Archived Story

Properly composed photos tell a story

Published 9:35am Tuesday, May 7, 2013 Updated 11:37am Tuesday, May 7, 2013

I believe pictures tell stories. They are worth at least 1,000 words, and in the fishing world can be worth many more. They are about a trip, a day, a moment.

They are about family and friends and, of course, the fish that were caught. The photo captures smiles and other expressions that ultimately describe the emotions of the moment.

Not only do photos help tell stories but they can be interesting and beautiful like art — full of color and motion, and the viewer can interact with them too.

All stories have a main character. In the world of photography, the terminology is “subject.”

The interesting thing about fishing pictures is that it’s often difficult to tell which is the subject. Is it the fish or the person holding the fish? It’s interesting how ambiguous that relationship is and I think as viewers we tend to jump around the photo looking for cues that might tell which is which.

All stories have a setting — the when and where a story takes place. Fishing photos record fine details of the fishing trip that can be lost over time — details that verbal descriptions can’t provide.

When I go into someone’s house and see a large fish on the wall, it doesn’t draw me the way a picture does.

I want to know when and where the fish was caught, and unless the owner of the fish tells the story, it’s a non-eventful viewing.

Fishing photos are archival. They are historical. When I look at fishing photos — whether they’re mine or someone else’s — I get a sense of the times. I see the clothes the fishermen are wearing — the hats and shirts and time-period trendy glasses and hairstyles.

It’s interesting to see the boats and motors in the photos, too. Not only do they give nostalgic cues about the equipment but they seem to anchor the angler and provide balance to the composition.

As an avid fisherman, and one for details, I love to break the photos down even further. I look at the water and to see if it was wavy or calm, sunny or overcast. I look at the hook hanging out of the fish’s mouth to see what color it is, and I look at the background to see if I can recognize familiar cabins and trees so I can try recognize what lake it was.

And the color and intensity of the foliage on the trees on the shoreline tells what time of the season it was.

Finally, I believe the color and tone of the picture can add to the catch. The fish species in our natural lakes here in the north are more or less monochromatic and don’t have a lot of color. Contrasting colors or the use of light and the presence of shadows can give the moment life and richness.

Take a look at the accompanying photos and see the story in them.

Collectively, the two photos at the right, make the story: I like to place them together.

Last season, Keith Holme and two friends from Elk River hired me for a half-day in August and a half-day in October. Keith, caught a 29 1/2-inch walleye in August and a 30 1/2-inch walleye in October — two large walleye, one in summer and one in the fall, two different lakes, same angler, same year — a great fishing story. We’re glad we had a camera along on both trips.

The October picture really does a nice job describing the cool fall day.

Often, I feel photos capture a moment and in fishing those can be triumphant moments.

They don’t always display the largest fish or the best catches, but I feel fishing as a sport, is about the challenge of enduring all conditions and when a fish finally bites the hook — it’s a real achievement.

The walleye I’m holding in the photo below isn’t large, but it’s a nice 24-inch walleye, that I caught while guiding in high wind — 45 mph gusts in early October 2012. I’m in full rain gear to keep dry and the white caps are evident in the background. We had a nice catch that outing — but every fish was well earned. Just keeping the boat over the fish was a challenge.

This photo is one of my favorites. Aju and James Fenn of Colorado Springs, Colo., and a very long walleye-just over 31 inches. The overall composition is very nice — Aju’s bright red rain jacket really creates a nice visual balance against the drab June morning. As father and son, they stand close in this picture, which also describes their relationship and the fun they have fishing. And their smiles tell the rest of the story.

I’ve taken a lot of people fishing who had perfectly photographical moments without a camera. Sometimes people forget and sometimes they just didn’t feel the need to have a camera along. When we get to shore they always express how they wish they had their camera along so they could’ve taken a picture. Don’t forget the camera — it’ll be worth a thousand words.


Ross Hagemeister, Meister Guide Service,

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