All fishermen are liars, but fly fishermen embellish with style.
“Joe and I went to the river. We spotted a few trout. Joe tied on a spinner and caught a monster.”
That’s the typical report. Conversely, fly fishermen describe an adventure.
“Dawn’s first light cast an eerie pall as we approached the river. The sound of a splash told us that large fish were present. Joe offered one of his finest creations. The fish kissed the fly off the water as it drifted over. As it felt the steely hook, the beast responded by propelling itself into the misty air.”
Sounds a lot more interesting, right?
Likewise, fly anglers simply don’t take pictures. We use photography to augment our adventures and capture the essence of the fly-fishing experience.
Well, at least that’s been the tradition. Sad to say, I’m troubled by the growing number of poorly shot photos — or even lack of pics in general — by my colleagues.
Recently, I solicited submissions for my column. I received only a half dozen. Among them were three candidates for the “Hall of Shame.” They included: a blurred image of an angler, “Shadow Man holding Shadow Fish” and a day-old fish lying on a driveway.
I’m now a man on a mission to bring good photography back to our sport (let’s start with “good;” we can work on “great” later).
Here are several tips for better pics.
Don’t leave home without it
Bring a camera on every trip. There’s an old adage among photographers: The best camera is the one you use most often.
A high-end DSLR is no use if it stays in a protective bag most of the time.
Get a compact point-and-shoot that’ll be within quick reach for every opportunity that arises while on the water.
Most anglers are tempted to use their smartphones as cameras. Despite their improvements, they’re still no match for digicams when it comes to sensitivity, dynamic range and flash — all critical to fishing photography.
If you’re in the market for a new camera, the following features will come in very handy for outdoor photos: a CMOS sensor, an optical zoom of 8x or greater, a wide aperture of f2.8 or larger, an aperture-priority setting and an exposure compensation setting.
The sun is your enemy
It can create harsh shadows, high contrasts and diluted colors.
Have the subject face the opposite direction of the sun. Use the flash on your camera to fill in the shadow areas. If possible, take your pics on a cloudy day or when a large cloud is passing over.
Dress for success
Always wear something appropriate: for example, shirts devoid of profanity or political endorsements.
Most on-the-water photos are saturated in blue or green or both. To compensate, include something that adds red, pink or yellow — like a shirt, buff, bandana or even a redfish.
Capture the moment
The best shot is on the water, right after the fish is landed. If that’s not feasible, do it as soon as possible, and include the background (lake, marsh, water). And the angler.
It’s critical to have the fly tackle or fly in the photo. When framing the photo, try to have the fish, the angler and the tackle in their own frame space.
For example, avoid the rod, reel or line blocking the angler’s face.
For glory shots with the fish, holding it vertically is OK, but horizontal is better. Best yet is tilting it toward the camera to capture the fly in its mouth.
Make it vivid
If your camera has a “vivid” setting, use it. Otherwise, setting your camera’s exposure compensation down a half-stop can have a similar effect.
Be smarter than the camera
Most cameras default to spot metering, which means they set the aperture and shutter speed to what’s in the center of the frame. This can lead to under-exposure when there’s bright backlighting.
Move your camera slightly up or down, and use your LCD or view finder to find the best exposure for your subject.
Then depress the shutter halfway to hold that exposure while you recompose, point the camera at your subject and finish the trigger squeeze.
Add a polarizer
For the same reasons you wear polarized sunglasses while fishing, a polarizing filter will decrease water reflection and increase saturation. It also makes for great shots of fish underwater.
Most point-and-shoots won’t accept an add-on filter. So try to take as many shots as possible around mid-morning; this is when light on the water has the least amount of reflectivity.
Give your fly pizzazz
For fly tiers, take photos of your fly outdoors in daylight but out of sun (i.e., use full shade or cloud cover). Set the aperture at f2.8 (if possible), and use the macro setting to blur the background.
You’ll enjoy more natural, vivid colors.
Complete the story
You made a trip and took a few shots of fish caught. That’s good, but much better would be taking pics of where you fish, what you observed or anything that made you pause for a moment and appreciate your day on the water.
Learn by example
Pick up a copy of any fly-fishing magazine and check out the photos. Find the ones that speak a thousand words.
Those are the ones you want to emulate.