If you shoot fishing for a living, or you are interested in recording the fish you and your mates catch, then sometimes you are going to have to take a photograph that I call the "grip and grin" - basically, it's man plus fish. They can be tricky shots to make look really good, but on the flipside, it's very, very easy to make the shot look just plain awful. Surely we must be close to the end of any shot that involves a visibly dead fish photographed in the kitchen, backyard, garage or garden ? We all have a duty of care to the sport we love to make it look as good as possible, and with just a tiny bit of thought, I assure you that your regular "man plus fish" shot could look a whole lot better. Wouldn't you rather have a half-decent photo as a memory ?
There is nothing particularly special about this "grip and grin" shot above - ok, so I am using pro cameras and lenses, and I do know how to process and output my images on the computer, but you could easily take this kind of photo with a bit of thought. Note that although there is a decent bit of light on Andy and the bass, the light behind is pretty grim, and there is no background to work with and provide an extra degree of impact to the shot. As much as I love to shoot creatively, I also have to shoot plenty of "grip and grins" for the magazines I work for - they are often the "money" shot so to speak. I want my photos to be the best that I can make them be, whatever they are of and however creative they can be.
OK, so we have fairly plain light and a garbage background - but we do have a bass in great condition, we have an easy angler to work with, and we also have a bright coloured waterproof top to lend a bit of colour to the scene. What is the main thing I have done in this photo ? Have another look. Do you see acres and acres of unused space around Andy and the fish ? Do you see any more rubbish sky and wasted pixels than there needs to be ? Bearing in mind that I tend to almost caption my photos in my head as I go along, and I also need to provide a bit of space around some of the photos for designers to work with, I would hope that you might notice that I have framed the photo really tightly around the "man and fish". The photo is all about the angler and his fish, so when conditions are like this, why not keep tight and make the viewer's eye come right in on the main subject matter ? The biggest single mistake I see in anglers' catch shots is that they just stand there and take the photo, without ever moving themselves or using the zoom button on their camera. "Fill the frame" and provide instant impact.
What else do you notice ? I would hope you pick up on the fact that Andy and the fish are actually in the water - the bass can be lifted up for a photo and then put back in the water to keep it healthy. The fish is being held in a away that supports it, but also lets me show it off as best I can with the conditions I have. Nothing complicated, just common sense and a bit of thought. Look after the fish, prowl around and think a bit about how you might show it off as best you can, come down to the level of "man plus fish", and snap away.And then when you can get creative, go for it.
One more really important point, and that's where to focus in a photo like this. Auto focus systems are so good on most cameras that it's usually pretty easy to take pin-sharp photos of a static subject like you have here - whenever you are shooting a "grip and grin", always focus on the eyes of the fish. Focus, hold focus, recompose the photo, and fire away. The eyes of the fish are always the most important thing that needs to be sharp in a photo like this. Keep the eyes sharp and you are on the way......
It isn't always the biggest fish that provide the most impact when shooting a "grip and grin" - ok, so big fish can look really impressive, but when you get some decent light and exciting conditions, then you can make almost any size of fish look good. Give me smaller fish and fantastic conditions over huge fish and rubbish conditions any day of the week. Graham would be the first to admit that the bass above is hardly a monster, but for me it was always about the light and the swirling sea. I am actually lying down on a rock to bring myself down to almost water level, to try and provide better impact. Focus on the eye of the bass, ask the angler to give me a smile, wait a second for the wave to keep coming in (clocked it way back, never tell your subject when you think they might get wet), and then fire away.
Sea Angler magazine then went and cropped in on (and slightly rotated) what was originally a landscape orientated photo and came up with the front cover above - I can't remember "seeing" the photo as a cover kind of shot, but I was over the moon with how they made it work. There was enough room in my original framing to allow this to work, and the eyes of the fish are pin-sharp. Graham's face is also in focus because I had deliberately asked him to cradle the fish right below the line of his eyes. As I said, not a big bass, but hopefully a very simple "grip and grin" that provides that bit more impact. I am not saying that you need to work on getting your mates soaking wet every time you look for a decent photo (ok, so it's fun to do !!), but look around for something else to bring into the photo to make it that little bit more exciting. Colour, light, scenery etc. Photography is all about light.
And then sometimes the fish get so big and heavy that you haven't got much choice other than to ask the angler to cradle it as best he can, frame up fairly tight, and make a kind of "wow, this is just a huge fish kind of grip and grin" photo. This is a roughly 100lb cubera snapper that my mate James caught in the remote Iguela lagoon on the coastline of Gabon in central west Africa. Very big fish, but the same principles for the "grip and grin". The kind of photo that works really well as both a memory and as a big central image for a magazine article.
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