Editor’s Note: Who doesn’t want to take better fish photos? “Picture or it didn’t happen!”… ever hear that before? But if you’re guilty like me of taking too many of the standard “fish in hand” photos, Jason Sparks wrote this wonderful tips and tricks post for the Winter 2015-16 issue of Tenkara Angler. Follow it closely, and you could become an Instagram rock star in no time…
Three Tips for Better [Fish] Photographs
By Jason Sparks
There has never been an easier time in history than now for learning to capture better images of the things in life you want to remember. The photographs almost take themselves these days with auto-focus, auto-shutter, auto-aperture and other “auto-fantastical” settings. So why is it that we still see people disappointed by their photographs? Here are a few pointers that should lead you in the right direction for better images of that fish you worked so hard to catch… then release.
We don’t deal with film, chemicals or processing times anymore. We no longer need camera bodies and multiple lenses weighing in at eleven pounds and costing a few thousand dollars. We have instant capture, instant review and instant satisfaction capabilities at our finger tips these days. High definition digital cameras with a highly capable lens can go from taking amazing macro shots to offering some serious telephoto zoom on distances. The modern digital cameras ranging from $100 up to $300 are more than capable for most peoples everyday photography and use on social media. Let’s not forget about the digital devices welded to our palms either. These mini computers are much more than a replacement for old school telephones, they carry entire music collections, a lifelong Rolodex of contacts and our daily planners. These “phones” have also become the primary camera for many people.
It has been several years since I carried my camera bag around with me when I head out to the Blue Ridge Parkway, a family vacation or even a birthday party. Since I am not making fine art prints for sale anymore, I use my hand-sized smart phone for 99% of my photography. The last two generations of phones on the market have seen significant technology increases in the lens they have installed. The 1.3-megapixel lens that we had for nearly a decade has been blown out of the water with amazing replacements like 12MP and 16MP lens of current models. The trick for me was to get good enough with my “phone” that I felt comfortable that I was not giving up quality versus the DSLR rig now sitting in a closet. Where did I start and what did I learn?
I spent the last thirty years working on and developing the techniques that Mr. Baldwin preached in my Photo 101 class. I have tried and tested every technique that has ever interested me and have focused on the final few that have become “my style”. This is going to be an attempt to nutshell all of that into a few nuggets that you can digest. You need to be most aware of lighting, composition and focal point because the camera’s “auto-fantastic” features will hold your hand through much of the rest of it. Truth be told, if you don’t handle your three basic parts then you will find yourself in salvage mode trying to get something from nothing. No problem here, I’m sure that we can make a difference by concentrating on these areas.
Be very aware of your cameras ability to take photos in harsh and low light situations. Many times when we are out fishing the sun is wicked bright creating significant contrast with the shadows. That is hard for the sensor to compute and you will end up with “washed out” areas that are too bright and hold very little detail. Conversely, low light situations in the shadows or at dusk can create grainy images that lose all the detail and color at the other end of the spectrum.
TIP: Be aware of where your body/arm shadow is when you are holding the fish. Choose to position the fish either completely in the sun or in the shade. Don’t straddle the line.
We’ve all seen pics where the camera is too far away from the angler showing us what is effectively a landscape instead of the catch. Haven’t we also seen those trophy shots where the fish is held at arms length with the head thrust into the lens? It makes for pictures of the smallest anglers ever. Also, be cognizant of what is happening in the background. Is it something you want to include for some nice value added depth or do you want to exclude it? How about adding some creativity and art to your fish. Do something different.
TIP: Change up the angle in which you take the photograph. Consider taking a few shots of portions of the fish like only the head, tail or dorsal area. Include the felled tree in the background that you pulled him from under.
All of us are using our digital cameras on auto-focus because it is just so easy. Do you know how to override where it is focusing? By default, the settings have it focusing in the center of the frame. Once you start becoming aware of the lighting and framing your shots the focus area may not be right in the middle anymore. Most photographs of fish have a pinpoint focus on the eyeball of the fish. So how do you achieve this?
You could work on changing the camera settings, but the easiest way on a “point & shoot” camera is to aim the camera at exactly where you want the focal point to be. Now press half way down on the shutter release to set the focus. Then while holding the button half depressed, reframe the image to how you want the composition to be. Then finish depressing the shutter release. Now you can have the focus in the upper left corner or the lower middle of the frame by doing this procedure.
TIP: On your smart phone, use a free fingertip to touch the screen where you want the focal point to be. The camera will reset the focus to that point. Wait for the small subject/focus box to turn green, now shoot your photograph.
BONUS: Look into using some photo enhancing Apps like BeFunky, Photoshop Express or Instagram. These are typically free or low cost and offer a wide range of advanced features that can help you show off your stuff. The combination of filters, twists, and tweaks that you can impart onto the image can really make it stand out when you are showing off your catch with friends via email or social media.
There is no need for humdrum images from you anymore. Take control of your device and step up your game. You will be surprised at how quickly you can start producing images at a whole new level. Take a lot of pictures. Be aware of the areas we just went over. Practice these things until they become second nature. I’m sure with a little practice you too will develop and perfect your style.