Editor’s note: This is part one of a series of articles designed to improve your outdoor photography skills.
BAXTER, Minn. — Jeff Simpson has been the chief photographer at In-Fisherman magazine for more than 20 years. He’s captured thousands of images of trophy fish and smiling anglers across North America. His tips can help you take better photos, too — whether you’re sharing on social media or submitting for publication.
Shoot multiple photos
“These days, digital cameras and phones and fast, easy to use and take high-quality images. Yet, some anglers shoot photos like they’re still paying for film,” Simpson said. “I typically shoot at least 25 frames to capture the image I want. If your camera supports a rapid-shutter mode, use it. If not, keep shooting manually. You’re only limited by the storage capacity of your phone or SD card.
“You don’t need to take 50 shots to get a good image, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable taking fewer than 10 of a trophy fish. Many times, the last shot I’ve taken ends up being the best one of the set. It goes without saying that you can’t keep a fish out of the water for too long. But if you have a game plan before you start shooting, it’s easy to get great shots without stressing the fish.”
Use fill flash
“Most photographers don’t think about using a flash on sunny days, but it can dramatically improve the images they capture,” Simpson said. “Flash helps eliminate the shadows under hats and around facial features. In fact, I’ve pulled off good shots at high-sun thanks to a flash to eliminate shadows.
“Most cameras and mobile phones have three flash settings: on, off and auto. The best way to see the difference is to take a couple of photos of the same subject — one with the flash on and one with it off. The closer you get to your subject, the more impact the flash will have.”
Hold fish naturally
“When holding fish vertically, carefully place the fingers of your right hand, begin the right gill plate,” Simpson said. “That keeps your hand behind the fish and allows the fish’s left gill plate to lie flat.
“Lift the fish, so its eye is just above the angler’s eye level. Hold the fish slightly away from your body, but avoid pushing your arm out too far — that’s an old trick for making a fish look bigger that doesn’t look natural. Hold the camera vertically when taking vertical photos.
“Next, try a few horizontal photos. Ask the angler to use their left hand to support the fish in front of or behind the anal fin. Try a straight horizontal hold, then a semi-horizontal hold with the fish’s head slightly above or below the tail.”
Check the horizon
“Capturing a straight horizon is one of the biggest challenges to fish photography, especially when you’re on a boat in rough water,” Simpson said. “The best advice is to frame the subject before trying to establish a rhythm with the waves and pushing the shutter button.
“Shooting up or downstream in rivers also is tricky. River bends give the illusion that the horizon isn’t straight. Frame up your subject then check the horizon to make it as straight as possible. Recheck your subject to make sure everything is still in the frame before pushing the shutter.”
Develop an eye for composition
“Setting the scene in the viewfinder might be the hardest skill to develop,” Simpson said. “Begin by looking at the corners to make sure you can see the subject. Note, too, how much space is around the subject — the angler and fish should be the primary focus.
“With a telephoto lens, zoom in tight enough to fill the frame. With a mobile phone or compact camera, physically move closer to the subject to fill the frame. Be careful not to crop off the angler’s head or the fish’s tail.
“Photographers should develop the habit of double-checking their composition before pushing the shutter button then examining the image when they take the shot. Analyze each picture to determine what they did and didn’t do right and shoot another. With experience, this progression will become second nature.”