With its pastels and soft light, spring is as fine for photography as it is for fishing and turkey hunting.
They go hand in hand because nothing immortalizes a hunting, fishing, camping or hiking trip as indelibly as memorable photography. A well-composed, nicely lit photo will honor the trophy, but a well-composed, sweetly-lit image will capture the scents, the sounds and all of the other elements that will come rushing back whenever you see it.
As much as professional photographers hate it, you don’t need an expensive single lens reflex camera and high-quality lenses to shoot high-quality photographs anymore. Even middle range smart phones have excellent cameras that take fantastic photos that are suitable for publication in glossy color magazines. They are so good that frankly, my Nikon D7200 doesn’t see nearly as much action as it once did. An SLR still beats a smart phone by a large margin for zoom photography, for bracketing, and for fine detail, but for the kind of photos we’re talking about here, a smart phone is perfectly suitable.
Follow the Rule of Thirds when composing a photograph.
As you look through your viewfinder or at your phone screen, divide the rectangle into a grid with three squares across the top third of the frame, three squares across the middle of the frame, and three squares across the bottom third of the frame.
The eye naturally gravitates to the edges, and especially to the corners. Therefore, your subject should never be in the center of the frame. If an angler is holding up up a fish or posing with a turkey, they should be toward the top or bottom and off center.
The same goes for scenics. If you are shooting a sunset, the sun should be in one of the top corners.
As mentioned, the eye naturally trains to the corners and edges, and your sight lines naturally flow upward or downward across the frame. The subject is your focal point. From there, the eye follows the “river” across the frame to other elements in the image.
For example, say you are shooting a photo of a buddy holding a big bass or crappie at Lake Maumelle. The angler and the fish are the focal point. Now, position them so that Pinnacle Mountain is in the background, above or below the shoulder. The Chimney is another distinctive element that gives a definite sense of place.
Let’s refine that image a bit. Eyes are always the focal point in any photograph. The eye should always be in razor sharp focus. If the happy angler is looking at the camera, he or she will be the focal point, which diverts attention from the fish, turkey or deer.
Instead, have the happy angler look at the fish. This directs all attention to the fish. My favorite pose is for an angler to hold a fish with both hands, with the back arched and the tail drooping, looking down the back while smiling. Again, and even with a fish, focus on the eye.
Also, all of the action or motion should be facing the frame’s interior. If a fish’s snout or an angler’s face is about to collide with the border, it creates jarring, irreconcilable tension.
The best light for photography is in the morning and evening when it’s saturated and soft. Midday light is harsh and glaring. Nevertheless, you shoot the light you have, and not always the light you want.
When shooting fishing and hunting photos, the subject should face the sun. Position them so that they don’t have to squint. Direct light really makes a fish’s colors pop and its eye gleam. It also makes a turkey’s plumage vibrant. Morning and evening light can make an outstretched turkey fan look almost like stained glass, and it can make deer antlers gleam like polished brass.
Make sure there are no shadows across the subject or anywhere on the image that can distract the eye. Keep in mind, though, that manipulating shadows can create a dramatic effect and help frame the subject.
If you shoot in poor light, you can remedy the effects to a great extent in your photo enhancement app or program. Increase or decrease exposure and experiment with the contrast. Play around with the saturation, hue and tint settings. Phone camera apps have a variety of settings to create different moods.
Skewed perspective ruins an otherwise good photo. Pay attention to details like the horizon, and also water lines. They should always be level, never angled. Trees, mountains and architectural structures should not poke through a subject’s head. If two anglers are posing together, one should not hold a fishing rod in a way that appears to impale the other angler.
Don’t limit yourself to hero shots — hunters or anglers holding trophies. There are photo-worthy subjects everywhere you look; a boat pilot’s reflection in a chrome throttle knob, a sunset’s reflection or the reflection of another angler in an angler’s sunglasses; a bent hook or worn finish from an well-used lure.
On a press trip in St. Petersburg, Fla., some years ago, a noted photographer shot endlessly. The photo from that trip that he sold over and over, he said, was of a half-eaten Cuban sandwich sitting on a boat console.
One of my favorite photos was taken by Covey Bean, the late outdoors editor for the Daily Oklahoman. He snapped a shot of his anguished wife as she spilled an entire tacklebox on a boat deck. No caption was necessary.
SHARPEN YOUR EYE
Great photographs are not taken, they are created. Just as in becoming proficient with rod or gun, creating great images takes some effort, but mainly it requires a trained eye. Envision the photographs you want to shoot and actualize the process in your mind before the first pose is struck.
As your skills develop, you’ll find yourself envisioning your photography before the first cast or shot is made.