Fun with Smallies and my Camera

Posted by Al Agnew on July 20th, 2010
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Got up this morning and drove over to one of my favorite little wading creeks. When I got to the bridge where I planned to park, there was a vehicle already parked there. Dang it, I thought, Smalliebigs must be wading the creek today, since it was one he’s probably familiar with

So I drove upstream a couple miles to another access…another vehicle. This was getting ridiculous, because I almost never see anybody on this creek but swimmers and sunbathers. So I drove back down to the first spot. I figured the guy there must have gone upstream, so I went downstream–basically a flip of the coin.

Well, I came upon the guy, a person I knew slightly (he owns some of my artwork) within a quarter mile. Told him I’d guessed he’d gone upstream, but I guessed wrong. He told me he was with three other guys, and the others had gone upstream–the truck at the upstream access belonged to them as well. I told him I’d go on up there and wade upstream from there, but he said he was just going to fish the hole he was in and then start working his way back upstream. He was catching goggle-eye and sunfish for a fish fry and just about had his limit of goggle-eye. So he didn’t mind if I fished on past him.

At that point I’d caught two decent smallies, but since I was fishing behind him I figured the fishing could only get better on down. So after chatting for a while, away I went.

Two holes down, I caught a beautiful 17 incher on a topwater lure, which was all I fished all morning long. It was the best fish of the day. But overall I caught 23 smallies, 9largemouth, and 2 spotted bass. I must have waded down close to three miles, and when I started back up I realized it would take a while to get back to the car. It didn’t help that I’d thrown on a pair of Crocs and forgot to put my wading shoes in the car–the Crocs aren’t the best shoes for hiking over gravel bars and rock. I’d only waded back up a quarter mile or so when I came to a group of guys swimming. Sure enough, it was the guys that I’d encountered earlier…they had a cabin up the hill there. After some more chatting, they offered to give me a ride back to the car. Sweet!

So I had my camera along as usual, and took several photos. The camera is an Olympus Stylus 1030SW, which is a little point and shoot that’s waterproof to 5 meters or so. I thought that for something a little different I’d talk a bit about taking photos of fish as an artist who paints fish…

Here’s a 16 incher, taken by holding the fish out with one hand and shooting with the other. There are problems with shooting fish this way, which are easy to see here. You always need something in the photo for scale, something you are familiar with that you can compare the fish to get an idea of how big it is. In this photo it’s my hand, but that doesn’t work well because in order to get the whole fish in when you can only get the camera one arm’s length away, you have to shoot at the widest angle zoom, and doing so really accentuates foreshortening. In other words, because most of my hand is closer to the camera than the fish, it looks bigger and the fish looks smaller. And because in this photo the camera was also being held closer to the fish’s head than its tail, the tail looks considerably smaller than it should. So this photo does not do justice to the fish at all. However, it might be useful to me as an artistbecause the light was good and I got the color and details of the fish in without a lot of the sheen you often get with photos of fish. A fish out of water is wet and glistening. You can see the glistening reflection of the sun up around the fish’s head, but the wetness also acts as a mirror under certain angles of light, and you’ll get a sheen that is usually the reflection of the sky on the fish’s body. In painting fish out of water, I’ll paint that sheen, though often playing it down a bit to show more of the true color of the fish.

Here’s the 17 incher. This is a better photo, but still has problems. Where I caught this fish there wasn’t a handy gravel bar, just a bit of gravel around a root wad next to the log where I caught it. I laid the fish down in an inch or so of water in a little spot of clear gravel. I never lay fish down on anything dry to photograph them, because that could damage their slime coating and allow infections to set in. Usually you can lay the fish down gently and take a quick picture, with your rod in the photo as well for scale. Hopefully the fish won’t flop while you snap the photo. But here, I didn’t want to take the chance of the fish flopping up onto that dry wood, so I held onto it while taking the photo. So I had the same problem as before. Camera too close, too wide angle in the zoom, so my hand is foreshortened and looks bigger in comparison to the fish. Even though the rod and reel is in there for scale, the human eye will automatically default to a human body part before it does anything else, so you really have to think about it to take the size of the rod into consideration, instead of your brain using the hand as the comparison.

I decided to try some underwater shots, since the camera is waterproof and the creek was very clear. This one is good but boring. It’s a 14 inch fish, and again the foreshortening of my hand comes into play a bit. This is how the picture came off the memory card with no adjustments. I didn’t have the camera set for underwater shooting, just the auto setting. It turned out okay but I think it would have been better if I’d set it for underwater.

This photo points out some things that I have to take into consideration as an artist. Viewed under water, a fish loses ALL the sheen it has above the water, and actually lookslike it’s dry. No reflections of sun making little pinpoint spots of bright white, no reflections of the sky making a sheen. Instead the light coming from above makes the back of the fish lighter than the belly.

Another thing that’s really noticeable in this photo is that the surface of the water, viewed from beneath at this angle, is actually a better mirror than it is when viewed from above. Very sharp reflections of the fish and my hand in this photo, but broken and distorted by the fact that the water surface is wavy.

Here’s one that I just missed. I was letting the fish pull against a short line while holding the camera underwater and trying to catch it perfectly, but the lag between the time I pressed the shutter and the time the shutter released, always a problem with digital point and shoots, messed me up. Still, it will be a very useful photo for my artwork, because it’s a beautiful shot of the splash as viewed from below, with very nice wave patterns and the fish’s tail interacting with the splash as well. Note the nice touch of the minnows, probably bleeding shiners, in the photo. It’s common on creeks for the minnows to follow the hooked fish around hoping it will stir up something to eat, but as an artist I have to think long and hard about whether to actually depict that, since the average viewer might think that it doesn’t make any sense for the minnows to be that close to one of their predators.

Here’s the shot of the day. A 14 or 15 inch fish, this one was a little farther away from the camera, so I got everything in. Nice pose. Beautiful refractions of light on it. Nice colors of the water and gravel.

Note a few things. A few bubbles coming off the water surface behind the fish adds movement to the photo, and would be a very nice touch in a painting. Those refractions of striated light hitting the fish make a nice abstract pattern on its back. Refractions are caused by the light rays being bent by ripples on the water surface. The light bends inwards on some slopes of the ripples and the rays of light compress and multiply each other where they are bent together, while losing more of their strength where they are bent apart. The refracted light on the fish will therefore show shapes that are determined by the shapes of the wavelets on the surface, something I have to keep in mind when painting the fish, since I don’t want the refracted light to not somewhat match the ripples on the surface IF I’m including the surface in the painting.

You can barely see shafts of light plunging through the water in this photo. A lot of artists overdo those shafts of light…they are where the bunched and multiplied refractions go down through the water, and show up because the stronger refracted rays are lighting up the silt and impurities in the water. The clearer the water is, the fewer impurities and the less those rays will show.

On the bottom here, you can see where the refractions are diffused by the greater amount of water the light has to pass through, compared to the fish. So they are bigger and more obscure compared to the refracted light on the fish.

Note also the color of the fish, and how it matches the color of the bottom fairly closely. This is a common characteristic of smallies in the water. They will usually be pretty close in overall color to the bottom color.

This photo was adjusted some in camera raw in Photoshop Bridge. It’s a very nice tool for working with photos.

One other thing…the fish’s anal fin is shaped a little strangely, due to the fact that the fish has bent and twisted it as part of the many little adjustments the fish makes while swimming. That’s one thing I’d have to change a little in a painting, because it doesn’t look quite right to me.

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