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Our Outdoors: Getting the most out of fishing photos

March 29, 2012

(Nick Simonson, Special to the T-R) Note the important elements of this photo: a big fish, a relatively unbroken profile, a horizontal horizon and a smiling angler. It's great when they all come together, especially when you have to work fast to facilitate a release with fish like this muskie caught by Ben Simonson of Valley City, ND.

As the adage goes, “a picture is worth a thousand words,” a fishing picture, however means never having to face an inquisition from friends or foes at the local watering hole. While any snap, from a camera phone on up to top-of-the-line photography equipment, will preserve the memory and the proof of your catch, there are several ways you can make it a wall-hanger of a moment.
Preserve the Profile
One thing that makes a big fish truly stand out in a photo is an unbroken profile. Especially for elongated fish like pike, muskies and large walleyes, keeping their outline in tact when held up for the camera lens allows the viewer to see the sheer size of the fish in its full form. In order to have the unbroken profile, hold the fish with both hands on the side not facing the camera in a horizontal or slightly angled position. Place your back hand around the area where the body meets the tail, cradling the fish so just your fingertips show up in the shot. Place your forehand under the plate of the gill on the side not facing the camera. Putting your hand under the front gill plate will create a gap between the head and the body, and a splash of red from the gills which may show, breaking the profile.
Fresh and Clean
Trophy fish are best photographed right out of the water, glistening with the sheen of whatever lake you just pulled them from. Fish that experience stress, or expire in transport generally aren’t frame-worthy, which isn’t a big deal if you’re looking to mount the fish and have them touched up by a taxidermist, but it is if you’re just looking to capture the moment.
Another thing that happens all too often when a large fish is landed, either in a boat or on shore, is that it makes contact with a rough surface, or debris on the ground. This contact damages the fish’s slime coat and causes dirt, grass or other items to stick to its body. With today’s powerful digital cameras that can fit in all but the smallest tackle pack, these blemishes and accumulations of dirt show up readily, making the fish look more like a Swiffer and less like the trophy it is. Avoiding this unwanted contact is key for a good picture, and for a safer catch-photo-and-release for the fish.
Get the Angle
For a well-proportioned photo, have the photographer and angler size up three elements before the click: the horizon and surrounding objects, the fish in relation to the angler and the angle and distance of the camera to the subjects.
As best as possible, take the photograph with the horizon perfectly horizontal. While this is difficult in choppy conditions on a boat, a straight line from left to right helps balance the picture. When setting up the background, quickly check to see if any objects, like a watertower or a tree are breaking up the angler, or fish’s profile. I once took a great steelhead picture on the Sucker River north of Duluth of my first fish on the fly, the only problem was, a pine on the shore behind me appeared to be growing right out of my noggin.
Perhaps one of the most common complaints when it comes to fishing photos is the “cheating” aspect of holding the fish out toward the lens of the camera, creating space between the angler’s body and that of the catch. While this is a fun parallax to experiment with, it is generally best to hold the fish about a forearm’s length away from the body to avoid any size distortion.
Finally, when the photographer sets up the shot, the fish and angler should take up a good majority of the frame and be centered in it, unless there is some unique scenery that just has to be part of the photo. While pictures can be cropped and edited, the less work that needs to be done on an image after the fact, the better.
I’m not a professional photographer by any means, but I’ve taken a few fishing pictures in my time for this column and my own personal albums. These tips have helped me make better memories and put some great shots on the wall in my den. My guess is they’ll help you to better capture your next big fish moment…in our outdoors.

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