Top Shots

Rob Sloane explains the making of an article based on FlyLife’s 2017 Topshot Photo Competition

Okay, so we’ve got one killer shot: Steven Ooi’s ‘Dragon Slayer’ (1). Put it up front, give it plenty of room. It tells us we are fishing for wild brown trout, in clear water, it’s summer, and the fish are jumping. A very rare and technically demanding image in every sense. We don’t often see a shot this good — definitely photo-essay material… Speaking of jumping fish, do we have a genuine action shot to balance that out? Yes, Daniel Kent’s ‘Stump Jumping’ (5). Big fish, calm day, colourful clothing, well framed, nice looking lake. Has to be Tasmania, right? In fact it’s an Atlantic salmon on the line at Twin Lakes. Perhaps a little camera shake, but you don’t get many opportunities to take a shot like this and it all happens so fast. And the feather (2), Lizzy Marsh’s ‘Treasure Hunt’? That’s just a quirky little ‘filler’ and we’ll talk about them later. A simple enough image but it captures the essence of a feather search that will make any keen fly-tying enthusiast smile. Shot (4) wasn’t in the judges final six but it demonstrates thoughtful framing and composition, drawing you in to the central focus where a wild trout is being gently handled in what has to be a pure little mountain stream. Indeed, Trevor McDavid titled his pic ‘Small Stream Gold’. The cap and the net hint at a traditionalist; the rain jacket adds colour and tells us it’s been a wet day. But is enough of the subject in focus? Line ball. And the carp? Aaron Donaldson’s ‘Beauty and the Beast’ (3) wasn’t shortlisted by the judges, probably because they assumed we would never run it in FlyLife. But it is such a great example of photographing a fish without lifting it out of the water. The reel is subtly placed, the rod and line nicely arranged, the fish is clearly well alive with its eye turned down. The lighting shows off its scales, and the red backing and inky black water set the gold off to perfection. Hell, if it had been a trout it would have been a full-pager! Great colours, nice casting loop, good composition, relaxed and active posture, very descriptive. Jason Robert Walker’s portrait of his partner Madi on the Styx River in southern Tasmania (6) is a perfect way to open the next spread. Unfortunately it didn’t make the judges’ final six but from a layout point of view it was in our top three. It’s always nice to introduce a bit of local colour, in a lighter moment when the fishing slows down. A group of youngsters, neck deep in water, playing with a fly rod fills the bill (7). This is more about context than brilliant photography. Aaron Tait captures the essence of cultural exchange and the slow pace of the Pacific Islands in ‘Tomorrow’s Guides’. Yes, we do crop images (2, 5, 7, 9, 10, 13, 14, 15, 17) — square peg, round hole — and it’s not just to annoy good photographers. Unless a submission includes a good selection of peripheral ‘fillers’, then we have to sacrifice better shots to do the job. These column-wide images offer little signposts and points of interest, breaking the text, filling holes and keeping things moving along. A blue tuskfish (9: Andrew Mckinstray), a gum beetle (10: David Wilson), the bleached jaws of a GT (11: Wayne Moon) — these all have impact, even at small size. They all deserve more space, but we only have 100 pages. Think flies, insects, tackle, boats, camps, flora and fauna — all these little asides help to fill the overall canvas and save words along the way. Brendan Turriff’s ‘Slow and Steady’ is all about habitat and getting lost in the moment (8). The forest, the river, the flow through the pocket water, and the angler immersed in the scene — a real David Anderson approach. We just couldn’t crop this one without losing something vital. And if you’re going to lift a big trout out of the water for a photo, at least look excited about it (12). Francis Thong leaves us in no doubt that this is a treasured moment and a great achievement. This was the popular favourite and a landslide winner in the public (Facebook) voting. Big fish, happy angler — no real surprise there. Now onto the last page and we are cramming in a bunch of shots to give everyone a go. Angus Kennedy’s canoe photo (13) was a finalist. Moody, colourful, evocative, it makes you want to know the full story. A release shot is always nice and Shaun Quinlan’s ‘Back to Your Pack’ (17) is a sensitive self-portrait of angler and kingfish on the flats. The judges liked it and it scored well in the popular vote too. The smaller shots here again add to the colour mix and still have plenty to say. A little butterfinned ‘Dasher Brown’ (14: John Clark); ‘Dawn on the Tumut’ (15: Kenneth John Jones), and Al Simson’s ‘Beach Barra’ (16) all tell their own little story. As mentioned, we do crop photos to fit layouts. Jeremy our designer prefers level horizons and needs room for page bleeds, text pull-outs and captions. He likes to keep images near related text and has to steer key visual elements away from central page folds. So if you are editing your own shots and prefer a particular crop, please supply the original file (uncropped) as well, to give us plenty of design flexibility. Brad our photo-man adjusts image sharpness and corrects colour balance to match our print profiles and specifications. He can also clean-up minor imperfections but we are not in the business of turning pigs into purses. The original material has to be good. If you can cover all or most of these bases with sharp, well exposed, hi-res images you are welcome to join the ranks of our regular contributors. Get the pictures right and the words are easy — we can help with that too. For more on our 2017 winners, judges and sponsors, go to

Current FlyLife Subscribers can login to read the full article.
To access this article, back issues & more Subscribe to FlyLife today.