Taking Better Client Photos & Capturing Memories by Jon Ray March 17, 2016 – Posted in: Basics, How-To



A simple trick for taking better on-the-water photos is to take one minute of prep time before each picture session. During this time, I like to make sure the fish is taken care of—and I think this is an important note. Make sure the fish you’re about to photograph is in clean, moving water, the net you’re using is deep enough to hold the fish, and the fish doesn’t seem stressed.

After the fish is taken care of, check a few things:

  • Camera is turned on and ready
  • Lens cap is taken off, or the iPhone security code has been entered
  • Your client is happy with his/her appearance, sunglasses off, make up is on (you think I’m joking, I’ve had it happen), and the customer is ready to hold a prized catch
  • I also like to go over how to hold a fish during this time. (This is another topic for another time: how to explain this to customers. I wish you luck…)
  • Where is the sun? Proper lighting is important. It’s best to have the sun behind the photographer.
  • The Background – make sure you can get the shot you want without
    • Oars
    • Motor/boat
    • Landscape (not giving away your honey hole)

Musky Photo

Taking a moment to check these little things before you bring the fish out of the water will ensure you are communicating with the angler and laying the foundation for a great photo.

Move in Closer

Each time you snap a shot, you should consider moving closer for additional shots. Having your subject almost fill the frame helps your viewer understand and appreciate your photo. Also, details are often more interesting than an overall view. Continue to move in closer until you are sure the photo will successfully represent your subject. Customers, for the most part, only care about themselves and their catch. I have learned that I shouldn’t get too creative and that art is subjective. Best to keep this simple until you better understand what your customer might like.

Musky Shot

Be Quick

Prep will help with this, but get several images taken as fast as you can and then get the fish back in the water. I am a big believer in #keepemwet, I but also understand the customers’ want/need for an image. Being a catch-and-release guide, this moment is important and I need to get the picture right, but time is the most important thing to the health and survival of the fish. Imagine if you had to hold your breath during this entire photo shoot after you ran a 100-yard dash. I don’t know about you, but I’m not in that kind of shape. Another great reason to keep the fish in the net during prep time is that the fish is starting its recovery period after the big fight.

Focus on your Subject

If you have the ability to change your focus point, either with an iPhone by touching the screen or adjusting the AF point on a DSLR, quickly focus on the customer for a shot, and then adjust and focus on the fish. I have found customers like to have both options. Practice shooting with different apertures and monitor the results afterwards to learn how depth-of-field affects your photo.
One of the best books that I’ve read is by Bryan Peterson, Understanding Exposure. This book explained how to control my depth-of-field and helped turn the page on my photography. You will find that a smaller depth-of-field (and smaller f-stop #), focuses all of the attention on your subject. This is great for taking pictures of fish—subjects stand out against a blurry background (i.e. hiding your honey hole, hint hint). Likewise, you will find that a greater depth-of-field (bigger f-stop #), will make everything from here to eternity appear in focus. This will help make those landscapes beautiful and fascinating. Customers tend to lean toward these shots, and most iPhones are defaulted toward this type of setting.

Customer Expectations vs Keep ’Em Wet

I’ve hinted at this before, but I’m a big fan of fish-in-the-water photos. The campaign #keepemwet speaks to me: these photos keep the fish safe, protect the resources, and can result in some very creative photography.

Underwater Shot

From a guiding standpoint, taking care of the customer and getting re-booked is one of the top priorities. From my experience, customers like to see themselves in the photos. They want to share them on the web and on their own social media feeds. Giving your clients creative shots can be just as good, especially if they are repeat customers. Having a wide variety of creative shots to share and getting away from the traditional ‘grip and grin’ will make it more exciting for them to share.

Having a balance of ‘grip and grins’ with a few ‘protect the resource’ shots is important. You don’t have to have a fully submersed camera for a #keepemwet shot. Also, another major benefit with the underwater shots is you get to protect that ‘honey hole’ again.

Fish Tail Picture

Editing Software

Even with prep, speed, and all your AF’s (auto focus) aligned properly, you are going to make mistakes. I am self-taught with Adobe software and it does an amazing job of fixing the problems that come about from shooting outside. The Auto settings in the development suite will fix your over/under exposures. You can easily remove an oar, a motor, or water drops on a lens.

Before After

If improving your photography skills is one of your goals, the Adobe Photography Plan https://www.adobe.com/creativecloud/photography.html is a guide’s best friend. For only $10 per month you can receive Adobe’s very powerful Photoshop and Lightroom.

I truly believe that taking great photos is part of being a good guide. You can save/develop photos that are not perfect, helping you rebook and spread the word about your services. Great photos will help during presentations, seminars, advertising, websites, and customer referrals as well. Taking a few quality photos can really add to your customers’ experience and time spent in your boat, documenting their trip of a lifetime.

Scientific Anglers Ambassador Captain Jon Ray has been fly fishing since the age of 15, and has guided fly anglers in Michigan and Colorado for the last decade. Jon’s first love is chasing large resident trout with streamers & dry flies. He currently works for Hawkins Outfitters and operates Mangled Fly Media at www.mangledfly.com