Fly-Fishing Photography

By Frank Wood
Portions of this article were published previously in Fly Fusion Magazine


Bull trout and fly rod by Frank Wood ©


There are many choices of digital cameras available to Fly-fishing photographer. If vest space is an issue, or you are concerned about potentially dropping expensive equipment in the water, the Optio W series of cameras by Pentax may just be for you. They are small, waterproof, with a decent sensor that can produce pictures most suitable for framing and scrapbooking. Although you could produce pictures for publishing, this choice of point and shoot camera has some limitations that make it less suitable than others.

If publishing is a consideration – the DSLR is really the only way to go. This class of camera offers the most flexibility and the capabilities needed to meet your photographic requirements. As in the case of the point and shoot series of cameras, there are many DSLR types available. These range from the entry level Consumer series up in price and capabilities to the Pro series. There are advantages and disadvantages to each type that go beyond the scope of this article, but suffice it to say that you do not have to feel forced into making a hasty decision. A quick Google of ‘DSLR Reviews’, will return results that will provide more than enough information to aid you in this matter. My main recommendation is to buy what you can afford, and than take the time to learn its capabilities.

Subject Matter

Now that I’ve mentioned the type of pictures that most typically are taken, it’s time to consider what we really should take pictures of. The short answer is – everything. My intent is always to try and capture the essence of the sport, and why it has appealed to me for so long. After all, just like photography, fly-fishing is a very visual and artistic undertaking. To be practical however, we are trying to augment the fly fishing experience, not replace it. Some of the more popular subjects to photograph include:

Trout on Net by Frank Wood ©


The fish shot makes up the majority of all fishing pictures taken. And yet, we are often disappointed with the way they turn out. This is because it isn’t easy to reproduce the natural beauty of the fish, and the range of emotions you felt when you caught it.

There are several things you can do to improve your shots without placing undue stress on the fish while you take them. First off, have someone else take the picture. It is extremely difficult to hold the fish (without injuring it), while also taking the picture. With this in mind, after you’ve landed the fish keep it in the net and in the water until the photographer is ready to make the shot. When you get the word, lift the fish out of the net and allow the photographer to take a few shots. While the photographer is previewing his pictures, return the fish to the net. If necessary, repeat the process.

Artificial flys by Frank Wood ©

If you are the photographer taking the picture, there are a few things you need to do to prepare for the shot. First set up your tripod. Check to make sure that your auto focus is on, and that any custom settings from previous shots have been turned off. If at all possible, get the angler into a kneeling position in front of you. Have them take off their sunglasses, and tip up their hat ever so slightly. When you say ready, have the angler lift the fish and point its head slightly towards you. Fill the frame with the shot and take several pictures. Have the angler return the fish to the net and check your histogram. If shadows show up, repeat the shots only this time use fill flash.

Wildlife is an often overlooked photographic opportunity for fly-fishermen. To be a truly skilled wildlife photographer takesMayfly by Frank Wood © knowledge, skill, time, and commitment. That said you don’t need to abandon your fly rod and spend your time in a blind to get more and better wildlife pictures. I am only suggesting that you be ready with your camera when the opportunity presents itself.

Wildlife photography is all about composition, and portraying them in their natural habitat. One thing to remember is to always respect the animal and its space. If the animal is moving away from you, don’t chase it down for the shot. If it is stomping its feet, or showing other threatening signs – back off. With a little patience and some luck, you will be able to add this type of picture to your repertoire.

Sure, it’s nice to see pictures of the fish I’ve caught over the years, but to me it is the people that I fish with, that are more important. It wasn’t until I lost my mentor and fishing buddy that I came to realise this. Now I take pictures of my buds whenever possible. Successful people shots are a lot like wildlife shots. It’s all about capturing the natural moment. Try to keep the camera at eye level, and capture as much of the face as possible. Taking truly candid shots is hard to do – and so there is always an element of posing required. Having said that, make sure your subject is engaged in an activity instead of thinking about holding a pose – and the picture will look more natural.

Fishing portraits by frank Wood ©

Action shots of people are some of the best, but they require that the photographer be prepared. Prior to taking the shot, the photographer should explore the various vantage points, check exposure and composition, pre focus, set the drive mode to continuous, and be ready when the action starts. Often timing is critical, and by doing all the preliminary work beforehand – you increase your chances of getting ‘the shot’.

LandscapesFly Fisherman in front of Waterfall by Frank Wood ©

If you plan to add landscape photography to your portfolio, there are really only two times of day to do this – Dawn and Dusk. Pros refer to these times as the Golden Light. That is because these are the times of day when you get soft, warm light without harsh shadows. Other than those two times, forget about shooting landscapes – and go fishing.

Landscape photography is all about composition. If you examine the work of the masters, you will see three common elements in their pictures:  1. a foreground. 2. A middle ground. 3. A background. When combined, these three elements balance the shot, and make it truly compelling. Also don’t forget to add an angler into the picture. This not only provides a sense of scale to the picture, it also tells a story of why you were there in the first place.

When taking pictures with waterfalls in the background, an old trick for getting that silky smooth look to the water is to set the shutter speed for 1 to 2 seconds. In the resulting picture, the water will show movement, but everything else will look frozen in time.




Private road by Frank Wood ©




Frank Wood lives in Calgary, AB with his family. Frank photographs with Canon equipment and has written numerous articles for various fly fishing magazines.

Phone: (403) 730-4479         



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