Put yourself in the frame
We all like to have a decent trophy shot of special moment, be it a PB, or just to keep a record of your catch whatever the weight. If you've got a mate with you at the time, or someone fishing the next peg who is happy to be your cameraman, then great (beware though, that doesn't guarantee a decent photo!) However, there are many occasions when we are fishing alone and have to rely on 'self-take' photography.
Many people find 'self-takes' a little daunting and struggle to get the trophy shot quite right, myself included, I hate doing self takes as I'm torn between making sure the fish is ok and getting the picture right, this is where problems arise and a lack of concentration in the photography stakes usually results in a poor shot, e.g., heads chopped off, fish tails missing, poorly focussed images etc, but it doesn't always have to be a nightmare if you follow a few simple rules.
There are several ways to go about 'self-takes' and some of them are dependant on the type of camera you use. The vast majority of anglers use 'compact' style camera and everything below is based around that type of camera, though it can be applied to DSLR's also - I use both types of camera. The following isn't a definitive guide, it's merely outlining how I go about getting my self-take shots and will hopefully help a few people who are struggling with their self-take pictures.
One thing that is paramount is fish welfare. If you think or know that you will be taking pictures during your session, then have your camera equipment ready right from the outset, don't leave yourself scrambling about to find your camera/tripod etc after you've caught the fish, it should always be to hand and ready for use as soon as the fish is banked. There isn't a worse sight than seeing an angler leave a fish flapping about on a mat while he looks for his camera!
My 'compact' camera is a Canon G11, it is ideal for self take pictures with a screen that rotates around to face the angler to ensure you get the composition/framing of the shot spot on and I would strongly recommend to anyone who wants to get their shots right to try to use a camera with a similar swivelling screen, they are worth their weight in gold when comes to getting the framing right. It also has a feature that enables me to customise certain settings. One setting I use, is to set the self-timer mode to allow 15 seconds and then fire off a pre-set number of shots (I have it set at 6 shots) This gives me ample time to fire the shutter release, kneel down, lift the fish and even if the fish doesn't behave or settle during the first 2 or 3 shots, I know I still have 3 or 4 more shots to get it right, after all, I only want one decent shot! A good method for self takes, but not 100% reliable. See the example below....
Shot #2 of a six shot burst.
Shot #5 of the six shot burst.
Not all compacts offer this function and will only take one shot once the timer has lapsed, my advice for people using this type would be to set the timer to its longest possible setting to allow time to get yourself in position whilst holding the fish.
Many cameras, these days (although not all - always check the specs before you buy!) have a remote control facility, the remote sometimes comes shipped with the camera from new, or can be bought separately. This set up allows the angler to lift the fish, compose the shot and trigger the shutter release by merely pressing a key fob style remote control. The downside (in my opinion) to this style is having to hold the remote whilst holding the fish and therefore not having full control over the fish itself.
My particular favourite for self-take trophy shots is the bulb-release method. This involves fitting a custom-made bracket to your camera via the tripod socket and then attaching a shutter release fitting which in turn is connected via a length of tubing to a rubber air-bulb release.
The SRB-Griturn bracket (compact version)
The bracket attached to the camera.
The bulb release complete with 20' of tubing.
It works by applying pressure to the bulb, this forces air down the tubing and pushes a steel pin downwards on to the shutter release button on the camera. You can vary the amount of pressure you apply to the bulb to do a 'half-press' of the shutter release button and hear that magic 'beep' that tells you that autofocus has been achieved, then apply more pressure to fire the pin all the way down and trigger the shutter release.
The whole kit and caboodle assembled.
Shown here as the pin is pushed towards the shutter button.
Cheap bankstick with Gardener camera adaptor attached.
This method gives you the maximum time to get yourself framed with the fish and ensure that the fish is 'behaving' and settled ready for the shot, I use my knee to apply pressure to the bulb. The bracket I use is an SRB-Griturn (www.srb-griturn.com) which is custom-made for compact style cameras (they produce the same style bracket for DSLR's) it costs around £25 and comes supplied with the bulb release and approx 20' of tubing on a reel, though you will never use more than about 10' of it. Don't worry about it using up the tripod socket on your camera, the knurled screw that goes in your tripod socket has a socket of the same thread built-in to enable you to attach it all to a tripod or, as I do, to a bankstick via a Gardener Camera Bankstick adaptor, they cost about £3.
All the methods above work well, particularly the bulb release method, however, they are all completely useless if the shot isn't framed correctly or the camera is on the wrong setting etc. This why I can't stress enough the need to ensure you have everything set up before you catch your fish! Nikon/Canon/Panasonic/Sony/Olympus to name just a few of the popular brands of camera, all have similar settings/functions, albeit labelled differently. Probably the most popular choice for anglers is the 'green square, or full auto setting, followed closely by 'P mode' - I personally use 'P mode' on my camera to allow me to shoot in RAW as oppose to just JPEG, this gives me flexibility later on when processing my shots - however that's digressing and maybe I can talk more about that some other time.
Use the setting you are comfortable and familiar with and have the camera set up that way BEFORE you start fishing. I have my camera set up and attached to the inner part of a bankstick before I fish, with the main part of the bankstick firmly placed in the ground at the spot where I'll be weighing/unhooking my fish. It's simply a matter of placing the inner bankstick into the outer and turning the camera on!
Always have the camera 'zoomed out' to its widest angle, don't use the digital zoom feature that is on most compacts, it will degrade the quality of the shot and is completely unnecessary given that you need to be no further than about 6' from the camera. If you have a camera with the aforementioned flip screen, then framing your shot will be a simple affair, if not then take a couple of practice shots at the outset so you can familiarise yourself with where you need to be positioned when it does come to getting your trophy shot. If necessary, place a bankstick or other such marker at a preset point to remind you where you should be.
Probably the most difficult time to get a decent shot is during the hours of darkness. This is when the cameras auto-focus system is working its hardest to achieve a 'grab'. However, most modern-day cameras are equipped with a 'focus-assist' light that activates on the half press and briefly illuminates the subject to help the camera grab focus, keeping as still as possible helps also, although I appreciate this isn't always possible. This is where the beauty of the bulb release method comes in to play as you can repeatedly use the half press to achieve focus prior to pressing the shutter release.
Another thing to consider with shots during darkness is the problem of flash photography. Most compact cameras have quite a harsh flash, some (like the Canon G11) feature flash compensation adjustment where you can lower the flash output, however, due to the nature of the subject, ie., big, slimy, reflective surfaces like those on a fish, the outcome is usually disappointing, with 'blown' highlights all over the place. One solution (it's not a complete remedy but does help) is to put a cigarette paper or piece of thin tissue paper over the flash itself, this helps to 'diffuse' the light output by the flash resulting in less blown highlights.
Always make sure that if you are still wearing it, that your headlamp torch is turned off or it will confuse the cameras metering system even further!
The best advice I can offer when doing self-takes is be relaxed about it, don't rush things, try to imagine that as you set yourself for the shot, that someone else is actually behind the camera taking the picture for you. Again and I make no apologies for repeating myself, have your camera all set up and ready to go BEFORE you start fishing. Kneel down at your unhooking mat and do a couple of self-take practice shots (don't hold your arms out as though holding a fish though, somebody might be watching!) One last thing, if a fish just won't settle and repeatedly flaps in your arms making the shot nigh on impossible, then do the right thing, get a quick 'just for the record' shot of it on the mat and get it back in the water. There's no trophy shot worth getting a fish stressed or worse still, badly damaged/injured.
Have a good read of your cameras instruction booklet, there is so much to learn about your camera beyond 'full auto', most of it relatively straightforward and designed to help you achieve better looking shots from any given situation.
Remember, all of the above is just my take on getting half-decent pictures when your all alone on the bank, it is not carved in stone and I appreciate there are people who have their own tips and tricks to achieving good results, however, I hope my words have been of benefit to some and go a little way to helping them improve their shots.
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