Catch, photograph, and release is a great way to enjoy the beach and bring home memories.  But what may be more important is the information an image captures and how it can help to make you a better surf angler.   

Each year, at least one month in advance, I review my photographs for the upcoming “fishing month.”  Reviewing photographs from previous years gives me a great idea of what’s coming up that month.  I can see what date fish were caught on, weather conditions, tides, moon phase, best bait, crowds and so much more…right from a picture! 

I can guarantee you that by reviewing past year’s catches, you will be able to employ the techniques that worked then, to be a more successful angler now.  Here are some tips on photographing and releasing your catch. 

The Camera

The technology in phone cameras has improved exponentially over the past decade. With high-resolution sensors, multiple lenses to choose from, and an impressive amount of customization and controls, almost every modern smartphone can take stunning photos. Every photographer will tell you that it is not the equipment that makes a great photo, but the person behind the camera. However, if you are interested in stepping up your camera gear from a smartphone, this is what I would look for. If a smartphone works for you, skip the next three paragraphs and resume at Tips and Tricks.

It is not the equipment that makes a great photo, but the person behind the camera.

The best bang for your buck will be an APS-C (Advanced Photo System Type-C) camera. This sensor type allows for high-quality images with lots of detail without the intimidating price tag of a full-frame camera. The following options will determine the price point and the capabilities of your potential camera. The cheapest will likely be a DSLR “point and shoot” starting at ~ $300 and the most expensive will be a mirrorless interchangeable lens camera at closer to $1000.

Nikon Z50 APS-C Mirrorless Camera (MSRP: starting at $859.95)

APS-C cameras are available in both DSLR (digital single-lens reflex camera) and mirrorless (more modern and expensive) configurations. Another distinction will be between a “point and shoot” style camera (the lens is not removable) and an interchangeable lens camera. Your choices between these options come down to budget and the desired capabilities. If you want a cheap camera that you do not need to worry about and do not want to learn the ins and outs of lenses and settings, consider a DSLR “point and shoot.” On the other hand, if you would like to learn how to use different lenses and understand how different focal lengths and apertures influence a photo, look at a mirrorless or DSLR interchangeable lens camera.

As for brands and recommendations, Nikon, Sony, and Canon all make great products that will not disappoint. Nikon has long been viewed as the leader with very high-quality lenses for film and DSLRs. However, now in the world of mirrorless cameras, Sony is the new frontrunner. The camera I first started with was a Nikon D7000 (hand me down by my father). After that I went with a Nikon Z50 and now I shoot with a Sony A7 IV.

Tips and Tricks

Here are some tips that will apply to everything from a basic smartphone to a professional-grade camera and are bound to vastly improve your fishing photos. 

Make sure your camera is ready the day before use.  This seems to almost be too simple to even mention…but it’s so important.  Make sure your batteries are charged and ready for multiple uses.  Take time to thoroughly wipe off your lens and make sure every spot has been removed from the lens glass.  Test your camera to make sure it’s taking photographs and the exposure, etc. are set correctly. 

Understand the subject of your photo. In almost all instances, the fish will be the primary subject of your photo. With this in mind, make sure that the entire fish is in the photo with room around it so it is not close to the border. One of the quickest ways to ruin a fishing photo is to have half of the fish’s tail out of the frame.

One of the quickest ways to ruin a fishing photo is to have half of the fish’s tail out of the frame.

Composition is the key to success in photography.  So, let’s first talk about secret spots.  If you are taking a photograph of your buddy with a nice fish, you know that if you spell out where the spot you caught the fish was, when you arrive back the next day the beach will be packed with Internet poachers.  To avoid that, try these two techniques:  First, as the photographer, kneel and shoot your shot up toward your subject.  This will ensure that your background is the sky.  A second technique to keep your spot secret is to have your subjects back toward the rise of sand from the water and use the sand as the background.  These techniques both work great to hide your spot and don’t require photo software that makes your picture look like a Salvador Dali painting. 

So now that we know how to keep your “secret spot” secret, let’s work on making your subject jump out at your viewers.  Fish that are sandy or covered in blood make lousy photographs.  Not too long ago a friend sent out a Christmas card with a picture of a huge and very bloody salmon they had caught.  A non-angler who saw the card mentioned: “Who wants to look at a dead fish!”  And they were right.  Keep your fish looking clean and alive and you’ll have far more folks who enjoy the picture. 

Enhance your subject with a few essential techniques.  Make sure the fish is in focus. Both smartphones and cameras have software to make sure human faces in photos are in focus. Override this with a simple tap of the screen on the fish or by selecting the proper focus area in the camera. Always be sure to have the sun on your subject’s face with the photographer’s back to the sunlight. However, be mindful of your shadow as the photographer and make sure you are not casting a shadow on the fish or angler.  Use your flash to enhance the subject and bring out the colors of the fish—even during daylight hours.  This technique is especially important in low-light situations (sunrise and sunset) and will enhance the soft light that makes many photographs memorable.   

Lastly, present your catch (unless it’s a huge fish you can’t lift) in a horizontal manner.  That is, hold the fish in front of you using both of your hands so the fish is horizontal, rather than vertical in the picture. 

Catch & Release

With great photography also comes great responsibility.  Wouldn’t you like to catch more and bigger fish each time you go to the beach?  Well, the best way to insure that is to practice catch and release.  Now don’t get me wrong…feel free to keep fish to make those tasty tacos but be sure to release those you don’t keep so they may spawn and grow to be your next big catch. 

To release fish safely here are a few tips: 

• Wet your hands before touching the fish. 

• Avoid grabbing and handling the fish’s body. 

• Don’t handle your fish by wrapping them in a towel. 

• Avoid letting the fish fall to the ground, rocks, or dock. 

• If possible, keep fish in the water while removing the hook. 

• Place fish gently back into the water. 

• Move the fish forward and backward in the water to force water through its gills. 

Ira was born and raised in Portland, Oregon where he first found his love of fishing with trout, salmon, and steelhead. Over the years he grew to target any species he could find in the Pacific Northwest including albacore, musky, and sturgeon. After graduating high school, Ira moved to San Diego to...