Oh the disappointment. You just caught a monster, and your buddy running the camera found a way to make a massive fish look small, blurry, and blown-out overly-bright. The hours and waited days of anticipating a great shot that speaks for itself, are suddenly broken by an image that begs explanation, excuses, and sometimes even expletives. The aim of this article is to help you never be “that-guy.” It’s not for photographers, promoters, or pro-anglers, it’s for EVERYONE. You don’t need a high-end SLR camera or big-dollar glass to take a great photo, and you don’t need to be an expert. At some time in your fishing career, someone will shove a camera in your face, or make you be on the taking end of the shot. Here are some tips that can help anyone to properly honor the experience, whether you’re posing with the fish, or punching the shutter.
Preparation truly is the key to great fish pictures. Big fish come quickly, at unexpected times, and are most often released in the boats that I fish out of. These factors put un-ready anglers at a distinct disadvantage, and create the temptation for quickly devised and delivered snapshots that most often will leave you wishing you could do it over again. Of course, the health and vitality of a trophy fish you plan to release holds the utmost importance, which is all the more reason that a bit of planning goes a long way. When the fish does come, it’s often best to keep it in the net, in the water, and out of the boat, especially for larger predator species. Good nets aren’t as hard on fish-fins, and keep the fish from injuring itself on harder and less-forgiving items inside the boat.
Keeping your fishing vessel in order is top priority for a number of reasons, but also leads to a better fish picture. A boat that’s free of clutter keeps the process rolling smoothly, and prevents random and distracting objects from getting a chance to ruin a good shot. It’s also good to designate someone in the boat as a camera person, particularly if they have an interest in it or are detail-oriented individuals. This person is in charge of the camera, stowing it, and knowing where it is. That way, when you get a great photo fish, everyone knows their role in the process.
Even if you’re not fishing trophy-waters for upper echelon species, know your tools. Increasingly, our cameras are our cell phones, but no matter what your weapon of choice, make sure you know and understand the controls. With the ease of digital transfer these days, if your friend is taking a picture of you, let them use both their phone and yours. Chances are they’ll know their own far better and produce more appealing results, even if their camera’s capability is less than your own.
If you’re holding the fish, your job is to make the photographer’s job easy. Make sure your clothing is on straight, is clean, and you’re not holding, wearing, or otherwise have on your person anything that might take away from the shot. That includes beverage cans, cigarettes/cigars, and bulky or “loud” clothing with a great deal of text on it. Look presentable, and care about your appearance by quickly changing into a different hoodie, hat, or jacket should you need to. Smile and look the part of a happy angler, even if some of the shine has already worn off and this is old-hat to you.
If you’re taking the shot, you’re the quarterback. You call the plays, make the big decisions, and at times need to take control of the game and call the shots. Your eye is what’s seeing that which will ultimately be a long-lasting memory, so your view is the one that counts most. Be decisive and tell your subject exactly how you would like the fish to be held. Use your words, and take your time. Your ability to direct the person with the fish will often determine how well you preserve the moment, and rushed, non-specific motioning and hand-gestures only confuses the situation. Seconds matter to a released fish, but time slows down a bit here, and as long as you’re prepared and ready, you often have more time than you think.
Take photos from multiple angles and positions, as well as zoom levels. Get a face and fish-head only shot, then back up to get the whole enchilada. Make sure to fill the entire frame of your view with the fish and the angler. Scenery is great, and you can work in good backgrounds, but the focus should always be the fish. Set your focus on it. Snap a million pictures, especially if your format is digital. There’s no penalty for more photos except the seconds it takes to delete a few here and there. Be flattering to your friend’s appearance. Think of yourself in the shot, and what you’d be proud to show everyone you know. At this point, have the subject hold the fish in a different manner and recreate those same variations with that hold. If you perform this process quickly and correctly, the fish has been out of the water less than a minute. My goal is to not make that fish hold its breath any longer than I can. Get the fish back in the water, and while your angler is reviving it, get a great release shot. Often, those sequences are some of the best photos taken.
Be prepared, take the time to do it right, and know your role no matter which end of the camera you’re on to turn the fish of a lifetime into a memory that lasts for generations.