Gear & Stuff

I think that initially I shall only list some helpful hints on relevant points herein – like spitting on your knots before you seat them. And if that ends up not feeling quite right (The list, not spitting on your knots!), I’ll do something different. And since everyone’s health is relevant here, I’ll begin with

“An aspirin a day keeps the cardiologist away”.

(So far it’s worked for me!)



Life and Death in Outdoor Photography

(Since the following applies to both hunting and fishing, I chose to post it here where it covers both.)


            Most folks who take pictures of outdoor activities are not very thoughtful about it, and they are usually in a hurry. Therefore the poses they create are not very imaginative; “Hold it up and smile” is most often the drill, especially when applied to a fishing setting. Then they take their shot. They also don’t “see” through the view-finder, they only look. And they have no idea of the dangers that are always lurking outdoors near a camera. Yet a picture is a visual reminder of some great event – something you can look at years later and relive the moment. Shouldn’t it then be as good as you can make it?

            Back when I decided to become a full-time outdoor writer I thought I had all it took to be a success: lots of knowledge of hunting and fishing gained through 40-odd years of experience, a college degree in English, and a fondness for putting ink on paper. But I learned very quickly that it took much more than wisdom and literary ability to sell magazine articles. It took pictures – really good pictures, and mine were usually bland at best: no excitement, boring, pat, dead. So I sought professional help.

            These days I usually get at least a few marketable pictures out of a trip, and that’s not bad. And since K., I have learned a lot about how to take digital pictures. But overall  I have suffered through more photographic disasters than you could ever imagine. The purpose of these lines is to prevent you from experiencing those same mishaps and to increase the quality of your pictures – to give them the life that was there when they were taken.

            Your camera should be protected any time it is not in use, and a shirt pocket is not a form of protection. Even the simplest “point-and-shoot” models will last longer and perform better if they are kept in a padded case – better yet a waterproof shock-resistant plastic case. Ironically, however, the better those are at serving their purposes, the more likely they are to create a problem: good camera cases of either type insulate very well. Now, let’s create a setting.

            It’s a hot, humid August morning. Upon reaching the dock in your air-conditioned truck, you and your two buddies quickly load the boat, launch it, and race away toward your latest hotspot. Within minutes after reaching it, one of your friends catches a great big something – a real trophy. You know enough to shoot (a.k.a. ”take pictures”) quickly if he chooses to release it – and to shoot now instead of back at the dock if he decides to keep it, and “now” is just right: the early-morning light is soft, the back-drop is quite scenic, and the fish is indeed big – all the ingredients for a great picture. So you quickly take the camera from its case, remove the lens cover, take aim…

            And the lens abruptly fogs up!

            Because of the insulating ability of good camera cases, you should acclimate your camera to the ambient temperature as soon as possible by opening the case and putting it – with the camera still in it, of course – in a safe place. A SAFE place! On many popular types of craft there isn’t much which fits that description, especially while you are running, except for your lap or a “dry-storage” compartment. Be aware, though, many of the latter really aren’t!

            I once drowned a perfectly good Nikon in one that wasn’t. Yeah, it was partially my fault; I didn’t think about what I was doing at the time, and that’s all I intend to say on the matter. The point is, hopefully my relating the incident will cause you to make certain the compartment in which you intend to put your camera is absolutely dry and not sort of dry!

            Okay, let’s say the camera is safe and properly acclimated at the time your friend lands his trophy. He then grips it by the jaw – or whatever “handle” the creature is equipped with, holds it out in front of him, looks right into the camera’s lens, and grins. Haven’t you seen enough pictures like that to make you want to throw up? In the industry they are known as “grip-and-grin” pictures, and they are deader than last season’s ducks!

            Enlivening them is very simple if you think about it at the time: any pose in which the subject is not directly facing the lens depicts action – “life”. For instance, have him kneel – not sit or squat – on the deck facing slightly away from the camera, then turn his face and shoulders toward the lens but not squarely to it. Have him look at the top of your hat or at one of your shoulders, not into the lens. A joyful appraisal of the fish is also a great pose. And remember that a natural face is always livelier than a forced one. You can get some great expressions by making certain, uh, “off-the-cuff” comments about the subject’s looks. You know the type – the kind we cannot mention in these pages. And above all, tell him to relax; tension depicts a corpse!

            Props are a real help in livening up a picture. If need be, re-position the lure in the fish’s mouth so it can be seen. Have the subject hold his rod as naturally as he can but without it bisecting either his face or the fish. Lay a landing net on the deck and have him hold the fish in such a manner as he would after just removing it from the net. Best of all, add a friend.           

Interaction between two anglers always makes a better picture, even if they are both “gripping and grinning”. But life can easily be added by having the friend hold the fish and/or the net while the proud angler holds his rod. Both of them should be looking at either the fish or each other and appearing to be quite happy about the affair, a state of mind you can establish by shouting “Smile, dammit” just before you take the shot. There’s something mystical about that phrase when two guys hear it uttered emphatically when they are together with a big fish in front of a camera!

            One last thing about the subject. Clothing, especially in saltwater settings, often consists in part of a white tee-shirt. Add to that the normally white decks of many boats, and a picture can turn out awfully harsh, or “hot”. Shirts with bright colors will create a lot of life in pictures taken from within a white boat. Sure, they will be a little warmer than a white tee-shirt, but you’ll get over that; you may never get another chance for a particular picture, and color will enhance it greatly.

            The background check should be made before the fish is landed, but this quick task is often ignored until the last minute. Therefore, for the fish’s sake if it is to be released, the rush to shoot precludes the practice. Life in the background is gained by simply putting something there: a big, moss-draped cypress tree, another boat, or a distant thunderhead, for instance. Of course, they must be away from the sun. If at all possible, position the boat accordingly before the fish is landed.

            Now everything is ready for the shot. But if you only look through the lens, then you might not see that beer can, or the sack of trash left over from breakfast on the boat, or that big gob of mud from the anchor lying on the deck behind the subject – all real killers. “See” how the fish looks; is its side glaring from the sunlight? Then have the subject tilt its back toward the lens.

            Okay, everything looks just right. You take a quick breath, hold it, shout “Smile, dammit!”, and…”click”. “All right, guys”, you then declare, “great job – that will make a fine picture”.

            Are you sure about that? Are you sure you didn’t flinch? Are you sure one of the subjects didn’t flinch – or blink? Are you sure the fish didn’t move? Come on, folks, only one shot at a trophy – an occasion – that you want to remember as clearly as possible for a lifetime? But I see it done regularly. Shoot, dammit! Compared to the value of a special event like that – or any event worth remembering, film and processing is dirt cheap! And it’s totally non-existent with digital cameras! The more shots you take, the better chance you have of getting a great one.

            Okay, so you popped a half-dozen or so – which should be enough, and then you ran out of bullets; time to reload. In a boat that act – like putting your camera in a dry-storage compartment that isn’t – can lead to disaster, even if you use extreme care while performing it. And while it mainly applies to film-cameras, it can also bite you if for some reason you decide to change the lenses of a digital SLR camera.

            The culprit is not spray as one might imagine but a piece of grit which finds its way into the inner workings of the camera and lodges there. That happened to me with two different cameras a while back, and the grit made a small, longitudinal cut across every frame in three rolls of film, rendering them worthless! Of course, they happened to include pictures of the largest member of two – two! – species I had ever caught! Good timing, huh? When you open the camera, shield it from the wind with your body and change rolls – or lenses – as quickly as you can. And a little prayer won’t hurt!

            In truth, as with mortal life and fly rods, death will eventually come to outdoor photography equipment, no matter how much effort you put out to prevent it. But you can keep life in your pictures forever. Think about it.

(Louisiana Conservationist 4-2007)

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