Goulburn Valley Fly Fishing Centre
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Goulburn Valley Fly Fishing Centre

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Take a Photo; It Will Last Longer!

Taking a photo of a fish and then releasing it has become the trend for sports fishers right across the globe. Whether you chase trout or bonefish the unwritten rule is now 'release' as often as possible. This is something we support wholeheartedly and we have not killed a single fish for many years. Instead we carry a small camera which is used to capture the moment forever. Something that takes a brief moment and allows the fish to swim away unharmed and can be revisited in the album for years to come. A digital camera even allows you to share successes via email with friends around the globe instantly.

But how do you ensure that you get that shot? A decent shot of the fish, fisherman and situation that will be a fitting reminder of the occasion. Here we have put together some hints to help you ensure that you do get a good shot of your next fish.


With most of today's cameras, taking a sharp, well lit photo is relatively easy. The automatic control of exposure and focus makes it a simple exercise. Just point and shoot. But there are still ways to ensure that you get the most from your camera and there are some simple rules to follow when composing a fish photo.

1/ Lights, Lights, Lights, Camera, Action

Lighting is the single most important variable and you could write your thesis on it alone. We don't have that sort of space here so the basics should suffice. The best times to take photos are in the morning and late afternoon, away from the harsh midday sun. These times of day usually produce very 'warm' photos that convey the natural colours of the day well. Shooting outside these times requires a little more thought.

First things first though. You should try and manipulate the scene so that you get the sun over your shoulder as you take the photo. Always work out where the sun is before taking a shot. The subject should have the light coming towards him/her and it should be coming from behind the camera. Shooting into the sun often creates severe light situations with extreme backlight burning out the detail of the surrounds and leaving the subject in darkness. If you have to, get in the water and shoot back at the subject on the bank to get the light right.

If you are shooting someone in very bright light you often find that the face of the subject is darkened especially with us fly fishers who wear hats all the time. The trick here is to use the flash to fill in the dark areas. I usually take two shots in this instance. One with flash and one without to cover all bases. You can see and example of this below. The first photo was taken with no flash and the second with the flash. The first shot is too dark with poor colour and contrast of the angler and fish. The second using the flash has lit the subject and the angler and fish are accurately reproduced. The bright side of the background has been blown away by the flash but the subject is naturally lit.

  Automatic Settings; No Flash   Manual Settings; Flash Enabled
  Photo taken with automatic settings; no flash   Same photo but this time using flash to fill the dark areas

2/ Compose Yourself Man!

Photo composition is important if you want to convey more than just the angler and fish. While we all agree that the fish and smiling angler are the most important part of the equation some ofPress the shutter button down haf way to set the focus us like to include some of the scenery as well. To take a 'subject' oriented photo simply put the subject in the centre and press the shutter button down half way to get the focus and then take the snap. Taking a SOP (Subject Oriented Photo) is the main choice near last light and during the middle of the day as the background is not important in low light and when using a flash during the middle of the day the background will often be blown away by the flash.

For taking a photo with background included (in this case the raft and river) getting the depth of the focus correct can be challenging . The problem is that when using automatic settings the focus is taken from a central point and this means that when Set the focus on the angler of fish and then while still keeping the shutter button depressed re-compose your phototrying to put the angler off to the side to include the background, you often end up with an out of focus subject. By aiming the centre of the viewfinder at the subject first and pressing the shutter button down half way you can set the depth of focus. Then while maintaining the shutter button half way down to keep the focus you can then move the the camera to compose the photo as desired. This means you can first set the focal depth and then position the the angler off to the side to get the background in the frame too. The photo on the right is a perfect example of this technique. This stops the camera from setting the depth from the middle of the photo and in this case giving us a sharp shot of the raft but not of fish and angler.

3/ Remove Unwanted Clutter

Many fishing photos are ruined by distracting objects in the shot. Anything that distracts the eye from the subject (unless so desired) should be removed. For starters you can remove the person standing behind the subject in the Victoria Bitter T-shirt! A classic way of ruining a good shot.

Other things such as empty cans in the boat or a cigarette hanging from the subjects mouth can all destroy the wide appeal of a photo. Sort of like the photos taken fifty years ago with an angler and thirty dead fish on the bank beside him.

Good backgrounds to shoot at are a mountain range, river or lake you have just caught the fish in and a blue sky is hard to beat.

4/ Handling the Fish

Taking photos of fish should be done with the utmost of care. While fish can survive after sometimes extended periods out of the water, you should only have the fish out for a matter of seconds. Keep the fish in the net facing upstream while getting ready to take the shot. Once set, get the the subject to wet their hands before touching the fish. Remove the hook in the net and then hold the fish up for the shot. Hands should be behind the fish and out of the way so that you get a good shot of fish and not the hands! Don't hold the fish out with extended arms. It is unnatural and doesn't look good. Besides which the size of a fish can always be told by looking at the subjects hands in relations to the fish and holding the fish out only makes the Gently support the fish for as long as it takes for it to swim off stronglyperson look desperate!

After a couple of snaps, one with flash and one without the fish should be returned within seconds. The fish should be supported gently facing into the current until it is ready to swim off. You should let the fish take as long as it has to, even if you miss the last opportunity for the night. Wait until the fish is fully recovered and swims off strongly. There is no point releasing it early and letting it possibly die as it is washed away by the currents. To release a fish early to keep fishing is the height of selfishness. For more info on releasing fish click here!

5/ Now Act Naturally!

This oxymoron sums up the final ingredient of a good fish shot. Try and take the photo with a natural pose. Holding the fish out of the net while releasing it or with rod in one hand and fish in the other are both good. There are many options. Avoid having to hold an awkward position or balance on a streamside log. Try and be relaxed about the whole thing. If you can, take plenty of photos of the whole process leading up to the two take (flash & no-flash) 'money' shot. This often results in a couple of bonus natural looking shots.

1. Use the camera's automatic settings to be safe
2. Take one photo with flash and one without
3. Be aware of where the sun is. Get it behind the camera every time.
4. Do not allow the camera to shake especially with digital cameras.
5. Use flash under low light conditions on evening and under the harsh midday sun
6. Centre the subject or set the focus before recomposing the photo to include scenery
7. Remove other people/objects that may draw attention away from the subject
8. Handle fish carefully with wet hands and only have them out of the water for the time it takes to get your two photos
9. Keep hands behind the fish and don't hold the fish out to the camera. It looks unnatural and people can still tell the size of the fish by comparing it to your hands
10. Gently support the fish until it is ready to swim off on its own. However long it takes
11. Act naturally and avoid overly contrived shots




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