How to take great fishing pictures!

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To me taking photos of the day’s catch is far more rewarding then filling the freezer.  I don’t just like taking photos, I like taking good photos! Good photos when viewed, grab your attention and draw you in.

Creating this picture, the timeless documentation of some of these moments, helps me to remember and relive these experiences for years to come.  I’m going to provide you with some tried and true methods for turning your mediocre pictures into great ones!

Do your pictures look like this …
or do they look like this?

I’m going to give you some pointers on how to take photos that get noticed, get remembered, and get framed, not just stuck away in some drawer.

The most important thing to mention first is that you need to be in the habit of taking your camera with you.

Make sure the batteries are charged, or that you have additional batteries. Make sure that the camera is accessible and not hidden away in the bottom of some bag, cameras that are out to get used, get used.  Even if you aren’t good at taking photos, you will eventually luck into a good one every now and then just because you’re taking a lot of them.

There are a two types of photos that are typically taken on a fishing trip, photos of the catch and photos of the scenery for this first installment we are going to focus on photos of the catch.

Let’s go over some of the things that can create a great photo of your prized catch.

Photos require perspective.

What this means is that in order to tell the dimensions and size of an object in a photo you must have something in the photo that has a known dimension that the viewer can relate the main content to. For example, if you have a 40 pound Chinook salmon laying on the floor of the boat without anything else in the photo then it’s going to look just like a 20 pound salmon or a 30 pound salmon. Take that same fish and hold it up in front of you and now all of a sudden you have created perspective. The viewer has something they can measure the fish against and realizes that “Wow! You caught a huge fish!”

So you have done the most important part, you’re holding the fish for the picture! These next items just start making the photo better.

Fill the frame with the subject and if at all possible, don’t do it using the zoom.

Not many people realize this but the optical zoom function of your camera magnifies the subject by stacking more lenses together to magnify the scene and in doing so makes the image darker. The glass lenses while being extremely clear still have some opaqueness and when you add more lenses by zooming in your going to make the photo darker. Instead of zooming in step forwards and backwards to fill the frame with the subject. Allow a little bit of the background on the top and the sides to be present in the photo but don’t allow the background to be a major portion of the photo because it will draw the viewer’s attention away from the main subject.

Take the picture immediately after catching the fish.

This is when the fish has its best color and rigor hasn’t set in stiffening the fish and making it appear unnaturally shaped.Taking the picture at the end of the day next to the garage or kneeling down in the yard takes much away from what could have been a great photo if you had just taken a minute or so to capture it when the fish was fresh, the moment was recent, and the scenery was great.

Hose the fish off, nobody wants to see a fish covered in blood, leaves, or mud.

Have the subject face into the sun.

The sun should be at the photographers back. Trying to take the photo with the sun shining into the lens of the camera will cause the subject to be dark and under exposed because the camera had to compensate for the extreme light in the background. Another great tip is to turn on the cameras flash when the sun is high overhead the flash eliminates or lessens the facial shadows that are created by ball caps etc. Also if the sun is high overhead try to take the picture in the shade, this can work great on the shore but isn’t always practical in a boat.

Take off your sunglasses.

Give your eyes a few moments to adjust so you’re not squinting. By beeing able to see your eyes, this allows the viewer to have a more personal connection with the photo.

Hold the fish with two hands.

Nobody cares how strong you are, holding the fish with one hand doesn’t make the photo look cool, it actually makes the fish look lighter in weight and often times places the fish off to the side of the angler reducing the photos perspective, making the fish look smaller, and drawing the viewer’s eye away from the fish. Hold it with both hands, and hold it in front of you.
Don’t cover the fish’s face up with your hands, if you must hold the fish by its head try to keep your hands on the backside of the fish’s face out of site of the camera.
If you’re holding the fish vertical, then hold it vertical. If you’re holding the fish horizontal, then hold it horizontal. It’s simple, hold it straight up and down or hold it level. Don’t hold it at an angle, its either 90° or 180°. However it is okay to hold the fish tilted toward the camera as long as you maintain the horizontal or vertical plane, doing this can add depth to the photo allowing the viewer to get a better perspective of the fishes size.
The fish also needs to be held squarely, meaning no bellies and no backs. Square the fish up, if the fish is tilted back showing the belly, nobody sees the true dimensions and colors of the fish and the same holds true if it is tilted forward showing mostly its back.  As a general rule of thumb, you should be able to see an equal amount of belly and back.


Act like the fish isn’t heavy … pretend it’s not slimy … and most of all hold on tight! It’s hard to smile while doing all of this but smiling is the most important part of all!  If you’re not going to smile, then don’t even bother taking the photo. Look at it this way, the viewer sees someone holding a fish, smiling, and really looking like they are having a good time. The mental image that comes to their mind is “That looks like so much fun! What a great looking fish!” And maybe even “What am I doing here? I should be out fishing and catching one like that!” Alternatively when the viewer sees a photo of an angler holding a fish and not smiling, then depending on the viewer a non-smiling expression could be taken as a scowl, and either way the viewer is left with the impression that”I’m not having any fun … its just another fish, I’ve caught a million of them.” And potentially “Why did he even bother to take that picture, he’s not excited, probably just wants wants to brag.” So smile, it doesn’t take much effort and it really really makes an average picture look great!

So you have the subject posed, they are smiling and doing everything else correctly, now take a couple photos, don’t just take one.

It’s less likely that the subject will be blinking in multiple photos and this also allows you (at least on digital cameras) to preview the previous photo and to correct something that you may not have noticed before.

Don’t forget that it’s your job as the photographer to make sure that all of this comes together.

Remember the subject can’t see themselves and don’t realize that many of these things aren’t happening. Definitely make sure that you thank the subject when they put all of this together and do it right, making great pictures isn’t easy at first and when they do it right make sure you let them know! “Hey that’s going to make a great picture! Good job!”  A little praise goes a long ways toward getting them to take the time to pose again.

Remember great pictures are created, they rarely “just happen”, they are put together a piece at a time until all of the elements are just right! Eventually this just becomes second nature.

Copyright 2013 Total Fisherman™

The author, Kevin Newell, and his wife Lacey DeWeert are professional fishing guides in Oregon and Washington!

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