James Murray tells a story for a small crowd at the ORL Salmon Arm branch on Saturday, Feb. 25.

Column: Fishing for that memorable photograph

Columnist and photographer James Murray offers advice on capturing your angling experience

It was only month ago that I was on the Fraser River casting a brand new Penn International loaded with 120 pound line to sturgeon lurking in the dark, murky waters flowing past our boat.

Two weeks ago I was standing on the banks of the Adams, breathing in the cool crisp autumn air, hoping for a strike from one of the feisty rainbows feeding on salmon eggs. Now the snow is on the ground and fishing is all but over for the year. I suppose I could always try my hand at ice fishing, or spend the long winter months ahead planning for next spring and looking through the photos I managed to accumulate over this past season. There’s the one of me trying to hang onto the tail of a 250-lb white sturgeon – the one that flicked me aside and took off a split second after my friend and fishing partner Cory snapped a picture with his cellphone. And then there’s the one of me getting a fly in the hand as a nice 20-inch rainbow slipped my grip and made its escape – again while Cory was there capturing it all on his cell. But the one that brings back memories is the GoPro video of a dragonfly biting on the butt of my fly rod. I didn’t know dragonflies could bite that hard.

Whether taking still photographs of fish caught or video of the process, there are some basic rules one should follow in order to get more interesting images/video.

First and foremost, always be aware of where the light is coming from and how it is falling of the subject. Fill the viewfinder and include only those subjects that are important to the story. When it comes to taking fishing images, try to catch the action. Avoid pictures of lifeless fish. Take your picture while the fish is being landed or, preferably, as it is being released. This way you can capture an image of the fish with all the vivid natural colours characteristic of the species. Remember, a fish’s organs are essentially held in place by external water pressure. Every moment they are out of the water adds stress to their entire system. A photograph of an angler leaning over the gunnel of a boat, gently cradling a fish on the top of the water, is far better than one of somebody with a cheesy grin holding a lifeless fish by the gills. Just make sure you snap your picture before the fish is actually released, otherwise all you will get is a picture of a splash on the surface and, maybe, the tail of the fish as it heads back underwater. This is especially true when using digital cameras or a cellphone, where there is a time delay between the moment when you press the shutter and the picture is actually taken. Take my word for it. When it comes right down to it, there is seldom any reason to take a fish out of the water.

Try to capture candid images. Don’t have the angler stopping what they are doing to look up at the camera. Expressions of concentration, excitement or delight are far more real and interesting. When composing your photograph in the viewfinder, decide whether the image lends itself to either a horizontal or vertical format. Panoramic landscapes, boats or fish on the surface of the water are all basically horizontal images, but an angler cradling a fish is essentially vertical. Taking pictures from different angles and perspectives will make your photographs a lot more interesting. Photos taken from a distance against the backdrop of morning mist or a palette of autumn colours will give the viewer a sense of what is was like to be there.

Not all fishing conditions are perfect, so don’t expect all image-taking conditions to be perfect. Control what you can, work with what you have and know the limitations of your camera. Get too close and your pictures are likely to be soft or out of focus, too far away and important details become small and insignificant, too slow a shutter speed and things will be blurred. Too much staging, they become contrived, too much unimportant detail and they turn out boring. It all takes a bit of planning.

The way I’ve come to look at it, being able to record an interesting image of your angling experience is an integral part of the whole catch and release process.

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