In this, the age of e-mails, internet forums, cheap digital cameras and catch 'n release; photography has become an important part of flyfishing for many of us. Never has it been easier (or cheaper) to capture that fantastic sunset after a great day's fishing, or the fish of a lifetime for that matter. However, even great cameras do not necessarily take great photos - as with most other things, photography is a matter of experience, skill and practice. It is not uncommon that people are disappointed the first time they download photos from their new flashy camera, that the salesman claimed was good enough for National Geographic shots. So what do you do? You read on for the Sexyloops 10 step photography guide!
The following 10 points are meant as a quick guide to improve your (flyfishing) photography skills, whether you're a total novice or an aspiring SLR photographer. They are not all there is to photography but should get you going in the right direction. As with flyfishing, the great thing about photography is that you are never done learning…
1. Bring your camera!
This might sound stupid but the most common reason for missing great shots is not bringing your camera. It looked like it might rain; I was just out for an hour; I wanted to go light today; didn't think I'd catch anything, and so on… enough with excuses, make sure you always bring your camera. If you're worried about it getting wet or being in the way, get one of the great little waterproof cameras made by Pentax or Olympus. If you have an SLR, get a waterproof pack for it. I love my Ortlieb - no excuse not to bring your camera.
2. Fill the frame!
Don't waste your pixels on blue sky and background if it's the centre object that really matters. Go close and go low. Shooting from a low perspective will often produce much more interesting shot; kneel down or lay on your belly! If you have the option, then it's often better to go closer than to zoom, it will help produce depth and make the photo "pop". You want the viewer to feel that he or she is there.
3. Use flash!
Even in sunshine. Actually, especially in sunshine! This is in particular important when shooting the "posing-with-a-fish-trophy-photo". Have the happy angler remove his/her sunglasses and use the flash as "fill-in" - lighting up face and other details that may be in the shade to avoid an overexposed fish and a completely underexposed face. If you're using an SLR, play around with the flash exposure compensation control. Crack a joke to make him/her smile (unless they have forgotten about the photographer in pure admiration of the fish). You want the photo to scream "fishing happiness!" (Having your subject pose well with the fish is surprisingly hard. Have him kneel down; keep the fish in the water until a second before you're ready. Leave the fly in its mouth and include the rod and reel in the photo; it helps to tell a story)
4. Don't keep your camera in your pocket till you've caught a fish.
Flyfishing photography is much more than taking photos of fish. Shoot all kinds of things - the surroundings, your fishing mate, wildlife, your flies and anything else. It's all part of the experience. It may even help explain your wife, girlfriend or office mates why it is you keep going fishing every weekend without ever bringing home any fish. Uploading a selected number of photos to a (free) image hosting site such as Photobucket, Flickr and Imageshack is a great way to share your photos (rather than attaching them to emails, one by one, just to have your mates download then, one by one), either by giving the link to friends or linking to them from the Sexyloops board :o)
5. Shoot lots of photos
Memory cards are dirt cheap, buy several or a really big one (up to 48GB these days!). They are actually so cheap now, that you could throw them out after one use and still pay less per photo than when we shot film.
If you take five or ten nearly identical shots you'll usually find that one is much better than the others. It's really a way of optimising your chances of getting that killer shot that will make your fishing mates go "Wow, you must have an expensive camera!" (see point number 10!). Be unconventional, play around, be creative, and forget about rules. Sometimes the silliest shots turn out to be the best.
6. Spend a second thinking about composition
Point number 5 may tempt you to go into machine gun mode with your camera but sometimes it's good to slow down and think about what you're doing. Don't always centre your object. Remove distracting things in the background. Include foreground to produce depth or take the photo from further away, zooming in to isolate the subject from the background. Climb a tree or shoot standing in the water rather than from the shore. Again, think new.
"There are no rules for good photographs, there are only good photographs" - Ansel Adams.
7. Shoot macro
It's a whole different world down in the Lilliputian world. Revealing all the intricate details of a small dry fly, the actual bugs or bait we're imitating or the well-machined knobs on a high-end fly reel, will suddenly look really interesting and sometimes out of this world. Most point-and-shoot cameras have excellent macro features, learn how to use them. If you're using an SLR, this is your excuse to buy more gear. Dedicated macro lenses don't have to be expensive and will often double up as a great portrait lens.
8. Understand the basics
Alright, this is for those who are actually willing to make a small effort in improving one's photography - an important effort, though. If you're just a little serious about taking photos make sure you understand the basics. By standards I mean shutter speed, aperture and ISO - and more importantly, how they affect your photo. Surprisingly many amateur photogs with 1000 dollar cameras don't really know the basics. Whether to increase or decrease the aperture in order to intentionally over/underexpose should be second nature and will increase your artistic ability many fold. Also make sure you read the manual to properly get to know your camera. It's amazing how many questions on photography forums that are answered with "RTFM" - Read The Fucking Manual!
Again, if you're just a little serious about photography, don't overlook this one. The computer is your digital darkroom. You don't need to be a Photoshop guru to radically improve your photos. Simple things such as cropping, contrast and saturation adjustment as well as sharpening can do wonders for your digital masterpieces. There is freeware out there to do this (such as Irfanview and Picasa) or you can use the software that came with your camera. Even better is Photoshop Elements, a simplified, non-expert version of its bigger brother. It comes with many cameras or can be purchased cheaply on Ebay. Also, if you have an SLR camera (or a high-end point-and-shoot), consider shooting RAW files. It allows you to change white balance in post-processing as well as changing exposure, etc. with a much smaller quality loss than JPEG.
10. Your camera does not matter!
Just like with flyfishing it's easy to get wrapped up with gear and how important it is for catching fish / taking great photographs. However, it doesn't matter what camera you use. You can spend thousands of dollars on pro gear but it won't make you a better photographer and thus won't do anything for your photos. Sure, good equipment may help do certain things faster or easier or allow you to do some special effect photos, but there's no substitute for skill, effort and patience. Most likely you are way off out-growing your current camera. If you disagree, have a look at what can be done with just a mobile phone camera. It's really all about getting out there and start shooting. Enjoy, improve and share. It can easily become a very enjoyable hobby within the hobby.
If you must buy a new camera, then there are excellent reviews to be found at www.dpreview.com. For inspiration, questions and discussions of all things photo-related, check out the forums at www.fredmiranda.com.
Jan is another completely mad Danish flyfisherman. Jan and I met in New Zealand a couple of years ago where we re-enacted WC Stewart inventing upstream wetfly, caught a few fish and discussed the world. Jan has a vivid imagination - Paul