The Fishing Photography guide

gone fishing

Image source shutterstock
Gone fishin’…

Angling photography goes far beyond the standard ‘grip and grin’ catch photograph. Anglers spend hours outside in beautiful surroundings. Many of them are inspired to capture shots of scenery or wildlife while they’re waiting for a bite. Angling expert John Sutton sums this up perfectly:

“Why not capture the whole memory, rather than just part of it?”

Our recent fishing survey told us that photography is a popular pastime for carp and coarse fishermen. If you’re a beginner, or know the basics and want to learn more, read our fishing photography guide, and find out how to get better shots. Featuring tips from angling and photography experts Dominic Garnett, Dr Paul Garner andJohn Sutton, the guide will help you make sure that if you’re not getting good catches, you can get some great photos instead.


Some basics Composition Outdoor photography
Birds and insects Lighting Smartphone photography
Cameras Other photography gear

Some basics:

Leafing through

Image source shutterstock
Leafing through your images

Knowing a few basic concepts and key words will be a massive help. Many of us already take point-and-shoot pictures on our smartphones. Moving up a step to using a camera takes things to another level. A digital camera will normally have three programming modes

  • Automatic: The camera will simply set itself to the best settings for the environment you’re in.
  • Manual: You have control over all the features
  • Programmed: Some features are set by you, others by the camera. Dominic Garnett recommends this for beginners, saying:

“’P mode’ or programmed automatic mode is a good stepping stone between auto and manual modes, giving you more control”

And here are five important camera terms explained:

  1. Aperture: Describes how widely the lens is opened when taking a shot – influencing the amount of light that’s let in to the camera. The higher the aperture, the less light there is. Your images will be in sharper focus. The lower the aperture, more light is let in and anything in the background may look less focused.
  2. Shutter speed: Determines how long the film or digital sensor in the camera is exposed to light. The faster the speed, the less light there is, which is better for capturing immediate photos of birds or wildlife. The more light, the slower the shutter speed, ideal for landscapes. The shutter speeds are described in fractions of a second, so you’ll often see 1/250, 1/600, 1/1600. The higher the number the faster the shutter speed.
  3. ISO: This refers to how sensitive the chip inside your camera is to light. If you have set a high ISO, you’ll be able to take pictures in very low light. There’s some more detailed explanation from bestselling angling author and photographer Dominic Garnett on this:

    “Generally speaking more light there is, the lower your ISO setting should be. 400 would be a sensible all round setting for an overcast day; 100 or less would be ideal for a bright, hot conditions, while you might push the ISO up to 800 or even 1600”

  4. Aperture Priority: A digital camera mode which allows you to choose a specific aperture value while the camera adjusts the shutter speed automatically so you get a proper exposure.
  5. Depth of field: This is the distance between the nearest and furthest object in the image. It determines what stays in focus in the shot.

Get to grips with your equipment

Know your camera. Each will work in a slightly different way, so you’ll need to take time to make sure you’re familiar with the buttons/features and what they do. Make sure you properly read your manual, at least for the basics.

Keep your equipment clean, dry and stored properly. This is especially important if it will be exposed to damper atmospheres. It’s essential to keep your equipment in a protective, waterproof environment. Compartments for lenses are handy to keep them in good condition. It doesn’t need to cost the earth at all. Use this thrifty bit of know-how from fishing photographer Dr Paul Garner

“I use a large tupperware box costing just a couple of pounds to store my camera and essential kit when I am on the bank and, touch-wood, it has never let me down”

Practice makes perfect

Take pictures where and whenever you can. This is something John Sutton stresses the importance of:

“Today, anglers interested in photography will have digital cameras and cheap high capacity memory cards that will enable them to just that – try different techniques. Delete what doesn’t work”

At the end of each session, flick back and objectively look at what worked and what didn’t. Check out the photographic work of other anglers too, for inspiration and ideas you can develop in your own work.


change the angle

Image: Dominic Garnett
I must go down to the sea again…

Composition isn’t just for musicians. To be a great photographer is to know how a perfect shot is made. A properly composed photo highlights everything captured within. To achieve this, it’s essential to understand the rule of thirds.

Imagine your frame is divided using three horizontal and three vertical lines. When you want to take your shot, all you need to do is make sure that the most important parts of the image are located within these lines. When shooting a landscape, the sky should be the top third, the land bottom two. Now point and shoot.

Here, Dominic explains how the beach image above was taken. He tells us:

“This shot comes from a saltwater fly fishing trip and was achieved by getting low to the sand to track the two anglers on the move.”

As you become more experienced you can experiment with using interesting angles to capture your shots. The trick is to bend the rule of thirds rather than smash it to bits! In fact, DigitalCameraWorld offer some useful advice for this. They say that:

“Shooting a landscape shot with lots of the sky and just a slither of the land at the bottom, for example, can really draw attention to a feature in the landscape.”

rule of thirds

Image source wikimedia commons
The rule of thirds – in a gif!

Some cameras even have a grid view built into them, which you can turn on so you don’t have to imagine where the lines are, but you can try and adapt the rule in lots of different ways.
Be bold and experiment. Observe the land and water around you. What do you see? Dominic makes the point that:

“A good photographer is active and always looking for a new angle or a different frame, whether that means getting right down on the sand or mud, climbing a tree or even getting into the water. The more angles you can find, the more interesting and varied your photographs will be”

Outdoor photography tips

water vole

Image source: shutterstock
Vole position!

Begin your photography journey by photographing your immediate surroundings. It’s a gateway into learning the craft, as it not only leads you to look at landscapes, but animals and plant life, too.


swans sunset

Image: Dominic Garnett
Swanning off

What’s the lie of the land? Shooting the landscape around you is a very good way to get a feel for light and composition. Stand still, and view your surroundings. If you can work out where the sun will rise and set, you can make the most of either daylight or evening for your photography.

A focal point, which will direct your eye into the image is essential. For instance, a pier, an area of dense forest surrounding water or even a nearby farmhouse.

Before you set up your shot properly, take a few practise images from different angles and heights. Compare and contrast these as you go along. Once you’ve found the angle and shot you’re most satisfied with, set up your camera gear properly.

A great tip for landscape photos comes from Paul Garner who says that one of the best investments you can make is a tripod:

“…you can set the camera up securely. Tripods are also very useful when you want to take great dawn and dusk shots when the light levels are low”

He adds that you can pick one up for as little as £30 that will do everything you need it to. It will also ensure your landscape shots are shake free at all times. Dominic Garnett shot the stunning sunset photographed above was shot with the aid of a tripod – so it’s well worth consideration.


The best place to start when looking for animals to photograph is your immediate surroundings. Look around the area you choose to fish. You may be lucky enough to see otters, water voles and dormice. The former tend to hunt their prey on the waterside. The latter will feed on wildflowers and vegetation in the undergrowth. Nesting boxes for dormice can also sometimes be found near waterways.

Timing is everything in animal photography. When you choose to fish will have an impact on what you can take photos of. Early morning will provide different inspirations to early evening. Growwilduk has this to say about timing your photos:

“Try to avoid the hours around the middle of the day as the animals or plants you are trying to photograph will be lit from the top, which is not as pleasing to the eye. Your smartphone or compact camera may also struggle to expose the scene correctly”

They also say cloudy days can be useful in terms of photographing wildlife. Sunlight will add shadow and texture to your picture, but clouds can act as a diffuser, softening the light and making subtler shadows which is more useful when taking close up shots.

Once your confidence has built in this area, you can start to experiment with other subjects, like birds and insects.

Photographing birds and insects

bird in hand

Image source: shutterstock
A bird in the hand is worth two in the shutter

Capturing images of birds falls into two categories. Firstly, shots of birds in flight and secondly, birds in still life. The former is a good place to start and the latter is for experienced shutter-happy people.

The best time for this activity is early morning when birds are out and about and looking for food. If early morning is not the time for you, try the evening, when they’ll be making their second forage of the day.

It is always best to start by taking pictures of more common ducks and birds you might see by the water. Photographer Mike Atkinson recommends one way of experimenting:

“An approach used successfully by some photographers is to focus on a single species and to work exclusively on that until excellent results are obtained”

You’re likely to come across mallards, swans and even sparrowhawks on your travels. These birds are often easier to photograph, as they’re more accustomed to seeing humans, and aren’t quite so easily spooked as other species.

Birds in still life

Taking these shots requires patience. One of the best ways to find good subjects is to simply walk around your location and look around. You might be lucky enough to spot an owl or a kingfisher. Move around slowly, and as silently as possible. This is important so you do not startle any creatures. If there is a hide nearby, it’s best to use that to sit quietly and await your shot.

If you’re using a DSLR camera, it will autofocus if you’ve set it to do so. This means that even if your subject makes a subtle movement, you’ll still get a steady shot. Keep the viewfinder in line with the bird’s head to get the clearest image and the most detail.

Switching to Aperture Priority mode allows you to control the depth of field you’ll have, and a faster shutter speed will mean you can keep up with a bird that won’t keep still.

Birds in flight


Image source: shutterstock
Mallard in flight – with a fast shutter speed!

Getting great images of birds as they swoop skyward sounds tricky, but there are some signs you can look out for to help capture that moment. Prior to takeoff, they will start to bob their heads and sway. They might also ruffle their feathers, and take a dump. A bit like Russell Brand does before a gig. The more you look out for these signals, the more you’ll be able to see them quickly and respond with your camera to get better shots.

You’ll need a high shutter speed to photograph birds in flight. Anything over 1/800 would be sufficient. If you’re photographing a flock, you may require 1/1600 or above. Over at, they reckon that unless you’re only intending to take pictures of common birds you should: “Prepare yourself to invest in a fast DSLR camera and one or more telephoto lenses”. You’ll also require “a fast camera that can handle at least 1/2000 of a second shutter speed with 6 to 9 fps (frames per second)”


butterfly on flower

Image source: shutterstock
Float like a butterfly, shoot like a DSLR

It’s a bug’s life! Photographing bees, butterflies, mayflies and sedgeflies encourages you to get to know some different techniques. You’ll learn not only  how to capture the detail in their wings and markings but also discover how to take images in lower light and with narrower focus.

This is where a macro lens becomes invaluable. This type of lens is designed to capture a life size image of a much smaller subject in intricate detail.

When photographing larger insects, it is better to focus on their heads. With smaller insects, you’ll need to focus on the whole body, rather than anything in the background of the image.

Learning to use focus properly is a key to getting super wildlife snaps. Most cameras have autofocus built into them and that is fine, but Dominic Garnett points out that this will only highlight the most obvious point of the shot, which is “No use if you want to pick out a particular detail, such as a subtle details, the tip of a rod, or even the juicy tip of a float” He advises getting to grips with manual focus so you can control the emphasis of each shot.

Busy bees won’t stop for photo opportunities. This will result in images that aren’t as sharp. Using a faster shutter speed counteracts this. 1/250 or anything above is suitable.

There’s lower light for this sort of photography and a narrower depth of field, which means there is only going to be a smaller part of the image in focus. An example of this is butterfly on a flower head. You’d see the insect and flower in focus, but the background would be blurred. It’s a good idea to invest in a tripod to help keep the camera steady and the photo clear.


Tricks of the light

Image: Dominic Garnett
Tricks of the light

Learning how natural daylight can affect your images is the next step. Natural light can change minute by minute. This can be due to weather conditions, the season and even the altitude you’re at.

Bright conditions don’t always make the best conditions for photos. Dominic Garnett says to think about taking your photographs at different times:

“Early and late in the day, colours change completely while figures and shapes throw bold silhouettes. Just by getting out early or staying out late you will find interesting light and colour effects – if you can bear to take a few moments off fishing at these key times”

You’ll also get interesting and vastly differing lights during periods of mist, haze and cold temperatures.

There are three main types of lighting to consider for outdoor photography:

Frontlighting: The easiest technique to master as it produces predictable results. Your subject will be lit from the front, so there won’t be any shadowing. Bright sunlight will give a harsh finish to any images using front lighting. Dawn or dusk is the best time to try this.

Sidelighting: A great technique to learn to highlight textures, patterns and shadows in your subject. Think about the scales on a fish, the feathers on a bird. An effective technique to use on landscape pictures, when there may be an animal roaming into shot.

Backlighting: This is when the sun, or other light source comes from behind your subject. It means that as the photographer, you’re shooting into the light. It’s a good technique to experiment and play with especially if you want to create silhouettes or shadowing in your images.

Smartphone tips

smartphone photography

Image source: shutterstock
The best camera is the one you’ve got with you

Sniffy about smartphone photography? Don’t be! Imagine, you’ve just spied the perfect photo opportunity of a bird that’s spotted its prey. By the time you’ve got your camera out, it’s caught and eaten it, and moved onto dessert. Your smartphone is usually by your side and it’s just a couple of quick button presses to take the photo.

Sometimes the best shots are created this way. There’s not time to think, and you act on instinct. You’ll also be able to edit and enhance your photos on your phone, either through your camera or using a special effects app.

Whether you’re on Android or iOS you’ll be able to download and try out a wide range of different effects on your photos. Some of the features you’ll be able to use include adding highlights, changing the colour saturation (the intensity of the colour), zooming in and out of images, and even adding in special effects like vignettes to give a totally different look and feel to the original.

There are even special lenses you can buy to attach to some smartphones which give you more versatility and the option to zoom in on your subject optically, rather than using the digital zoom on your phone, which reduces the image quality dramatically.

Get appy

Apps like Instagram are a popular way of instantly sharing photographic moments you’ve captured on your phone. It can be a confidence boost to see people liking and commenting on your efforts. It’s a chance to see what other anglers are sharing and get different inspiration for your own future snaps.


camera outdoors

Image source: shutterstock
My camera never lies

Do you need to invest in the most up-to-the-minute camera, or can you rely on your smartphone? Here’s how the main types stack up:

Film camera: ‘Analogue camera’ is a relatively new term used to describe traditional film cameras, the sort we used to take our holiday photos on. They’re the precursors to digital models. The film is loaded into the camera and then exposed to light in order to capture an image. Once a roll of film is used up, it needs to be chemically developed in a darkroom after the images have been taken.

Compact Camera: A camera designed for simple operations, designed around a basic point-and-shoot format. They use automatic focusing, and have flash units built into them. A good starting point to introduce you to the world of photography.

SLR: A single lens reflex camera allows you to view the image you’re about to take directly  through the viewfinder. Pressing the shutter button will expose the film in the camera to light.

DSLR: A digital single lens reflex camera combines the traditional single reflex lens with a digital sensor, removing the need for film. When you take a picture, light will travel to the lens. It is then sent to a mirror and stored in the viewfinder and the image sensor. You can choose to store your images on an SD card and can edit them via your computer.

Smartphone: The majority of modern phones have cameras built in. This technology has been around for the last fifteen years. A fixed focus lens only allows ‘point and shoot’ photographs. They often have a flash, but no optical zoom, which can be limiting, especially if you want to take close up shots which require attention to detail. Cropping a point and shoot picture to zoom in on a subject can result in a fuzzy, grainy image.

Other photography gear

camera bag

Image source: shutterstock
Papa’s got a brand new (camera) bag

Serious about making the most of your angling shots? If you are, then you will want to consider the right accessories. Lenses and tripods are the two most common. Here we’ll look at the most popular types and what they can be used for:

The four main types of camera lens:

  1. Normal: A lens that will simply see things in the same way a human eye would. They come in 35-50mm sizes and are the most popular type. They are best for simple images of one particular subject, or for travel pictures.
  2. Macro: This type of lens is the best one to choose to get a life size image of a smaller object. Ideal for taking close up shots of wildlife and plants.
  3. Telephoto: A lens that is greater than 100mm, but typically between 50-100mm. Used to shorten the depth of field and highlight the main subject of a photo, such as an insect or a bird, and to keep the background slightly out of focus.
  4. Wide angle: Perfect for landscape photography, this type of lens allows a 180 degree view of your scene and can capture images in instances where you may not be able to move any closer towards the subject of the photo.



Image: Dr Paul Gardner
Standing firm, keeping your shots sharp

Tripods are ideal if you want to get the most stability in your images. They’re also used to elevate the camera, enabling you to take photos from a wider range of angles. With your hands free, you’ll have more control over the composition of your photo. It will also allow you to take your time to shoot the image. reckon a tripod is an essential bit of kit for this kind of photography, saying:

“A tripod is key in getting great nature shots as you can be waiting around for hours for animals to make an appearance that might only last a few seconds, so you need to be ready”

They’re an added plus if you’re using a telephoto lens, which can be difficult to steady due to their longer focal length.

Remote release triggers

Any type of camera work that involves longer exposures, such as landscape work might be better achieved by using a remote release timer. Paul Garner says that although most cameras have a basic countdown timer built in, he prefers a

“…programmable self timer, or intervalometer, as I can set the number of shots that I want and the time between each one. You can pick these up for around £20, making them a great investment”

They’re not just for taking photos of landscapes. Think about using them for taking better shots of your catches too.

Spare batteries and memory cards

It pays to back up your work. After every snapping session, download and store your photos on a memory card, and if possible carry a couple of spares. They don’t need to be expensive brands, and generally 8Gb is enough spare storage.

The same should apply to batteries too. Paul Garner points out that “In cold weather batteries can run down very quickly, so it always pays to pack a spare or two, just in case”

Picture perfect results

avoid the obvious

Image: Dominic Garnett
“Photography is not a sport. It has no rules. Everything must be dared and tried” Bill Brandt

Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned pro, there’s always going to be something new to discover and try, to improve your technique, practice and get better results. Dominic Garnett adds a final point that just like fishing “you will only get good results if you put the effort into your pictures”. Dare to be different, be bold and experiment. Why not try some of our ideas and ensure that every angling trip has a perfect photo finish?

About our contributors:

We’ve been lucky enough to have had the help of some friendly and generous experts in producing this guide. We’d like to thank Dominic Garnett, Paul Garner and John Sutton for sharing their time, knowledge and expertise with us.

crooked linesDominic Garnett is a bestselling writer, photographer and angling guide. Author of ‘Crooked Lines’, ‘Tangles with Pike’ and ‘Canal Fishing: a Practical Guide’, he has a portfolio of over 40,000 fishing photographs. With over 25 years of experience in the UK’s South Western waters, Dominic offers year-round guided fly fishing trips, which include high quality photographs of the day as well as top-notch expert advice.
Dr Paul GarnerDr Paul Garner is a fishing writer, guide and photographer with keen interest in fishing ecology. His book, ‘Scratching the surface’ combines angling tales with accounts of his academic studies in freswater fisheries. Paul offers year-round guided fishing in his local area for novice anglers, and those who want to brush up their skills.
John SuttonFreelance photographer John Sutton spent 30 years working with the Environment Agency and its predecessors, which gave him a deep understanding of many of the issues surrounding Britain’s waters. Now based in Hampshire, John has built up an extensive portfolio, and still works with the EA from time to time on media projects.

^back to the top^