All Photo Essays
Photographing taimen fishing in Mongolia
12 May 2010
Much as somebody like me is in Mongolia to shoot the awesome and legendary taimen fishing, it would be foolish not to take every single advantage presented to you. To some it might just have been one part of the long journey from the UK to the stunning Delger-Muron river, but to me that 4by4 trip across the endless steppe was a time to keep my cameras very close by – just in case the light suddenly went off, as indeed it was looking like it might. It’s really hard to try and create a true sense of scale for a place as vast and empty as the Mongolian steppe, but as we moved further across the open steppe, the light just got better and better. Time to jump out of the truck, run (very ungainly) off the road and slightly across the grass, lie down flat, and then make a few very simple frames of this rainbow almost sitting directly on top of this cluster of gers. Always be ready to shoot.
Nikon D3 camera, 70-300 lens at 98mm, ISO 400, f8, 1/160th
Words can not describe how beautiful the stretch of the Delger-Muron river was where we rafted and camped for a week in September 2009. We round a bend in the river and I start almost shaking with excitement because it just looks so downright incredible, but then almost every bend we walked or rafted round that week presented the most sublime countryside. The shot here was one really good chance I had to gain a bit of height and do my best to show the tiny little fishermen down at the bottom of the frame against that vast and empty wilderness. I can’t think of many more special places on this earth that I have been lucky enough to have seen.
Nikon D3 camera, 24-70 lens at 70mm, ISO 200, f8, 1/160th
The fishing photo you are going to have to take at some point. The “grip and grin”, the “hero with a big fish” shot, the photo that any fishing magazine is going to demand from a big trip like this. Taimen have an almost mythical status amongst fly fishermen, and this particular monster was taken by Alex McLeod on a quiet, slow stretch of the river. There is nothing difficult with a photo like this, but as I am lining this kind of shot up, I am virtually captioning it in my head as I go along. It’s basically this – what caption could I or a photo editor write about this photograph that would be helpful for an article ? The absolute main priority with photographing fish is to make sure your subject matter (the fish) is properly looked after. No photo is ever worth harming the fish you have set out to catch.
Nikon D3 camera, 24-70 lens at 55mm, ISO 400, f8, 1/400th
I have always wanted to take a photo like this, but up until this trip into the wilds of Mongolia I had simply never come across the right conditions. It’s a very deliberate photo where you (or me) needs a lot of things to come together at just the right time. I very rarely ask my subjects (the fishermen) to move around for a photo – they are fishing after all. It’s up to me to move around them. By pure chance Alex McLeod was wading in exactly the right spot, i.e. he is standing in the light and not where the shade falls on the river off in the background. Note the cliff wall behind him – to be able to retain the correct, subtle, side-lit exposure on your fisherman and be able to almost turn the background to a moody, shady “nothingness”, you need a complete background from the top to the bottom of the frame, with no sky intruding. This is that cliff for me. Then you need a bright sun at just the right angle – it needs to be illuminating the fisherman, here from off to the almost back-left side (side-lit), but to be able to throw that background to virtual darkness that sun also needs to be dipping below the cliff top and putting the area immediately behind the fisherman into shadow. Subtly exposed subject against a dark background, that is what I was after – but then you need to tell your camera what to do. Your camera’s metering system wants to expose for the largest subject matter – the cliff wall. It wants to make this all nice and bright, but this is going to grossly over-expose the fisherman and ruin the intended effect. You need to take over. Focus on the fisherman, tell your camera to under-expose the scene (dial in minus exposure compensation, here it was -2 stops), and then fire away – and check the screen on the back of your camera. The histogram will say your shot is massively under-exposed, but it isn’t. The fisherman (my main subject) and his rod and fly line is correctly exposed, and that is what I wanted. It’s the effect I wanted to create to really make the fisherman jump out at you from that dark background. By pure chance Alex hooked and played a few lenok while I was freaking with excitement across the river. He must have thought I was completely mad, but I knew I had the shots I had been dreaming of for years. Mongolia has everything that a fishing photographer like me could ever want.
Nikon D3 camera, 70-300 lens at 185mm, ISO 400, f.5.6, 1/320th (-2 stops exposure compensation)
Never pack your camera gear away until the last possible moment. I am pretty sure I had seen this little part of Mongolia look as good as it can be. But then we came to literally our last bend in the river before we camped for the night and were driven out the next morning. And that last bend was this wonderful looking set of rocky cliffs that were bathed in the softest, warmest light possible as the sun was close to going down. The fluffy white clouds and that big blue sky made it easy for me to give the rocks true definition – and to give that little boat with the three people in it a true sense of scale in this massive landscape. All I did was turn my circular polarising filter to the max to bring those clouds out and create depth and definition. Very easy, nothing tricky, a very easy scene for a modern camera to get right, and some of my most favourite photos of the trip taken right at the last possible moment.
Nikon D3 camera, 24-70 lens at 24mm, ISO 200, f10, 1/125th