In South Padre Island Texas, I got the chance to (try and) fish with former guide and current photographer Kenny Smith. You can check out some of Kenny’s amazing South Padre fishing photography at, or on After torrential downpours from hurricane Karl pushed us off the water, I picked Kenny’s brain on how I, and you, can take better fishing photos. These are not hard and fast rules, but here are 13 ideas to help you take more engaging photos on the water.
Get Close, and then Get Closer: Especially with visually fascinating fish like redfish, the closer you can get the better. Super-tight photographs will expose detail that is usually lost. The pattern on the fish’s scale, the nicks the beat-up lure has suffered, a drop of water falling from the fish. You can’t make every photo a close-up, but having a few in the mix makes for a better bunch of photos at the end of the day.
Get up, or Get Down: So many of the fishing photos you see are taken from about six feet off the ground, or boat deck. I know some photographers will bring a stepladder out while wading to get a shot from a different angle. You don’t have to go to that extreme. But by crouching down you can get more of the sky in the background of the photo, and if you take a shot from the poling platform, you’ll wind up with a cool photo as well.
Get Wet: If you are in a scenario that allows you to get out of the boat, without drowning or attracting sharks, don’t be afraid to get wet. Kenny does a lot of his fishing on flats that are a foot to three feet deep around South Padre Island and some of his best shots come from outside of the boat. Make sure to keep your camera dry, but for some different shots, think outside the boat.
Be Aware of the Light: Know where the light is coming from when you’re taking your photo. Try to, if you can, have your subject stand in front of the source of light, or the sun. Harsh light from behind the photographer will create shadows and reflections that will cost you detail in the photo. Switch places with the angler holding the fish if the sun is not at his back. Harsh light, if used properly, can make for an interesting effect or silhouette, and is not always bad. But it’s best to be aware of how your photo will look given the direction light is coming from.
Engaged Eyes: This isn’t always true, but photos where the angler is making eye contact with the camera are usually more engaging. If the angler is eyeballing the fish, have him look up, at the camera, before you snap the shot.
Fill The Frame: The angler, and the fish, are the subject of the photo, so get close enough so that they take up the majority of the space in the frame.
Keep the lure or fly in the fish’s mouth: A photo tells a story of the catch. The story will be more complete if the person looking at the photo knows how the fish was caught. Don’t take the lure or fly out of the fish’s mouth until you’ve snapped your shot. You want to get that “right-when-it-was-caught” feeling to the photo.
Involve the Element: Fishing is about water, so make it part of the photograph. At the very least, have the water visible in the shot. Release shots, showing the fish being released into the water, or just being taken out, are often more interesting. Driveway photos aren’t nearly as good as shots taken right on the water, regardless of whether you keep the fish or release it.
Fins Up: It usually doesn’t take much to make the dorsal fins stand up on a fish. And a photo with the fins perked up makes the fish look more lively, and larger.
Shoot Everything: Fishing is about the whole experience, so capture that with the camera. Shoot the lures, rods and reels, the angler stripping line, polling across a flat and casting. That way, when you do get that shot of the trophy fish, you’ll have the rest of the photos to tell the story of how it was caught.
Fish in Focus: When you are shooting a fish, make sure it’s the focus of the photo. Make sure it’s being held at the best angle, that it’s in focus, and that you’ve got the entire fish in the frame.
Give Direction: Don’t be afraid, when shooting a fish photo, to tell the angler how to improve the shot. If he should be smiling instead of frowning, or holding the fish out more, or could be in better light, tell him. It’s better than looking at a less-than-impressive photo of an amazing fish after the fact.
Be Fish Friendly: If you plan on releasing a fish, don’t keep it out of the water too long to photograph it. You can always place the fish back in the water to make sure it doesn’t get too worn out if you are changing lenses.