Photography Tips for Fly Fishing

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Although the size of this bull trout is nothing special, this is one of my favourite bull trout photos. No grip and grin needed here, just a beautiful image showing off a beautiful fish. 

Always keep fish in the water 

  • This is beneficial to fish and creates more interesting photos. If you must take the fish out of the water, make sure there’s still water dripping off the fish and that it’s not being held over the shore or boat deck, etc. Fish covered in mud, snow, grass, etc. are exemplary of bad fish handling and will also take away from the inherent beauty of the fish. When it comes to photos, keeping the fish partially submerged adds the interesting and beautiful element of reflections and texture from the water itself. Use a net and keep ‘em wet.

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Another non-grip and grin photo that turned out really well. This and the photo above show how having a good plan between the photographer and angler (Aaron and I) can make great looking images.

Plan ahead

  • Make your photos more dynamic and reduce fish handling time by planning the shots you want before you shoot them. Familiarize yourself with specific aspects of your surroundings that you find interesting; like mountains, flowers, colourful leaves, etc. Once the opportunity arises to take a fish photo or you finally convince your buddy to stand in the perfect spot, it will be much easier to get the perfect composition without taking all day to do it. Further, if you and your buddies are hoping to get some nice fish photos, make sure the angler who’s holding the fish is familiar with the M.O. There are ways to hold fish that make for better photos and if the angler knows that ahead of catching the fish, you’ll be able to reduce unnecessary pressure on the beautiful fish you wish to record and take better photos of them.

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I like this photo taken by shop staff Aiden Foster. A unique low perspective and off axis angle really seem to put you into the action here. 

Don’t be afraid to create your own style

  • Nearly all the fishing photos I see on popular media forums are the same (not that all of the ones shown here are completely unique,) don’t be afraid to create images that are your own, rather than imitations of other work. This isn’t easy, and you won’t just go out and have you own style after taking photos for one afternoon, but committing to taking your own photos your own way might just help you stand out from the hordes of cookie-cutter instagrammers out there.

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The photo above of my two friends John and Jonathan, plus Sage Dawg, is one that consistently brings a smile to my face. Sunrise, enjoying coffee, anticipating the day to come. This photo tells a story, at least to me.

Take photos that tell a story.

  • How many of ‘The Drake’s’ cover shots are grip and grins? Not many. There are more than enough grip and grins with big fish out there to keep all but the most egotistical satiated. What I, and I would guess some others, have a greater connection with are shots of the people, the places, the culture, the bits that put a smile on your face even if the biggest fish you caught all day was a 10” whitefish. I’m not sure about you folks, but no matter how cliché it sounds it’s not always about the fish. I think the hardest to compose, yet most captivating fly fishing shots are the ones that can depict those moments on the water that make being out there so enjoyable.

Cameras don’t matter, that much

  • Taking good photos does not by any means depend on having a fancy camera. Sure, you may be able to blow up your photos to wall size or edit them to your heart’s desire, but no camera will magically create well composed photos. Focus more on creating nicely composed photos and putting in time ‘behind the lens’ rather than buying nice kit.

Spend time with your camera

  • Building on the last point, a couple of the most important parts in taking nice photos is knowing your camera and your subjects. Become so familiar with the settings on your camera that adjusting exposure, depth-of-field, focus, etc. is second nature. This will give you more time to focus on what really matters: the composition of your photo.

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The slight vignetting seen in this photo is thanks to a circular polarizer

Use a circular polarizer

  • Cut glare to see into the water when you want to and get the glare back for a neat reflection when you don’t. Polarizers can also be used to cut haze, give clouds more definition, and create an interesting colour gradient in blue skies. There are many more reasons for circular polarizers, I recommend getting one to find out for yourself, that way you can go out and take photos rather than having to read this blog.

    Keep people up to date and keep pushing yourself

    • Keep taking photos and keep sharing them. The only way you’ll develop your skills is to put in the time and get your stuff out there for people to see and provide feedback. I get these ideas straight from Brendan Leonard of, Brendan made the goal that he would write a blog post every week, no matter what, and he’s stuck with it to the benefit of becoming a well-known outdoor writer. Just “Continue Instagramming Your Amazing Life”

    Not taken with a GoPro, but underwater shots are cool

    If you’re going to use a GoPro, don’t be afraid to also use your head.

    • Unfortunately, I have begun to associate GoPro footage with seriously poor fish handling. Watching others on the river and thumbing through social media posts has shown me that GoPro fish shots are frequently more about ego boosting than they are about the wellbeing of the fish themselves or portraying the fish as the beautiful creatures they are. While watching fly anglers let 20+” Bow River trout bang their heads on ice shelves so a person can set up their GoPro for a pic, I’ve considered wading over to them and pushing them of that ice shelf into the fishes realm. I’m not saying that using a gopro is always bad, or that they take bad footage, in fact I’d argue the opposite is true. It’s just that people really need to use their heads a bit more when they are using their gopros. I do like using gopros for filming fish because they are capable under water cameras. If you want to show off your fish, wouldn’t it be cool to present it in a different way than all the other folks on social media? Consider taking underwater photos of the fish you catch and giving those fish a better chance at swimming another day.

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    This shot was taken with a 90mm prime lens

    Vary your focal length, or don’t

    • No, this doesn’t mean that you’re simply ‘zooming in’ or out on your subject matter. Changing focal length can drastically change the perspective of your photo and can add depth to otherwise boring photos. I like how Cameron of The Fiberglass Manifesto made it his goal to shoot only with prime lenses (fishing with click pawls is damn cool too.) He did this so he could push himself to be a better photographer by taking photos that aren’t necessarily ‘easy.’

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    Looking over Liam's shoulder toward Aaron trying to net a fish. Much more interesting than if this situation was viewed from the side.

    Find a new perspective

    • Everyone views the world at eye level, but photos that are taken from other perspectives (low, high, from the anglers’ perspective…) better engage the viewer and create more interesting photos. Changing depth of field is another way to change the viewers perspective and put focus on certain aspects of a photo and not on other aspects of it.

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    When Aaron hooked this fish I was quick to determine where we should park the boat and which direction we should face in order to take advatage of the fantastic evening light. We could have pulled over anywhere, but we put the boat in the right spot and Aaron put the fish in the right place so that we could minimize handling time with the fish and also capture its excellent colours.


    • Do what it takes to get the lighting right when you’re taking photos because bad light is not something you can fix back home on your computer. Here’s a few things to consider when trying to improve the lighting of your photos:
      • Don’t be lazy, move yourself or your subject until you get the light right. Walking across the steam might seem time consuming and unnecessary while you’re out there, but it will be more than worth it when you’re reviewing your photos at the end of the day.  
      • Don’t put too much light on the fish. Scales are reflective.
      • Use flash, even during the day. Set the exposure for the photo background, then use the flash to fill the lighting on your subject.

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    Bright jacket, rod and line make for an attractive photo.

    Create an interesting subject

    • If you’re taking photos of people, get them to wear bright clothing or have otherwise bright kit. Casting nice loops, fishing good water, etc. add legitimacy to photos for those (like me) who tend to pick apart photos more than your average viewer.

    Have fun

    • Don’t take things too seriously.

    All photos taken by: Aaron Feltham, Aiden Foster and Mark Storey

    By Mark