G’day guys! I’m Jason O’Brien, 28yrs old and I live on the Mid North coast of NSW. I grew up in Inverell, chasing the mighty Murray Cod in the many nearby rivers and creeks every chance I had. Most of this fishing was done by foot in my early years, riding my pushbike with my rod in my backpack to many locations, some taking a very long time to ride to.
As I got older and acquired a car license, I was able to expand the areas I was able to fish. At this time I started to use a canoe for a lot of my trips, trying to fish water most people couldn’t access without really making an effort like I did. I’ve since moved to the coast 6 years ago and felt like I had to learn fishing all over again. Honestly it’s been the best time of my life!
I am a very keen angler and in recent years, I’ve also developed a love for photography which has become just as much of a hobby as fishing itself.
You're a very keen angler, but you also have a passion for photography. What would be your first tip for someone starting with a new DSLR?
The very first thing I would say to someone who has decided to take their photos to the next level, transitioning from using their phone, is to learn how to use it! Learning the manual modes of your DSLR is key to getting a great shot every time. Sure, Auto works a lot of the time, but you have no control over how that image is going to turn out. It may come across as daunting, but there are only three main things you need to get your head around. A quick Google search on the 'exposure triangle" will have you leap in front of where you were before.
When you say learning the manual modes of a camera, can you give us a quick rundown on some settings you use for fishing photos?
It's impossible to give any specific settings as every camera, and the lighting situation is different. When it comes to photos of fish, I think the number one thing to get right is your shutter speed — using a minimum shutter speed of 1/125th of a second to eliminate blur from a swaying boat or a fish that might move as you go to take a photo. In low light situations, you can always bump up your ISO or lower your aperture, I would rather deal with a bit of grain in my photo which can be fixed later in editing programs, but you can't fix a blurry picture.
Other than your camera, would we find you using anything else to assist in getting a good photo?
Definitely! One thing I will use in most of my photos is a Flash. It may come as a surprise to some, but I will often use my flash in the middle of the day. It allows me to remove shadows from peoples faces and this is where using a DSLR is handy; you can adjust the flash to a shallow setting, so it only removes the shadows without affecting too much else.
If someone was to ask you for advice on how to make their photos better, what would your answer be?
A big thing for me is getting your framing right, taking notice of everything in the photo. Most importantly, making sure your entire subject is in the frame, like the person's head, the fish's head & the fish's tail.
I hate clutter in my photos like rods in rod holders, bait boards, other people in the background. A good image to me is one without any distractions, just you and the fish. Another big one that I'm very fussy about is a straight horizon in the background. This isn't always easy while at sea, but well worth trying to get right. In those rough conditions, it can pay to take half a step back to leave some space around the subject so you can straighten the image later once you're home without losing any of the important stuff.
When you've landed your fish, what's the first thing you do if you're going to get a photo with it?
Every situation is different, but 98% of my catch is released so usually the very first thing I will do is return the fish to water of some sort, whether that's a shallow rock pool when landbased, a Livewell in the boat, or quite often I will keep the fish in the net over the side of the boat with the help of your fishing buddy. Whatever you can do to keep that fish breathing while you get sorted, is so important for the fishes health. If I am unable to look after the fish properly (which is usually when I'm fishing solo) I will not get a photo.
What are some things you would never do taking a photo with a fish?
This one I find a little hard to answer, but one thing that does come to mind because it's a pet hate of mine is chucking a lure in a fishes mouth for the purpose of advertising. I understand lure placement can be key, and some may straighten it up before taking their photo, but I've seen times where there's a lure hooked in a fishes mouth, but it's not tied to anything. So one thing I would never do is pretend I caught a fish on something I didn't.
Are there any objects or stuff you should hide in the photo (whether it be to hide the spot or just to make the photo come out cleaner?)
Whenever I get a fish I feel is worthy of a photo, I will always quickly do 2 things while the fish is recovering in water.
- Clean up! As mentioned above, you don't want any distractions in the photo. Sometimes boats can become very untidy, so a quick clean up of rods, net handles, bags make all the difference to getting a clean image.
- (a) When fishing from a boat I will often make the effort to face the boat a certain way so that there is no recognisable background, while we are all proud of our catch and want to show it off to our fishing community of friends, we don't always want to advertise where we are fishing.
(b) When fishing landbased, similar to above, I will do my best to use a nice plain background that puts the focus on the fish rather than people zooming past the fish trying to work out where you caught it.
I've seen some people, especially on YouTube and social media taking way too long with their photos and consequently killing the fish. The fish may swim off, but if it doesn't swim off healthy, there is no point. What steps do you take setting up your gear to make sure it's as quick as possible for the fish?
I think all fishermen are guilty of this at some stage. Afterwards, It would have to be one of the worst feelings, wondering, "I hope that fish survived".
When fishing with a friend this is a much easier task, while one person keeps the fish in the water, I will get the camera out and take a couple of quick test shots, getting the settings right before asking them to pull the fish out for a quick snap before releasing it. As you get to learn your camera you'll basically know what settings you want to use before you even pull the camera out.
What's your thought on the GoPro phenomena with over held out fish?
Haha!! Everyone knows that fisherman who uses a GoPro for their fishing photos, catch the biggest fish! It's by far the easiest way to double the size of your catch with a single click!
But really, Action cams like the GoPro are a great tool for some. They're very compact, water-resistant, easy to mount and easy to use. It comes down to personal preference I think, but that bulging fish-eye look that turns fish into basketballs isn't for me.
I've used a GoPro in the past, and they have a very wide angle of view. Unless you get super close to the camera, you often look too far away.
I know you're a firm believer in holding content. Why is this important to you?
It's rare I'll put a photo up the day I catch a fish. To be honest most times, I post a fish photo, its likely something I caught anywhere from 2 weeks to 2 months ago. Why? Firstly, I like to just look back at the moment and enjoy it to myself for a little while. I find it so satisfying knowing I've caught this fish and nobody else knows about it.
Secondly, posting to social media often flicks a switch in the viewer's head, which says, "I must go chase that fish". If I am finding a productive bite period or a spot that's working, I want to keep that to myself for a little while.
A classic example of this is around December/January when someone catches a Spanish mackerel off the coast here and posts it to social media. Everyone goes nuts! It sends people into a frenzy, and the next day the car park at the boat ramp is packed! We always joke about this referring to it as "mackerel fever".
Every fish is different but what are some techniques to holding a fish that are overall good for the fish and good for the photo
This can be a tricky one. Fish are unpredictable, and some species are way more chilled than others. Whether you plan to release the fish or not, a live fish will ALWAYS look better in a photo than a dead fish. When the fish is fresh, and they're in good condition, their fins will stick up, giving them a much nicer profile and their colours are usually more vivid. Until you have dealt with a fish you plan to keep; it should be treated with care the same as one you plan to release. I find when gripping a fish, make it a good grip! The last thing you want to do is drop a fish from a height. Supporting the fish as you pick it up is also very important. I will usually cuff the underside of a fish's head near the gill area, using one finger just inside the gill area just for grip, but never between the gills. If that fish decides to flick around, I want to know I will not drop it. The other hand is usually supporting the belly.
If you catch a big fish, embrace it! Hiding fingers makes small fish look much better, but if you get a good fish, grip that sucker properly and show it's a big fish! Your hands won't look big, gripping a monster tail!
We're going to have to wrap this up but before you go, tell us about taking one of your most memorable fishing photos?
I feel like I have a few here, but one that's reasonably recent and relates to what I spoke about above, was a trip with a close friend. After I had a metre + Jew shake the hook right at my feet only five casts before, Elii hooked up in the same spot; you could say the hype was real. Elii was able to keep his connected while I scrambled down the rocks to the water's edge to land his fish; it was a pretty crazy spot, so this was no easy task. Once I had a good hold on his fish, at this stage drenched standing in water waist-deep as some waves rolled in, I kept it in the water while he grabbed the brag mat and the tags. We chucked it on the mat; it measured 115cm. A few high fives were thrown, and some colourful words were spoken. We both had a smile from ear to ear. Once we quickly got a tag in the fish, Elii grabbed the fish and made his way down to the water's edge to stand in the water with it while I went and grabbed the camera. I was back down to where he was only seconds later about to say, are you ready. Next thing I know he's standing up with a stunned look on his face trying to walk backwards with arms full of Jewfish, little did I know a rogue wave was about to engulf him and the fish. Elii held onto the fish with all he had and ended up getting slammed against the rock wall behind him taking bits of skin off him everywhere, but the fish remained untouched haha. He was a little slow to regain his composure and managed a quick smile while we grabbed a quick photo and sent the fish on its way.
WRITTEN AND EXPERIENCED BY JASON O'BRIEN