Last month I covered a few basics of taking photos with phones and photography in general. This time around I’d like to talk a bit about your options for posing with your catches and finish with a couple of ideas on how to get the advanced features of your phone’s camera app to work in your favour. Before I get into it though, I think it’s important to say that the majority of the photos in this piece weren’t taken with a phone camera as I rarely use them any more. That’s not the point of this article though, here we’re talking about your choices for composing your photo and the methods used here can be used by anybody with any kind of camera.
To start with, let’s have a think about why it’s worth developing a bit of skill in taking photos of your fish. After all, you’ve caught the fish, you’ve got the memories, what does it matter what the pictures look like? The way I see it, there’s a couple of good reasons why you’d want to get a good image. Firstly, a nice photo is a great keepsake and can fire up your memory and help you relive that experience whenever you look at it. Secondly, you can show your great photo to your friends and family, as well as the rest of the fishing world via social media. It’s a fact that a decent photo is going to get more positive responses than a ‘meh’ one and everyone likes a bit of praise so why not make the extra effort?
In part one I talked a bit about light and how different lighting conditions affect the look of your shot. Unfortunately, some fishing situations leave you a bit stuffed for available light so let’s look at a couple in more detail. Imagine fishing on a ledge at the bottom of a cliff shaded from the bright evening sun which is reaching the sea in front of you. If you try to take a photo of yourself with the cliff in the background you stand a good chance of poisoning your picture with the dreaded blue/green tint, a problem that, once ingrained in an image, is very tricky to fix, even with dedicated software. The best solution to a situation like this is to use a light source to illuminate you and your fish and bring some warmth into the image. A powerful headlamp set on full beam should help and if the lamp has a diffuser, even better. If it doesn’t, try covering the element with a piece of white plastic carrier bag to soften the light a bit. You won’t get a beautiful shot out of this but it should at least make sure that you and your catch don’t look like smurfs.
Let’s try another situation, imagine you are fishing the middle reaches of an estuary for bass and flounder. You’re tucked right under some trees in the shadows and the sun is breaking through the woodland area behind you and throwing dappled light all over the shop. This kind of confused lighting situation can befuddle the auto modes of dedicated cameras so your phone is even more likely to struggle. Again, I’d probably tackle this with the headlamp tactic. Make it clear to your phone that you and the fish are the subject and that the mess of light behind you is background that it shouldn’t be trying to make sense of. You’ve got a decent chance of getting a nice photo here too as the backdrop should have some warmth to it and will be more colourful and interesting than the cliff scenario.
So, assuming that you’ve got the light sorted and you’ve got a mate to take the shot or rigged your phone up to shoot on the self-timer, your next choice is how you’re going to present the fish and yourself to the camera. Let’s be honest, most of the time if you’re on your own and you’ve got a decent fish, you’d settle for any half tidy shot that’s reasonably in focus so you can get back to the rods. Like anything, however, a bit of thought, practice and know-how could see you get a more pleasing result in the same amount of time.
How you present your fish to the camera is going to depend a lot on what kind of fish it is, its size, shape, colouration etc. If it’s something massive like a skate or a shark, your choices are going to be limited anyway but for anything that you can easily (and safely) lift, there’s going to be a number of different ways you can approach capturing it in an image. For example, let’s look at a round fish like a mullet. I’ve included two photos of two different thick lips taken on the same day. Granted, I’ve taken these on a dedicated camera with a larger sensor than is found in any phone but it’s the composition of the shot that’s important here, not the image quality.
In both cases, I’m holding the fish slightly in front of myself to make it clear that the fish is the subject but I’ve angled them differently. The shot of the bigger mullet is side on which shows off its bulk and emphasises the fact that it’s a good-looking fish. The smaller, scrappier-looking fish I’ve decided to angle a bit more and I’ve looked at the fish instead of the camera which gives a different feel. You can also hold the fish slightly to one side, a very popular pose with freshwater fishermen, and I’ve included a shot of my mate Laurence Hanger doing just that.
An important consideration before taking your photo is whether you want to shoot in portrait (longest side vertical) or landscape (longest side horizontal) orientation. Landscape is a natural fit for the three types of shot I’ve detailed above but, bear in mind, if you want to maximise the impact of your pics on social media, a portrait cropped to 4×5 takes up the most screen real estate. To get a natural-looking portrait shot with something classically fish-shaped like a mullet, you can hold it diagonally across your body. Or, if the fish is dead, hold it up vertically by the gill cover. It’s up to you whether you hold your fish out to make it look bigger but, personally, I prefer not to.
Shark species like tope, hounds and huss are different again. You can certainly shoot these side-on and (as long as the fish isn’t tilted) you’ll get a great impression of the fish’s size. An angled approach is the choice of many though, as you can emphasise the length and direct focus to the head, which is typically the most interesting feature. Ray species are usually photographed as held up vertically, with lots of anglers these days choosing to hold them by the mouth. There are alternatives though, you can support a ray with the underside of your arm and hand and use the other hand to hold the tail if you want to. Those of you who used to read Total Sea Fishing magazine might remember that Mike Thrussel would sometimes use this method of holding them in his shots. This pose is good for emphasising the eyes and is a sound choice if you’ve got a ray with plain markings. You can do similar things with flatfish also. There are plenty of ways to get creative with how you hold your fish to the camera so don’t ever feel like you’re stuck with the same pose you use out of habit.
Of course, you are far from limited to shooting an image tightly focused on the fish and the captor. One of my absolute favourite pictures in my collection is the one I’ve used for the title image of this article, a photo taken by my friend Ron Brown of me with a Norwegian plaice. Ron has positioned me and the fish on the left of the frame and filled the rest of it with the view of the fjord and the mark we were fishing. To someone else, this backdrop might not mean much but to me this photograph is full of meaning. All the elements remind me of that day and my journey through the week to get to that exact moment. The calm water that only a few hours earlier was being driven into a froth by a howling crosswind. The snow-capped mountains that seemed to stand like silent guards over the passage to the open sea. In the full-size version of the picture, you can also just make out our trusty hire vehicle in which, only that morning, I had scared the bejesus out of Ron by (apparently) driving far too close to the roadside ditch.
This photo also is significant to me for the fish I am holding. I was heavily into plaice fishing for a few years and that four pounder was my dream fish at the time. In this photo, Ron has captured the culmination of several years of obsession and an image that goes way beyond being simply a record of a capture. As far as photography is concerned, this photo has taught me that if you’ve got a great background, don’t be scared to use it in your image – particularly if it’s one you’re not going to get into too much trouble for showing!
Focusing on telling a story with your photographs will undoubtedly make for better and more meaningful images. I’ve included another example here from a trip I went on to Sark in 2018. Probably the most fun I had in that whole week was catching black bream from Maseline harbour wall on my LRF rod. On the light gear and 4lb fluorocarbon, the little bream fought like tigers, and the occasional mackerel just added more fun to the fishing. It was an absolute hoot! Again, I’ve taken this photo on a ‘proper’ camera (I had a Lumix bridge camera at the time) but a decent camera phone would do just as good a job.
The three key elements in this photo are (obviously) the fish, the rod and the drop net (an absolute necessity as I was fishing at height and using such light line). I’d borrowed the net from Sam Jons, our friend on the island, who had generously allowed me to make use of it while he was at work. Including it in the image adds more interest to the story behind the photo.
Lastly, let’s briefly have a look at what some of the technical features of your phone can do for you. An image style that I’m seeing more and more on social media (I imagine because more phones offer it) is the ‘portrait’ mode where the captor and fish are in focus and the phone uses software to blur the background. This is designed to simulate the look favoured by portrait photographers using a shallow depth of field to isolate the subject in the scene. The big bonus of this mode is that it will make you and your fish stand out and obscure any distracting features that might be in the background. Also, being able to disguise the scenery behind you is pretty handy if you’re fishing somewhere that you’d prefer to keep quiet.
I talked a bit about using HDR modes last month so if you’re unfamiliar with that concept, you might want to go and check that out as it’s a handy tool to have in your kit. Some phones also offer options like ‘night’ and ‘landscape’ shooting modes too which can be handy for capturing more scenic stuff. As long as you don’t expect results to rival a fine art photograph, you should be pleasantly surprised, particularly if you own one of the more capable modern phones like a Google Pixel 4. In fact, this particular model even includes a mode that will allow you to take bona fide astrophotography shots – an amazing feat considering the tiny little sensors that are squeezed into camera phones.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this look at phone photography over the last couple of months. It’s no exaggeration to say that getting into photography has massively enhanced my fishing and my life in general. It’s given me a visual creative outlet that, being useless at drawing and other kinds of art, I’ve missed in my life up until now. Who knows, maybe taking a keener interest in your phone photography might lead to you wanting to get a dedicated camera and get more serious about the hobby? With a wide range of compact, highly capable mirrorless cameras now available for sensible money, there’s never been a better time to take it up.