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A Good Fishing Magazine Cover Shot Should Drip

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March 26, 2012

A Good Fishing Magazine Cover Shot Should Drip

By Kirk Deeter

The other day I was walking through the Miami airport, and I stopped in a magazine/book shop to look at the shelves. Cover after fishing magazine cover flaunted big (obviously oxygen-starved) fish in the hands of some cheerful angler.

It's what I expected. I'm in the magazine business, we sell product on cover appeal, and all that. But, still, I couldn't help but feel "enough is enough." I mean, how many arms-straight-out photo tricks do we really need to make a fish look bigger and mightier than it really is? Are you people really still buying all that?

Not to sound like too much of a dork here, but I think Field & Stream has done a pretty respectable job of keeping "what is, is." I liked our March cover design, and I think the April cover with the "wall-hanger" was done in very good taste. I think we're showing more concern for the real angling experience, rather than a spiced-up camera lens trick. But I'm on the team, and you can take that for what it's worth.

I will say this: I wish more magazines would recognize that small can be just as good. A native greenback cutthroat trout, though it may only be 10 inches long, is just as appealing or more so, in my mind, than some triploid, stocker rainbow.

What I really worry about is the process a fish endures (especially in a catch-and-release context) to make itself a cover model. I've been talking with fish biologists recently, and they say that any caught-to-be-released fish should be photographed in the water. In the worst case, that above-the-waterline photo-op should last no more than 15 seconds.

I'm not naive enough to believe that magazines can get sold with cover shots featuring only submerged fish. But I will say that a dry fish, framed perfectly in the photo, is often a dead fish waiting to happen.

If we're going to shoot them--for magazine covers, or for our own personal photo libraries--the sign of a good shot, and a fish that's going to live, is to see water dripping from its body as the photo is taken. I want to see more drippers, and less grip-n-grinners.

After all, imagine you ran a 5K race, and as soon as you crossed the finish line, someone stuck your head in a bucket of water, for as long as it took to get the perfect photograph. That's basically what the fish feels when we lift it in the air for a photo.

If it isn't dripping, it isn't a good shot. For you, for me, for the magazine cover, whatever. No matter the place, and no matter the species. You can feel free to disagree with me if you are so inclined.

 

Comments (16)

Top Rated
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from Sayfu wrote 2 years 2 weeks ago

The "arms out" trick is an old Deeter trick. What I don't like is the fish that I catch, and hold close to me for more realism in the photo... I look small in the picture!. :)

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from themadflyfisher wrote 2 years 2 weeks ago

Totally agreed KD! One thing I was always taught was respect for the animal whatever it may be. And am now currently teaching that to my little nephew. I live in the stocked trout meca of Pa. Avoiding those streams I often fish the little headwaters for native brookies and those fish are very dear to me! Proper handling is always a must. They're just to precious.
To answer your question. I think most don't "buy it" anymore.
F&S is a great mag and always well done. As are the blogs. So, well done!

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from nuclear_fisher wrote 2 years 2 weeks ago

I had to go back and look it up after your rant... The F&S June 2010 cover (Night Stalker 6-lb brownie) is about the best cover I've seen. I don't know if that qualifies as dripping for you, but I've seen your online people have since used it for advertising so I must not be the only one who liked it.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from fliphuntr14 wrote 2 years 2 weeks ago

When we get a fish in a the boat or on shore it is an all out panic to get a picture and the fish back in the water. CPR catch picture release while keeping in mind the oxygen side of things. I watched a few lethargic walleyes be released this weekend and even worse people keeping breeder females for the table. My opinion they don't taste all that good with all the hormones raging through there body.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Fruguy101 wrote 2 years 2 weeks ago

Reading this brings to mind a billboard on the highway a few miles from the new Toyota plant here in Mississippi. It is a gigantic picture of a largemouth bass, and the slogan on it reads "Does this make my bass look big?". I found it hilarious the first time I saw it, and I'm not sure who it's an ad for, but that's the first time I've seen something like that on a billboard.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from RockySquirrel wrote 2 years 2 weeks ago

OK. Point taken.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from buckhunter wrote 2 years 2 weeks ago

I will have to agree with your statement concerning F&S the magazine. While fishing with Cermele, I was thoroughly impressed with his care of the fish while being photographed.

I generally fish alone, which makes photography just that much more difficult. Instead of taking a picture I will film my catch then pull a good still frame out of the film. My camera films in HD so I get good quality photos.

Filmed my son landing a nice steelhead today. Have not checked yet but I'm hoping to have a couple good shots of the fish jumping.

Yes, the June 2010 cover shot is a classic. The perfect combination of fish, background and pose. It doesn't get any better than that.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from shane wrote 2 years 2 weeks ago

I'm pretty sure this guideline have been mentioned here, but it's worth mentioning anytime - hold your breath as soon as that fish leaves the water. Actually do it. As soon as you are even close to uncomfortable, the fish is worse. Keep in mind that the fish just had the fight of its life.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from Charlie Woodman wrote 2 years 2 weeks ago

I agree with Shane . Hold your breath once the fish is out of the water. Get em back in before you take another breath. Getting the photo should never kill the fish or the release is a waste. on the flip side, if I am taking a fish home , and i do but not so often any more, i kill it just as fast. Putting the fish on a stringer in the water is cruel. And i always pack a stick of butter in a bottle, a folded piece of tinfoil, and some salt and pepper packs. If i kill a fish and want to fish all day i may just build a micro-fire along the river bank and wrap the fish or filets in tinfoil with butter and let it cook over a tiny fire until done. Here in Maine i may pack a few fiddle heads in with the fish as well. Legal or not it sure makes a nice lunch after a few hours of hiking and fishing, and there might just be a beer somewhere in my pack to throw in the water to cool.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from buckhunter wrote 2 years 2 weeks ago

Any discussion about fish photography and fish mortally is not complete without mentioning the proper use of the net. The guy in the photo above is doing a masterful job of floating the net in front of him to safely store the fish then raise the fish from the net for a quick shot then back into the net.

This is a very basic and common sense approach to photographing fish yet we rarely see nets in cover shots.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Sayfu wrote 2 years 2 weeks ago

buckhunter,
You seldom see that done when fishing out of a boat. For all practical purposes it can not be done.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Smithhammer wrote 2 years 2 weeks ago

Bottom line? Creativity - either of the image that adorns the cover, or the content contained therein, is nowhere near the list of top priorities for the sporting of fishing mags. Adhering to "tried-and-true" formulas (often dictated by top-level management who may or may not even engage in the activities portrayed) is the golden calf, even when it's killing them. Besides, it's easier to blame the internet for their demise than to admit that with their formulaic, un-creative content, they are largely doing it to themselves.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Sayfu wrote 2 years 2 weeks ago

Some of the worst releases are by folks that know better, but don't release properly because of the commercial interest. I see more shows now releasing fish hardware fishing, or flyfishing, BUT..someone will hold up the fish for the camera, and talk, and talk, and talk before they put the fish back in the water. River guides are especially guilty of holding fish up for photos and the client, or they themselves are not ready to shoot the photo.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Miz RC wrote 2 years 2 weeks ago

Thanks for this article, Kirk. I agree wholeheartedly, and wrote about the same topic in more detail in the April 2010 Gray's Sporting Journal--an article entitled, "Money Shot".

0 Good Comment? | | Report

Post a Comment

from shane wrote 2 years 2 weeks ago

I'm pretty sure this guideline have been mentioned here, but it's worth mentioning anytime - hold your breath as soon as that fish leaves the water. Actually do it. As soon as you are even close to uncomfortable, the fish is worse. Keep in mind that the fish just had the fight of its life.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from Charlie Woodman wrote 2 years 2 weeks ago

I agree with Shane . Hold your breath once the fish is out of the water. Get em back in before you take another breath. Getting the photo should never kill the fish or the release is a waste. on the flip side, if I am taking a fish home , and i do but not so often any more, i kill it just as fast. Putting the fish on a stringer in the water is cruel. And i always pack a stick of butter in a bottle, a folded piece of tinfoil, and some salt and pepper packs. If i kill a fish and want to fish all day i may just build a micro-fire along the river bank and wrap the fish or filets in tinfoil with butter and let it cook over a tiny fire until done. Here in Maine i may pack a few fiddle heads in with the fish as well. Legal or not it sure makes a nice lunch after a few hours of hiking and fishing, and there might just be a beer somewhere in my pack to throw in the water to cool.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Sayfu wrote 2 years 2 weeks ago

The "arms out" trick is an old Deeter trick. What I don't like is the fish that I catch, and hold close to me for more realism in the photo... I look small in the picture!. :)

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from themadflyfisher wrote 2 years 2 weeks ago

Totally agreed KD! One thing I was always taught was respect for the animal whatever it may be. And am now currently teaching that to my little nephew. I live in the stocked trout meca of Pa. Avoiding those streams I often fish the little headwaters for native brookies and those fish are very dear to me! Proper handling is always a must. They're just to precious.
To answer your question. I think most don't "buy it" anymore.
F&S is a great mag and always well done. As are the blogs. So, well done!

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from nuclear_fisher wrote 2 years 2 weeks ago

I had to go back and look it up after your rant... The F&S June 2010 cover (Night Stalker 6-lb brownie) is about the best cover I've seen. I don't know if that qualifies as dripping for you, but I've seen your online people have since used it for advertising so I must not be the only one who liked it.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from fliphuntr14 wrote 2 years 2 weeks ago

When we get a fish in a the boat or on shore it is an all out panic to get a picture and the fish back in the water. CPR catch picture release while keeping in mind the oxygen side of things. I watched a few lethargic walleyes be released this weekend and even worse people keeping breeder females for the table. My opinion they don't taste all that good with all the hormones raging through there body.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Fruguy101 wrote 2 years 2 weeks ago

Reading this brings to mind a billboard on the highway a few miles from the new Toyota plant here in Mississippi. It is a gigantic picture of a largemouth bass, and the slogan on it reads "Does this make my bass look big?". I found it hilarious the first time I saw it, and I'm not sure who it's an ad for, but that's the first time I've seen something like that on a billboard.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from RockySquirrel wrote 2 years 2 weeks ago

OK. Point taken.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from buckhunter wrote 2 years 2 weeks ago

I will have to agree with your statement concerning F&S the magazine. While fishing with Cermele, I was thoroughly impressed with his care of the fish while being photographed.

I generally fish alone, which makes photography just that much more difficult. Instead of taking a picture I will film my catch then pull a good still frame out of the film. My camera films in HD so I get good quality photos.

Filmed my son landing a nice steelhead today. Have not checked yet but I'm hoping to have a couple good shots of the fish jumping.

Yes, the June 2010 cover shot is a classic. The perfect combination of fish, background and pose. It doesn't get any better than that.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from buckhunter wrote 2 years 2 weeks ago

Any discussion about fish photography and fish mortally is not complete without mentioning the proper use of the net. The guy in the photo above is doing a masterful job of floating the net in front of him to safely store the fish then raise the fish from the net for a quick shot then back into the net.

This is a very basic and common sense approach to photographing fish yet we rarely see nets in cover shots.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Sayfu wrote 2 years 2 weeks ago

buckhunter,
You seldom see that done when fishing out of a boat. For all practical purposes it can not be done.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Smithhammer wrote 2 years 2 weeks ago

Bottom line? Creativity - either of the image that adorns the cover, or the content contained therein, is nowhere near the list of top priorities for the sporting of fishing mags. Adhering to "tried-and-true" formulas (often dictated by top-level management who may or may not even engage in the activities portrayed) is the golden calf, even when it's killing them. Besides, it's easier to blame the internet for their demise than to admit that with their formulaic, un-creative content, they are largely doing it to themselves.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Sayfu wrote 2 years 2 weeks ago

Some of the worst releases are by folks that know better, but don't release properly because of the commercial interest. I see more shows now releasing fish hardware fishing, or flyfishing, BUT..someone will hold up the fish for the camera, and talk, and talk, and talk before they put the fish back in the water. River guides are especially guilty of holding fish up for photos and the client, or they themselves are not ready to shoot the photo.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Miz RC wrote 2 years 2 weeks ago

Thanks for this article, Kirk. I agree wholeheartedly, and wrote about the same topic in more detail in the April 2010 Gray's Sporting Journal--an article entitled, "Money Shot".

0 Good Comment? | | Report

Post a Comment