Posted by: photographytuition | December 4, 2012

Photographing salmon

For the last 5 years I’ve been trying to watch and photograph salmon leaping up waterfalls.

In mid Wales, people will tell you, the place to go is the Gilfach Nature Reserve north of Rhayader where they’ve even built a special salmon watching platform. Wrong! I’ve been going to this salmon watching place for 5 years and seen next to nothing. Last year there was even a professional photographer there for 5 days in sub zero temperatures. He was sitting on the frozen ground – I admired his tenacity. One freezing hour of nothing was enough for me.

This year I was determined to find somewhere better to watch salmon and after much research and talking to locals I found a site near Sennybridge – bingo!  There were lots of salmon. I saw more in 5 minutes than I’d seen in 5 years!

Leaping salmon, River Usk near Sennybridge. Nikon D7000 with 16-85mm lens at 38mm. ISO 800, 1/1500 second f4.5.

Leaping salmon, River Usk near Sennybridge. Nikon D7000 with 16-85mm lens at 38mm. ISO 800, 1/1500 second f4.5.

What I’d learnt from talking to a fisheries worker was that salmon make their move, their migration upriver, after heavy rain. They wait for the water levels to peak and as soon as they feel the water level dropping they swim upstream to spawn. Get the right location and the right time and there are plenty of salmon to see.

Nikon D7000 with 16-85mm at 38mm. ISO 1100, 1/750sec f4.5. Exposure + 1/2 stop.

Nikon D7000 with 16-85mm at 38mm. ISO 1100, 1/750sec f4.5. Exposure + 1/2 stop.

The photos above and below were all taken on the River Edw, a tributary of the River Wye.

Nikon D7000 with 16-85mm at 30mm. ISO 1100, 1/1000sec f5.6. Exposure + 1/2 stop.

Nikon D7000 with 16-85mm at 30mm. ISO 1100, 1/1000sec f5.6. Exposure + 1/2 stop.

Most of the photos were taken with an exposure compensation of plus 1/2 stop. This was to try and keep the water nice and bright – cameras tend to make bright subjects darker.  I would probably have been better adding one full stop to the exposure as I had to brighten the photos up a little afterwards.

Finding the salmon was the first challenge photographing them was the next. Not easy! Obviously they move really fast so a high shutter speed is necessary – probably 1/750 second or faster. The next problem is the focusing. Ideally I would have liked to use an aperture of around f8 but it was too dull for that even when using an ISO of 1100. So, with a wide aperture of f4.5 focusing was going to be crucial. Problem was you don’t know when or where they are going to jump next.

My method was to simply point the camera at where I thought one might jump next. Finger half pressed on the shutter button to activate the focusing and concentrate hard to make sure I pressed the shutter at the first sign of a fish. I used the continuous burst setting on the shutter to get a number of shots of the salmon leaping but more often than not it was the first shot that was the best.

Nikon D7000 with 16-85mm at 42mm. ISO 1100, 1/750 second f 4.5.

Nikon D7000 with 16-85mm at 42mm. ISO 1100, 1/750 second f 4.5.

These shots are OK, not great. There are focusing and sharpness issues which with better light and technique should be improved. The problem is the salmon don’t tend to swim upstream until November when the light is generally pretty poor.

If you’d like to talk to me about salmon or photography or join me on one of my Photography Tuition courses please get in touch.

Email: will@phonecoop.coop    Tel: 01497 847183    www.photographytuition.co.uk 

For general commercial photography see http://www.willlewisphotography.co.uk

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