Flyfishing Photography: #3 Both sides of the lens
There are two very important aspects to a quality grip-n-grin ‘hero’ shot. The ability to take a great picture is one of them. Being on the opposite side of the lens as the subject is the other. Before you think this is some cheesy ‘how to’ guide on the best way to capture your good side or which way to do a three quarter turn….
The final post in this three part series will look at some of the key responsibilities of both photographer and angler and their rolls to play when on the clock, as well as the correct techniques for presenting and safely handling fish. Whether you’re the angler or the photographer it’s important you understand the process and relevant responsibilities. The reality is you’ll be both over a given day.
A seamless process (SBS)
Being custodians of our fisheries with a foundation built on conservation and sustainability, it’s fair to say that the correct catch-and-release methods are as important as the ability to cast or tie a knot. There has been a great deal written about C&R, we are however going to tie that into an easy step-by-step photographic process
The below is based on all things being equal however common sense and logic may require you to adjust and reprioritise based on your environmental circumstances:
The fish has been landed and in the net
Angler: Rest the fish in the net and in ‘clean’ water devoid of muddy sediment. Ensure its upright, breathing and recovering from the lactic acid build-up. Remove the fly (some still believe you need a fly hanging out a fishe’s mouth for it to qualify as ‘fly caught’ however I firmly believe in making the process as quick and painless as possible) and clear leader and fly from net and danger. Remove sunglasses, adjust cap and let your eyes adjust to the light to avoid squinting into the sun
Photographer: This is the perfect opportunity to compose yourself and slow things down a little. It’s good for the recovering fish and allows you time to carefully plan that one great picture.
- Identify where the light is coming from and position yourself/boat/angler accordingly.
- Direct the angler which way you want the fish to face and set your focal points accordingly
- Note the ambient light available, adjust your aperture, shutter speed and ISO
- Check your lens cap is off and glass clear of any water marks
- Get into position and fire a test shot to check settings are correctly adjusted.
Now that the necessary prep work is done, the fish is well rested, the photographer has his ducks in a row and the angler has clear direction as to where to stand and which way to hold the fish its go-time and there is no excuse for keeping the fish out of the water for longer than absolutely necessary.
Angler: Get your hands into position (more on this later) and lift the fish up and towards the camera lens (preferably keeping the fish over water where possible) and take direction from photographer in making minor adjustments. Naturally you’ll want to look straight at the camera which is ok to do but consider also looking at the fish which allows for a much more natural and real looking image. Don’t waste time getting the fish straight back into the water to rest and recover in preparation for the release.
Photographer: You’ll most likely have your camera set to ‘Aperture Priority’ Ap. Start out with a relatively low F-stop (shallow depth of field) and get your focal point positioned on the leading eye of the fish, ensure your framing is correct and at the very least there is a clear gap around your subjects. Take a few quick shots adjusting composition, depth of field and angler position so you have options to fall back on. Once the angler is resting the fish in the water in preparation for the release you can quickly review your images and confirm they are sharp and composed correctly. Give the angler the go-ahead to send her off. Job done!
Correct techniques for presenting and handling fish
You can obviously get as creative as you like with hero shots and you should but there are some key fundamentals to adhere to.
- Take your rear hand, close it into a fist, open up your index finger and thumb and lightly close around the base of the tail. This hand is the anchor and controlling hand
- Your front hand will then slide under the belly of the fish and will simply aid as a support. THE single greatest contributor to a badly taken fish pic and unnecessary harm done to the fish is the front hand taking too much control of the situation. The dreaded bear-hug pose or holding a fish tightly puts obvious pressure on their organs often resulting in a fish wriggling free of your vice-like grip and hitting terra firma, not ideal for anyone involved! Additionally there is nothing worse than a picture full of fingers! Simply resting a fish on the front digits of your fingers avoids all of the above from happening.
- Finding the sweet spot between holding a fish too close or too far away is a simple art that makes the world of difference. Don’t worry about a fish looking ‘too big’ or ‘to small’. It’s a matter of presenting your catch as photogenically as possible. Lightly bent elbows between 45 and 90 degrees with the fish angled towards the camera (your back arm bent more than your front arm) is a great ‘general rule of elbow’ (see what I did there)
- There is a lot to be said for the ‘Keep ‘em Wet’ movement. At the very least, if there is no water dripping off the fish in a picture you’ve been handling it for too long. Keeping a fish close to or half in the water makes for a great photograph and limits the risk factor
- Nobody wants to see fish gills in a picture. Regardless of species, refrain from putting your hands anywhere near the inside of a fishe’s gills
- Boga Grips have no place in pictures and cause irreparable damage if used incorrectly. This topic deserves its own article but suffice it to say you should never suspend a fish from a Boga. Period.