We have finally come to the last part of this mini-series, and this month I am going to talk less about actually taking pictures and more about what to do with them when you get back home. Although there is no substitue to getting your photographs as good as possible on the bank there is still some work that you can do to improve and safeguard your precious memories when you get back home.
I know so many people who just buy one big memory card and leave months or even years worth of images on the card and never make a back-up when they get home. This really is a crazy thing to do, as modern memory cards are pretty reliable, but they do pack up sooner or later. God forbid your camera should get a dunking or be stolen, all those precious memories will be lost forever. I make money from my photography, so I am fastidious about my back-ups. Even old images can be useful in the future so it is important to back them up properly and make sure you can find them again.
At the very least, you should get into the routine of downloading your images from the memory card to your computer as soon as you get home. This gives you a second copy. I tend to leave images on my memory cards for about a month, just in case the download goes wrong, and then wipe the cards once I have played around with the images and know they are OK.
Once each month I then save all of my images to 2 portable hard drives. These drives do have a habit of breaking down, so having 2 is an insurance policy. This gives me 3 copies of each picture that I have close to hand in case one machine goes down.
Having 3 copies might sound like more than enough, but remember, a lot of the time all 3 of these drives will be in my house, perhaps along with my cameras when I am not working. What if the house gets burgled? I might as well of not made copies at all! This is why I also save the best images to an online storage site – the so-called cloud computing. I use a company called Drop Box who basically sell (in fact the first bit is free!) space on their computer servers. I can access this from anywhere in the world, and in fact, I can also give other people access to bits of it too. By the time I upload stuff to Drop Box it is normally packaged up as a complete article, book chapter, or project, along with all the relevant pictures and text files, so that if I ever need it again all the bits are in one place and I don’t have to hunt around for them.
If this sounds over the top, then yes, if all you want is to make sure that you don’t lose any pictures then it probably is. It all comes down to how much value you put on your pictures. Having lost nearly 2 years worth of images a few years ago when a professional computer network malfunctioned I know just what a pain in the bum this can be and potentially crippling if you write articles. So, in my opinion, you can never have enough copies, and also try to not have them all in one place.
The question I probably get asked more than any other is whether I can sort out a mates slightly out of focus, badly lit, and wonky photo of their new personal best. “Can you photoshop it for me mate?” is the common question, and whilst Photoshop is a mighty powerful piece of computer software, it does have its’ limitations.
In fact for mere mortals who are not intent on creating masterpieces of digital art, Photoshop is way more complicated and immensely more expensive than anything we would ever need. Fortunately, Adobe have realised this and also produce Photoshop Elements, a pared-down version, which is still much more than most of us will ever use. The Elements version sometimes comes bundled in with new computers, or can be bought for about £70. More expense I know, but it will massively improve your pictures.
So what can editing software do for your images? Let’s take a look at some of the common problems that I see in fishing shots and what you can do about them.
Blurry images – Blur is normal caused when the shutter speed is lower than about 1/100th of a second. Basically the image looks like it is moving around a little and isn’t pin-sharp. Unfortunately, there isn’t a great deal that you can do about this. The latest version of photoshop does have a tool that will help to correct some of this, but this is I think still almost impossible to remove. The answer is to get into the habit of making sure you don’t make this mistake in the first place. Stupidly, most cameras will not warn you of a low shutter speed even when shooing in Auto, so this is something you need to keep an eye on.
Out of focus images – The second most common problem. Normally caused because the camera is focussing on you and not the fish, or worse still, the background. Setting a single focal point that is pointing directly at the fish will stop this from happening. Oh dear, there isn’t much that editing software can do with this one either. If the image is out of focus then no amount of editing is likely to make it look better.
Images are too dark – After a couple of problems that we cannot improve, here is one that is normally easy to fix. This is caused by using too fast a shutter speed for the aperture so not enough light is reaching the camera’s sensor. Fortunately, a lot of the picture detail will still be picked up by the camera, so all we need to do is bring this out. In Elements go to the Enhance tab, then select Adjust Lighting from the drop-down menu and then choose Shadows and Highlights. This brings up 3 sliders that allow you to reduce shadows, darken the highlights or adjust the mid-tone contrast. Normally this is all you need to do to fix dark images. Be careful not to go too mad with the reduce shadows slider though as it will make the picture look a bit grainy and will give you a David Dickinson tan!
Images are too light – This is the opposite of the previous problem, but can be slightly trickier to sort out. The problem is if the image is very bright some of the detail will be lost as too much light hits the sensor. When this happens it is no good trying to bring the detail back, it is not there. Fortunately, this tends to happen on light coloured objects, like clouds, and less so on fish, but be careful on roach and dace which are lightly coloured and very reflective. Play around with the darken highlights slider to make the image appear darker. Another feature on photoshop, Brightness/Contrast is also worth playing around with, as this has a slightly different effect to Shadows and Highlights.
The image is badly framed – Sometimes you can end up with too much space around the angler and fish, or perhaps the horizon is not straight, giving the picture a wonky appearance. These problems are easily resolved using a couple of simple tools. The first is the Crop Tool, which, as the name suggests, allows you to crop the image to the size and shape that you prefer. Straightening the horizon is also easily achieved by using the Rotate tool to slightly alter the angle of the picture by a degree or two. When you have used the rotate tool you will notice that the edges of the frame no longer line up, but by cropping slightly you will regain that straight edge to the sides of the picture.
I need to get rid of something from the background – I must admit, I use this tool a lot, especially when boat fishing for predators, as it is all too easy to have a rod sticking out of your head, the electric outboard sitting slap bang in frame or even I might want to make the background a little less recognisable! To remove an object we use the Clone Tool. This basically replaces small areas of the image with something from another part of the image. So you can paint out a rod tip with an adjacent piece of sky, or the engine with the side of the boat. This sounds a lot easier to do than it actually is and there is an art to cloning well. The main thing to remember is to change very small bits at a time and try to blend in the edges. This is a method well worth learning, but does take some practice.
I need to improve the fine detail – Normally the final change I make to any image is to very slightly sharpen it. This is particularly important if you use Canon cameras, which tend to be a little softer than Nikons in my experience. To do this I use as tool which (strangely) is called the Unsharp Mask. This has 3 sliders that you can play around with. I normally set these to the following: Amount – 120%, Radius – 1.2 pixels, Threshold – 5. You can play around with this tool to your hearts content, the aim is to get the image as sharp as possible without creating a strange halo effect around sharp changes in colour, say between the fish and the background. The difference this makes is pretty minor, but it gives the picture a final sparkle.
There are millions of other things that you can do with Photoshop, but these are the ones that I use on a daily basis. Whilst few pictures cannot be improved with a bit of a touch-up the less is more rule really does apply, so always do as little as possible. The best way to learn Photoshop is to play around with some images (always make sure you have backed up the originals), there are tons of tutorials on You Tube that will show you how to get great results with the various tools.
NOT JUST FISH
As anglers, we tend to spend a lot of time on the bank not doing a great deal, especially if bivvied up for a few days, and this is a great time to spend playing around with your camera, learning how to use it properly and getting some lovely shots into the bargain. Very often we are on the bank during the two perfect times for great landscape photography too, namely dawn and dusk. You will often hear camera nerds waxing lyrical about the great light early and late and it is true that there is something special at this time of the day – make use of it.
Your photo album will look pretty bland though if you fill it with endless catch shots of big fish. Some of my favourite shots are of the landscape surrounding the venues I fish and detail shots of the fish and wildlife that I see when out on the bank. Fishing and photography make great bedfellows, so good luck and happy snapping!
I hope you have enjoyed this series and that it has inspired you to try to get to know the inner workings of your camera a little better. Getting good results is not rocket science. If you get to know how the settings on your camera work and practice then this will all become second nature. Try to be a little critical about your pictures. How can you improve them? What do you like about them and what would you change? Put this into practice and I guarantee you will get the pictures that you want.