How I got this photo: The iconic silhouetted fishing photo

  • Updated: May 8, 2014 - 2:33 PM

The writer’s fishing buddy hoists a crappie caught at sunset.

Photo: Photo by Bill Marchel • Special to the Star Tribune,

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There are special times of the day — about one half-hour on either side of the sunrise or sunset, when the fish are biting and the skies are painted with yellows, oranges and reds.

To the angler these are extraordinary times to be on the water. Often, especially when thin, wispy clouds are on the horizon, the light is scattered, making the colors all the more saturated.

There’s no better time to snap a picture of your angling partner with his or her catch, silhouetted against the colorful waters and skies. Silhouettes are a great way to express mood, drama and mystery.

I get a call every May from a friend living on a local lake, who always extends the invitation to join him for some crappie fishing. Last spring was no different.

“The slab crappies have moved into the shallows,” he said.

As usual, my friend was right. We caught a number of nice crappies by casting jigs and minnows suspended below bobbers into shallow water containing the remnants of the previous year’s bulrushes.

As the sun started sinking to the western horizon, I noticed thin wavy clouds moving in — the kind of clouds photographers dream about.

“Looks like we’ll get a gorgeous sunset,” I said to my friend. “Those hazy clouds look perfect. Do you mind posing for a few photographs when the light gets just so?”

The crappies continued to bite as the sun descended. As is typical, the closer the sun got to the horizon, the more vibrant became the sky’s yellows, oranges and reds.

Then the time was right. My friend’s bobber disappeared and he set the hook. As he battled the fish to the boat, I grabbed my camera. Using the trolling motor, I steered the boat so I would be facing the setting sun with him in perfect alignment between me and the brilliant horizon.

Capturing dramatic fishing silhouettes is not difficult. However, there are a few basics of photography to keep in mind.

First, not all sunrises and sunsets are adorned with bright colors. As noted above, a hazy sky with thin clouds provides the most colorful horizon. Only Mother Nature can supply that.

Second, the best results are usually obtained with your camera set in manual exposure mode. Most cameras set to “auto exposure” will excessively underexpose the picture when aimed toward the sun.

Third, manual focus is usually more reliable than auto focus because the auto focus is oftentimes confused when aimed toward the sun.

While my friend and I were fishing, I took some time earlier that afternoon to preset various camera settings for what I figured would make a perfect exposure and placed the camera in a handy location. When my friend reached overboard and lipped the crappie, I grabbed my camera and began to shoot.

I shot a number of dramatic sunset images of my friend that day. When later viewed, the photos instantly transported my friend and me back to that delightful spring evening on the lake.

Bill Marchel, an outdoors writer and photographer, lives near Brainerd.

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