The Ultimate Guide to Taking Better Fishing Photos

Take a look at some of my first fishing pictures and it’s obvious I barely knew how to work a camera.  I can’t claim to be an expert photographer but over the years I have learned what it takes to have an Instagram worthy fish picture.  

Anyone can take beautiful photos of fish and with today’s smartphones, the task is even easier.  It won’t take hours of studying and there is no need to remember the complexities of focal length and aperture.  All you need is a few key concepts and you’ll be ready to post your best fishing pictures yet.  

Learn camera basics

To get the most from any camera, take the time to learn just a few key concepts before heading out on your fishing adventure.

All cameras rely on shutter speed, aperture and ISO to create a perfect balance of light and movement.  Luckily, most smartphones adjust automatically to give you the best image possible for the lighting conditions.  

There are ways on most cameras to customize the look of your photos and here are a few settings to consider.

  • Use portrait mode to take pictures of someone holding a fish.  Portrait mode helps blur the background while making the fish and angler really pop.
  • Use action mode to capture fast moving subjects like when someone is fighting a fish beside the boat or casting a lure.
  • Use HDR and fill flash to prevent harsh shadows and uneven lighting.
  • Avoid digital zoom.  Optical zoom or cropping in an editing software will yield crisper images with more details.
  • Use a wide angle perspective to give your pictures a unique look.

Lighting is everything

If you want to create an eye catching fish picture, you need the best lighting possible.  Natural diffused light is ideal for most portrait style images.  Yet, the adventures of fishing seldom allow for ideal conditions.  

Everything comes together when there’s good lighting.

Overcast days definitely make picture taking less of a challenge but chances are you’ll be fishing under the harsh light of the sun.  There are a few things you can do to get the lighting to work in most situations.

  • Avoid backlighting your subject which creates deep shadows.
  • Face the angler towards the sun at a 45 degree angle to give depth to the image.
  • Use the HDR setting on your smartphone.  It may not work every time but when the lighting is tough, give it a try.
  • Use a fill flash.  Even if the sun is out, a fill flash can remove shadows on an angler’s face caused by hats or backlit situations.

Composition matters

If you’ve ever paid attention to what makes a good photo then you know composition matters.  The lighting could be perfect, the location may be stunning, throw in a world class trophy to boot but a bad composition could ruin it all.  

Composition is just a technical way of saying how to place the subject in the frame of your camera.  Generally, the “rule of thirds” is a fail safe approach.  This means you divide your camera screen into thirds.  Some cameras come with the grids super imposed on the screen while others require your imagination.

Imagine two equally spaced vertical lines and two equally spaced horizontal lines on the screen.  You should aim to have the subject (fisherman or fish) lined up at an intersection along those lines.  

The “Rule of Thirds” provides balance to an image.

Good composition also gives the photo a balanced feel.  Avoid awkward placements like cramming your subject to one edge or placing everything dead center in the frame.

When taking a picture of an angler holding a fish, place the angler at the intersection of an upper third and the fish in the lower third on the opposite side of the frame.  Fishing images also look better when the angler is not always smiling at the camera.  Have them look at the fish for a more natural picture.

Keep in mind that the rule of thirds is a guideline.  Feel free to experiment.  There is more than one way to achieve a pleasant composition when taking photos.

Ignore the background

Sometimes taking pictures is a little overwhelming for beginner photographers and it is easy to want to capturing every detail all at once.  However, this will lead to boring pictures that place the fish and angler too far away and leave distracting details in the background.

Remember to focus on what is important when taking fishing pictures.  It is just about the fish and the angler.  Although, you could argue the fish is the most important subject. 

Move closer to the subject of your photo and eliminate the background.  Use a shallow depth of field and focus on the fish’s eye.  This highlights the beauty of the fish, maintains the angler’s part in the photo and provides a blurred background with just enough satisfying detail and no distractions.

Tell more of the story with action shots

The excitement of fishing is not just the catch.  The challenge of enticing a bite and the fight when you finally hook up with a nice fish is also thrilling.  All too often we miss our chance to tell that part of the story with a camera.

Instead of only clicking a few pictures of people holding fish, try to tell the whole story with action shots.  Especially when the fish aren’t huge or the day is a bust and no one catches anything.  

Action shots capture fleeting moments.

Take a picture of someone casting a lure under a setting sun or fighting a fish beside the boat.  Even just a portrait shot of you tying on a favorite fly by the river is nice.  These action shots tell a story and they are worth taking.

Capture candid moments

Candid shots are a great way to tell the real story.

Just like action shots, candid moments are shots that provide memories for a lifetime.  Use all the same tips we have been discussing but be spontaneous and click the shutter when others are not paying attention.  You never know what Instagram worthy moment you may snag.

Take pictures while the fish is alive

We have all seen fishing pictures with dead fish and they don’t look great.  The fish are stiff as a board with glazed over eyes, their colors have faded and it just looks bad.  I guarantee that every fishing picture you take will look better if the fish is alive.

A live fish pulled straight from the water will have beautiful glistening colors, the fins will be naturally positioned and the eyes will have details that capture the life of the fish.

Even if you plan on keeping the fish, have a buddy snap a quick picture before you put it in the cooler.  For a bit more drama and flare, take the picture as soon as you lift the fish from the water to get the added affect of dripping water.

Best settings for taking fishing pictures

Now that you have mastered the important concepts of fishing photography, lets take a look at the best settings you can use on your camera.

iPhone Settings

For pictures with fish: 

iPhones have excellent portrait settings that are perfect for taking pictures of you with your catch.  Swipe through your shooting mode menu until you get to portrait.  New iPhones also have a portrait background blur feature and portrait lighting adjustments that can be applied after the photo is taken. 

For action shots: 

Just activate the burst mode.  On iPhone XS and older, simply press and hold the shutter button.  It captures about 10 frames a second.  When the action is over, lift your finger off the shutter button.  iPhone 11 models work similarly.  You press and hold the shutter button but also slide it to the left to engage burst mode.

For low light:  

Use the high dynamic range (HDR) feature or try night mode on the new iPhone 11.  Low light situations are common while fishing and an iPhone will excel at capturing details during these times.

Switch on the Rule of Thirds grid: 

Turn on the grid lines to help improve your photo compositions.  On an iPhone, go to “Settings” app, select “Camera” and toggle “Grid” to on.

Samsung Galaxy Settings

For pictures with fish: 

Samsung Galaxy phones use “Live Focus” which is essentially portrait mode with an instantaneous preview of different blur and lighting effects.  Also, turn on the rule of thirds grid for composition help.  Samsung also offers “Shot Suggestion” to help you line up a more balanced photo.  

For action shots:  

Like the iPhones, Samsung offers a burst mode so you don’t miss any of the action.  It is a great feature when trying to capture a fish release or a fast hook set on a monster fish.  Simply hold down the shutter button to engage burst mode.

For low light:  

New Galaxy phones have built in “Scene Optimizers” that really help in low light conditions.  Much like the HDR function, it will help eliminate contrast between light and dark portions of the image.  Turn it on in the camera settings menu.

Try out Pro mode:  

When you’re ready to take your skills to the next level, jump into Pro mode.  Samsung’s pro mode lets you customize shutter speed, aperture, ISO and other features so you can get the exact shot you want for your fishing pictures.

DSLR Settings

For the highest quality photos, you can’t beat a DSLR with interchangeable lenses.  Generally reserved for more advanced photographers, it may be worth investing in a DSLR camera if you love documenting your fishing adventures on video.  

With a DSLR, you are in full control of the exposure of every image.  For beginners, auto mode is fine but experiment with aperture and shutter speed controls to customize the look of your photos.  

Point and Shoot Settings

Since the advances in smartphone cameras, point and shoots are not as common.  However, they do have a place and many people still enjoy using a simple camera with slightly better image quality than some phones.  

Most point and shoots come with night mode for low light settings and portrait mode for fish pictures.  More advanced models also allow for shutter speed and aperture control.

Have the camera ready

Nothing is worse than missing the photo opportunity of a lifetime.  We are, after all, anglers first.  Many of us get complacent about taking pictures right up until we are hauling in the catch of our dreams and the camera is nowhere to be found.  

Most people are never far from their phones but always check that it is available at a moments notice.  Keep it in your tackle bag, life vest pocket or even a waterproof case for extreme conditions.  

Keep your camera or phone charged too.  Picture taking, especially with a flash, eats up a lot of power.   

One last photo

Taking good photos is one part skill, one part timing and one part practice.  It is easy enough to master the first two but getting practice means going fishing and catching fish.  

There is no such thing as taking too many photos.  You never know which one will be your favorite.  With modern digital cameras, taking extra pictures costs nothing so feel free to take one last photo.

Taking better fishing photos can also earn you money. Selling photos on stock photo websites is a great way to start a side hustle and quality photos will help your pictures stand out. Learn more from our other article here.

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