Background is Key with Portraits

With any good photograph, the photographer watches the background and finds the one that makes the image unique. Backgrounds tell as much of the story as does the rest of the elements. Even with a portrait that background sets the story of where everything is happening. Now I think of these more as landscape portraiture since I’m always trying to show more then just water in the background. Each one is a story on it’s own in its own unique place. In this case it goes back to the biology and ecology of the fish and the waterways they inhabit. Right now these Rainbows are towards the end of their spawn so catching them with spawning colors in a high altitude lake is different then anywhere else. You know it’s high altitude because of that background. So the next time you are doing portrait work think about more then just a color behind your subject.

Spring Spawning Grounds

While one of the most recognized fish species in the world, Rainbow Trout are actually non native species to the state of Montana. There is one sub species that is native and that’s the Redband Rainbow. Today’s species was introduced somewhere in the 1800’s from one of the west coast states. Despite that it has become a staple of today’s angler and for good reason.

Rainbow’s are not only pretty, touting their unique color configurations about, but they are also amazing fighters. They jump, spin, run and fight like crazy which make them fun to catch. But like all species they are fragile and right now we are going into the spring spawn which makes certain areas very fragile to human impact. Some spots are point blank closed to fishing but that doesn’t always stop people. Trout lay their eggs in reds which look like nothing more then dimples in the river bed, but underneath the layer of protective dirt are the eggs. They aren’t visible which make them easy to be damaged. The ethics for photographers that want to photograph these areas are just as important as the anglers. If we want these species to persist then we have to be careful how and where we capture these images. Read the rules and regulations first. If you’re going to photograph a spot be sure you don’t enter the water. Stay on the bank. Be careful and respectful.

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

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.


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.


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.

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.


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.


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.


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.

The In Between Time

While I love going out fishing and equally going out shooting other people fishing, I have to admit that there is some down time. The main subject when out fishing is of course the fish, when none are being pulled you have to wait. If you love being outdoors then it really isn’t a problem there is always something to do. For me I just watched. The Bald Eagles are starting to migrate through again so that provided a lot of entertainment. Of course we had a grey sky and I didn’t have long glass with me so it was truly a watching game with them. Then of there are the ducks, geese and kingfishers that go by which are always fun. But the most fun thing to do while waiting is playing around with the camera.


The great thing about working with a big river is there are great rapids. This makes its a little more challenging to cross but that’s what waiters are for. The rapids can be a lot of fun and great entertainment. The light reflecting off of the top is a big part of the composition and when finishing in post, using ACR you really bring out those difference between the areas where light is reflecting and the shadows on the water. If you go real wide keep in mind that the sky can be either a blessing or a killer depending on the time of day and the amount of cloud cover.


Then again you can always come across those little spots where you can go real tight and find a nice pattern amongst the rapids. Shooting with the D4 and 24-70 AF-S f/2.8, I was hand holding at 1/30th of a second to get the motion blur. It’s pretty hard to walk the river with a tripod so good hand holding technique is important. When working with tight rapids and motion blur, unless you are going for a very artistic look where everything is blurry, then it is important to keep some sort of anchor in the composition for the eye to relax on. In this case it was that red rock in the lower left corner that I was focusing on. It’s small, out of the way, and not distracting. Simple.

The Great Outdoors

I love combining my passions. If you’re truly passionate about something then normally you want to do that one thing all the time. The problem is usually there isn’t enough time to do everything that you’re passionate about. When I was growing up I was always outdoors. Golfing, Fishing, Bicycling were all in a normal Summer; then as soon as Winter hit it was on the slopes Cross Country Skiing. Those were good times. As time moved on life got more complicated and less time was available to do those things. It’s just inevitable. Well one of the greatest things about photography is that it lets you be apart of those activities that you love to do even if all you can do is watch.


Last week I told my friend Alex that I wanted to go out fishing with him just to take pictures. He agreed and brought his friend Taylor along. Since I live in one of the best fly fishing states in the country it just made good business sense to get better at that type of photography. I mean why not, it’s daily routine for most people up here. But like any other field of photography it takes a lot of practice, because it is an art. It also takes a bit of patience because it’s not easy standing there watching as others are doing the fishing, especially if you want to fish.


The great thing about fishing photography is that the concept starts around the point of a big fish. A “Big Fish” being used to exagerate the telling of a story to make it bigger then it is in reality. With that mentality it makes shooting somewhat easier because everything needs to be extravagant. How far did you walk? How many casts? Was it the last cast or the first? Was it almost a shut out day? So many of those little details go into the story just as it does in the photograph.


After several attempts to get onto some special sections of the Gallatin, we eventually ended up at a public access point where we were able to get onto the main river after navigating our way through some side channels. Of course you don’t just walk around the channels, you stop and try every hole, every dark crevices, every sunken log and cut bank to see if there is something lurking underneath. About a half mile later the big river emerges from the bushes and thistles. That’s where the fast water is, the deep water is, and the the promise of a big fish is.


Along the way to the big fish are normally the up and coming fishes. The average fish who work hard to survive and become the big boys that we hope to catch in future years. While usually just thrown back without any hesitance a quick snap with the D4 and 24-70 AF-S, makes this little guy famous. Perhaps it’s just me but it seems like the little guys always have a more vibrant color to them even though they have less differentiation between colors


After a couple of miles of walking and trying every hole that we came across on our 3 mile hike, we never found that one spot that yielded the true lunker that we were after. Three hours of walking and the big guy was alluding us. Finally it was time to start weaving our way back in trying any spot that we missed. The camera was itching for that one big fish. As we headed back we past a channel that led away from the main stream, a spot that we hadn’t tried. Alex was excited. First cast brought a decent fish. The next cast brought what we were looking for that afternoon.


A few minutes in the fighting chair and the fish was on land. Oh the excitement of the catch of the day. A nice 18″ Brown Trout pulled out of the Gallatin River. Was it the biggest fish in the river? Of course not. But when you’re having that much fun, the size doesn’t matter. It’s the thrill of the catch and the joy that comes with telling the story over and over to all your friends that does. The day ends after a long walk back and a feeling of accomplishment.

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