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Thread: A Fisherman's Guide to Fishing Photography Part 3

  1. #1

    Default A Fisherman's Guide to Fishing Photography Part 3

    Continued from Part 2

    Fly Photography

    Most of us who tie will also at some stage want to record their efforts - to share on this forum, to record the development and subsequent incarnations of a secret killer pattern, or simply for posterity. Whatever your reasons, it helps if your colours are true and the fly is represented in a faithful manner.... and the fly is in focus! Photographing your flies indoors with an amateur 'studio' type set‑up is all well and good, but can be time and space consuming, and can require a good degree of trial and error before you establish an effective system.

    The various forms of electric light (tungsten, halogen, fluorescent etc) can throw horrible colour casts over your image, and even with the correct white balance setting selected, results are not always perfect. Outdoors, on the other hand, is quick and simple, and colour casts are rarely an issue. Both methods can deliver stunning results, and neither method is superior - just different - your needs, equipment and circumstances will dictate.

    Indoor – Pros:

    • Not weather-dependant
    • Consistent Results - once you have established a successful set‑up and
      system, and conquered any colour casts!
    • Suits either compact or dSLR cameras
    • Controlled, consistent lighting
    • Can shoot anytime, and don’t need a garden

    Indoor – Cons:

    • Space and time-consuming
    • Equipment-intensive - tripod/'plinth', lighting, table, lenses etc
    • Results can be cold and 'clinical' - lighting not always easy to get right
    • 'Hard' lighting - more equipment needed to soften and diffuse the light

    Outdoor – Pros:

    • Minimal equipment needed – cheap
    • Easy and effective with compact camera
    • Excellent diffuse light (when available!)
    • Easy lighting 'set-up'
    • Natural feel to results

    Outdoor – Cons:

    • Weather/light/time of day-dependant
    • Variable light quality - not always overcast, and when it is, light
      quality/intensity can vary

    The beauty of taking your fly pictures outdoors is being able to exploit that most natural, biggest and best of lighting systems - the sun! Nothing gives quite the same results quite so easily. The downside is that opportunities are weather-dependant, and days, weeks even, can go by without the correct conditions presenting themselves to the outdoor fly snapper. So, what are the best conditions? Well, dry for starters! Daylight helps, but most importantly you need it to be overcast, but bright.

    Most overcast days will give perfectly acceptable lighting, with the exception of a few short, dark, dismal winter days (if you live in Scotland, for ‘a few’, read ‘most’). Avoid direct sunlight at all costs - strong direct sunlight flattens colours, causes glare and creates strong highlights and dark shadows - much the same way as non-diffused electric lighting does. Your camera’s metering system will also have a right old headache. All these problems are eliminated by shooting under an overcast sky. The cloud acts as a great big diffuser, softening the light and bringing out richer, more natural colours. The softer, more uniform lighting from an overcast sky will please your camera’s metering system no end! If you must shoot in bright sunlight, head for a shaded corner.

    Light from an overcast sky is also more 'ambient', multi-directional - to all intents and purposes it is coming from all directions, therefore minimising highlights and virtually eliminating hard black shadows.

    Whether your fly pics are taken indoors or out, we see many images posted on the forum that have problems. Here are a few of the most common, and some suggested cures:

    Blurred, or very soft images


    • Fly, or camera, or both, moved during shot, due to being hand-held
    • ISO/shutter speed too low/slow, or a combination of the two, coupled
      with the above
    • Incorrectly focused


    • Keep everything still! Use a tripod/stable base for your camera.
    • Make a stable rig for holding the fly (more on that later). Stabilising
      both your camera and fly will obviate the need to address
      ISO/Shutter speed, and allow you to shoot at any ISO or shutter
      speed you like. If you can only manage to stabilise the fly, then you
      will have to address the ISO/shutter speed issue.
    • Establish the optimum focusing distances for your different focusing
      modes; e.g. Normal, Auto-focus, Macro, Super Macro. Generally
      speaking, for compacts, we will assume that you have selected
      Macro mode for starters. (There is a bit of trial and error here - for
      larger flies, use Macro.) Try starting with the front of the lens about
      10 to 12 cm away from the fly. Make sure the camera confirms focus
      has been achieved. If focus cannot be achieved, or the resulting
      image is too small or too big in the frame, then experiment by moving
      the camera closer or further away until focus and optimum image size
      is achieved.
    • Make sure that the camera does not try to refocus when the shot is

    Strong colour cast/un-natural colours

    • Wrong white balance setting[


    • Familiarise yourself with your camera’s white balance settings. If the
      obvious/automatic choice gives a cast, then experiment
      with other settings
    • Investigate whether your camera can set up a ‘custom’ white
    • This gives very consistent results.
    • Shoot in RAW file format

    Fly badly under-exposed


    • Camera has calculated exposure based on a white background
      instead of on the fly
    • Simply not enough light on the subject


    • Avoid white backgrounds. Use a mid grey, or other mid-tone, such as medium blue or brown. Natural objects in mid-tones can work well, such as a wooden fence, a stone wall, the floor, paving slab, etc (or a blue wheely-bin – see below!)
    • Dial in +ve exposure compensation - Go to Manual and increase
    • Add another, stronger light source, or take it all outside (see below)

    Fly badly over-exposed


    • Camera has calculated exposure based on a black background instead
      of on the fly
    • Fly is black and camera has metered on it
    • Camera/lighting set-up needs adjusting


    • Dial in –ve exposure compensation
    • Go to Manual and reduce exposure

    Fly image too small in the frame


    • Camera not close enough to subject
    • Optimum focusing distance and/or focusing mode has not been
      effectively established


    Although your camera may focus quite close to the fly in normal Auto Focus mode, this may still leave it filling only the centre of the frame, requiring a heavy crop. Heavy crops are effectively ‘digital zooms’ that result in much of the image being discarded and the final image quality is greatly reduced. On compacts, use your ‘Macro’ mode(s) to establish your optimum focusing distance. The fly should be filling most of the frame, leaving only a little space around the edges. If you are using a dSLR, your options are a macro lens, an extension tube, a reversing ring, or close-up filters.

    A simple indoor set-up

    Here is a simple set up for doing flies when other restrictions require you to use artificial light:

    The light is provided by two 5 halogen lamps from B&Q (other brands are available). They have been fitted with diffusers, which spread the light, so avoiding harsh shadows among the fly’s fibres and harsh reflections from the hook and other metalwork. The diffusers were made from plastic milk cartons. You could just hang a white tissue or a piece of grease‑proof paper over the front of the lamp.

    3 sec @ f22, evaluative metering

    In the set-up above for shooting flies with the wee halogen desk lamps, auto-white balance should detect that they have a temperature about the same as tungsten light, and set it to 2800 K or 2900 K. However, if using desk lamps gives your photos a yellow colour cast, try setting the white balance to tungsten.

    When photographing flies, you are making life difficult for yourself if you set your fly against a white card for a background. The camera will not like it as it will dominate proceedings and the camera will think it is 18% grey and want to reduce the exposure. Unless you use flash, your fly will come out dark and muddy and under-exposed. Flash may be the answer, but you might need to do a bit experimenting to get good results. It is much better to use a mid-grey card for a background. It’s neutral, so the colours of the fly will stand out and the camera is already calibrated to it, so it will get the exposure near perfect every time.

    Quick Outdoor Fly Photography Set-Up

    Here's a handy rig which is cheap, easy, effective and virtually foolproof. This system lends itself well to compacts, but is just as viable a proposition with the smaller dSLR models if you have a Macro lens. Larger dSLR models are a wee bit too cumbersome for this technique.
    The beauty of this rig is that the fly and the camera are effectively conjoined. It doesn't matter how much your hand/arm shakes or moves; the camera and fly, in relation to each other, are perfectly still. You could spin around like a figure-skater whilst taking the shot and the shot will come out perfectly sharp - try it!

    Also, as a result of this foolproof stability, there is no need to hike up the ISO to buy a faster shutter speed. Your shutter speed is virtually irrelevant, so use your lowest ISO setting and get the best quality you can. Whether you set up on Auto or Manual, you won't be far off the mark, and you can fine-tune your settings at your leisure to suit your tastes and the conditions. Any of these white balance settings: 'Cloud', 'Daylight', or 'Auto' (AWB), should give you good results. Experiment to find which gives the best results for the given light conditions.

    OK, let’s go outside and take a picture…

    You will need

    • Camera!
    • Fly
    • Fly-Clip or hackle pliers or some unobtrusive means of holding the fly
    • Blob of ‘Blu-Tac’
    • 30 cm Ruler

    Assemble the aforementioned items and hold, thus....

    Self-explanatory so far.....

    Ensure that the fly is square on all axes to the lens and 'focal plane’. Most shutter-buttons are on the right of the camera, so grip the camera and the ruler in the left hand, so both are solid and stable, and your grip is comfortable.

    Now, approach your chosen background - in this case, a lovely mid-blue wheely bin!

    The fly should be roughly 20 to 30 cm away from the background. This distance, however, is not too critical and depends a lot on the size of your background. Just make sure that the background that appears in the shot is relatively uniform, and free from severe highlights/shadows and distractions. The angle that you shoot at in relation to the background may vary, depending on light conditions. The shallow depth of field achieved as a result of your macro setting will blur the background nicely.

    The next thing you need to do is adjust the distance between the fly and the front of the lens. As a rough guide (different cameras/brands may vary):

    • 'Macro' = 10 to 12 cm
    • 'Super Macro' = 3 to 4 cm

    The above measurements are just a starting giude. Play around.. you may find that these measurements are a cm or two out for your camera. They should give you a good starting point though, and cut out a lot of trial and error.

    Now, you should have the fly looming large on your screen...

    Using your right hand, depress the shutter button to achieve focus. Take the shot. You should end up with something like this...

    Note: For simply recording your flies, like the shot above, the framing leaves a little space for the fly to 'breathe' within the final crop. Don't crop too tightly, as this is distracting and unsightly. Deliberate 'artistic' shots, or shots intended to show close detail are a different matter!

    As always, good results come with practice. Play around with your lighting angles - get to know your own back yard, and try different backgrounds too.


    There are few accessories needed for digital photography. A spare storage card and a spare battery are essentials. If you are winter grayling fishing in sub-zero temperatures, the battery can go temporarily flat due to the cold, so keep a spare one warm in your shirt pocket, just in case. A lens brush is useful – you should always check the lens is clear of smudges and specks before shooting. Specks rarely show, but smears and smudges certainly do. A microfibre cloth is a useful cleaning tool, but be careful you don’t try to wipe a speck of grit off and end up grinding it in and scratching the lens. SLR users are well advised to fit a cheap UV or skylight filter on their lens, in case of scratches – much less expensive to replace the filter than repair the lens!

    SLR users might want to have a close‑up filter for shots of interesting insect life, and a polarising filter for days of brassy sunlight, when its use will cut out glare from the water (though beware - it will cost you 2 stops of light). If you have a compact, it will take macro close‑ups of insects without filters. A polarising filter may or may not be available, depending on the model.


    Processing is a heated area. There are folk who consider that any intervention by man on what is delivered by the camera is some sort of crime. Then there are those who are not deluding themselves that any photograph (film or digital) is anything other than a man‑made entity from start to finish. Back in the days of film, the pro photographers used all manner of alchemy in the dark room to produce their final print. Pushing, pulling, cross-processing, dodging, burning, unsharp mask (look up the terminology if it’s new to you)… Show us an image straight from the camera and we’ll show you an unfinished work. However… there is a case to be made for trying to minimise the amount of work that is required to be put in to what comes out the camera. The first part of that is up to you - to capture a well focused, well composed, good exposure (see all the above!).

    After the shutter has been pressed and the light committed to sensor, there are 2 jobs still to be done. For our purposes, we can call the first job processing, and the second job post-processing. Post-processing is largely optional, but processing is mandatory and is the very minimum that is required to generate an image from the binary data that got passed on by the sensor. There are 2 ways to make an image out of it.

    You can leave it all to your camera. To make an image, your camera will need to know a number of things, such as what white balance to give it, what level of colour saturation you want, what contrast level you want applied, what level of noise control you want, what level of sharpening you want applied, and so on. You will need to tell it all these things before you press the shutter, or go with auto-everything, or pick a pre-set combination from the list of options; usually things like, ‘Neutral’, ‘Standard’, ‘Faithful’, ‘Portrait’ and the likes. No idea what is going to look best before you press the shutter? Nor do we! If you just go with auto‑everything, you’ll be safe enough, but you should not be surprised when you get the wishy-washy results we’ve been banging on about trying to avoid. Therefore, we present option 2…

    If your camera can shoot in RAW mode, it will give you the unprocessed data as a RAW file. You need to copy your shots onto your PC and open them in preview mode with software designed for processing RAWs. Most cameras that shoot RAWs will come with RAW-processing software. You should be aware that every new camera has a slightly different format of RAW file and so proprietary programs such as Adobe Camera RAW (ACR) will only recognise the RAWs from cameras manufactured up to the point of the particular release you have. They will need an upgrade to recognise the format from camera models made after their release. Also, be aware that some cameras may come with so-called LE (Limited Edition) software that does nothing other than convert the RAW into a TIFF or JPEG – which is what the camera does anyway! (Fuji are bad for that.) You need a proper RAW converter, such as ACR.

    When you open your RAW file, you see a preview of your image, still plastic, and you then use a set of sliders to tune in the best white balance, highlights and shadows settings, colour saturation, contrast, noise control, sharpening and so on. You can even tweak the exposure if it wasn’t quite right. And all this can be done without damaging the pixels and introducing noise and other artefacts. You can also correct lens errors such as chromatic aberration and barrel distortion, and level wonky horizons (another common fault in fishing photos).

    When you are happy with how it looks, the PC will generate a finished image from the RAW data, while retaining the plastic original, with your applied settings saved in a separate ‘side-car’ file. This lets you go back to the RAW file at any time to change your choices and create a new version of the image. Want a black & white conversion? You can get that too. It will do all you want and you still have the unaltered original to go back to at any time. If you want to know more about RAW files, there is a plethora of help out there – magazines with CDs full of tutorials, on-line tutorials, full training courses... the list is endless. There really is no point in trying to go further down the RAW road in this piece – it would take another 50 pages!

    If you go down route 1, your camera will deliver either a JPEG file or a TIFF file. JPEGs take up less space due to the fact they are in a compressed file format and to do that, a proportion of the data gets thrown away. You need to bear that in mind if you then do any post-processing work to the JPEG. This is because every time you save it as a JPEG, more of the data gets thrown out and the image quality degrades. If you get the camera to do the processing and deliver you a TIFF file, it is uncompressed and so post-processing work is less destructive. However, all post-processing is essentially you trying to make changes to what the camera considered to be a finished product.

    Think of it this way… if you shoot the image as a JPEG or TIFF, the camera records the initial image as a RAW file and at that stage it is like the clay before the pot is thrown. The camera then does all the pottering and moulding and firing and glazing and delivers what is supposed to be the finished pot – the JPEG or TIFF. If you decide you don't like the pot, you can use Photoshop type software to try to change it. This typically involves making changes to the contrast, brightness, colour balance, colour saturation, sharpness, etc, but all the while you risk damaging what was supposed to be a finished piece of art. It often ends up introducing artefacts that degrade the image quality. The pot ends up cracked or crazed.

    If you shoot the image as a RAW file, the camera simply hands the as yet unprocessed piece of clay over to you to develop. You then open it in a RAW converter, and it is you and not the camera that is in charge of throwing the pot, firing it and glazing it, exactly as you want it to be. And even if you don't like the result, the RAW file remains unchanged, so you can go back and make another pot any time you like. It's absolutely the way to do digital photography.

    Most times, the only post-processing you need do is maybe clone-out a drinks can or a drip of slime hanging from a fish, maybe crop for a better composition, and you are good to go.

    Before you do any of the above you should make sure your monitor is adjusted correctly. Many folk have their monitor set-up deliberately (or accidentally) dark and with high contrast because it gives them nice black text and nice contrasty desktop icons. However, beware of processing photographs with it in that state because you will be inclined to increase the brightness and reduce the contrast to get your photo to look good. The problem is that when you post it to the web it will look overexposed and ‘muddy’ to everyone with a correctly adjusted monitor. The graphic below shows black to white in 5% steps.

    You should be able to see a difference between every step. If everything between 80% and 100% black looks black, your monitor could be set too dark. If you want to take it a step further, consider getting a monitor calibration device such as ColorMunki or HueyPRO. They will keep your monitor’s colours correct and will also adjust your monitor automatically as your room light changes – there is, after all, a huge difference between working during the day by bright window light, and working at night by tungsten lamp-light.

    If you want to post your finished photo on the forum, you will need to resize it. Firstly, save the full-size version so you can make prints from it or make versions in other sizes. As already stated, the forum displays at 758 pixels wide, so resize it to that and save it with a new name as a JPEG at a medium to high quality to give you a file size around 75-100 KB.

    To post images on the forum:

    Open an account with Photobucket Image hosting, free photo sharing & video sharing at Photobucket
    Re-size your image for web viewing. DO NOT attempt to upload the original full sized file. This will take too long and take up too much space in your allotted storage quota. Use either your camera’s photo-editing software, Photoshop (other image-editing applications are available), or the facility on Photobucket
    Upload picture(s) to Photobucket - click <upload images>, then browse your PC to where your image is stored, select <image>, <upload>
    When the image has uploaded successfully, select <return to album>. Look below the image that you want to post, and you will see several options with small boxes of code next to them. Left-click once in the box of code next to ‘IMG’ to highlight the code, then right-click to bring up your options. Then, left-click <copy>
    Open another tab and commence your forum post. Right-click and <paste> your image into the post.


    If you have read the above all the way to the end, well done; you deserve some sort of medal! If you are thinking about buying a new camera, our hope is that you will go along to your local camera shop and ask to see the ones that offer you the options of PSAM, the ones with an optical viewfinder, the ones with partial metering, the ones with servo focus, the ones with RAW file option…

    And once you have that new camera, we’ll be expecting to see some quality shots posted from it!

    If you have read it and decided you’d “rather just stay with point & shoot, thanks very much”; then that’s fine – we respect your choice. However, please do not then look at photographs and ask the author what camera he used!

    Colin & Rob
    Last edited by FlyForumAdmin; 18-03-2010 at 12:47 PM.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jun 2009
    Beith,north Ayrshire


    That is a fantastic piece of work guys,a wheelie bin eh? brilliant
    "MON THE HILL CLIMBERS!!"Hidden Content

  3. #3
    Join Date
    May 2006
    White City, Oregon, USA.

    Thumbs up I'm with SS on this one.

    Hell of a good read ..... and printed out for future use.


  4. #4
    Join Date
    Jun 2009
    On MY river...
    Blog Entries


    Some good advice and great tips... Thanks

  5. #5


    A great article ,thanks .

  6. #6
    Join Date
    May 2007


    Apologies folks.... some of the headings and sub-headings in section III (Fly Photography - problems - causes and cures), are slightly jumbled up and may give misleading information, not to mention prove tricky to read/digest.
    We apologise, and are working right now to correct it.

    Many thanks for the kind comments so far, and for taking the time to read it!

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Mar 2009


    That really is some piece of work there fellas Fair play to ya both for taking the time .....

    I have not read it all yet as reading lots at a time and complex things aint my strong point But I know where to come for answers about pics should I have the need anytime in the future ..............

    Cheers Lads
    Your fish ----> ><((((> My fish ----> ><(((((((((> Hidden Content

    Cheers Hidden Content Danny

    Co-Founder of S.S.F.D 2010 Hidden Content

  8. #8


    Well done you two. It is a brave subject to tackle so comprehensively with ex pros and keen amateurs around who know it all, and knock your efforts.

    You have produced a valuable resource for many people on the forum.
    I know the temptation is to go over board on detail to cut off the 'know it all's arguments, but then alienate the beginers with being too technical.
    I think you have struck a great balance and I hope no one is irresponsible enough to try to show off they have more knowledge and just accept that you have presented what you think is the right degree of technique.
    And it is!
    Brilliant effort I hope you allow your self the time to feel proud of it.

    Sorry to be a windbag But I am really very impressed.'

  9. #9

    Default PDF available...

    Quote Originally Posted by fredaevans View Post
    Hell of a good read ..... and printed out for future use.

    Thanks for the +ve feedback all. If anyone would like to save a copy of the whole thing, there is a PDF of it. Please PM or email me for it


    Last edited by Cap'n Fishy; 11-08-2016 at 04:42 PM. Reason: PDF no longer available online

  10. #10
    Join Date
    May 2006
    White City, Oregon, USA.

    Thumbs up OUTSTANDING!

    Quote Originally Posted by Cap'n Fishy View Post
    Thanks for the +ve feedback all. If anyone would like to save a copy of the whole thing, here's a PDF of it...

    Fishing photography guide


    MANY THANKS for the single 'it's all here.' That said, at 72 pages, I put in new printer cartridges before I hit the print button. Colin, this really is an outstanding bit of Internet work and I've posted a web link to this on several other Fora. Never seen anything so complete, easily understandable (photos included) anyplace before. Even thought I'd like to know, God putting all that together had to take hours, and hours, and ....... and more.

    A Feate A' Comple'. (Sorry Fellows, no clue how to spell French word, neither does my 'spell checker.)

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