Article: Ten Ways to Improve Your Pictures
THE TRUTH IS, anybody can take excellent fishing photos.
With modern point and shoot technology, such arcane concepts as "reciprocity of exposure" and the algebra behind camera stops have become unnecessary for the taking of good pictures. Most photographers starting out today can afford a point and shoot digital camera. With so many new photographers in the game, displays of pictures and fish are becoming increasingly common. What is not becoming common, however, are good pictures.
Think about it. How many pictures have you seen of fish so washed-out you can't see the scales being held by a guy whose skin tone is "three days dead" for every shot that might have belonged in a magazine? The ratio may be 100 to 1.
The following tips and tricks will help you improve your fishing pictures.
Trick #1: A Picture is What You Make of It
Throw out the idea that a picture records reality. It isn't true, and too many photographers object that photo editing "makes it not real." Every time you select a subject, you create an unreality. You point the camera, you define the edges of the box your audience sees. Would you include an ugly automobile in a shot of a pristine mountain valley when you could simply move the camera an inch to the right? No! But the automobile was there. Is the mountain valley any less real? Of course not.
A fishing picture is exactly the same. Just because the light wasn't favorable at the time, or a power line crossed the shot, or an angler's hat shaded her face, that doesn't mean you must portray these things in your picture. Remember that and keep an open mind about your options.Trick #2: Fill Flash
Fill flash is the most important trick an outdoor photographer can possess. If your subject is wearing a hat and the sun is directly overhead, how would you want her eyes to appear? Dark and shadowy, or bright and sharp? The only way to get light up under that hat brim is to put it there yourself, and fortunately, that little flash on your camera is just the ticket. Too many snapshooters misuse flash, blowing out subjects at night and relying on available light in the day. Flip this misconception on its head.
For night subjects, use no flash and a tripod and a long exposure, or if you must use flash, select the "Slow" or "Rear Curtain" options on your camera's flash menu. Slow and Rear Curtain flash allow the camera to take in ambient light before flashing the subject, so your target is lit, but the background doesn't look like a cave.
In the daytime, use your flash full out. You won't blow out a subject with bright sunlight about. If you're lucky enough to have one of the new digital SLRs, trust the camera to meter the source and provide the correct amount of flash. Review those pictures! If the shot didn't turn out with a full flash, turn it down, or if you can't, cover part of the flash up with a finger.
In the daytime, nothing makes an animal's eye standout like a little glimmer of reflected light. Can't get a flash bright enough on the scene? Don't be afraid to add that glimmer later. Dodge tools in photo editing programs lighten areas, and I have added the bird's eye's glimmer in the following shot.
Composition is a tricky problem all in and of itself. The worst thing a photographer can do is to always center every subject. The ancient Greeks understood that certain shapes are more appealing than others. Audiences haven't changed much since then. One easy rule of thumb is the tic-tac-toe board. Imagine a tic-tac-toe grid across your image. The image is divided in thirds both horizontally and vertically. When shooting animals, its hard to go wrong placing a subject's eye directly on one of the points of intersection. Horizons often look better placed on either the upper or lower divider line. Some cameras even include this grid as a display option.
Don't be afraid to break this rule if the subject interests you, however. A horizon at the bottom of an image can make a breathtaking spectacle, while one right at the top of the frame can draw the eye to a line of mountains, for instance.
Trick #4 Aperture and Shutter Speed
Aperture and Shutter speed are generally over-discussed, but it is interesting how many ordinary snapshooters still don't understand the concept. I am not going to try to do what has already been done better, but suffice it to say that larger apertures (and since aperture is a fraction, f/2 is much larger than f/22), let in more light, and small apertures (again, like f/22) let in less. One effect of this difference lies in depth of field, or the zone at which your image goes foggy. Large apertures, like f/2, leave you with a very shallow depth of field, which is great for zooming in on a subject and leaving the rest of the picture blurry. Small apertures give a much deeper depth of field, meaning everything from the guy with the fish to the mountains miles off his shoulder will be in focus. Play around with these settings and pay attention to what you get.
Trick #5 Point and Shoots Make Great Macros
Digital point and shoot cameras are often fantastic for macro photography. Technically, "macro" used to mean that a lens was capable of producing a subject, say a mayfly, life-sized on the sheet of film. If you took a picture of a mayfly at macro setting and 1:1 zoom, then held the slide up next to the mayfly, the bug and its picture would be the same size.
Digital point and shoot cameras usually don't come with enough lens to actually make a 1:1 ratio, but it doesn't matter nearly as much, because the lenses on these cameras are so small anyway. My Fuji FinePix 40i has a lens size of 8.3mm, or less than a third the size of your average 35mm lens. Because that lens is so small, even if the camera can only manage a 1:3 physical ratio, where the reproduced image is 1/3rd life-size, the small lens and the small chip that corresponds to it makes the point and shoot a better macro outfit than some professional equipment costing many times more. Plus, those small lenses can focus almost on top of a subject, meaning you can just about count the scales on a mayfly's wings if it will only stand still long enough. Finally, macro-setting defaults to a very large aperture on every camera, so your subject will automatically be one of the only things in focus, making for some very dramatic images.Trick #6 Digital Saturation.
Modern Point and shoot cameras have a tendency to render a subject very washed-out and gray. With film, this would be a problem of underexposure, but with digital cameras, the likely culprit is your white balance. Try manipulating the white balance settings on your camera to create a warmer tone.
However, even with the proper white balance, your camera will sometimes turn out some gray shots. This is because digital cameras are calibrated to average the bright and dark elements of your shot to create a mythical 18% gray curve. What that mumbo-jumbo means is the camera will cost you some color. Don't despair! For film-like effects, especially for film such as the excellent Fuji Velvia Professional slide films, try bringing your pictures into Picasa, the free Google editing program, and increasing saturation. Usually 15-20% will be enough, and don't overdo it or your images may turn out looking like they were taken on Mars.Trick #7 Darken the Blacks
Many new digital users complain that "digital doesn't look like film." This is true. Digital pictures lack grain, are less contrasty, and may lack sharpness due to lower-quality lenses. These are NOT problems inherent in digital images per se, but rather symptoms of the consumer-oriented design of these cameras. To make your digital images look more film-like and professional, adjust the color balance. In Picasa, you can adjust general balances and sharpness. In better programs like Paint Shop Pro and Photoshop, both of which are available to consumers, you can adjust Selective Color. The most dramatic effect you can get with selective color is to darken your blacks. You will lose a lot of detail in the shadows when you do this, but film usually did this anyway. One of the characteristics of Fuji Velvia is how quickly it drops off to black at the low end of the spectrum. Are these pictures accurate representations of reality? Hell no! But they sure look fine.
Trick # 8 Know When to Sharpen
Knowing when, and when not to, sharpen is probably the most important skill in photo editing. Sharpening ruins detail, significantly degrading the quality of your image. Many times, it isn't even sharpness you want to add, especially not over the whole image. Experiment with brightness and contrast and deepening your blacks or your shadow tones before you sharpen. In fact, make it a cardinal rule to always sharpen last. This will do a lot for your images, because you will apply the other edits with the most available data.
Trick # 9 How to Shoot A Fish
Fish pictures seem to just ruin photographers. You've all seen the classic Grip N Grin, where the fish is held at arms length at the camera and there's no telling how big it really was. The other chief sin is the "lay it next to the rod" shot. Nothing looks deader than a fish laid on the bank next to a rod. Add a bright fill flash and bingo: a dog's dinner.
Fish pictures deserve some special consideration, because fish are 1) a lot smaller than you (unless you're catching marlin, you lucky dog) and 2) shiny. The average American man weighs somewhere between 180 and 200 pounds. A trophy trout might weigh ten, or just five to eight percent of the man. Keep this in mind. Don't be afraid to hold the fish out away from your body if you need a fish shot, but don't stick it right up in the photographer's grill either. But consider this: no matter how good the Grip N Grin, the fish is always going to be smaller and less detailed if a person must also fit into the shot.
Why not try macro shots right up against the fish instead? The chief rule of photographing animals is to always leave their eyes in the picture. Stick to this rule unless photographing tails, which have a certain beauty of their own. Remember too that a fish is a water creature. The best trophy shots are the ones taken underwater, but if you don't have an underwater camera handy, do the next best thing and place the camera at water level, with the fish just under the surface or just out of the water.
Because fish are shiny, you need to be careful with fill flash. The best shots still require it, but turn the fish's body slightly away from the camera so as not to bounce all that flash back. Use a polarizing filter to cut the natural glare of scales (and skin!). Don't be afraid to try crazy angles, like "sighting down the fish" or just the fishy mugshot. Keep the light behind you and pay attention to your aperture: ideally nothing but the fish should be in focus to help add depth and dimension (and to keep from giving the audience an exact idea how small he was!)
Trick # 10 Camera Protection
The last of these tricks is how to protect a camera in a wading environment. The number one rule is never take a risk that isn't worth the result. If the water is falling but you'd rather be across now, consider waiting to give your gear a chance. Stow point and shoot cameras in watertight containers like a Ziploc baggie or a tight neoprene case. Consider investing in a water-resistant model for the vest pocket.
If the worst happens and your camera gets a dunking, DO NOT TURN IT ON. You have a chance to dry your sensitive electronics out so long as you don't fry them. If the camera was off when it went into the drink, immediately remove the batteries. Shake out as much water as possible and place the camera in the sun. Resist the urge to check the camera for two or three days of drying, being careful to place it in the sun or a hot environment. My Fuji has been sunk twice. I dried it out both times and it is still going steady.
SLR cameras are harder to protect. My advice is to wear the camera around your neck, with an arm through the strap so it can slide around to the back. Also, purchase insurance! My camera and fishing gear policy costs me less than $20 a month, and it allows me to rest assured that my gear will always be safe, even if it isn't. Most insurers offer flood, theft, accidental breakage, and loss protection.
I hope you've found these tips helpful and informative. I've enjoyed writing them, and now I just need to make sure I follow my own advice!