How to take better fishing photographs

How to take better fishing photographs

In this in-depth guide we show you how to improve your angling photography, no matter what budget you are on.

The basics

We’ll soon get on to how to get a good image when you’re alone on the bank, but for now let’s cover the basics of composing a catch shot, whether you’re in charge of the camera or you’re directing a mate.

The key objects in the frame should be the fish and the captor. Not the side profile of a car, your kettle or a passing dog.

Clear the clutter from around your unhooking mat and think about what’s behind you. You might have driven to your swim, but posing with a pb in front of your Mondeo estate detracts from the scenic, fresh-air nature of our hobby.

Pick shrubs, grass or the lake as a suitable background. If there are trees, be careful that it doesn’t look like they’re growing out of the top of the angler’s head.

Nope! Think about background and foreground clutter, and smiling!

Nope! Think about background and foreground clutter, and smiling!

Once the background is sorted, think about how the image is cropped.

For a simple, clean catch pic, keep the angler in the dead centre of the image and make sure the fish’s tail and mouth aren’t ‘cut off’ by the camera (it’s amazing how often this happens).

On the other hand, we want to see as much detail as possible, so don’t stand 20m away so that the angler and fish is a small dot in the centre of the pic.

The way the fish is held is also a massive factor in getting presentable images. Don’t force your arms out to make the fish look bigger, but don’t cuddle it closely to your chest. Take a look at inspirational shots from carp history to see how the pros do it.

Lastly, if you’re the captor then don’t forget to remove that fag from your mouth and smile. And if you’re the photographer take plenty of shots in landscape and portrait orientation. 

A smiling angler can really light up a photograph

A smiling angler can really light up a photograph

Getting a self-take with a mobile phone

Most mobiles have a camera these days and, as they’re always with us, they’re the ideal tool for bankside photos.

If you’ve caught a monster and there’s no-one around to help out, then your phone can come to the rescue. We’ll break it down into a few different methods.

Self-timer

Most Apple and Android smartphones have a self-timer function on the camera, or you can download a free self-timer app.

This method relies on a couple of things. Firstly, make sure your phone is securely positioned. You can buy cheap mini tripods that hold the phone in place with a spring-loaded clasp, or buy just the clasp unit and an adaptor to mount it on a proper tripod.

Alternatively, an old selfie stick can be wedged in an upright position or zip-tied to a bankstick, or you could even balance your camera on a stack of bait buckets.

DIY option: a cheap selfie stick wedged into a rucksack or bucket can make do a tripod

DIY option: a cheap selfie stick wedged into a rucksack or bucket can make do a tripod

The next tricky element is to set the self-timer and get back to the mat to hold the fish.

Fish care should always come first, so don’t risk the carp’s life for a photo, but a countdown of 15 or 20 seconds should be ample.


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If you’re struggling with single-shot self-timers on either your phone or camera, try using a timelapse app or intervalometer function.

These can be used on either device and take multiple shots at regular intervals (one every second, for example), giving you the chance to show both sides of the fish or smile and pout and pic the best image!


Video mode

If you’re not great with a camera and you’re on your own, this is a great way to ensure you get something usable to show your mates down the pub.

Line up your mobile phone as discussed above and rather than bothering with still images, simply switch to video mode and press record.

Once you’ve finished holding up your prize catch, you can scrub through the footage and pause at a suitable moment.

Most phones will remove all on-screen icons after a second or two in pause, giving you a full-screen image of your fish.

Take a screenshot (on Apple phones you hold the power and the home key together at the same time, and on many Android devices it’s volume down and power) and you’ll have a usable still image.

These won’t be quite as clear as a proper photo, but with modern HD and 4K video it should still be plenty good enough.

This pic is a still image grabbed from an iPhone video. Not perfect, but certainly useable

This pic is a still image grabbed from an iPhone video. Not perfect, but certainly useable


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Wireless shutter-release buttons used to be reserved for high-end cameras, but you can buy sub-£5 Bluetooth versions for your phone.

These key-fob-sized devices can be used while you’re holding the fish, triggering the camera shutter at the precise moment you’re happy with the shot.


Night shots

Taking photos of a monster fish at night is tricky for numerous reasons, but there are some things you can do to help.

Flash is essential, whether it’s built in to your camera or an external unit, but the captor’s positioning can have a big effect on its efficacy.

At night, sit the angler close to foliage like a bush or shrub, so the light from the flash has something to bounce back off. This will help show up more detail in the fish.

LED panel lights have become popular with anglers in recent times, but they’re generally more suited for video work.

They will certainly help add extra light, but won’t replace a good external flash.

If the captor is wearing a head torch, tell them to take it off or turn it off, as it will only fire light back at the camera (or phone), leading to the under exposure of the fish.

Getting a self-take with a camera

A dedicated camera unit is more capable of producing great images than a phone, but using them can be tricky if you’re a novice.

Firstly, a solid tripod is a must, and make sure the camera is lined up straight (use the far margin or horizon as a guide if shooting towards the lake).

If you’ve got a flimsy tripod, weighing it down with something like a sack of boilies or your lead bag can really help in windy conditions.

A camera with a flip-round screen can be very handy as it’ll act as a mirror, allowing you to line up your photo even when you’re in front of the lens.

Once your photo area is framed, your options are similar to those with a phone. You can press a self-timer countdown, use an infra-red remote shutter release or set up a timelapse-style intervalometer to take multiple pics at set intervals.

Many cameras have an intervalometer function which allows the camera to keep taking pics at set gaps

Many cameras have an intervalometer function which allows the camera to keep taking pics at set gaps

Another option, considered a bit old-school these days, is to use a bulb release on a long cable (typically 20ft).

These devices rely on the user squeezing a bulb of air to activate a pushing motion on the shutter button.

They can be fiddly to set up but you can activate them with your knee or foot, so they’re completely out of shot.  

A bulb release on a 20ft cord is an old-school remote option that still works

A bulb release on a 20ft cord is an old-school remote option that still works

Getting better catch shots with a camera

Lens

If you’re after those classic carpy shots with a blurred background, then a good place to start is with a 50mm lens.

These ‘prime’ lenses (so called because they do not have a zoom between two different focal lengths) generally have a ‘fast’ aperture, allowing you to create very narrow depths of field for that ‘sharp fish, blurred background’ effect (look for a lens with a low F-stop number for this).

A 50mm prime lens is ideal for catch shots.

A 50mm prime lens is ideal for catch shots.

The 50mm focal length is also great for portraits as it compresses one’s face for a flattering appearance.

You can get similar results with 28mm and 85mm lenses, but as that number gets higher you’ll have to stand further back from the angler to get them in shot, so bear that in mind in tight swims.

Settings

Lots of modern digital cameras have a ‘face detection’ auto-focus system, which is logical as most photos with people in should have sharp faces.

However, with fishing shots, the key element is the fish, and these automatic systems can produce annoying photos that aren’t ‘quite right’.

Catch pics definitely look better if the fish is pin sharp (the angler can also be sharp depending on your depth of field), so either turn off this face-detect function, or be aware that it may try to over-ride you as you capture a friend’s pb.

If you’re comfortable in manual-focus mode, get the fish as sharp as possible as a priority.

Ideally you don’t want the angler blurred out, so don’t go for a tiny depth of field on catch shots, but a bit of ‘softening’ is fine if the fish is absolutely sharp.

An aperture of F4 or F5.6 is a good starting place with catch shots, but you can experiment as you get more confident.

Full manual mode gives you the greatest creative freedom, but it can be daunting for beginners.

All photos are a three-way compromise between ISO, shutter speed and aperture.

There are some great videos on YouTube which demonstrate this relationship, but for anglers looking for that carpy shot, try starting off in aperture-priority mode.

This will allow you to set that shallow depth of field, and the camera will automatically work out your ISO and shutter speed.

Shoot in RAW

If you’re feeling confident with composition and camera settings, then always shoot RAW files if your camera supports them.

Unlike standard Jpegs, these files capture much more light detail, so they can be tweaked in a computer program like Adobe Lightroom or Photoshop.

You will need one of these programs (or a free alternative) to view and edit these images, but you can make your pics pop (or retrieve under or over-exposed mistakes).