Better Fishing Photography

We all love catching fish, so much so that we often let them go so we can do it again. This results in returning home with little to show for your time away from lawnmowing and household chores, other than a few pictures. So, wouldn’t it be great if you could bring home some awesome shots that show not just where you went fishing, but WHY.

Here are a few tips to help.

Shoot the hell out of it

A broad spread of scenics and nature details thrown in amongst the fish shots will definitely increase the interest in your audience at home (they actually think all fish look the same). A good trick is to work backwards from the catch — grab the fish shots once you’ve landed it (and some of the fight if a mate is close by) but before you move on, shoot a few of the pool/run/flat where you caught it, so your audience can appreciate what you’re talking about as you regale them for the eighth time about the awesome cast to the one in the tricky spot under the willow. A few incidentals you came across will also add colour to your story. Think insects, crabs, rusty car, fallen fence, winding road, snaking drain, building thunderstorm.

Try to think of the whole set of shots illustrating everything from big to small:

The setting — Broad scenics, preferably including an angler.

Try a mix of portrait and landscape compositions. Photo: Brad Harris


The activity — People casting or playing fish (include some scenery in the background to reinforce the setting).

Casting shots require timing. Get used to the shutter-lag on your camera and anticipate. (Medium tele lens) Photo: Brad Harris

 The result — People with fish.

A bit of background behind the angler helps to tell the bigger story, or crop in tight if the background is boring. (Wide angle) Photo: Brad Harris

The fish — Whole fish or close-up shots.

A low camera position adds depth to this image. (Medium telephoto) Photo: Brad Harris

The details — Flies, gear, insects/food sources and incidentals.

Close-up images give an insight to a whole different world (Tele-Macro lens) Photo: Brad Harris

Hold the fish well

There are good and bad ways to hold a fish for a photograph, so don’t be afraid to tell your mates to do it differently if they’re not doing what you’d like.
Good – Squatting, one hand cradled (not squeezing) under the pectoral fins, the other holding the tail wrist (in front for bigger fish, behind for smaller ones)

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This shot tells a lot: Location, time, structure, rod, fish size. (Standard lens) Photo: Brad Harris

Good – Same as above but with just the top half of the fish sticking out of the water. Good for bigger fish, or to hide the fact it’s a bit slabby.

Low camera position used: A flip-out screen is ideal for this. (Tele lens) Photo: Brad Harris

Good – Squatting, fish held in front of the chest, angled to the camera

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Always focus on the eye of the subject, in this case the fish. By the way, sitting is the boat-bound version of squatting. (Wide angle) Photo: Brad Harris

Good – Squatting (see a pattern here?), fish laying on its side toward camera.

No caption needed, everything is there! Scene, fish, rod, angler. (Wide angle) Photo: Joshua Hutchins

Bad – Standing and doing anything with the fish is generally not good. The angler’s body will look huge compared to the fish.

Compare these two shots of the same fish, and this is a big fish! (Both tele lens) Photo: Brad Harris 

Bad… no, worst actually – Fish cradled in both hands with fingers all pointing up in front of fish. Hide those fingers!!!!

I don’t think the fish was diggin’ this too much!

Bad – Bending the tail down. Unless you’ve caught a dolphin, why oh why would you? It’s not designed to do that! Same goes for squeezing its guts near the pectoral fins.

Two strikes on this one!

Think about where to shoot from

If the angler is squatting with the fish, it generally looks best if you get down at their eye level. If they’re standing, they probably shouldn’t be ;-)

Shoot from higher looking down to get more background in, lower down looking up for a cool sky. Try moving around the subject to see how it changes what’s in the background or the lighting angle, and get the subject to rotate so they’re still facing you.

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At equal eye level (wide angle) Photo: Brad Harris
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Shot from low down looking up, as the trees were more interesting than water, and I wanted to see under his hat. (Wide angle) Photo: Brad Harris
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Shot from slightly above to show the spot in the background the fish was hooked. (Wide angle) Photo: Brad Harris

Keep away from the butt!

So often when we are photographing our fishing partners, we don’t want to “spoil the water” in front of them, so we just shoot over their shoulder all day. While this is great for fishing, it’s not a great look for your mate Hugh Jarse (thanks Jon Clewlow) to have his butt in every photo. Two things to try are to creep up alongside or a bit ahead of them, staying low and well back from the water of course, and shoot with a telephoto lens to crop in on the subject, or a wide angle to capture the scene.

For this I crept through the bush alongside Amos (wide angle) Photo: Brad Harris

The other option is to “re-enact” a shot once you’ve fished through a nice patch of water, by taking just a few minutes out of your fishing day to go back over the water with the photographer fully in front, wherever the best viewpoint is for composition with no compromises. Trust me, the guy in the shot will realise it’s worth it when you look through the shots later!

For this shot of Carl I walked well upstream away from the water and crept down low to the water’s edge (long tele lens) Photo: Brad Harris

Use the flash in the middle of the day

If the sun is bright overhead use your flash to light the shadows. Read the instructions on how to make it fire in bright light (hint: It’s NOT Auto mode!)

Compare these two shots, the right with fill-flash. (Wide angle) Photo: Brad Harris

Use a Polarising filter

If you’re wondering why the shots from your compact camera or phone don’t look like you remember the scene, it’s most likely because you were looking through polarising sunnies all day, but your camera was recording normal light. Find out if your camera or lens can fit a PL-Cir filter, and keep it clean if you’re using one (That goes for your bare lens too). Keep this feature in mind if you’re buying a camera… it’s REALLY important for rich colours, blue skies, and seeing into the water. Google it if you know nothing about how it works.

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A polarising filter is essential on sunny days and for seeing into the water. (Wide angle) Photo: Brad Harris

Use even lighting

If the sun is low, shoot either towards the sun (so the whole subject is in shadow, but at least evenly lit), or with the sun over your shoulder. Just don’t have the sun coming in from the side, or the contrast will be awful. Bless cloudy days :-)

Shooting straight into the sun is fine… Everything ends up being pretty much the same exposure. (mid-wide lens) Photo: Brad Harris

Keep the fish wet

A shiny, glossy dripping fish is a beautiful thing. A dry, scaly looking fish looks dull and lifeless (and could actually end up that way if it can’t breathe water). Keep the fish underwater while the photographer gets ready, lift it out for 3 shots, put it back. Repeat until you’ve got the shot you need (you have 1 minute, time starts now)

The drips are the secret sauce! (Tele lens) Photo: Brad Harris 

Don’t lay a fish on dry grass or, worse, dry rocks

One of the worst things you can do to the fish is let a rough surface wipe or scrape off the protective slime coating on its skin. I know it’s difficult to photograph your fish if you’re fishing by yourself. Think about this: Do you really need a photo? Who’s it for, really? If you decide you do need a shot, lay the fish in the shallows and photograph it on its side. (Hint: Keep the fly in until you’re done!).

This shot can be achieved one-handed, and the fish is unharmed. (Standard lens) Photo: Brad Harris

Analyse shots you like

These pieces of advice are just my views on it, but photography is an art and therefore a very personal thing, so make up your own mind and don’t be afraid to try your own thing.

T train your eye, look at shots you like and analyse what it is that you like about them. Are they wide angle (broad background) or telephoto (background pulled up close behind)? Flash or natural light? Camera pointing up, down, level? What is the angler doing? Try to copy the techniques used.

If you really want to take great fishing shots, it’s best not to fish. Yeah, I know… that’s almost impossible, so just keep these few things in mind while you stop for a few seconds to grab a shot. Keep trying, take lots and assess your own shots. It’s all gotta help!