You’ve caught your fish and want a photo to share or remember it by. Follow pro photographer, Henry Gilbey’s, top tips to help your catch photo stand out from the crowd
If fishing is a lot about chasing a personal best fish, then the ‘angler plus fish’, or ‘grip and grin’, photo is one of those things we really want to work on to give us those lifelong memories, or something worthwhile to share on social media or with friends.
You might well think that taking photos of your mate with a fish they are rather proud of is nothing more than pointing your phone or camera at them and snapping away. But if we spend the time and effort we do to catch these fish, why not take a bit of care to shoot the best grip and grins we can?
From a purely creative point of view photographing grip and grins isn’t the most satisfying type of photo to shoot, but please bear in mind that I love photography as much as I love fishing, and I really love it when the light and conditions combine to give me serious creative opportunities.
If you enjoy the creative side of photography then you will understand where I am coming from here, but we go fishing to catch fish, and I will always try my absolute best to take good photos of anglers with their fish.
The first thing I need to address isn’t actually about the photography itself, rather the simple fact that we are going to end up fishing on our own a certain amount of the time. I love fishing with friends but I will fish on my own at least some of the time, and I would guess that you are the same.
I am always aware that some anglers mainly fish on their own, and of course when you are on your own it’s not easy to take a good quality photograph of yourself with a decent fish.
It can be done of course, but for many of us the welfare of the fish we are targeting is paramount, and I will personally do nothing photographically that might prevent me successfully releasing a bass I might catch.
So from a purely creative point of view I don’t get much out of those shots of fish lying on weed against a tape measure. However, I understand why anglers take photos like these. With a bit of thought they could be done a bit better – how about gripping the lip of the fish in the water and shooting like that for example?
One thing I can’t pretend to understand is why anybody would want to shoot loads of boring photos of fish lying against tape measures when surely one 55cm bass is the same as the next one; but that might just be me!
Modern mobile phones and tiny little action cameras like the GoPro are pretty handy if you are desperate to try and take a photo of yourself with a fish when you are fishing on your own. Invest in a small and lightweight little tripod, make sure you have got some sort of way to attach your phone or action camera to it so you can see the screen, then set the timer and fire away as best you can.
An easier way than setting the timer is to shoot some video footage at the highest resolution you can (usually 4K), and then hold your fish nice and steady and take a screenshot from the resulting video. It’s less rushed like this.
As with presenting the right lure at the right time to catch that fish, surely we now want to cradle our capture in the best possible way to make the fish look as good as possible. I don’t want to get too technical here but every species of fish is a bit different as regards the best way to hold them for a photo.
Let’s concentrate on bass here to make life a bit easier. You will notice that bass do not have teeth so you are perfectly safe to hold the bottom lip of the fish; indeed, I strongly advise doing so with all those spikes and sharp gill plates which want to so efficiently cut your fingers and hands!
Please do not stuff your hands and fingers inside the delicate gill plate of the fish to hold it for a photo because I can’t for one second believe that this is any good at all for a fish. Would you want somebody pinching the edges of your lungs whilst also being held at the same time?
If you take a close look at any of the grip and grins I shoot of bass you will notice that either the angler is in the water with the fish – where possible, with location and conditions – or the fish is being held very close to a rockpool or somewhere else where it can be carefully looked after and then lifted up for the photos.
By looking after I mean placed in saltwater and not flapping about on weed or rocks. There have been plenty of times when I have chosen not to photograph a good bass because the location or conditions don’t suit and I don’t believe I can take the photos without harming the fish. I have to leave that decision up to you.
I have nothing against taking the odd bass for the table by the way, but I am not going to be responsible for harming fish purely for photos, and I categorically do not photograph dead fish because I think they look awful.
SETTING UP THE POSE
So, we’re fishing with a friend or two and one of you has successfully landed a nice bass. The captor is going to want to cradle the bass and the other angler is going to take the photograph. Let the bass calm down in the water and get ready with your phone or camera.
I tend to ask the angler to kneel down because it’s a good angle to take the photos. Ask the angler who has caught the bass to grip the bottom lip of the fish between thumb and forefinger but do so around the back of the mouth so the photo doesn’t end up being all hands and fingers.
Then, while the fish is still in the water, ask the angler to take their other hand and gently support the bass just above the anal fin.
The bass is still in the water, so now you need to ask the angler to gently lift the bass up so it’s horizontal – across the frame – and then you need a nice big smile and fire away. Take a few shots, ask the angler to put the bass back in the water, and if you need some more ask him or her to gently lift the fish up again.
For the most part you are trying to fill the frame here because the subject is angler plus fish and not generally the surroundings. In fact, a lot of the time I am very conscious that I am also trying my best to hide where we are fishing for various reasons. I will also sometimes ask the angler to push the bass to the camera a bit to make the fish really stand out.
I understand that this isn’t exactly reality, but photography is a creative medium and I am trying to create impact.
If you ever see one of my grip and grins where I am shooting from slightly higher than the angler and all you can see around them is the terrain, that’s because I can’t successfully hide the background. You will also notice that I shoot far more grip and grins where the bass is across and not down the frame (horizontal versus vertical).
This is because most anglers are more comfortable being photographed holding fish like this. It takes more thought and work to successfully photograph bass being held vertically, so let’s stick with the fish across the frame for now.
What’s the main focal point of a grip and grin apart from a triumphant angler smiling away with the fish they have just caught? In a portrait of a person it’s essential that the eyes are pin-sharp, but with a grip and grin you need to make sure the eye of the bass which is nearest to the camera is the absolutely pin-sharp bit of the photo in focus.
Take a second or two after you have framed up to tap your phone screen over the eye of the fish to force it to focus mainly on the fish’s eye. Now slip the fish back and perhaps shoot a couple of release shots as well because they can look a bit different. n