Picture This

Picture This

A pro lets us in on some photography secrets.

  • By: Val Atkinson
  • Photography by: Val Atkinson
Light is Everything

Fly-fishing, travel and photography go together like ABC. Documenting our adventures afield can be a very satisfying part of our experience, whether we’re traveling far away or just down the road. But too often anglers spend a small fortune on equipment, travel and perhaps a camera as well, and after returning home they are disappointed in their pictures.

The trouble is, things often go awry on location, and after we’ve returned home it’s too late. Much of the time it’s some simple thing that we could have corrected very easily. Mom used to tell us that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and she was right.

I make my living at this game, and I’ve made about every mistake possible. With this in mind I’ve put together a few simple and effective suggestions that are guaranteed to help you take better and more interesting images.

  1. Read your manual. Just about everyone hates to read manuals, but I’m absolutely convinced that doing so makes you a better photographer. If you know the inner workings of your machine you won’t have to stop and ask yourself, “Let’s see—what do I do now?” You’ll be able to concentrate on capturing the moment instead of being left in the dark. Reading the manual twice is even better. Just do it.
  2. Have enough power. The prime reason for a “dead” camera is an exhausted set of batteries. They don’t last long at all, what with zooming your lens in and out as you compose, setting the focus, charging and firing the flash, and opening and closing the shutter. This takes a lot of juice. Replace or recharge all batteries before every trip and carry at least an extra set. This is true for both film and digital cameras.
  3. Light is everything. Galen Rowel, the famous mountaineering photographer, used to say, “Recognize good light and go out and find something to shoot in it.” There is good light and bad light, and a world of difference between the two. Early and late in the day are the best times for rich directional light. High noon would be the worst. The basic kinds of light are front lighting, side lighting, back lighting, and overcast or indirect light. My favorite is side lighting, giving what we called in art school chiaroscuro lighting, meaning lights against darks against lights. It’s all an acquired skill; the more you work with it the better you get. So go out and take photographs.
  4. Carry a polarizer. This is the single most important filter you will ever use. It works the same way on your lens as do your polarizing eyeglasses to reduce glare and unwanted reflections. It also has the benefit of saturating colors a bit more. The best way to use a polarizer is at right angles to the sun, meaning when the sun is high overhead. It also serves to pop out clouds, and it darkens the blue sky and brings out magical colors on the saltwater flats.
  5. Get high or drop low. Try shooting from unique angles and perspectives for a more interesting picture. Most photographers tend to shoot from a standing position. Try looking down from an elevation, or getting down on the ground and shooting up.
  6. The art of photography lives in composition. A great photograph is born in the eye and made tangible in the mind. Combining the elements in your picture in a pleasing order makes the difference between art and just a snapshot. Never put the subject smack in the center. The rule of thirds is a technique to draw the eye away from the center of the image. Your primary subject should be about a third of the way from a corner.
  7. Let auto focus improve your composition. Try focusing on your main subject and allow the auto focus to lock in on it. Then, while still keeping the shutter button depressed (halfway), re-compose your shot. You can use this (for example) to keep your friend’s big fish in focus while getting the mountains in the background. If you just point and shoot, often the auto-focus bracket will focus on the distant scene, and your friend and her fish will be out of focus.
  8. Look for support. Take a tripod for shooting in very low light (including at night). Even with a camera that shoots 3,000 or 4,000 ISO, to get the crispest and sharpest images possible you’ll need that tripod. The old ones were bulky and heavy; the new ones are much lighter and compact. And with a tripod you can leave the shutter open for as long as you like and record stars, city lights, and all manner of dark subjects. Some of the new lightweight backpacking tripods do the job nicely.
  9. Keep your gear dry and clean. I use soft little cloths to clean lenses, and I use them only on my cameras. Keeping your gear dry is another challenge. For moment-to-moment use and to be ready for action my favorite protector is a simple grocery store vegetable bag. They’re soft, pliable and free (OK, I guess I have to buy some broccoli first). I put the camera inside and just wrap it up tight and put it in my fanny pack or daypack. This works well as long as you’re not wading raging rivers. In that case I use a dry bag.
  10. Remember these old sayings:
    * “If you can’t make it good, make it red.”
    * “When in doubt, get closer.”
    A bonus tip regarding catch-and-release 

    Be responsible (hero shots):
    Ask your angler to keep their fish in the water until you are absolutely ready (camera adjusted and scene composed). Too often we’re holding the fish up in the air while the photographer is fiddling with the camera. It’s not good for the fish; two or three seconds is all you need for a picture that will last a lifetime.