Self Take Photography for carp fishing Ė By Steve Noctor


            It appears to be becoming a growing part of our hobby to have a camera thrust in our direction by a successful angler. Usually thatís not a problem if we are in the next swim but there are times when itís not possible or practical. Sometimes we find ourselves alone desiring a trophy shot. Even when not alone asking a fellow angler can unwittingly ruining their chances of a fish. At main feeding times I donít mind being disturbed for something exceptional but I do feel a bit put out for run of the mill fish. On such occasions I often wonder why many people rely on others rather than taking their own trophy shots.

I have fished alone for many years. At first this situation left me relying on complete strangers to take my photographs. Some results were good, some were bad and others were downright atrocious. I decided I needed to learn how to take my own pictures in order to reduce the disappointments. At least Iíd have no one else to blame other than myself for poor results. Iím no professional photographer, just your average carp angler who likes an odd picture of some of his catches. Through trial and error I have learnt how to take decent photographs of myself and my fish. I do make the occasional mistake but I am confident enough to refuse the assistance of strangers when I have doubts about their ability to use a camera in preference to self take photography.

When I first started doing self takes the affordable cameras available were not really suitable for fishing purposes. Everything on my first camera was manual. I had to manually focus it, take a light reading while taking into account the film speed I was using before calculating the best shutter speed and aperture settings. Even worse, I had to manually wind the film on after each photograph was taken and rewind the ten second timer too. This involved putting the fish down between pictures which made the process time consuming and left the fish in more danger of self harm. I would then press the shutter release and dash back to the fish, pick it up, get it under control and then pose for the next trophy shot. As you can imagine, the fish didn't always play the game and I have a collection of photographs and slides of me wrestling carp while pulling some amazing faces. Fortunately things have progressed a lot since those early days and quality cameras can be bought at reasonable prices today. Even if you are on a tight budget, the second hand market has some real gems at affordable prices and today's digital cameras make self take photography almost fool proof.

The equipment I use today consists of a digital camera with a built in flash, a light weight adjustable tripod and an air release. Everything except the tripod fits into a camera bag. The tripod goes in my tackle bag and takes up little extra room. The camera I use is a world apart from my first. It can be turned on and set so that everything is done for me. It reads the light conditions before selecting the shutter speed and aperture settings and tells me when I need to use a flash. It also focuses itself and automatically winds the film on after each shot. You could say that it is idiot proof but it isnít. I know, Iíve been that idiot using it at times but I do learn from my mistakes. I use an air release instead of a remote control because it allows me two totally free hands to hold the fish. I often see shots of people holding their remote between the index finger and thumb of one hand while the other three fingers support one end of the fish. It looks like an accident waiting to happen if the fish misbehaves. If my camera only had a remote option I would make something to operate the remote by kneeling on it. My own camera isnít designed for an air release but I made a couple of brackets so that I could use one with it and I believe you can buy purpose made adaptors and straps that will fit most of today's cameras.


When Iím alone and catch something that I want to photograph, the first thing I do is secure the fish. Iíll leave it in the landing net where possible or sack it if necessary when the rules permit. With the fish safely retained I can start the process of setting up my camera. Although I do like to see my fish returned as quickly as possible I feel that it is better not to rush this procedure because haste often leads to mistakes.

There are things to consider before getting the camera out. They can make the difference between a good shot and a poor one. The first is light. This is probably the main cause of most peopleís photography failures, whether self take or not. In daylight I want to be facing the best light source available. Some days it is blatantly obvious where that is coming from. A clear sky and a bright sun is an easy one but on dull overcast days it can be more difficult to define. Sometimes, the difference between the strongest light and the rest is negligible. When this occurs in low light conditions I find it best to set my camera to operate the flash in order to boost the light. Lots of today's cameras will tell you when the light is poor and the flash is required. Obviously, if I catch a fish at night, the light available will be insignificant and Iíll have to use the flash as the sole light source for the shot.

The background can have a bearing on the outcome of a photograph. A lake can make a superb background when the conditions are right but it can also be the worst when conditions arenít suitable. Water is a good reflector of light and in low light conditions the lake can often be the best light source. Using the lake in these circumstances can make you look like a silhouette because you will be under exposed. Iíve made that mistake in the past and have seen countless examples of other anglers doing the same. For that reason I rarely use the lake for a background apart from in very good light conditions. I prefer reed beds, bushes and dense undergrowth but if nothing suitable is available Iíll use my shelter. At night or in poor light with the assistance of the flash a dense reed bed, a bush or the back of a bivvy can help define the out line of the fish.

Once Iíve decided where Iíll take my pictures Iíll proceed with setting up my equipment. First Iíll position my unhooking mat where I intend to pose. Once the camera has been attached to the tripod I will position it facing the mat with the best light coming from behind the camera. The distance of the camera from the subject (me and the fish) is important. Too far away and Iíll look small in the photograph. Too close and Iíll loose part of the subject. In order to define the correct distance I stick a storm rod into the ground tight to the back edge of the mat and in line with its centre. I kneel behind the storm rod in my posing position and adjust itís height to just above my head. By looking through the viewfinder I can now use the top of the storm rod and the edges of the mat to frame my shot. I do this by moving my camera closer or further away from the mat. Some cameras have a zoom lens fitted and it is easy to be tempted to leave the camera where it is and zoom in on the subject but this can be a mistake. Cameras fitted with a zoom lens need to be set so that the lens is set at 50mm. This I understand makes the camera see the same as a human eye and allows the camera to be close to the fish which helps the photographs a lot. I find that if I zoom in to frame a shot rather than move the camera closer the picture quality isnít as good. Also, when using the flash, the camera can be too far away from the subject to get sufficient light on it.

Once I have the camera at the correct distance I adjust the tripod legs to get the camera at the height of someone kneeling down. This gives me a full on shot of the subject rather than an angled shot looking up or down at it. The storm rod is removed once the shot has been framed. I position my air release bulb where my right knee will be before feeding the pipe under the mat and back to my camera and attaching it. A container of water is placed just out of frame to one side of the mat for wetting the fish. The camera is turned on and set to the conditions of the day. I usually set it to auto but on a day with good light I will use the natural daylight function instead. If you know your camera well you can pick whichever function you feel best suits the conditions. I will now take some test photos by posing without the fish. In particular the operation of the air release needs to be smooth and effortless. If it takes too much effort to operate, you can end up moving during the shot causing the finished photograph to be out of focus. Common causes are kinks in the pipe or the ground being too soft under the bulb. Kinks are easily cured and a bucket lid or two will make a solid base for the bulb. If I think that the camera is either too far away or too close I can reposition it until I am happy. Also if the photograph isn't quite right and the camera settings need altering I can do so at my leisure. It is always better to have everything set up before the fish is removed from the water so I will repeat the test shots until I am happy with them . The last thing I want to do is start messing with the camera settings while the fish is on my mat. If you are new to self takes a bit of practice will stand you in good stead and help the process run smoothly when you have a fish ready to photograph.

With everything tested and set as desired I wet my unhooking mat before removing the fish from the water and placing it on the mat. I wet the fish down and remove any weed or detritus before picking the fish up ready for the first pose. I keep looking out for the tell tale signs that fish is going to struggle. As soon as I think it is I replace it on the mat and try to calm it down. If the fish starts flapping I cover its head with my wet carp sack or weighing sling which usually helps to calm it down. Once calm I will pour more water on the fish before trying to pick it up again. Once I have the fish held ready for the first shot I gently kneel on the air release bulb but not fully depressing it. The camera bleeps once when it has focused itself and is ready to take a photograph. As soon as I hear the bleep I fully depress the air release bulb and take my first shot. The procedure is repeated as often as required if I want more than one picture of that side of the fish. When I want to photograph the other side I put the fish back on the mat and turn it over taking care to make sure its fins are not twisted or squashed during the process. I water the fish again before picking it up and photographing the second side, which is simply a repeat procedure of the first.

Before returning the fish I secure it in my unhooking mat and water it again. My mat has a top to it that velcros closed so that the fish can't harm itself if it does begin to flap. After making sure that the carp is relatively happy I have a quick look at the photographs on the back of my camera. All that I am looking for is that the fish is entirely in the frame and that it is in focus. If I have done my preparations right, which is usually the case, everything will be fine. This check will take me less than a minute and if all is well I can immediately return the fish. Even though I prefer not to, if I have made a mistake, I can retake the photos but this is very rare. I never retake photos because I have too much background, preferring to crop the ones I have taken instead. If I do feel the need to retake any shots I always make sure that the fish remains wet at all times and in a happy condition. One thing to bear in mind here is that the photograph isnít the most important part of carp angling. Looking after our catch and ensuring its safe return is very important. If something goes wrong with my equipment during a trophy shot I will return the fish to the lake to ensure it is there for others to catch tomorrow. On a similar note, the whole process of self takes can sound rather time consuming but in reality it only takes a few minutes to carry out the preparation. The time it takes to do the photographs is only the same as when someone else takes them for us. I mentioned this earlier but feel that it is worth repeating, practice makes perfect and with a little practice it doesnít take long to become competent. Take pictures while posing with buckets, bags, hats or whatever and it will pay you back in the long run and will negate the need for other anglers to wind their rods in at what is obviously bite time. However, if the fish is special and I'm on your water at the time, give me a shout and I'll quickly be around to do the honours. Be lucky.



The end result - a quality self take of a 30 plus English carp!


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