Action Outdoor Photos
by Joe Panfalone


For many of us, our outdoor action photos consist of people holding up dead fish or posing with guns beside downed game. These grossly understate our moments of triumph and little do they convey the emotions that we experienced, or the rush we felt when we made a hook up, or the satisfaction when releasing our honorable opponent.

Not to despair, even magazines are guilty of publishing these bland shots. The following paragraphs will provide you with some ideas for capturing action photos.


When people are having their picture taken, they tend to let their faces go blank when posing. A grin ear to ear makes a definite statement in itself. Try to capture expressions. A gapping mouth, grimaced face, laughter, all help convey the mood of the moment.


Rather than taking a posed shot, be prepared to shoot when folks are caught up in the actual fishing excitement. A bowed rod, removing a hook, even an impromptu shot of the frustration of separating a tangled line will give your pictures more energy! You have to be ready to capture these moments though which may mean laying down your own fishing rod -- a very difficult choice to say the least.

Have a Prepared Script:

It is always helpful to have a written script. This is a tool that professional photographers use religiously. Having a script, more so having memorized it, will ensure that in the heat of the moment you will instinctively know which photos to take.  Being in the middle of the fishing action can make it confusing and difficult to spot the best photos without some pre-planning.

In your mind's eye, go through the fish-catching process. Make written notes on what you would like to capture on film. Look over photos in magazines and various pieces of artwork. Find those that you’d like to try to duplicate. Ask yourself what have these pictures captured and what statement do they make to you. Then write down some examples of your own.

Suggested scenes: putting your boat in water, getting (stumbling) in and out of float tubes, hiking along a shoreline, baiting up for a child, casting lines, wading rivers, fighting and netting fish, close-up of fish with fly, joviality between fishing friends, lunch break, overall fishing scenes,  etc. Just use your imagination and be creative.


Try shooting the same picture from various vantage points. Standing in front of your subject or over their shoulder as they cast present different perspectives worth experimenting with.

Change your camera lens from close-up, normal, and wide angle for the same fishing scenes. The backgrounds included in these frames will each tell a different story. 

Try getting a low angle shot by getting into the water yourself and shooting up towards the fisherman. This can be very effective on the cast, the fight, and as well as netting of the fish.

Set up dramatic foregrounds by shooting between the limbs of trees or through spider webs. Take a shot of a lake over the top of a  campfire.  Shoot a picture of a fly fisherman in the stream over an open fly box.  Your objective is to tell a story via a collage of all the elements of the trip.


Shoot all kinds of activities in all kinds of ways.  Instead of the traditional fish in the hand or on a rock, try a close-up of a fish’s head coming over the gunwale, or shoot down into the net. Whenever shooting the fight and the netting of fish, make sure that you get water splashing or dripping. It gives your pictures more immediacy.

Take lots of pictures and don’t be afraid to experiment:

Your efforts may fail the first time, but looking at your pictures will tell you what would have been more successful. Then try again next time!  

Film is relatively inexpensive compared to the cost of most any trip. Taking more shots from different angles and perspectives will ensure that at least one will capture the essence of being there. Watch professional photographers  at work. They take a tons of pictures to improve their odds of capturing that one special picture. 

There is no need display your bad pictures. What's the point? They were a simple necessity to get to the "best in class".  I would suggest though that you keep a separate scrapbook of these rejects.  Label them as to why they are rejects, what it was that you were trying to capture, and how you would do it over again if you had the chance. This will provide you with an invaluable learning tool for your next photo shoot.

Just Watch:

Sometimes it helps to just put your rod and camera down, and just watch. During an action scene, take notes of possible shots using the above suggestions. This will enable you to write that script for the next fishing trip. You’ll be better prepared for "seeing" and shooting creatively on-target and at a moments notice. 

Getting memorable fishing shots can be as much fun as fishing itself. A little pre-planning, some practice, and lots of film can add another dimension to your fly fishing experience much the same as fly tying and rod building.

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The Buckeye United Fly Fishers, Inc is a non-profit corporation organized under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, incorporated in the State of Ohio for the preservation, conservation and wise use of our fishing waters and game fish; and to assist in the protection and improvement of our natural resources