Fishing Photography

Fishing Photography

Photos can tell you so much about what has just happened, and in this crazy busy world, they make something stand still for all to absorb, writes Tony Orton.


Taking photos is part of my job, and of all the things I do on a charter day, it gives me the most satisfaction to capture that special moment. You may be having a bad day, things may not be going to plan, but looking back at old photos can change your mindset and give you hope. They are also a reminder of some of the very cool and happy moments in your life.

I think it may be a Kiwi thing to be a little embarrassed to get a photo, maybe because we don’t want to waste everyone’s time and make a fuss. Still, if you have just caught a personal best fish or a species that you have wanted to catch for many years, then it would be a hell of a shame not to capture that moment. It’s nice to reassure people to stop, slow down and get the perfect shot of a special fish.

I am not a technical photographer and like most things in my life, I try keep it simple, but I do have a mental checklist for every time I take a photo of an angler and their fish.

Here are a few things I focus on to produce the best possible result.

Get the light right

One of the great things about taking photos on a boat is you normally have great light and it’s very easy to turn the boat to get the light coming from the right angle.

I recommend taking shots with the flash on, especially if the natural light is harsh, as it will fill in the shadows. Take a couple with flash, and a couple without to see the difference.

Bright clothing also adds to the effect of the overall image, especially on a dull day.

Watch the shadows

I have lost count of how many great shots have been ruined by shadows from rods or hardtops cast across the subject.

Don’t be afraid of taking down some rods out of the holders to reduce the shadows or even steering the boat to get clean light on what your shooting.

Rods behind anglers can ruin a photo, so take the time to move them out of the way – you want the background to look as clean and uncluttered as possible.

Get the angler in a position where they are comfortable, and if the fish is a big one, ensure they are supported by backing them into the corner of the cockpit in readiness to hold the fish. Get them set, then bring them the fish.

The angler may have just landed a personal best and will be happy about it – and this will show in their smiling face and eyes that are sparkling. To capture that, remove hats and sunglasses.

Shadows from rods and hardtop ruin a top shot, stunning colours, happy smile, and a personal best fish.

Shadows from rods and hardtop ruin a top shot, stunning colours, happy smile, and a personal best fish.

Straight horizon

An out of level horizon is one of my biggest pet hates. If it’s rough or unstable, leave a bit more room around the subject, so if you do want to straighten it up later, there is room for cropping.

On the level

When taking a photo of an angler holding a fish, get down to the level of the fish. The image will now highlight the fish and at this level, the angler will look natural as well. It has the added advantage of making the fish dominant in the shot, thus making it look bigger. The lower the angle, the bigger the fish will look – turning 15 pounders into 20 pounders every time!

Take the time to get the most natural angle by squatting down and shooting at the subject's (in this case the fish) level.

Take the time to get the most natural angle by squatting down and shooting at the subject's (in this case the fish) level.

Hold the fish straight

Make sure the way the angler holds the fish shows off its sides, not its belly or top. When holding the tail, try not to have your hand back too far as it collapses the tail and makes it look small. If you plan to release the fish, make sure your hands are clear of the gill area. Holding, or even touching the fish with your fingers in the gills, can cause fatal damage to the fish. It would be a shame to do everything with the right intentions, only to harm the fish before releasing it by making a simple mistake.

The result of getting the angle right - the fish looks big but not unnatural.

The result of getting the angle right - the fish looks big but not unnatural.

Have a plan before you take the photo

If we are going to release the fish, we leave it in the water until we have a few things sorted to ensure we can take a good photo quickly. We clear the rods so they don’t cast shadows, turn the boat so the light is best for the fish and angler, and have our measure mat ready. Once we’re ready, the fish is brought into the boat, where we quickly remove the hook, lay it on the mat for measure then put it straight into the arms of the angler for a quick photo.

Have a wet cloth handy to wipe away any blood and to leave the skin glistening.

If you have decided to keep a billfish, get the photo as quickly as possible. Just before taking the shot, slap its sides – this momentarily brings the colour back and lights it up – but you will need to be quick.

Phone cameras

These are pretty sophisticated today and take some great images. Always take your fishing photos on the highest possible image size. Should you get that fish of a lifetime, you may want an enlarged image for your wall. You can always reduce the image size for emailing or loading onto social media, but you can’t increase the size after the fact.

The result will only be as good as the lens, so make sure this is given a wipe with a glasses cloth before taking the shot.

If in doubt, shoot on auto

Cameras are full of electronic wizardry and for the technically-minded, some great stuff can be produced in manual mode. For the most part, I will shoot in Auto function, where all the essential measures such as shutter speed and the aperture settings are sorted for me, as is the focus.

Take a bracket of shots from different angles and settings – you are bound to get one that nails it!

   This article is reproduced with permission of   
New Zealand Fishing News

November 2020 - Tony Orton
Re-publishing elsewhere is prohibited



Rate this

Fishing bite times

Major Bites

Minor Bites

Major Bites

Minor Bites

  • Fishing Reports, News & Specials