Photography - 2.0

Photography - 2.0
Creative capture of a finetooth shark during release.

Several years ago, I wrote an informative article discussing the art of photography and how to use various photographic techniques to creatively document fishing and outdoor adventures. The piece, published here in Texas Saltwater Fishing Magazine, inspired a lot of positive feedback. Recently, I received a few emails asking me to revisit this popular topic.

Since the dawn of modern technology, people have yearned to capture moments in time in photographs. Today, large populations of people are engrossed with social media. Our lives are truly intertwined with and affected by handheld devices and computers. While many try to avoid the black hole of binary zeroes and ones, the fact is most of us participate in or at least acknowledge our presence within the digital realm.

We live in a world in which the capabilities of digital devices have reached epic proportions; new products provide ways to improve quality, compared to the tools we used in the past.  So many aspects of our society now revolve around digital media.  Its most valuable contribution may well be its enhancement of our ability to almost instantly document key moments in our personal journeys. Both digital photography and videography have become staples in the lives of many, though some of us who live and work in the great outdoors haven't assimilated the technologies as completely as others.

To them, I'd say this: the digital world is upon us and moving forward, its cloak will only engulf us more completely. There's no reversing the process, so we should embrace it. The best thing we can do is utilize the technology to try and make things better. This means exploring our creative selves when it comes to our personal photography.

This new age digital era seems to dull the minds of some of society's zombies and remind us of an old episode of the Twilight Zone, but it has also provided benefits to anglers. Facebook and Instagram are just two of the useful online destinations where individuals can post and share photos taken on their outings. Pictures of landscapes, people, the fish of a lifetime –billions of images are shared daily around the planet.

Because of advances in the quality of digital devices and the images they capture, more and more people want to photographically record the moments when they catch a prized, impressive fish. Many want to encapsulate the raw nature of the event, while the fish still lives. Taxidermy is not yet extinct, but the craft now runs a real risk of going the way of the dinosaurs. Outdoorsmen have learned to treasure sharp, poignant photographs as much or more than a mounted fish.         

The simple truth about the impact of digital photography relates to the way the superb quality of the devices extend the boundaries of what's possible. Vivid photos record life with a clarity never seen before, and anglers are eager to capture the best photos they can. This is no easy or guaranteed task. Even with the best equipment, one really needs to make good use of several related skills to maximize potential.

The physical context in which one captures an image affects its quality.  The best photographers take their surroundings into account; they consider lighting and framing. Lighting provides the most important ingredient in any photographic masterpiece. The best photos are almost always taken with adequate amounts of light.  Clear, sunny days usually lead to proper levels of exposure. Bright light saturates colors and makes them look vivid in the images.

Even today's most advanced digital devices struggle with performance in low-light conditions. Lack of light creates noticeable “noise” within the pixels. While low-light conditions present challenges to photographers, capturing sharp, clear images is still possible in such situations.

Properly framing the subjects within photos is another critical element of excellent photography. Proper framing starts with making sure the horizon in the image lies on a level plane. This helps balance the elements in the photo. Of course, some use their gifts of artistic expression to break this rule for creative effect, allowing an uneven horizon line to enhance an image attractively.

Another old photography basic is the 'rule of thirds'. This involves mentally dividing an image using two horizontal and two vertical lines, evenly spaced within the frame, like those on the grid used for Tic-tac-toe. To many people, an off-center composition looks more pleasing to the eye, more natural than one where the subject resides exactly in the center of the frame. Placing the subject slightly off-center can really bring photos to life; images of fish and wildlife definitely benefit from this practice, regardless of what kind of device a photographer uses to capture them.

There are many different cameras on the market today; they do many different things. Today's thousand-dollar smart phones utilize advanced technologies to capture images of depth and quality unthinkable just a decade ago. While phone photos are not as good as those taken with the latest and greatest DSLRs, many people can't recognize the differences in quality at a quick glance.

I find one feature of the new smartphones quite useful—the panoramic mode. Basically, the software in the phone takes several photos captured in a straight horizontal line and digitally stitches them together to create one seamless image. This application works well for capturing landscapes or weather phenomena. I've used this process to take dramatic photos of some ominous cloud formations being pushed over the beach by strong cold fronts.

Action cameras like the GoPro provide other ways to capture fun and exciting moments in the outdoors. Many different versions are available; the latest ones sport some pretty amazing technology. They vary in price from the high-end GoPro brand to generic knockoffs which still provide great quality at a fraction of the price. 

The best attribute of these cameras is their versatility. They can be mounted or placed just about anywhere, and most are waterproof. For an angler, these are extremely important issues. Action cameras have become almost essential gear for kayak fishermen, who love their small size and weight. Another great function of these devices is their ability to do time-lapse photographs. They can be set to take a photo every half second until the user stops the sequence. This works well for obtaining underwater photos or action shots. I use this function regularly, then grab the best photos out of a bunch.

All these useful, effective devices allow folks to maximize use of the most important aspect of a photographer's processes—creativity, which can transform a simple project into digital art. Lining up the camera to take the best advantage of available lighting and considering how the subjects fit the frame can provide satisfying results, but sometimes, thinking outside the box to use atypical angles or positions helps one generate more artistic images. Getting low to the ground and taking shots with a wide-angle lens can make photos look larger than life. Ultra close-ups or macro shots of things like a fish's eye or the spot on the tail of a redfish can communicate intimate meaning.

Obviously, great photos attract attention on social media sites. Sharing our own moments and vicariously viewing those of others have now become integral parts of the outdoor experience for many anglers. One positive outcome of this is the way the instantaneous documentation process encourages people to practice catch and release more frequently. In this way, digital photography provides tangible benefits to conservation efforts.  The tools that mesmerize society also help protect our resources.

With creativity at the helm, beautiful possibilities abound. Many think of the digital age as a double-edged sword, with both negative and positive aspects.  Certainly, modern digital technologies provide ripe new opportunities for those of us who choose to get out, have fun and capture photographs creatively. It's no wonder we're eager to share them on social media!