Dave Lane on Cameras – Improve your self take photos!

I probably get asked as many questions about cameras as I do about fishing nowadays. I suppose that I normally have a remote in my hand in most of my trophy shots and a lot of people would like to improve their self-photography as this is the main subject of the inquiries.

The reason I take so many self-take photos is a mixture of two things really. I do often fish alone and I much prefer it that way but, even when other anglers are on the lake, I tend to take my own pictures whenever possible.

Firstly I do not like to drag other people away from their fishing, particularly not at the main bite times, which is generally when you have a fish to photograph. If another angler has to reel in his rods to help me deal with a fish then I always think that I am depriving him the chance of a carp himself, which hardly seems fair.

Also, there are actually only a handful of people that I would trust to take shots that a fussy git like me will be happy with. This is not a slur on others photographic skills it is just that, once the fish has been returned, there is no chance for a second attempt.

Photos are very important to me, I spend a lot of time chasing carp and I like to able to look back and see that magical moment, a sixtieth of a second, frozen forever in time.

Obviously the safety of the fish on the bank is paramount and yes, it is a lot to deal with when you have the camera and the carp to contend with but this is easily solved by forward planning, the correct equipment and a bit of practise without a real live fish in the equation.

All of this goes out of the window if I get a really huge fish, a target I have been hunting, a personal best or anything that really blows me away because, just like everyone else, I still get a bit flustered at the sight of a really special fish and then I will enlist some help.

Basically, you need to get into a routine where your camera is acting almost like another angler in the swim (without all the wisecracks) it should be in the perfect position, ready to take a photo at any time and capable of showing you the result without you having to move an inch.

To this ends I would only recommend a camera with a flip screen, one that actually points at you and displays either the picture you have just taken or, even better, has a ‘live view’ function so that you can frame the shot before pressing the fire button.

In the old days we used to have miles of cable for an air shutter release running across the ground but most half decent cameras nowadays either come with a remote or you can purchase one to suit.

Personally I like to use an SLR camera and my model of choice is the Cannon 70D, not a cheap camera by any means but I think it’s worth the outlay.

The previous model, a 60D is also incredibly good and I had one for years up until recently. You can pick up a second hand 60D for around £400 on e-bay, with a lens, which may sound a lot but, in reality, it is about the price of a new bivvy, or a couple of new rods and it will give you excellent results for years to come.

If that is out of the budget then there are ‘bridge camera’s’ like the Canon G series to consider, I used to have a G-3 that gave amazing results and I saw a second hand one on E-Bay for £40 the other day, boxed and complete with leads and a spare battery!

Bridge cameras are a halfway house between a full on SLR and a compact.

Even compact cameras can be bought with ‘flip screens’ now and they are available in every price range.

A tripod is an absolute must have item but fear not, they are ridiculously cheap and I recently upgraded to a taller, telescopic, version for video or camera and it set me back a whopping £14 online.

So, with your kit sorted the next most important thing is composure, where are going to take the photos, and this should be sorted long before you actually catch a fish.

A nice daytime self take

A nice daytime self take.

You need to pick a spot that will either have full shade or full sun, work out where the sun will be at the most likely time you will need to use the camera, pick two spots just in case one has got dappled sunlight in it because this is the absolute ‘kiss of death’ for fish photography.

Full on shade will give a nice, realistic, defined shot of the fish whereas full on sun can sometimes be a bit glary off the carp’s flanks.

Pay special attention to the backdrop, make sure that the skyline is constant and you do not have a quarter of the shot showing bright sky and the rest in shade, as this will confuse the light meter in the camera and darker the foreground, losing you and the fish in shadow.

As with the sun, go for one or the other, either open sky or totally closed background, such as bushes or trees.

For night time photography you will need the latter, an area where the flash will bounce back from, a solid background that is as close as possible to your back or you will end up surrounded by inky blackness.

A good night self take, with a bit of practise.

A good night self take, with a bit of practise.

This will make or break your finished pictures so make sure you have it right, take a look through magazines at some of the more impressive shots, or your own album at your favourite ones and find a common denominator that please your eye. Look at the background of the best ones and see what is similar in each one.

Once you have everything ready, set it all up as if you have a fish and get some practise in, digital photo’s cost nothing and can be deleted at the press of a button.

If you set up the mat, the camera on its tripod, and even a bowl of the water you will need for the fish you can pre-create the exact scenario you are going to be in when the time comes and, this way, there will be no surprises.

Hold a full gallon water bottle and use this as the fish and keep trying until you are totally happy that you have everything framed as you like it, even soak the bottle in water if you are using a flash to see how bad the bounce back is going to be.

Once you are happy with the results then mark them all down.

Take a landing net pole and lay one end in the centre of the mat and mark the distance on the  pole with a piece of tape to show exactly where the centre of the tripod should go, this will always be the same so mark it permanently and you will have one less thing to consider.

If you are using a compact camera then the automatic feature will work out the settings for you but, with an SLR or Bridge camera, you have a lot more options.

Thankfully nearly all of the better cameras will have either one or two custom settings, usually marked as C1 C2 on the control wheel. I like to set one of these up for night shots and one for the daytime but, if there is only one then use it for night time shots as it is hard enough in the dark anyway, without having to change settings. If there are none then use a notebook or a notepad app on your phone.

Every variable should be sorted out in advance, not necessarily every trip but, once you have a winning formula, it can be applied everywhere.

Before you even think about lifting the fish from the water you should have your kit set up, your camera turned on (check the settings to make sure it stays on standby as long as possible) the remote function enabled and the remote sensor in position next to the mat.

Everything set up ready and a fish on the bank

Everything set up ready and a fish on the bank.

Take a trial shot first, just hold up your hand at the width you want include and check the picture for clarity, light, and composure. Make sure you do not have a branch behind you that makes you look like you have a set of antlers, or a gaudy sign stating ‘deep water beware’ make sure you are happy and confident and then retrieve the fish.

Your remote should always be held in the hand that has the head end of the fish as there is a wider area to balance on your hand, the tail end requires a more closed grip and it’s very awkward to work the remote.

Confidence is the key, you know the camera is going to work, you have practised enough times and you know the settings are correct, the only difference to having a photographer there with you is that one little button in your hand.

At night it is often the auto focus that really lets you down and, because of this, I NEVER use this function at night.

Firstly you need to use the landing net pole method to get the exact distance for your focal point, this is best done in the daytime and, once you have the exact focus and length you need to mark the camera lens with two little dots (tippex) one on the actual bit that spins to find focus and one on the fixed part of the lens. When these two dots are in alignment turn off the auto focus on the side of the lens and the camera will always be in focus for the correct distance, which is marked on your pole.

Alternatively, just place a water bottle where the fish will be, shine a bright light on it, and  focus the camera from the tripod and then turn off the auto focus (while the fish is still safely in the net).

Practise makes perfect and you have plenty of time for that whilst waiting for a bite and practise will build the confidence that you need to take perfect self takes every time.

If you’re taking your angling photography further, check out our fishing photography guide for loads more tips and information.