It was one of those magical fall days in the Rockies! You know the kind - cool crisp air, brightly colored leaves dancing in the wind, and the distant bugle of a Bull Elk, as the sun struggles to gain altitude as the days grow shorter. With all this beauty came one more thing, hungry fish!
As I walked the river with my friends I tried to remember all of the days that I’ve spent fishing on a more perfect day; it was a very short list! At days end, before the boots came off and the gear was packed away, we began telling stores of opportunities lost and fish landed. I think our group would’ve been satisfied simply sharing these stories, but because of my passion for photography, images had been saved forever that allows us to remember in great detail each cast made and every fish released. The incredible pleasure that I receive from sharing photographs with my friends has inspired me to write down some thoughts and experiences that might help you capture your special moments better than you ever thought possible.
Let’s talk cameras to start with. It wasn’t long ago that one of the first choices you would need to make in selecting a camera was digital vs film. Today this is a simple decision in my opinion, just go digital! The quality is great, they are easy to use, and you can share, print, and save images easily. The next decision you’ll need to make concerns the style of camera you want to use. We’ll break these down into two categories to keep it easy – Single Lens Reflex (SLR) and “Point and Shoot.”
The advantages of an SLR camera is that most allow you to use interchangeable lenses to better suit the subject, conditions or to achieve that special effect you are looking for when you are photographing. Most SLR’s offer higher image quality, not just in the number of pixels generated, but because of higher quality sensors. The disadvantage of these cameras is that they are much larger, heavier, and sensitive to the elements experienced when you are fishing. They also require more frequent sensor cleaning which can add up to additional cost.
Because of the work I do, I carry a very high end Nikon D3 with 5 or more extra lenses plus accessories. It all fits into a backpack so I can carry it to the river but it still weighs about forty pounds and the cost of all this gear will make your high end fly rod, machined fly reel, Gortex waders, a vest full of flies, and gadgets seem small. Unless you have unlimited funds or plan to make a living from your photography, this is not the way to go.
However, you can buy a very nice digital SLR from Nikon or Canon with a 35-200mm zoom lens for under $800 and you’ll get incredible images! A camera like this will do just about everything you’ll ever need and with just one zoom lens you can shoot just about everything from wide angle to medium telephoto shots. They're also great for family photos, sports, and in my opinion, is a very good investment if you want a nice camera for more than just fishing photos.
Basic Nikon D60 with 18-55 and 55-300 lens. Courtesy of David Coulson
There are a ton of options in the “Point and Shoot” category and, I must say, the quality that they deliver is really incredible! Even though I have enough camera gear to sink my drift boat, I often find myself slipping a small, pocket sized “Point & Shoot” model into my pack when I don’t want to carry the big stuff. Nikon, Canon, Pentax, Olympus, and others all make really nice cameras.
My personal favorite is the Olympus Stylus Tough 6020. This small pocket sized camera delivers up to 14 mega pixels, which is a lot! My favorite feature of this camera is that this is one tough unit. I can personally attest to their claim that it will survive a 6’ drop onto a hard surface; mine did and still works like new. This camera is also totally waterproof, not just water resistant like some models. This one can handle the toughest weather you’ll find on your fishing adventures and you can even submerge it for those really cool release photos you always see in the magazines.
Olympus Stylus Tough with life jacket. Courtesy of David Coulson
Many of today’s “Point & Shoot” cameras will also take video. Simply flip on the video switch and you’re recording in 720p digital format and you can edit or replay it all later. All of this is packed into a camera about 1” thick and about the dimension of a credit card! Holy Smokes, those designers are way to smart for us fishermen! Prices start under $100 and can go much higher. Even the Olympus 6020 I mentioned above is only about $299 and it does everything. One important note! While this camera is waterproof, it does NOT float! I strongly suggest that you use a tether of some sort or attach it to something that will keep it from sinking if dropped.
Now that you have a new camera, let's talk about a few simple techniques that will really make your photos great! To help you remember these simple concepts, I’ll use the acronym F-I-S-H, to remind us of the 4 easy steps to better photos:
F - Fill the Frame
I - Introduce some light
S - Sun to your back
H - Hold Still
“F”- Fill the Frame! One of the biggest mistakes I see in most photos is that your subject has become a tiny little part of the entire image with all kinds of other distracting stuff around it. I encourage you to fill the frame with your subject and remove the distractions. This can be done by simply moving closer to your subject or by using the zoom feature on your camera. I shoot the majority of my photos with a medium or long telephoto lens so that I really fill the frame with my subject. I also use a technique called "selective focus" to add emphasis and power to my subject. To control the depth of focus, I use a longer lens and small aperture (F5.6 or smaller) so that only my main subject is in sharp focus. The background will go soft (out of focus) and will add emphasis to the main subject. Its hard to have as much control with a normal Point & Shoot style camera but you can still get great results by simply filling the frame with your subject to eliminate most of the distractions.
“I”- Introduce a secondary source of light. Most photographers think of using their flash only when shooting indoors or in very low light conditions. I STRONGLY urge you to discard this way of thinking today. Even a well lit subject will be affected by heavy shadows on bright days. Those heavy shadows can come from trees overhead, hats and even glasses. Using the fill flash feature on your camera will throw additional light into those shadows creating a very pleasing image.
On cloudy, low contrast days, this small burst of light will add color saturation to your image and a little “pop” to your pictures that will make the difference between ordinary and extraordinary memories. The extra light thrown from your camera will also make the colors and brightness of your soon to be released trophy come to life like never before. An additional advantage of using fill in flash is that the very short duration of the flash will freeze your image creating sharper images as it reduces the effect of camera movement in your hand.
“S”- Keeping the sun to your back is a basic concept for most images. By doing this you will achieve the best possible lighting of your subject in most cases. When your subject is front lit, it is easier for your cameras auto exposure system to assess the subject and create a properly exposed image. Strongly side lit, back light or high contrast scenes always make it more difficult for the cameras meter to properly expose the image and you will often be disappointed in the results. However, I must tell you that some of my favorite shots are strongly back lit, meaning that the sun is behind my subject and into the camera. In these conditions, it is VERY important that you use fill in flash to add light to subject or you will most likely have a silhouette photo with the background properly exposed and your subject will be almost black. Some of the small Point & Shoot models just do not have a flash that is strong enough for these types of photos. It often takes a lot of light to properly fill in the shadows of a strongly back lit subject. It doesn’t cost you anything to experiment with digital so give it a try; you might come up with some great shots. However, for most shots, keep the sun or your main light source behind you and facing your subject.
“H”- Hold Still!!! This one makes me CRAZY!!! My biggest pet peeve is photos that are out of focus or that show camera movement! Nothing will destroy a beautiful photograph quicker than a soft (out of focus) or blurry image because of movement. Soft images are often caused by the cameras auto focus system not locking on to what you might think is the most important part of the photo. Most cameras, even the Point & Shoot variety have a few different auto focus settings. One will allow you to have your camera focus on the exact center of the frame. There will be a small window in the view finder that will show you exactly what the camera is focusing on. Another option allows the camera to determine what it thinks is the most important part of the image to focus on, sometimes called “face recognition”. I select the option of using the center of the frame and then I will aim this area at my subject and partially depress the shutter down locking in the focus. You can then re-frame your image keeping the main subject in focus even if it is no longer in the exact center of the frame while you finish pressing the shutter release.
Motion blur is caused by camera movement at shutter speeds slower than about 1/125th of a second. While you can select settings that allow for higher shutter speeds, most Point & Shoot cameras use a fairly slow shutter speed in standard modes. You have to be very careful to hold everything very still while depressing the shutter or you will see some effect of camera movement. To get the sharpest possible image, I always recommend that you use a tripod as this will make a HUGE difference in the final image quality. You don’t have to carry around a giant, three legged tripod for a small camera. You can get a small, portable tripod like the Targus Grypton for about $14.99. It has flexible legs so you can attach it to a tree, a boat or simply stand it up on the ground. They are very small and really work nice for these small cameras. If that is still not possible, practice staying very still when taking the image. Protect your body from wind, brace yourself against a solid object whenever possible and even work to control your breathing like you do when shooting a gun. As I mentioned above, using your fill in flash will also help reduce motion blur.
While there far more to learn on composition, positioning of your subject and special effects, they are beyond the scope of this article will be addressed in future writings. In the mean time, remember the F-I-S-H concept of taking better photos and I think you’ll see a big improvement in your photos and you’ll get greater enjoyment sharing your memories with others for years to come.
See you on the water and remember, a photograph lasts forever but fried fish just stinks up the house!
Raised in Bozeman, Montana Al Noraker began hunting and fishing as a very young boy. Fly-fishing has always been his passion and in fact, he was tying flies for Dan Bailey’s fly shop in Livingston, Montana when he was just 8 years old. After spending 23 years in Oregon, he moved his family back to the Rocky Mountain West to be closer to the mountains that he has always considered home.
A lifelong contributor to the world of fishing, Al is responsible for the design and development of the Wright & McGill Co. Essentials & Accessories product line (www.wright-mcgill.com). As an outdoor writer, storyteller and photographer, Al takes his readers hand in hand as he travels the western United States in search of incredible fly-fishing adventures through his contributions to Fusion Magazine. Previously, Al hosted America’s Outdoor Journal, a television program seen on The Outdoor Life Network, Fox Sports Net, and The Outdoor Channel.