This is the first time you and I have had a chance to talk about your photography. Can you tell me how you got your start?
Bob: I lived in Yellowstone for a year as a child. While there I used my dad’s old Canon FT QL he bought in Vietnam and brought back to the states. I cut my teeth on good old fashioned film. It was unforgiving. You spent a ton of money on film and processing, waited a week for the photos to come back and then you realized you made a mistake or failed to take notes on each image and setting to learn from your mistakes. I stopped photography in the late 90s when film processing became more rare and really threw myself into things like cave exploration and fly fishing. I started fishing at 10 years of age on a 9wt glass Orvis rod. I didn’t use my first pair of waders until I was 21 and could afford them. I spent the majority of my time on the Big Thompson and Poudre when I would take family vacations out here from Kansas. I also fished in Yellowstone on trips there. Bennett Springs in Missouri saw me a few times also.
Since then my fishing got better and I became a guide for a local private ranch called The Rawah Ranch, on the Big Laramie in Northern Colorado. As my guide experience increased I realized that more than fish, the customer valued fish photos. I began carrying a pocket sized Olympus point and shoot that was waterproof. I also brought my laptop and some thumb drives and would make a point of taking not only fish photos but photos of the client fishing, laughing, falling in the water and in general every aspect of their experience including drinks by the fire. My clients would then get a thumb drive at the end of the trip and I saw an immediate increase in my tips. As we all know, fishing isn’t always about the fish, it’s about the experience.
Now I have moved on to professional landscapes, events and modeling photos as a way to increase my exposure. I still carry my point and shoot Olympus but I shoot with a Canon 5D Mark II now. That is my primary go-to camera for high quality shots.
Fish photos…everybody’s got them. What do you look for in a really good fish pic?
Bob: The key to a good fish photo is not the fish. I know, I know, you’re thinking “what??”. But the key to a good fish photo is a story. Photos solicit emotions, emotions are tied to stories. So when I take a photo, it’s not about the size of the fish, it’s about the story of the fish, the fisherman and our connection to nature. I look for opportunities to tell a tale about how the fish was caught, or what hole it was caught from because there is usually a story about how you pulled that fish from that hole. Some of the best photos I have been a part of all have a story behind them, many embarrassing but all memorable.
Also, you have to actually see the fish. It should be almost the focal point, aside from the story. I learned early on – mostly from teasing from my friends – who teased me non-stop about my “oven mitt” fish. That’s a photo of a fish where you are holding the fish by the tail, and it looks like an oven mitt on your hand! Also, it needs to be framed well. Cutting the fish in half, or the fisherman in half, will always look odd as you can imagine. Framing, lighting, and a story make or break a photo.
You’ve traveled to some amazing places and taken stunning landscape photos. What are some of your favorites and why?
Bob: I think my favorite place is not that exotic. I have a friend that has a cabin on the Madison about 1 mile below Quake Lake in Montana. The trips there are epic. Good friends, good liquor, Cuban cigars and amazing food… oh and some decent fishing too! As I have gotten older, the death march to a big fish is fun for a day or two, but then it’s about the experience. You can’t beat good friends, a fire and nice scotch to make a fishing trip the best ever!
Besides that, I am most fond of small, out of the way, challenging to get to streams. The fish are hungry and will eat anything, the challenge of getting to the fish can be epic, and the finesse and skill it takes to sneak a fish out of heavy willows and small pockets is the best!
You’re doing a presentation at theTenkara Winter Series about how to improve your fishing photos. What are you going to cover in your presentation?
Bob: Many of the same things mentioned above. Why do we take fish photos? How can we capture a story and a moment that we can relive over and over again? There will be simple things like choosing a camera, how to frame your photos, looking at the light and making sure we get exactly what we want out of a photo. Each person is looking for something different. If you want the fish, get a good photo of his colors and expression. If you want to tell how your moron of a friend dropped his $700 rod in a raging river only to find it 5 minutes later and then catch a huge fish with it, then how can you tell that story. My cousin and I were fishing the Gibbon in Yellowstone one summer and he fell, breaking the tip of his antique bamboo rod. As he stepped out of the river with a look of pain on his face, he stood next to a construction sign that read “Break In Road Ahead”. The irony was too much, a photo captured the moment.
Of all the photos you’ve taken of fishing, what’s your favorite and why? What’s the story behind the photo?
Bob: It was taken in Montana on the Madison. I had swung a hopper/dropper into a pool but I was on the bank above the river about 20 feet. As the set swept downstream, I started to lift the flies out of the water to re-cast. A gigantic brown took it on the swing and I fought it downstream about 50 yards. It was a battle of the brawn over brains, not sure which I was. I finally landed it with the help of a friend and we took a photo. The fish was big, the background was perfect and the colors on the fish were amazing. It’s my favorite photo because I know the story and the fish was awesome!