A JET-SETTING FLY FISHING PHOTOGRAPHER SHARES HIS TIPS, AND HIS KIT, FOR PROSUMER PHOTOGRAPHY SUCCESS.
by Matt Harris
I’ve been shooting images for fly fishing magazines, outfitters, and tackle manufacturers for 20 years, and although it hasn’t made me a millionaire, it’s sent me on some unforgettable adventures in some of the most magical places on earth.
The rough and tumble of nonstop travel, jumping in and out of skiffs, ATVs, and helicopters is hugely exhilarating, but it requires a robust, reliable kit that won’t let me down.
I’m happy to share the contents of my “toolbox”, but before I do, be aware that shelling out for a bunch of expensive gear does not make the photographer. Remember, it’s not the camera that creates an image. It’s you. No amount of technology can compensate for lack of creative vision and determination. A camera is basically a box with a hole in the front. Using the same brushes as Rembrandt doesn’t mean you will paint like him, and using the same camera as Cartier-Bresson or Sebastião Salgado won’t turn you into a world-class photographer overnight.
Going the extra mile for an image, dragging people back to the water or shaking them out of their sleep to be there before the light is at its early, predawn best takes discipline, character, and real people skills. If you can consistently be in the right place when magical things happen with light, often before or after everyone else is on the water, you are halfway home.
So, what kit do I use?
I’ve yet to embrace the mirrorless revolution—I still love to see exactly what I’m looking at through the lens in real time, and that’s what a DSLR does.
Although it’s been around awhile, I still use the Canon EOS 5Ds R—the quality of the sensor is everything, and the 5Ds R allows you to enlarge 35 mm images to sizes that we could only dream of back in the days of film. It also gives you the most remarkable dynamic range—with detail in the darkest shadows and brightest highlights, allowing you to interpret the images in any number of ways during postproduction.
The advance of the Sony mirrorless cameras and the rave reviews they garner mean I am constantly monitoring them, but so far, I’m happy with what my Canons can do.
Whichever camera you choose, you’ll want two camera bodies—accidents happen when wading the flats or jumping out of a helicopter, and you are normally a very long way from a camera shop when shooting fly fishing. A spare camera is essential.
I own a million lenses, but when traveling, you need to pare things down to a working set that covers most if not all eventualities.
ESSENTIAL CAMERA LENSES
Canon EF 16–35 mm f/2.8—this covers a multitude of tasks ranging from big, expansive landscape shots, capturing the grandeur of the locations, to dramatic fish shots, to lodge interiors and beyond.
Canon EF 24–70 mm f/2.8—this is the lens to grab when traveling light, a jack-of-all-trades lens that can do almost everything. It’s wide enough to shoot landscapes, and long enough to crop in tight and to shoot portraits. If you have to rely on one lens, choose this one.
Canon EF 100–400 mm f/2.8—for a while I used a 70–200 mm lens, with a 2X extender when needed. But, the advent of the 100–400 f/4, with its fantastic stabilizer, is a godsend. Great for wildlife, including bears, birds, giant otters, and all the other creatures that make destination fly fishing about so much more than just the fishing. This lens is also perfect for blurring the background and isolating and emphasizing a subject.
Canon EF 100 mm f/2.8—this lens is ideal for close-ups of fish, insects, flies, and all the fascinating little things that make up the fly fishing environment.
Canon EF 14 mm f/2.8—ultra-wide lens for really tight space, such as the inside of helicopters, planes, lodges, and boats.
CAMERA BODIES AND DRONES
I’ve recently added a DJI Mavic Pro 2 drone to my kit. Featuring a Hasselblad Zeiss lens, it’s the first easily portable drone that allows the user to shoot still images of publishable quality. Shooting still images of fly fishing environments opens up a whole new world of imaging possibilities and the drone is an exciting new addition to my armory.
In addition, I carry a powerful Canon 600 EZ flashgun; a GoPro camera; polarizing filters to cut through glare, darken and enhance skies; lens cleaning cloths; four spare camera batteries; three sets of rechargeable flash batteries, six drone batteries; a drone controller; chargers; cable releases; CF and SD cards; remote camera triggers; and an ultralightweight Manfrotto Series One Traveller carbon fiber tripod, complete with a hook to suspend a canvas bag full of rocks, thus turning it into a heavy and supereffective tripod.
I pack everything into a ThinkTank Airport Accelerator rucksack, which uses padded shoulder straps and a waist belt to spread and distribute the load.
If I will be working in salt water or predominantly from a boat, I swap the rucksack for the hermetically waterproof and super-tough Pelican 1510, which is the largest Pelican case that can be transported as hand luggage. The only disadvantage is that the Pelican case is not so roomy as the Airport Accelerator, so I have to ditch some items in the kit.
DOWNLOADING AND EDITING
To download, review, and edit images, I travel with an ultrapowerful Apple MacBook Pro, two Thunderbolt 3 card readers, and two Thunderbolt 3 5TB “Rugged” LaCie portable hard drives.
During the trip, I download everything to both hard drives and my laptop, and convert all RAW files into DNG files, which should future-proof them. I then drag everything into a new catalog in Adobe Lightroom.
I use Adobe Lightroom to catalog my images, to enhance color and contrast, and to output TIFs and JPGs depending upon client needs.
When I get home, I save the DNGs, the Lightroom catalog, and the final TIFs and JPG images to three different desktop hard drives, one that is stored remotely. I also upload them to the cloud as a separate form of insurance.
I then create a gallery on my website, showing the images from each trip. I forward these to clients who I think will be interested, and they can then send back the URL of any image or images they are interested in.
I forward any required images in high resolution using WeTransfer, which is an excellent and free FTP site.
So that, in brief, is how I work—by all means use my working methods as a blueprint for your own work, but remember that the real trick to becoming a successful fly fishing photographer is not your kit or your software—it’s your eye, your discipline, and your willingness to work hard.
Check out more of Matt Harris’s work at mattharrisflyfishing.com.