Thursday, 6 October 2011

Improving Your Fishing Photos With Flash

Fishing Photos With a Difference
There are at least three types of shots that come to mind when I think about fishing magazines. Those lit entirely with natural light (usually daylight), those shot with fill flash, and a few that are taken at night time with flash. The first two types can look fantastic, but those flash lit night shots are not too appealing to the eye. A well lit angler holding up a fish which often has a glowing eye and overexposed scales standing in blackness is what typifies these shots. To me, they are only any good as a record of a special capture when there is no other way of getting the shot.

Off camera flash can make your photos stand out from the rest

Controlling the Light and getting creative
Using fill flash is a good way of controlling shadows caused by strong sunlight. It can improve the look of a photo immensely and is one of the most important things someone new to outdoor photography can learn. That being said, it isn't overly creative.

You come to appreciate what a difference being able to control the light makes to a photograph after working with studio lighting on location. It allows you to create an image that makes your work stand out from a typical happy snap. If it wasn't for the pure impracticality, I would love to have a battery powered strobe system along on all my fishing trips. Unfortunately, carrying around my favourite portable Elinchrom flash system, the Ranger RX, or even the much smaller but less powerful Ranger Quadra RX is not a possibility on a normal fishing trip. Apart from the battery packs and flash heads, there are other things that also need to be carried including light stands and accessories. Then there is the worry of wind blowing it over, and water damage when you need to get in close to the waves to capture that unusual angle. In my case, it also means hiring the gear as I still don't own my own. It is certainly not cheap to buy. My solution is to use a hotshoe flash, often called a speedlite.  

I am not going to be able to cover everything here - in fact that is not my intention. I will be writing a follow up post shortly to detail the necessary equipment and how to use it. Also, before we go any further I need to point out that getting the most from this post relies on you understanding not only the basics of exposure, but also how to set the flash output to balance your flash lit subject with the background. With some advanced compact cameras, you can get some of the results you see here, however for the most part this is the domain of SLR or other cameras that have a hotshoe to allow a speedlite to be used. For best results though, having a system that allows you to get your flash off the camera gives you the most flexibility and the opportunity to capture the best shots. For now a few examples will give you an idea of what can be done.

 Top Left - No flash. Top Right - On camera flash. Bottom - Off camera flash

The example above shows a series of shots of my mate Joel taken after a fishing session on what is usually a surf beach. The first shot was taken without flash, and was exposed for the background. The second was taken with a speedlite mounted on the cameras hotshoe throwing  light onto Joel from the camera position. It is worth noting that this shot can be achieved with a cameras built in flash providing it is powerful enough. The bottom shot was the final result. It was achieved with the flash held by one of the other guys I had been fishing with. He held it high and to  my left, aiming it down at the subjects face. You may notice that unlike the shot with direct on camera flash, there is a shadow side to the subject which gives a very different look than the more typical direct flash look.

The two shots below are typical "grip and grin" shots. The first shot was taken with the flash on camera. The second one, the flash was hand held off to one side. Ignoring the backgrounds and colours - which do you prefer?

This type of shot is common in fishing magazines

With the flash off camera, the shadows created make for a more striking, 3 dimensional looking image

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