Better fishing pictures: Glorious light

Published May 24th 2006

Remember taking pictures in the magic hour when the light is there


Always different - Even the most average image of an angler get better against a sun that sets
Always different
No cheating - Promise! It really looked like this. All I had to do was point a shoot. Notice the small angler in the bottom left corner. I didn\'t plan for him to be there. He just was. This combination will not appear again in a thousand years.
No cheating
The term Glorious Light is not mine but photographer Ken Rockwell's. His articles are always worth reading, and I can fully agree with him on the fact that good light is only really present a few minutes every day. Many anglers refer to this period as the golden hour or the magic hour, praising the great light just around sunrise and sunset. The "hour" in the name reveals that it might be more than just a few minutes, which are magic.

Minutes or not, the phenomenon usually occurs just around sunset and sunrise. This is particularly the case if you take pictures close to the equator where the sun rises and sets more vertically. Further north and south, like in Scandinavia, Iceland, Canada, Alaska, South America and many more places we have a sun that moves in a lower path across the sky much of the year, so we often have more chances for some non-vertical light. And we see more clouds than around equator. And clouds create dynamic skies and often great landscape images.

Be it sunrise or sunset, the sun passing behind a cloud, a sudden outburst of rain or snow—the moment arises and passes in an instant, and you have to be ready when it's there.

Rockwell is sure that most photographers sleep through these magic moments, which may be true for the average photographer, but we anglers know better than to sleep through sunup and leave before the sun disappears under the horizon!
That is because we know that fishing is also best in the magic hour just around sunrise and sunset. Fish seem to prefer Glorious light too.

What a color! - This is the result of zooming in on a distant angler during sunrise on a very misty morning. When the sun cleared the horizon is blazed this extremely orange light through the mist and created this fantastic scene where sky and ocean blends so smoothly.
What a color!
Same morning, different picture - Notice the angler in the distant background on this picture. He is the same angler who occurs on the very orange image taken in the mist. This picture is taken within minutes of the other one but yet it\\\'s very different. And the whole scene was gone in less than 10 minutes.
Same morning, different picture
Slow shutter - This picture was done late at in the light Scandinavian night. Using a rock for support and a shutter speed of 10 seconds I was able to get the light and the drama of the clouds. The long shutter opening meant that the clouds moved while exposed, which is why they are blurred.
Slow shutter
Symmetry - The symmetry of the sky and the reflection in the water can always e used to add even more drama to a rosy sky like this.

Grey matter - Great light is not only experienced around sunrise and sunset. This picture was taken in the middle of a bland and grey day where the sun suddenly burst through and created quite a magic light.
Grey matter

Low sun, low stance - Going low also applies to sunset pictures like this. Getting the sun below the angler\'s head emphasizes that it really is low.
Low sun, low stance
So always have your camera ready when you witness sunups or sunsets. Brace yourself with patience and make sure you get ready before the dish of the sun shows, and wait until the sun is fully gone, because oftentimes the best sceneries will be just before and just after. Once the sun is on the sky, the light is usually bright and the magic is gone.

Be particularly aware of clouds. If you have clouds forming on the horizon or over your head while in these magic minutes, there's a highly increased chance of seeing and photographing something spectacular.

Use the water to get reflections of the sky. The symmetry can be stunning. You can even consider mainly having the sky reflected in the surface of the water and not having the sky itself in the viewfinder. Isolating silhouettes of anglers in this way can create some beautiful effects. You may want to disobey the general rule of a low stance, and find somewhere high to get the anglers profile clear against the water behind him or her.

Boat in BC in B/W - This isn\'t actually black-and-white, but the fog created the most fantastic, flat, soft light, which dimmed down all colors. I took a whole bunch of pictures in this light of both the water and banks, the boat and the other angler I was with.
Boat in BC in B/W
Minutes after - A few minutes after I had my glorious B/W light the fog lifted and the whole magic was turned into an ordinary sunny day.
Minutes after
Since the fish often bite in the golden hour, there might even be a chance that you can get a strike, a fight and a fish in that nice light or with that excellent backdrop. Use the low light as a source to light your subject and not only as a background. Remember to use a fill flash if you shoot into the sun or the bright horizon and underexpose a bit to get more saturation and avoid burned-out parts of the picture.

Get more - Always shoot a row of images when you\'re exposed to glorious light. Vary the orientation, the zoom and the exposure to get as many different aspects of the magic.
Get more

As always you should take plenty pictures. In these digital days there is no reason not to shoot dozens and do a lot of experimentation with exposure.

These images below demonstrate why pressing the shutter release again and again is important. Get as many views of the situation as you can and sort when you get home. The six images below are selected from about 30 shots fired between 5:28 and 5:33pm into a November sunset. Notice the difference between top row and bottom row. There is less than a minute between the two rows.

Basic waterscape - This was I had to work with: the sun setting in a very dense layer of clouds just over the horizon introducing a lot of contrast into the picture
Basic waterscape
Silhouette - Standing a little higher than usual I could isolate this fisherman against the reflections of the sunset in the water and get a good profile of him.
Vertical, full reflection - The same picture, just with the camera vertical to get the full reflection.
Vertical, full reflection

Horizontal and low - Another view of the same scene, here from a low standpoint
Horizontal and low
Close - This is quite close and not at all as exciting as the silhouette pictures. Of course it\'s great seeing a face and a smile, but the darker profile with no details seem to work better.
Closer - Hands are always interesting and isolating the angler\\\'s hands and the reel against the sky and water had a good effect

You can also visit, which has much more on photography.

A series
These are all the articles in our series about better fly fishing photography. Read this series and you will learn a lot ebout getting better pictures while fishing. General outdoors pohotographers may also pick up a thing or two...
Better fly-fishing pictures

User comments
From: Mark Libertone · mklibertone·at·  Link
Submitted May 25th 2006

Super photos. The atmosphere of them makes them very special and captures the essence of the moment.

From: Al Osmond · salmontech·at·  Link
Submitted May 25th 2006

Nice shots. I have a number of my own at , in the Outdoor Stuff section, most of which are from fishing trips. Keep up your good work.

From: Brian Larson · blarson·at·  Link
Submitted May 24th 2006

Sigred Olsen, noted Minnesota author and explorer of Canadian canoe lands, called the last 5 minutes Ross Light, after a famous photographer/painter friend of his.

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