switched and I had my fun photographing this beaut. The best part was the fish was never in danger which is important. When fishing this time of year you have to be careful of temperature, how long you play it and how long it stays out of the water. Well when he was released he had no problem and he just casually swam off.

As photographers we aren’t just storytellers we are teachers and no matter how silly the question might seem to us, the person asking genuinely wants to know and to them the answer means a lot. It may not be obvious at that moment but teaching can make a difference.

The River, The Portraits, The Fish

They say that the key to success is to surround yourself with good people. I would have to agree with that statement. One of my good friends from college, Mikey, who works out in Seattle makes an annual pilgrimage back to Montana to hunt, fish and drink beer. It has become a tradition to spend four days doing nothing but goofing off and having fun. My good friend Alex found a new spot to go fishing and wanted us to try it out.

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Needless to say we were happy that we did. Mikey was ecstatic when he caught this beautiful 19″ female Rainbow Trout and then a 20″ Brown Trout. Naturally I had the camera with me to capture the moments.

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I’ve really started to enjoy photographing the sport of fishing, both spinner and fly fishing. I will say there is definitely more of an artistic feel to fly fishing images but at the end of the day it comes down to seeing those great images of big fish. It’s not easy though. First challenge is obvious, you have to catch a fish. After that it’s a matter of holding that fish at the right angle to make the fish look big, important and bring out the color. I use a standard and simple setup: D4, 24-70 AF-S, SB-900 on Lexar UDMA Digital Film.

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This setup works great for me because I can fit all of it in a pack on my back. It’s quick and simple and allows me to go wide enough to bring in the background or go tight enough on the head of the fish. There is always the option of high speed crop in the camera if needed. Each fish is different and lighting can be a challenge. With Rainbows it’s real easy to get hot spots as their sides are like mirrors. Brown’s are a little easier as they have more color to them. The real challenge is working quickly to not harm the fish. Just like with any other species I work with I try very hard not to harm the subject. It’s a little bit difficult with fish but at the end of the day with the fish back in the river, the pictures are in the camera and the everyone has the memories, then it’s been a good day.

When working with a new Species

The one key element to working with any species is to know it’s biology. Knowing those pivotal tidbits of information can make a big difference in whether or not you can get the shot. From big to small everything is important when working with critters. If you’re looking at the image below and reading this then you might be wondering how much of this knowledge comes into play when working with fish? Well, I’m no expert. In fact I can truly say that I have been playing around for a while now with this area and I still have a lot to learn. It’s actually pretty fun trying something new. The one big thing I have already learned is you got to be fast. There isn’t much time after they get pulled from the water. This means that all the settings, equipment and everything else has to be ready the moment they are in hand.

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In the Camera Bag:
Nikon D3, 24-70 AF-S f/2.8, SB-900, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

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