Everyone who fishes has their own story and there’s no better way to tell that story than with a photograph. It requires speed and precision to get the fish back in the water quickly and to make the client happy.
Fishing isn’t really about the fish, it’s about the story. I’ve worked in a lot of fields and I can honestly say that above all others this one relies on how much better you can make your story than someone else’s. We have all heard of them, that one big fish that spooled you out, that broke off your fly with a single head flick and made your heart leap just thinking about what could’ve been. A fish story. A Big fish. The only thing that’s better than the story is the photos that go with it. The proof, the evidence, that’s where the photography comes in.
The way I look at it there are three important types of photos: the portrait shot, the detail shot, and the scenic shot. As the name implies the Portrait is the one where the all too proud fishermen hold up their prize. This is by far the most important. Then there is the detail shot, just the fish or even a smaller part of the fish, that shows off what made it so great, to begin with. Then the last is the one above, the scenic shot. It’s kind of a combination of a landscape and a portrait as it shows off the fisherman’s skills while also tempting the viewer to go back out on the water.
It’s important when you plan your trips that you think about how you are getting around. Going light is key but there is a big difference between going out in a drift boat as opposed to walking. You can get away with more in a drift boat. Either way, I tend to go light because I don’t like having lots of gear while I’m on the water. My usual setup while walking is a single camera body, one lens, and a flash. Either the D5, D750 and then the 24-70 with the SB-5000. That’s it, that’s all I take! Now if I’m in a boat I take more because I can bring a bigger bag and that bag is not stuck on my back. You wouldn’t think it but 15lbs over uneven terrain gets old fast especially while trying to fish. The other plus side to having fewer means I’m already set up ready to go. When it comes to working with aquatic species you have to be fast. You can’t play with the fish long, you can’t hold it out of the water for a long time, you have to be gentle with it. While photos are great, it’s important not to hurt the subject, or else there won’t be any left for the next generation.
So why the 24-70? Or why the Flash? Well, let’s start with the lens. I have always liked the 24-70 because it is such a versatile lens. It does everything with no vignette. Plus, since I shoot Nikon I can always switch to high-speed crops and get in tighter with my subject. Sometimes this is very useful. Going back to the one lens thing, if I go really wide say the 18-35 then I’m stuck with a really wide range the whole time. Then again if I go with the 70-200 then I’m stuck with a medium range. The point is, while on the river you want that versatility because you have to handle a multitude of shots.
Next up is flash. This is something I’ve done since day one for two very important reasons. First off, everyone who fishes wears a hat. Go figure right. Being outside people wear hats. Well, that hat creates a nasty shadow on the person’s face and then the photos don’t look as good. If you don’t believe me try using a phone with the flash turned off and you’ll see. A flash helps get rid of that shadow. Secondly, the flash does a very important thing beyond adding more light. It makes the color pop! Most fish are very unique in their colors and very bright. We want to bring out that detail because each specimen is different. The combination of the 24-70 with the SB-5000 makes for a great combo to accomplish the goals of both a portrait and a detail shot. Not always the best for the scenic but then there’s one more key piece of info you need. You have to move!!! Don’t plant and make your subject move. You, the photographer, need to move. If for no other reason then that fish is hard to hold and eventually it might slip out and then poof no photo. Just be careful and watch your footing and you’ll be fine.
Fishing photography can be a lot of fun. For me, I combine the lessons of Wildlife photography in that I try not to harm the subject, with the romance of Landscape photography by bringing out the beauty in post. It’s a combination of documenting while also making the viewer want to be out on the water. Because that’s what this is about, getting back out there and enjoying the world around us.
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