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What makes a good fish picture?

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What makes a good fish picture?

Postby windknot » Wed Nov 17, 2010 11:07 am

In trying to determine what makes a good fish picture (cloudy vs. full sunlight, angle of the shot, background of the lake or net), I thought I'd open the question up to some of the other fishermen who photograph their catch on this board. What makes for an aesthetically pleasing fish shot? To be sure, the right prospective and lighting is key, but I guess I'm curious whether any of you take efforts to frame your compositions or capture the right angle necessary for proper lighting when you take a picture of a fish you've just caught. I guess wildlife photography (and specifically fish photography) adds another element to landscape photography because not only do you have to position yourself in the right place at the right time to get the angle and lighting you want, but you've also got to get a hold of a fish as well.

Take the following shot:
Image

I like this picture, but I'm fully aware it represents both factors I do control and factors which are completely out of my hands. I picked the gear, I arranged the composition, and I caught the fish. However, I didn't choose the timing; I simply took the picture once I landed the trout. I also didn't choose my fly line and backing to match the spawning colors of the brook trout, although this intended bit of color coordination turned out to be kind of nice. And for possible submission to a fly fishing magazine, the choice of reel does provide another point of interest for that particular constituency of readers. And lastly, I didn't summon the overcast sky and slight wind which created that attractive sheen on the water's surface, and which made the fish's colors pop a bit more in contrast with the darker rocks.

A few more examples of the "cloud/wind effect":

Image

Image

Compare these with another fish picture taken under different lighting (no net because I didn't want to carry the extra weight):

Image

The fish itself is no less beautiful, and is in fact much more impressive using the criteria I establish as a fisherman: it's larger, it's a species that I value more, it was caught while using a method (sight-fishing) that I consider to be the most fun. However, in this picture, the direct sunlight washes out the golden trout's brightest colors, throws a big sun spot into the corner, and also makes the slightly muddy gravel background look even muddier. The first and last photos were taken with a Panasonic Lumix LX-3, a higher-end P&S with extensive manual controls, while the second and third photos were taken with an ordinary P&S (Canon SD1000) with limited manual controls. I would say that objectively, the last photo was taken by a more experienced photographer with better equipment and a more well-trained eye for what looks good in a fish picture than the second and third photos, and yet I'd also say that objectively, the second and third photos are more aesthetically pleasing than the last one.

I guess I'm just curious how much of what makes a good fish picture is due to the fish itself, how much is due to photographer preparation, skill level, and/or equipment, and how much is due simply to circumstance or luck.

Chime in if you have any thoughts about this!
A few backcountry fishing pictures: http://wanderswithtrout.wordpress.com/



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Re: What makes a good fish picture?

Postby PatrickQuin » Wed Nov 17, 2010 12:43 pm

Matt. I think I may have taken that last photo! What are you trying to say!?! :D

I will have to agree that the day we were catching those goldens the light was strong, directly over head and nearly impossible to get a shot you would be really proud of.

So much of photography is about light. Good photographers chase light. And that doesn't specifically mean "The Golden Hour." It means you know the confines of your equipment, the intent of the shot your working on, and you key into your surroundings... Basically for fish, 9 times out of ten (though i hate to generalize in this manner) the overcast light will be so much more successful. Take that third photo, if the sun were directly overhead it most likely would not be sited as a favorite. It would have overwhelming amounts of contrast and the fish would have a harsh reflection beaming back at the viewer. Often times when im shooting i try and get the fish into open shade or even under my own shadow and get in close.

Ultimately i think it comes down to composition. People can learn gear and technique like its math class, but in the end its an aesthetic, visual language that's being spoken here. For me of those photos the second is the most appealing. Because it has an energy, a story being told. It has moved beyond simply looking like a record of the fish you caught with a rod for scale. And though light and other factors had to come together to make it happen, the real charm comes from how you the photographer told the story.

But don't let me act like luck isn't huge when making a fish photo!

Another thing i forgot to mention... "What makes a good fish photo?"... Catching a lot of fish. The best one of many will most likely be better than the best one of one.
Last edited by PatrickQuin on Wed Nov 17, 2010 12:50 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: What makes a good fish picture?

Postby rlown » Wed Nov 17, 2010 12:46 pm

I used to do the "take the fish out of the water and pose" thing. Then i got skittish about leaving them in the water for better recovery. I like the pics where the fish is still in the water splashing about. If captured correctly, hopefully by a fishing buddy close by, the effect can be amazing.

On my group trips, we've been shooting mpegs of the catch and release, with sound. The only problem with that is the mpeg setting on my olympus P&S doesn't do the image stabilization, whereas in Auto pic mode, it does..

It's not like you have time to stage for a great fish pic.. It just happens when conditions are right, and mostly, they're not. Hard enough sometimes to locate a spot to land what you caught.

Russ
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Re: What makes a good fish picture?

Postby windknot » Wed Nov 17, 2010 4:14 pm

Thanks for the insights, guys.

Russ, thanks for mentioning video; for the relatively few times I've been fortunate enough to grab some video of a nice fish, I've always really enjoyed going back later and watching them. I think it also makes for a more appealing record of a fish than most photographs, and it captures a lot more of that fisherman-fish story that Patrick describes. My main problem is that I'm usually fishing by myself, or when I'm with others they're still a good distance away on the other side of the lake, so I don't usually have too many opportunities to get some good footage. It's something I'm working on though. Hope to get video of bass striking topwater poppers this winter!

And Pat, I think you might be right! Sorry about that. I knew you took the two previous ones (which looked much better in angle and composition) so I figured I must have taken this one after you had given me back the camera. And I definitely agree that catching a lot of fish (and taking many quick photographs of them) is key to getting one or two nice fish shots. I've taken hundreds of pictures of fish over the past few years, and fewer than a dozen I would consider good enough to put up on my wall. I also agree that overcast lighting makes for a more successful fishy photoshoot, although there are a few exceptions which can be corrected by angle and, as you mention, composition. This is unedited so there are a ton of sun spots caused by the direct sunlight, but I like this picture anyway:

Image
A few backcountry fishing pictures: http://wanderswithtrout.wordpress.com/
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Re: What makes a good fish picture?

Postby markskor » Wed Nov 17, 2010 9:35 pm

Tough question – thought about it all day…
Speaking from the gut here, I find pictures of any beautiful fighter beached, no matter how big or colorful, slightly disturbing/slightly morbid...and as such, never a "good" result.
Sure we all want that proof to show others, or to perhaps to have something to remember years later, but...

When I think back in my mind's eye, what stands out/pops for me is that one instant (any fisherman worth a damn knows it too), the flash of silver (or gold), the splash, the grand leap from the depths, the run...the uncertainty for that split second...the fight... rod bent, drag singing; this is what I remember.

You ask what makes a great fish picture?

For me it would probably be at sunset with Alpenglow, the gold streak just creeping, half way up some familiar distant cliffs, granite monoliths definitely indicating our Sierra. The lake, now in a magenta shadow, holds hundreds of circular pools visible, the evening rise almost breaking up a well-polished mirrored surface. I see a solitary figure silhouetted on a protruding stone slab, (indiscernible but familiar), backlit… Rod bent, line taut, obviously hooked up…The glint off that single strand reaching out, spanning the distance; touching the water once and back up again, a proud tail walk…capture that.

Catch the battle, (or at least the anticipation of the battle), rather than just the fish after it is all over.

Mark
Mountainman who swims with trout
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Re: What makes a good fish picture?

Postby rlown » Wed Nov 17, 2010 9:42 pm

nice mental pic, Mark!

I have a few of those "moments" but the mpegs are too big to post here.
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Re: What makes a good fish picture?

Postby windknot » Wed Nov 17, 2010 11:08 pm

Geez Mark, you've about got me ready to give up my fishing rod altogether and take up full-time photography! You paint a wonderful portrait, and one that I too would consider to be a great "fish picture." I don't have any sunset shots of a backcountry lake with a fisherman hooked up in the foreground, but I do have a couple images which come close.

Hooked up on the Bartlett River, AK
Image

Sunset over the Lower Kings
Image

And speaking to that flash of gold, I just had to include this shot (not mine, taken by my dad) which I've always thought captured the essence of a golden trout better than any other photograph I've seen before or since.
Image

Lastly, I do agree with you that I feel a bit guilty whenever I see a picture of a fish on the ground or even in shallow water, and this includes my own. However, for me to truly question the act of my watching a fish gasp for breath as it flops around in shallow water and I take a bunch of pictures of it, I'd also have to question the act of my throwing a lure out into the water with the intention of hooking a fish in the jaw, then dragging it forcibly toward shore. It's not a question of if but when this reflection will come, and I don't know if I'll still feel the desire to continue fishing in the traditional sense once it does. Maybe I'll fish for the grab. Maybe I'll fish for the photograph of the trout striking the surface. Or maybe I'll fish simply for the privilege to watch these wild trout swim around in the most beautiful places on earth. The real point of fishing, as you've already alluded to, is finding that tug of excitement within oneself. Kind of reminds me of that famous line in Thoreau which I'll quote here:

Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing it is not fish they are after.
A few backcountry fishing pictures: http://wanderswithtrout.wordpress.com/
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Re: What makes a good fish picture?

Postby PatrickQuin » Thu Nov 18, 2010 2:11 pm

This talk reminds me of this shot. There were many fish and little fight in this lake, but i want to be there everytime i look at it.

Image

But yes this needs two people present to be taken, you folks may have noticed i try to include my dog as to make it a bit more personal and feel like i am a bit more "present" in the moment at hand.
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Re: What makes a good fish picture?

Postby windknot » Thu Nov 18, 2010 2:54 pm

Gorgeous shot, Patrick. And yeah, I need to make an effort to capture more shots of people fishing when I'm fishing with someone else. Most of the time I'm by myself, so a picture of a fish or of my gear is the best I'm going to get.
A few backcountry fishing pictures: http://wanderswithtrout.wordpress.com/
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Re: What makes a good fish picture?

Postby rlown » Thu Nov 18, 2010 4:11 pm

ok.. this isn't the prettiest shot in the world, and it happened at Boothe Lk of all places in bad light, taken across the lake. That's meyersp on the other side of the lake taken right at the moment of strike. I'm not sure the odds of getting that shot, but he was on his 5wt flyrod, and my other wingman, steve caught the set.

HPIM0309.JPG
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Re: What makes a good fish picture?

Postby windknot » Thu Nov 18, 2010 5:41 pm

Wow, that's impressive. I'd figure the odds to be pretty low of randomly taking a picture at just the moment that a fish strikes a fly or topwater lure. There's a subset of fishing photography dedicated to capturing the take (mainly dry flies on the surface), and I always marvel at the dedication required to get those shots.
A few backcountry fishing pictures: http://wanderswithtrout.wordpress.com/
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Re: What makes a good fish picture?

Postby meyersp » Thu Nov 18, 2010 6:35 pm

I hooked 100's, so Steve had lots of opportunities. :D
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