How To Take Better Fishing Photos

Long after that slab-sided coho went into the fish box, or the trophy trout was released back into the river, your photos remain as evidence of an epic catch or priceless moment. Looking at the photo brings back a flood of memories of the day or trip, and the better the photo, the more the essence of the four dimensional event comes through in two dimensions. It's as if a good photo sets off a mental video sequence of the fight, landing the fish and taking its picture. At least that's how it works for me.

Over the last 15 years, I've had ample opportunity to photograph fish. I'm far from a professional photographer and rely on taking plenty of photos and experimenting with composition, framing and perspective to achieve an occasional solid photo. Here are some of the lessons we've learned at Fish Alaska magazine to help you take better fish photos.

how-to-take-fish-pics-cropped.pngGood framing. Super flat light, but the fish and framing makes the picture work.
 

Fill most of the frame with the angler and fish
Take photos that fill the entire frame with angler and fish. Also take some where you fill the entire frame with just the fish. The exception is when you are trying to also capture a stunning backdrop. In the cases where the angler and fish are the focus of the photo, either zoom in tightly or get close enough to the subjects to fill the frame. And remember to encourage the subjects to smile.

How-to-take-better-fish-pics-1.pngNice combination of framing, angler and background. Note that the salmon is not blown out and this resulted in experimenting with camera angle and orientation relative to the sun. 
 

Have the sun at your back, but angle the fish so that its not blown out
You want to light up your subjects with the sun, but be aware that sun will reflect off of a bright fish causing it to appear blown out in the photo. Experiment with the angle between you, the subjects and the sun, as well as have the angler holding the fish slowly change angles at which the fish is being held and you will capture some worthwhile shots. Try and avoid having a person have to look into the sun without sunglasses as this will usually cause them to squint.

How-to-take-better-fish-pics-2.pngGood example of a good photo in full sun conditions. Backdrop and salmon are well positioned. Shadows on the angler would have been reduced by removing hat.
 

Keep shadows off the people and fish in the photo
On a sunny day with the sun at your back, the shadow of the photographer can fall on the subjects. Try to position the parties to avoid this. Also be aware of other shadows that fall on the subjects, like how a baseball hat can cast a shadow on the face of the person being photographed. 

How-to-take-better-fish-pics-14.pngDoubles are a rare feat, even in Alaska. Be ready to get that photo when it happens.
 

Choose a good backdrop
Scout out backdrops that present contrasting colors or textures. Or ones with incredible views. Experiment with customizing the back drop. If no solid backdrops are in the area, it's even more important to fill the entire frame with angler and fish.

How-to-take-better-fish-pics-4.pngGood example of a nicely composed photo.

Keep the fish in the water until you start taking pics
This is especially true for fish you intend to release, as they need to be handled with the utmost care. A fish will look the best as soon as it comes out of the water, so be prepared to start taking photos when the angler gets the fish in position. Take photos for about 5 seconds, and put the fish back in the net in the water. Repeat as necessary. 

How-to-take-better-fish-pics-11.pngHave the angler change orientation of their head. In this photo, it shows the angler admiring the fish and appears less staged than looking at the camera. Also shows a nice background.


Have the person holding the fish change angles of the fish
Experiment with poses of angler and fish. Keep changing angles and presentations and you'll end up with some you like best and can replicate in future photos.

How-to-take-better-fish-pics-7.pngGood orientation of the char and filling the frame with the fish.
 

Take lots of pics
Digital cameras allow you to take lots of photos and sort through them later. Experiment with close-ups of the fish, various fish positions, camera angle and backdrop. Consider different compositions of the photos - add a rod and reel, fly box, gear bag, etc.

How-to-take-better-fish-pics-8.pngNice macro shot and variation in fish angle.
 

Have anglers wear bright colors
Waders and rain gear can often be drab greens and tans. Add an accent color like a bright red hat or sky blue bandana to those pics to bring them to life. Ask the anglers you intend to photo to wear bright colored clothes.

How-to-take-better-fish-pics-9.pngExample of a brightly dressed angler and how it brings the shot to life,
especially considering the flat light.
 

Take photos from shore
Whenever possible, take pictures from shore. Boats are too confining and don't allow for the best backdrops. If your only option is to take photos from the boat, then shoot tightly framed horizontal photos. 

F12.JPGPerfect salmon.

Take pics of the whole process
I like to get the camera out and rolling once someone hooks a fish. You can take pics of the fight and landing the fish, and then are ready to start taking hero shots when the fish is landed. This also gives you time to scout the best backdrop in the area.

How-to-take-better-fish-pics-13.pngRemember to take photos of more than just fish. This is one in a sequence of casting photos that shows the line in midair on the forward stroke. The background was well considered to make it easier to see the fly line in motion.
 

Take pics of fish when they are alive 
Fish look best when they are first caught. Fish skin discolors quickly once a fish is out of the water. Take the time to take photos of a fish before you put it in the fish box. And clean off any blood on fish that you end up bonking. 

How-to-take-better-fish-pics-10.pngNote that the fish is partially submerged and the effect on the photo.
 

Use a rubber landing net
A rubber landing net is easier on the fish, and both hooks and fish gills will not get tangled in the netting, which can sometimes happen in a nylon net. The rubber also offers a more rigid basket material, which makes it easier for the angler to remove the fish from the net for the photo. It's important to handle fish you intend to release as little and gently as possible, and a rubber net will help you do that.

 How-to-take-better-fish-pics-6.pngAnother excellent macro shot.
 

 

Apply some of these tips and increase the quality of your fish photos.