Photographing fish: Tips for behind the lens

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On the previous page, Matt Copeland shared some hard learned advice for how to get better fish photos when handling fish in front of the lens. Well, it takes two to tango, and the one holding the camera also has a lot to do with how the final product turns out. Here’s a handful of behind the lens tips to help you capture fishing images that do the fish — and your experiences — the justice they deserve.
Don’t take pictures of fish. Fish are gorgeous and photos of them can be too. But alone they hardly scratch the surface when it comes to telling the story of fishing. In the last two months I shot fishing images on 14 occasions. I realized in reviewing the resulting thousands of images that I only photographed one fish- and it was not the only fish caught in my presence. All of the details, people, and activities that go into fishing provide great insight as to why we fish.
Consequently, some of the most memorable fishing shots don’t have a fish in them at all.
Capture a piece of the action. Many of your classic grip and grin shots are static. Capture instead the moments that show the action and excitement of fishing. Fighting, netting and releasing fish; high-fiveing a buddy; the look of dejection after losing a good one — all of these actions are full of emotion that will come through in your images and get at the heart of what makes fishing great. In addition to high action, look for some of the more reflective moments or subtle details, such as an angler reading the water in the early morning, or retying a rig.
Get good light. Good light is often the difference between a good image and a great image in pretty much all photos. Fish pictures are no exception. Early morning and evening light give the incredible colors and details of fish a chance to shine. Try backlighting a fin by framing the sun behind your catch, or capturing reflections off the water to add an extra dimension to your shot.
Focus on the eye. What qualifies as a good photo is subjective in many ways, and nearly every so called rule is made to be broken. But with that said, when there’s a fish eye in my frame, I always want it to be in focus. We are drawn naturally eyes. I often shoot with a shallow depth of field to highlight certain parts of the fish. Even then though, I want the eye to be tack sharp. In general, when the eye is out of focus, the image doesn’t makes the cut.
Go wide or tight. Folks commonly take hero shots at a medium distance, framing both the entire person and the fish. Consider abandoning that middle of the road approach next time, and go wide or tight instead. Wide shots, where the fish is often just a small element of the whole picture, can be great for conveying the beauty or feel of the environment where you are fishing. Fish, after all, rarely live in ugly places. Conversely, shoot up close or tight. The gill plates, eyes, fins and markings of fish are all worthy of dedicated attention, so go ahead and get up close and personal.  ♦
— Editor’s note: This story originally appeared on
– A freelance photographer based out of Bozeman, Montana, Steven Brutger has a tendency to dive in with gusto. He goes full throttle when it comes to photography, but maintains enough energy for raising his two kids, fishing, training gun dogs, or chasing elk (although he recognizes children are ultimately a bigger commitment).

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