Behind the Photo - 22.08.11
Back from a week with the family that has gone far too quickly. I am in the middle of working on a new fishing book at the moment and as is the norm with this kind of contract, I am of course under various deadlines to hand in words and photos - whatever the weather is and however good the conditions look for fishing. I hope you have all been smashing a few nice fish and enjoying whatever sunshine comes our way. Is it really nearly the end of August already ?
Anyway, I get asked a fair amount about taking fishing photographs, and in the manner of wanting to keep this blog fresh and a bit different from just a "going fishing and yapping about it" kind of blog, I thought that from time to time I would pick out a photo and do my best to kind of go "behind the photo" if that makes sense. I am a self-taught photographer and as such there are of course millions of other, far better qualified professional photographers out there who can teach you far more than I am ever going to know. But that is not the point of what I want to try and do here. Trying to teach photography is not my thing at all. But I have been photographing fishing for long enough to have a pretty good idea about what goes into doing it at least half-properly. I am not a hugely technical photographer as such, but when I sit down and try to analyse how a certain photograph comes about then I begin to realise how much thought and perhaps instinct has actually gone into it. Photographing fishing without doubt calls for a pretty specialised set of skills, and on the few occasions I have been kindly asked to go somewhere and talk about fishing photography, you can't believe the buzz I get out of it. I love it, and I would kill to do more of it. So I am going to do my best here to get in behind some photographs from time to time and see where it leads. Please do give me some feedback and tell me if you like or hate what I am trying to do.
100mm, f8, 1/160th, ISO 400
OK, so from a "what is this photo ?" point of view, it's nothing more than the eye of a rather large bass. But this eye has stared at me for a few years now, and if you now asked me to pick say my top ten fishing photographs residing on my many hard drives then this eye shot would be on that list every single time. I just really like the way that the eye of this magnificent fish seems to look at me with such simple intent, and I just freak out at the different colours and shades. And if there is one thing that this photo always rams home to me it's to shoot the hell out of a good situation whenever it presents itself. However much I have tried over the last few years, I have just never been presented with the same set of conditions to shoot a bass eye kind of photograph that I like even half as much as this one. I have tried with any number of different bass in various situations, but on this particular south east Irish morning of 7th October 2006 I guess that everything kind of came together. On that morning when we happened to be smashing good bass on crab it just happened to be that this big bass (around 12lbs I have always guessed at) was hooked and then landed by a guy called Mick at just the right time when the light was of the right intensity and angle, and I was lucky enough to be with another angler (Graham) who is perfectly used to and indeed very good at me asking for a fish to be held in a certain way. Note that the water is lapping around beneath the eye of the fish, and that the sunlight is gently illuminating the eye and right hand side of the photograph (and thus putting the extreme left side into shadow to hold your own eye on the eye of this bass). I really like that starburst from the sun near the top of the actual eye. It is the quality and temperature of the light that has brought out all those exquisite colours and shades, and it's up to somebody like me or indeed you to "see" the photograph at just the right time and then nail it correctly. That "seeing" the photograph is the big unknown here, in that we all "see" a photograph entirely differently.
Now as much as somebody like me has to shoot grip and grins, or "angler plus fish" shots, for the most part they are a necessity rather than a massively creative thing. Don't get me wrong, I will do everything in my powers to make any photograph I shoot as good as I possibly can, but from a creative photography point of view I really dig shooting stuff that just happens if that makes sense. There is nothing remotely complicated about actually taking a photograph like this eye shot, indeed any of you who carry these very good modern compact digital cameras can easily get in close and make something of a fish's eye for example. It's my job, and as such I tend to carry at least two and more than likely three different lenses plus camera body or bodies when I am out and about. I don't like cropping photographs after shooting unless I absolutely have to for some reason or another, and what you see here is what I shot - on went a 100mm macro lens, but I know that most digital compacts will let you get in close like this.
The single most important thing here is to make sure that the main subject matter of the photograph is pin sharp, or in other words, in focus. If the eye of this fish is out of focus then the shot is quite simply a pile of manure, but with modern cameras these days it's pretty easy to get the eye properly in focus. I want the point of the shot to be the eye of the fish, so rather than simply stand there and include loads of stuff around the eye that lessens the impact (don't be afraid to fill the frame with the good stuff), I am down on my knees and framing in really tight. I shot a few slightly different photos, but the moment I "saw" this exact shot I knew that it was the one.
Now as much as this eye shot has always done it for me, from a commercial point of view it has never done much. Whilst the shot says masses to me as a photographer and an angler, it is not angler plus fish or angler fishing in environment or even a nice looking lure. Imagine it in a magazine article and now think about how you go about captioning it. What does the eye of a fish do for a story for example ? This shot does not do much like that, but then if I only shot the more obvious stuff that I could easily sell then what on earth would be the point of getting creatively fired up to the point that I can get short of breath with the excitement of nailing decent photographs when it all comes together. By all means shoot you and your mates with their fish, and nobody loves a good sunrise or sunset more than me, but make sure to take a good look around and try to "see" the different stuff from time to time. Before you simply stand there at a regular eye level and shoot away, try to pull back and think about how all the little things in fishing add up to make it such a good thing to do, and then apply this rationale to taking a few photographs. Or am I talking a pile of rubbish and disappearing up my own backside in a great cloud of arty thinking ?