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News From Behind the Scenes at Engbretson Underwater Photo and Stories about the Freshwater Environments We Visit.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

How To Photograph Timid Fish Underwater

In freshwater environments, photographing timid fish can be an exercise in frustration. After nearly 30 years of working with subjects underwater, I’ve learned a couple of things that might help you get closer to fish and get better images.
Since freshwater fish are relatively small, you have to get extremely close to them for striking, frame-filling pictures. On the other hand, this isn’t as difficult as it may seem. Once you see a fish, you need to make a quick assessment of its potential for your photographs. If it’s swimming away, let it go. Swimming after a fish is futile and results only in pictures of tails, not the stunning full-body portraits that you’re really trying to make. You’ll want instead to concentrate on fish that are not in motion. These are the easiest fish to photograph. Once you see a fish nearby, the first thing to do is to freeze and let the fish come to you. If you remain motionless and quiet, many fish are curious enough to swim right up to you for further investigation. Any sudden movements will cause them to swim away quickly.
Remain still and allow the fish to become accustomed to your presence. After a few minutes, if the fish doesn’t approach you, and it doesn’t swim off, move in closer. Do this slowly and only a few inches at a time, pausing with each new advance. Always try to approach fish mainly from the front. Let the fish see you. Because this approach is an unnatural tactic for a predator, the fish will more likely regard you as non-threatening if you behave like this in a slow and deliberate manner. As you move in closer and closer, stop to take a few pictures. Continue to move closer while carefully watching the fish. At some point, you will go beyond the fish’s zone of acceptable comfort. This is when the fish will retreat because you’ve gotten too close. But if you move slowly, studying the fish as you approach, you’ll see the early signs from the fish that you’re getting too near. It may begin to get nervous, to turn, or move slowly away. This is where you stop. This is as close as you’re going to get to this particular fish at this time. This is where you take your close-up pictures. If you’re doing it right, you should be only one to three feet away. Your pictures at this distance will be amazing, especially in very clear water on a bright sunny day!
It’s important to keep in mind that fish vary from lake to lake and species to species. If fish in a particular lake refuse to let you approach closely, go to another lake. There are just some places where fish don’t see many divers, snorkelers or swimmers.  In waters like these, they tend to be more apprehensive. On other lakes, where fish see people with more regularity, they’re less frightened by our presence.
 One technique I often employ is called the “swim by”. That’s where you make one pass near a group of fish at a distance. Your objective here is simply to be seen. You swim by not approaching them or barely even paying them any attention. This gives them an opportunity to see and evaluate you.  Later you can return to this group. They’ll be less alarmed because they’ve seen you before and their prior experience with you wasn’t regarded as hostile.  The “swim by” helps to build some confidence in timid fish.
Don’t be disappointed if you don’t get near enough for that breath- taking close-up every time you shoot. There will be other opportunities. With time and patience, you’ll enhance your skills at this method. With experience, you’ll get within arm’s length of most fish most of the time.