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Photo Tips for Tenkara

by John Evans
(San Antonio, TX)

Photos Help Tell the Story

Photos Help Tell the Story

Nearly 40 years ago, I made part of my living writing articles for outdoor magazines. Of course, this was before the computer/digital age, so we’re talking typewriters and film cameras. I had an editor tell me once, “It’s easier to sell a poor article with good photographs than it is to sell a good article with poor photographs.” Then, as now, people want to see the pictures.

Equipment has changed dramatically over the decades, but I was prompted to think about the cameras we use to share our tenkara experiences. Most folks rely on their smart phones, which are amazing devices with wonderful capabilities. Some use video cameras that allow them to capture still images. On the river, I use a waterproof Nikon Coolpix S33. At home “in studio,” so to speak, I have a Canon digital SLR that takes higher quality pictures than my inexpensive Nikon. I’d like to pass along five quick photo tips that may help others.

First, a camera must be available. The simple, inexpensive camera you carry means more than the fancy camera you leave at home. Ask yourself, “Is this camera portable and durable enough to where I can throw it in my pack, slip it in my waders, or wear it comfortably?” It’s sort of like knives. I have a couple of premium fixed blade knives . . . that almost never get used. Why? They’re too big and bulky! So, they mostly look pretty sitting in a drawer. Guess what knife I carry? That’s right . . . a little folding penknife that’s always available. The #1 photo tip for tenkara? Carry a camera with you, and use it.

Second, waterproof is wonderful if you’re in the water! Yes, the camera will get wet. I’ve already run the experiments on this, so you don’t need to. The trouble is, waterproof cameras are usually expensive or they’re not very waterproof. There are waterproof pouches and cases, but they add to the bulk. My Nikon has been a good compromise for me, but I’m certain there are other excellent options. Remember . . . your camera will get wet, so be prepared.

Third, get enough light on the subject. If the camera has a flash, as most do, make sure you know how to use it. The most common complaint is dim, murky, out-of-focus photos, with the subject too far away. Fishing sometimes happens in shadowy, low-light situations. You have to have some way of exposing the image properly.

Fourth, get a camera that’s easy to operate. When you’re fishing, you don’t have time to fiddle with a bunch of buttons and controls. The Nikon S33 doesn’t have the best of lenses, but it does have one thing going for it—it’s super-simple to operate! Hey, if I can use it, anyone can. I usually operate the camera, controls, and everything with one hand. That’s a real plus. So, ask yourself, “If I have my rod or a fish in one hand, will I be able to operate this camera with the other?”

Finally, learn to use good photo editing software. There are several excellent programs on the web, and most of them are easy to use and intuitive to learn. Again, I’m the guinea pig here. If I can learn to use one, so can you. Those editing programs will help adjust the exposure, color, and sharpness of images. You can crop and manage pictures in ways that weren’t possible a few years ago.

These 5 tips may not get your photos into National Geographic, but they will help you share your tenkara memories.

Comments for Photo Tips for Tenkara

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May 02, 2018
Photo Editing Software
by: Chris Stewart

Since you've been the guinie pig, which photo editing software have you chosen to use? I'm sure there are several that would be fine, but to make it easy for people, pick one they can sign up for now without having to do the searching and trials themselves.

May 02, 2018
More photo tips.
by: Timmy

John E.- That was a great post! I have been involved in wildlife photography since the 80s. Another looked over and common mistake is be aware of the background and background noises on a video clip. I can't tell you how many videos i have seen with tv noises playing. Don't let the photo get cluttered, stay focused on the main subject. I get a kick out of videos that are about casting with tenkara but you can NEVER see the line!

May 02, 2018
One Good Photo Editing Program
by: John Evans

I use the on-line photo editing program PicMonkey almost exclusively. It's powerful, yet flexible and easy to learn. Plus, it has a unique sense of humor for a software program! (Use it for a while, and you'll see what I mean.) PicMonkey has a free trial period, and then you have to pay for the service. The cost is reasonable, however. I would add that they have always quickly and cheerfully answered any questions I had.

I would offer one more tip. For uploading images to websites, such as Tenkarabum, it often helps to resize the photograph to "1000". This is easy to do on PicMonkey. Just hit the resize tab, type in "1000," and then hit apply. If you're having trouble uploading photos, it's often because the image size from your camera is too big.

May 02, 2018
by: Chris Stewart

John, that's the one I use also. I agree - very simple and plenty powerful enough for my needs.

Very easy to crop out the distracting background stuff that Timmy mentioned, and to resize the photos so they are not too large for the website.

May 02, 2018
by: Alan Luecke

It doesn't matter how waterproof your camera is if it's sinking out of sight. I got a nylon lanyard at a sporting goods store ( think ref with a whistle) and use it on my Olympus water proof camera. I keep the camera in my shirt pocket, but if it falls out, no problem. I also have a waterproof case for my smart phone, Lifeproof. If I'm using the smart phone for photos I make a loop out of mono and put the phone on the lanyard.

I like Picmonkey, but at one point it became unhappy with an update on my Mac. iPhoto has good edit features and I now do everything in house.

May 02, 2018
by: John Evans

That's exactly right--waterproof and "floating" are not the same things! My inexpensive Nikon is waterproof but definitely does not float on its own. I have a yellow "floaty thingy" that attaches to the camera and keeps it on the surface. You can pretty much count on your camera getting wet AND being dropped in the creek or river at some point. It's too late to be prepared after the fact.

May 02, 2018
Feel the Power
by: Les Albjerg

I have learned that it is good to have a spare battery as well. Cameras get jostled when fishing, and my waterproof camera gets turned on inadvertently at times. Or in the excitement, you forget to turn it off! I won't say which happens most often.

May 02, 2018
Keep the spare battery dry!
by: Chris Stewart

I found out the hard way that even though my camera is waterproof, my spare battery wasn't! Keep the spare battery dry or it will be deader than the one you are trying to replace!

May 03, 2018
'Modelling Fish'
by: Pete

Hi John,
Great post and I agree with everything you say. Now, if only you can tell me how to make catch and release Brown Trout stop thrashing around long enough for me to grab a 'model' shot it would be perfect!

The usual scenario is this: left hand holds fish plus rod (I always try to include the rod as it's an excellent indicator of scale) while right hand extracts iphone from chest pocket and takes a few pics. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't... the anxiety of getting the wriggling fish back into the water as quickly as possible while not dropping the iphone into the river can hinder artistic ambitions!

Just the other day I actually did drop my phone in shallow water, but fortunately I'd just upgraded to an iphone 7 (waterproof to about 3 feet, apparently) so it wasn't the disaster it could have been.

I'm now debating on whether to get a dedicated waterproof compact for my fish pics or maybe just a waterproof 'sleeve' and tether for my iphone. At the moment I'm pretty happy with the results from the iphone 7 and the built in photo editing software does most of what I want, so I'm leaning towards this option.

May 03, 2018
Squirmy Fish
by: John Evans

I can totally sympathize. Some species are much worse about this than others. We don't have brown trout in Texas, at least that I know about, so I can't help you much there. Stocker Rainbows are as close as we get. A partial answer is to take more photos than you think you need. 9 out of 10 of the shots may be unusable, but you may get one good shot. I find that if I take several quick photos, at least one of them works for me. Yes, that's when I drop my camera in the water--the fish squirms, I jump, and splash goes the photo gear.

May 03, 2018
Squirmy fish II
by: Chris Stewart

I find rainbows to be much squirmier than browns! My tips would be:
1. The whole process is much, much easier if you have a net. You can keep the fish in the net, in the water, while you get your camera ready and rod positioned where you can get a shot of the rod and the fish together. Without a net, you are very likely to keep the fish out of the water too long or drop your camera or both.
2. Take your first shot of the fish still in the net. That way, you know you have at least one shot!
3. When everything is ready, then hold the fish next to the rod and take a quick shot or two. Then the fish goes back into the net so it can breathe.
4. If you are not sure you got an acceptable shot, repeat step 3.
5. If you don't need the rod in the shot, the whole process is much easier. With the fish in the net get your camera out and turned on, ready to shoot. Lift the fish out of the net and then lower it right to the water's surface - so it's wet but still in your hand. It will be much quieter if is right at the surface than if it is up in the air. You can get a few shots and then just let it slip through your fingers.

May 04, 2018
Take more pics
by: Pete

Hi John,
Yes, the more pictures you take the more chance you have of getting something decent. In that way fish are like kids!

May 04, 2018
Great advice
by: Pete

Chris, that's very good advice, not just for me but for anyone trying to get nice pictures with the least possible trauma for the fish.
Until a few days ago the net I was using wasn't really practical for getting shots with the fish still inside but this week I bought a 'pan' style net (although not one of the really nice Daiwa models you sell) and it should make taking pics with the fish still in the net much easier.
Regarding Rainbows being squirmier than Brownies: I'll have to take your word for that as here in the UK there are only a couple of rivers where Rainbow Trout breed successfully and they're both well beyond my pay grade. Most Rainbow fishing here is done on artificially stocked reservoirs. There's one 20 minutes down the road from me (Ladybower Reservoir) and I've boat-fished it with conventional wet-fly gear a couple of times, but to be honest I found it extremely boring compared to Tenkara-style fishing on the local streams and rivers (although that's maybe because I didn't catch anything...).

May 07, 2018
Unique "flat" net.
by: Timmy

A while back 2010-2015 i saw some photos and videos of a man that made or used a very unique net that had no sag in it. It reminded me a a tennis racket except for fishing and photographing his catch. It seems he would wrap the line around part of the handle/net take the pics and then with a gentle flick of his wrist/net let the fish go. He had some for sale but they were spendy for my wallet at the time. I will keep trying to find it.

May 10, 2018
Net found!
by: Timmy

Thanks to Chris-10 bum for finding the custom net i was talking about in my previous post! You can find it if you google ""

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