The Beck's Photography Handbook

The Beck's Photography Handbook

Plus, a good Spey book, and rage on the river

  • By: Seth Norman
As a miserable photographer, I'm fond of saying "with an idiot camera in my hand that makes two of us." Still, I sometimes want or need images, so over the years I have collected beginner's books on the subject. Occasionally I try to read one, but usually bail at the first detailed discussion of F-Stops. Not this time: designed as a primer, the Beck's Outdoor Photographer's Handbook takes a pragmatic approach, laying out basics about film and digital picture-taking in plain language, with important points illustrated by photos.It's less than an hour's read, but includes special insights for angler's: traveling suggestions, tips on gear and keeping it dry; advice on shooting animals and adapting to lighting conditions we're likely to find. For those interested in portraits of bugs, it's helpful to discover that chilling subjects in a freezer or cooler for a few minutes will promote cooperation. "The colder temperatures make them lethargic," amenable to positioning on leaf or branch, although "Once they warm up, they become active again and try to escape, so be prepared to recapture them if you don't get the shot the first time." You might also prepare an excuse for non-fishing innocents who encounter a four-inch Dobsonfly while foraging for frozen peas. Also get ready to do CPR. Fishers know the Becks' work from magazines like this one; and the chapter "Taking Better Fishing Photos" is most useful and aimed at helping you get a great shot while keeping your trophy healthy. Pay attention and you might avoid awkward moments like "Of course that's me and a trout--why would a boulder be holding a log?" Spey Casting By Simon Gawesworth (Stackpole Books: 2004: 800-732-3669; www.stackpolebooks.com) 288 pp.: hardcover; $49.95 In the Introduction to Spey Casting, author and champion caster Simon Gawesworth acknowledges his reservations about how well somebody can learn this skill from a book. "It is not really possible-learning how to Spey cast through words, photos and illustrations. There is no doubt that to truly master any of form of Spey casting, a direct, one-to-one lesson with an expert instructor is the only way to succeed…A book is not the ideal medium for learning." What Gawesworth does hope to do-the reason he dedicated four years to constructing Spey-is provide "an understanding on the principles, dynamics, and physics of the (Spey) cast…" I suspect readers will agree with the author's original assertion; also, that those who follow closely will believe he succeeded in his task. It's important, however, not to underestimate that challenge. While Gawesworth asserts "The main difference between Spey casting and regular overhead casting is that there isn't a backcast," don't imagine, as I did years ago, that this is essentially a two-armed roll cast with a longer rod-though of course, you can do just that. We're talking about a lot of learning: new grips, new roles for your hands, new ways of standing and turning, new tackle, and new ways of thinking about how a 13- to 15-foot shaft loads and aerializes line. There's an alien lexicon to absorb-I recognized about half the 90-something terms in the Glossary-along with metaphors and similes to help visualize. Expect to replace that old clock face with a box, for example, and with mountains and valleys. The author starts by describing the payoff. "There is no doubt that the Spey casts, once mastered, use much less effort to pick up a line and change direction." They also help change direction more quickly, "meaning more time is spent with the fly in the water," which an angler thus covers faster and more efficiently. Mending is easier; it's also possible to cast with your back against a stone or woody wall. Then there's the small matter of throwing greater distances sometimes crucial on big waters: the author's personal record for a tournament hurl measured roughly 308 feet. Spey continues with fundamentals: "Getting Used to the Rod, Grip and Stance," "Basic Principles," and descriptions of Spey casting evolution, especially as influenced by lighter, stiffer graphite rods. From there the author proceeds into 11 chapters on casts with names like "Single Spey," "Snake Roll," "Snap T" and "Devon Switch." The illustrations attending written instructions are large-typically full page-with photos taken at several angles, often accompanied by line drawings. There's good reason for this multi-dimensional attention. Spey casts occupy more space than most one-handed standards, changing planes, axes and altitude. In some the rod will touch a half dozen compass points between "dangle" and delivery, loading and reloading, also rising and falling as the caster lifts, drops and pivots to move line from positions called "Anchor," "Bloody L" and "Point P." Current plays a critical role; so may wind… If all this sounds complicated, it is. Do keep in mind that a manual designed to teach the Macarena would probably make it look impossible. Rod Rage: The Ultimate Guide to Angling Ethics Edited and co-authored by Rhea Topping (The Lyons Press: 2004; 888-249-7586; www.lyonspress.com) 294 pp.; hardcover; $22.95 If road rage results when strangers break laws they're compelled to obey, the 60 something essays in Rod Rage combine to describe and justify standards far higher than those applying to traffic. In essence, they argue there is a fellowship of the angle-that ethics and codes of conduct are critical not just to the practice of fly-fishing, but fundamental to the reasons we chose the sport. In sum, everything boils down to the Golden Rule. The rest is commentary, some of it critical. Rage begins with "Historical Contributions"-wise words from people like Dame Juliana in the famous paragraph beginning "I charge and require you in the name of all noble men… " So begins a pattern: throughout this collection, editor and contributor Rhea Topping mixes philosophics with personal vignettes and confessions that illuminate how profoundly principles and protocol influence our angling experience. Many contain provoking stories, from the intrusions of well-intended clowns to would-be fist fighters and dirtbags who send bullets past fishers' ears as they take target practice on a flotilla of floating beer cans. While authors don't forgive every trespass, or imagine every miscreant will see the light, their anger at egregious behavior often leads to serious questions about our obligations to educate others and ourselves in order to improve conditions for all. By the end of such generous musings intemperate readers may even stop shouting "Just shoot the s.o.b.!" There's a third type of composition here: invaluable pieces offering pragmatic codas, thoughtful protocols and sets of recommended rules, addressing topics from spring creek and salt flats etiquette to engaging guides, fishing with dogs, releasing fish alive, respecting property rights and assessing right-of-ways for waders and boats on lonely or crowded venues. Most come from well-known anglers with decades of experience; and professor Al Kyte distills results from 50 questionnaires he sent to fishers, each presenting scenarios and possible solutions. The Federation of Fly Fishers weighs in, as does Topping herself, with "Some Dos, Don'ts, and Solutions." This brings up a paradox. Pessimists might argue that people interested in a book about fly-fishing ethics are probably conscientious, unlikely to trample the rights of others, so Rage may preach to a self-selected choir. But many authors present another perspective: well-intended newcomers to the sport don't always know how the game is played, and are, according to Doug Swisher and Carl Richards, "neophytes…discourteous out of ignorance and inexperience, rather than maliciousness." Other fishers will someday switch angles-moving from Eastern to Western waters, for example, or from trout to steelhead or saltwater fisheries-and on arrival fail to grasp how rules change even as principles remain the same. Conditions on our homewaters also evolve, or devolve, as a stream that once saw a dozen anglers a years now sees three, five or ten times that many every weekend of the season… Back to the Golden Rule, to common sense and courtesy; and to these to add polite communication, when all is not so obvious. Rage aims to play a part in that process. We would not loose untrained drivers on our roads; so should we not offer anglers a manual and reference, a kind of touchstone? The idea is to help everyone share our streams, and just as importantly, the spirit we bring to them.