Forced Perspective In Fish Photos, What’s Right?

53 comments / Posted on / by

how can this make you anything but happy? Photo by Louis Cahill

how can this make you anything but happy? Photo by Louis Cahill

By Louis Cahill

Is holding a fish up to the lens tantamount to Lying?

The other day I shared this photo of my good friend and G&G contributor Justin Pickett holding a huge brown trout with Orvis for use on their blog. The look on Justin’s face says it all. A fish like this could well be the fish of a lifetime. Since he landed it on an Orvis Helios 2, 4 weight, it seemed fitting that Orvis should share in the online glory.

Orvis shared the photo on their Facebook page and the comments lit up immediately. Lots of positive comments about what a great fish Justin had landed but a handful of trolls as well, claiming that the fish wasn’t big, just held out to the camera for forced perspective. Certainly, you’d expect that kind of juvenile behavior on Facebook, but it think it also says a lot about the fishing community.

Normal Perspective

Normal Perspective

Let’s get this out of the way. Justin had a tape in his pack and I measured the fish. It was 29 inches on the nose. I know Justin would have like it to be 30, fishermen are never satisfied, but I’d like to know where these trolls are fishing that a 29-inch brown trout isn’t big.

As a photographer who is in the business of photographing fish I think about this a lot. Pretty much every fish photo you see in the media is an example of forced perspective. It’s not at all unlike the photos you see in fashion magazines of rail thin super-models. If American women are having body image issues they should talk to the poor fish.

rihanna-vogue-cover-shoot-1Just like in the fashion industry, the arguments about it aren’t going to change anything. You’re far more likely to see plus size models on the cover of Vogue next year than 9 inch trout held close to the chest on any fly fishing media. It’s frustrating to me for a couple of reasons. I’m much more interested in beautiful macro photos of colorful wild trout or creative images that capture the feeling of the moment, but nobody buys them. Trust me, I have hard drives full of them. Just like those Vogue photographers, I’m way more interested in paying my bills than arguing about whose fish is bigger.

I’m also frustrated that folks who know nothing about either the art or science of photography are instant experts on the Internet. Truth. What is that really? This topic of truth in photography got blown way out of proportion when digital cameras were invented. Suddenly publications like Time we’re making rules about how images could not be manipulated, AT ALL. Meaning no color correction or dust spots removed. The same things those same publication had been doing to every photo they printed for decades. All they accomplished was publishing a lot of bad photos.

DSC_4138-3The truth is that every photograph you have ever seen has been manipulated. Regardless of what you think is real or not real, a photograph is, by definition, a creative work. Someone made it and they imposed their idea of reality on it. It’s no different from a paining. If you are thinking that this isn’t true, it’s because you have had experience using some kind of automatic camera that someone has set up for you. It’s a black box, with a little artist inside. Just because you don’t understand it doesn’t make it truthful. Ask anyone who really understands how cameras work and they’ll tell you I’m right. The camera does lie. That’s all it’s ever done and I have made my living at it for over thirty years. In the end, the only reality is the one you make for yourself.

What I’m really interested in is not an existential debate on the nature of reality.

_DSC9348The thing that gets under my skin about this is, why do we have so many haters in the fly fishing community? What pleasure do they possibly derive from taking jabs at my buddy on the Internet? The man is standing there holding a great fish, which took a lot of skill to catch, and you know he’s reading the comments. Why can’t you just be cool?

Who cares how big anybody’s fish is?

I was happier taking photos of Justin with that fish than I’d have been to have caught it myself. I don’t think that’s especially noble of me, I just enjoy seeing my buddy succeed and I might actually make a dollar off of the photos one day. He was way more excited than I would have been and maybe that means he deserved it more.

As long as there is an Internet, there will be trolls. Nothing I say will change that. You might ask yourself this question though, if you are one of the folks complaining about forced perspective making fish look bigger than they actually are.

What part did you play in making that the norm?

_DSC6726Maybe if you weren’t so obsessed with the size of the fish you catch, people wouldn’t have to push every fish they catch into the lens? Maybe if what we cared about was the quality of the experience, and not the size of the fish, we’d be happier with the fish we catch? Maybe if we took pleasure from seeing other anglers succeed, rather than trying to make ourselves look like experts, we’d have more friends who share more information and we’d all be better anglers?    

Honestly, if it wasn’t my job I don’t think I’d photograph my fish at all. I think I have posed for photos with fish twice in the last year and one of those times was just for my buddy who wanted to take the pictures. When I think back about great fishing trips I’ve taken, when I find myself smiling at a fond memory, it’s almost never the fish I’m thinking of. It’s the people I fish with. My family, my brothers and sisters on the water. I like to think that when I’m finally too old to wade into the river, I’ll look back on my days as an angler and judge my success, not by the size of the fish I caught, but by the friends I made and the size of their hearts.

I’m proud of Justin landing that fish. He’s a hell of an angler and he worked hard for it. It was, for the record, a damned big fish.

I believe there are more good people out there than bad. Don’t let the trolls win. Say something positive in the comments. 

Louis Cahill
Gink & Gasoline
Sign Up For Our Weekly Newsletter!

Follow Gink & Gasoline on Facebook:

53 thoughts on “Forced Perspective In Fish Photos, What’s Right?

  1. I have kept a fishing log for over thirty years and I have only had a handful of red letter days . . . if I just wrote about my big fish , my log would only be about five pages long . . . I am at the stage now when I just love to get the “take” . . and being healthy and fit to fish when I can 🙂

  2. I’ve spent thousands of hours fly fishing the waters around this region over the course of decades and I never landed a brown trout this big. Close to the size, yes, more colorful, yes, but 29″, no.

    I personally know how special this brown trout is and I’m very happy that Justin and Louis go to share this wonderful memory on the water together.

    Louis, you hit the nail on the head when you said, in the end, it’s all about the memories made with your fellow anglers that leaves the lasting impressions. Yes, a special fish landed usually starts the memory replaying in your head, but it’s usually ended with a smile thinking about who was along side you when it all went down.


    Kent Klewein

    • Well said Louis! I have actually come to embrace arm’s a part of fishing culture and it’s funny. When you have seen enough arm extensions, you can tell the “actual” size of the fish.

      A parallel between modeling photography and fishing photography is the competition factor. Lots of girls want to be the on the cover of vogue and lots of fishers want to catch that hog. It’s competition and it manifests as jealousy and attemptive dis-creditation.

      Nice fish Justin and great to hear from you Kent!

  3. It is humorous how often I see my buddies, grown men, extending their arms to put their fish closer to the camera like 12 year old kids. But on the stream we all get to act 12 years old, that’s kinda the point.

  4. Amazing fish and just as amazing pic. Jusin was lucky he was out fishing with you. The memory of that fish will dim with time but that pic will be a sharp and exciting reminder of what a great moment it was every time he looks at that photo. Keep taking such wild and artistically driven images. Far more fun than pic’s of grumpy old men looking way to serious – fishing is fun!

  5. Louis, while I agree with about 99% of what you posited above, however, in this age of “selfies” and self-absorption, (never mind anglers holding the fish closer to the lens since about a week after George Eastman brought out affordable film; or in that era every damn fish in the river was pictured laid-out stiff as a board on a rock, or hung on a rack), the holding of fish, too often awkwardly trying to hold/show it was caught with a fly rod (or worse with the rod held in the teeth) is simply “human nature”.

    While that doesn’t say much for humans, it is real…just as 60 year-old men are seen driving Corvettes {slowly},or have bad hair plug jobs, or wear over-sized cowboy rodeo belt buckles; it is a need for self-validation (and self-delusion.)

    To some degree, holding out a fish for the lens is not like a 7-year old kid saying: “Nanny, nanny, boo boo!” to a rival on the playground, with an artful tongue stuck out, but it is about capturing a moment for themselves to see in the future when they caught a “nice” enough fish to take a picture of. (“Nice” is a loose term because it has a huge range of interpretation and meaning depending on the anglers’ prior fishing experience/expertise and the conditions under which the fish was fooled to take the hook.) Oh wait, that is an existential issue as well, LOL!

    The holding out the fish to increase its size is simply a function of the old adage, “All fisherman are born honest, but they get over it.”

    The good news is there are still fish to catch, there are lots of folks paying for fishing licenses, there are slightly less folks working with their local chapters of TU, CCA, or support organizations like ASF, CCF, BTT, etc, but thank goodness they are working to conserve & protect the watersheds, habitats and species for new generations of anglers.

    If “cheating” with a photographic perspective, or adding an inch (or 3, ahem…), or goosing the day’s total tally brought to hand is not only regular, but a common occurrence, then so be it; because it feeds our need to catch fish. If stop needing to catch “nice” fish, then we will stop caring about catching them next time. That isn’t existential, it is real.

    And, I agree with you 100%; it is as much, if not more, the friends I have made through fishing that I treasure beyond that 27-pound bonefish I caught in Lake Minnetonka last winter, ice fishing. Why? Because they laugh and know it was only 23-pounds and was actually taken on worms in Lake Erie last summer.

    • Rick, I guess you and I part at the “nanny, nanny, boo, boo”. There should be no rivals on the river. Only friends. I guess that’s whole story right there. Who needs competitive fishing?

      • LC: I wasn’t suggesting playground rivalry…just the opposite. I was saying there is no place for “NNBB”.

        Although it can be fun to teasing (in good jest) back & forth during a day with a fishing buddy about relative size/numbers if you and your fishing buddy are good at verbal jousting.

  6. Well said Louis! The problem is that it will never change since you can’t fix stupid, the internet just gave stupid folks a platform to troll from (and steel fishing spots).
    That is a beautiful fish that Justin caught and an equally beautiful picture that you took of it. I’d much rather see that pose than that fish splayed out on some rock with a flyrod next to it for perspective….
    To all the haters: Either that fish is HUGE, or Justin has the smallest hands around since he can’t even get his hand the whole way around the fish’s tail….
    Keep the great pictures of big fish coming!

  7. Very enjoyable reading your comments. Ignore the trolls and haters. Yes, there are very opinionated people in the fishing world, and I continue to be amused by their theories. Some of these people can be really, really smart, too, and I’ve learned from them. But fly fishing is a completely personal experience – that’s what makes it great. You can enjoy it for different reasons. Obviously, you enjoy the camaraderie. Others enjoy the solitude, or the companionship of birds and insects and bears and otters. Taking photographs of memorable fish memorializes the occasion. And whether the lens is manipulated to enhance the the size of the fish is relevant only to people who really care about inches. But that’s the funny thing, isn’t it? The whole point is “perspective”, anyway.

  8. That would be a great fish if Justin held it behind his back. What a great moment for Justin! Now if I can just figure out how to make that 7 inch brookie I caught this weekend look like that – which, by the way, I was pretty proud of given the stream I was fishing.

  9. Well said about the hater’s and the web. funny thing is I’ve been on the other side of the forced perspective. I’ve taken a standard picture of a 20″ fish and people tell me it was 12″s, you can never win…..

  10. Let’s remember that photography helps capture a moment in time. Pictures that embellish the size of a fish also capture the anglers excitement, the environment and show the spectacular markings of the fish. If the perspective of the fish makes it appear longer, so what. The only person that will remember that fish is the angler. We’ve e all seen big fish pictures and quite honestly I can’t remember a single one. It’s the dynamic angle that the photographer uses that keeps my fish burned in my memory for a lifetime. In advertising, boring photographs won’t sell rods and reels. Dynamic images that capture the moment and the spirt of fishing does. Let’s face it. A stringer of average sized fish with some bloke next to it says nothing to me. Just look in grandpas collection fish pictures. Big deal right. I’d rather have dynamic pictures of my fish that capture the moment and who cares how big it looks. I know how big it was. I was there. .

  11. It looks like the fish and Justin are making the same face in the Photo, and good for you Justin, that fish is impressive, Great Shot Louis. i love how in true “G+G” fashion the “Fish Fingers” add link is attached right next to the article.

  12. I don’t having anything to add to other comments so will keep this brief. Great article Louis. And Justin, very nice fish! Well done.

  13. Was Justin’s fish disclosed?
    That is, were full dimensions also included and sworn?
    If so, then yeah, keep your catwalks to yourself.

    But if not – when did it become “trollish” to doubt, and ask for verification? Especially when we all KNOW about the “perspective effect” (and that some anglers DO stretch it a bit)

    • Waa, waa, waaaaaaaaaa(vibrato)

      People do not simply ask for verification. They inject unnecessary negativity into the post, situation, consciousness. I think you are missing the point. There is no reason to doubt and then go on to ask about it. Just don’t say anything, it’s not worth it.

  14. Exaggerating fish size is a proud tradition among fisherman, either using words or forced perspective photographs. The trolls, in this case, are of the “green-eyed monster” strain.

  15. Great fish; great photography; and terrific post, Louis.

    The messages from haters and trolls writing from their basement speak volumes about their own self-esteem issues.

  16. Great photo, and a great fish!

    Exaggerating the size or number of fish is a time honored tradition in fly fishing that I hope never goes away. It’s part of what keeps us from taking ourselves too seriously.

    I think I’ve caught a few that big over the years, but maybe that’s just what I tell people. That fish is 30″ if it’s a foot from here!

    Great fish, and I’m glad someone was there to take the picture!

  17. Nice post. It’s kind of like deer hunters hunting for racks. Well, you can’t ‘eat’ racks. The method, experience, memory aka the story is the real treasure. Size is only a bonus IMO.

  18. First of all Fantastic fish and Photography! Second, my guess is the trolls never caught a fish of this magnitude. And last but not least have they seen a super model or a actress without all the make up!!

  19. you know what? as a fly fishing guide in colorado, i can relate to when you said that you were as happy taking the pic as you would have been catching that brown. i get as excited seeing others hook up as i do when its me. and i love that pic of the baby brookie with a huge hopper in his mouth as much as the pic of the brown! (well, almost) it has its own story too, just like the pic in question.

    but that pic is great, that fish is BEAST (“forced perspective” or otherwise), and im sure it was quite a battle that took great skill to land on a 4weight. congrats to your friend and im sorry that the haters have to try and spit on it. when i saw the pic, the first thing i thought certainly wasnt that it was all “camera angle” or whatev (nor wasnt it the second thing i thought, nor the third….) that fish is a beast regardless, and anyone who is spewing negativity over this is either a loser or just plain JEALOUS. i just thought it was a really nice pic of a really great fish. everyone needs to put away the measurinng tape and get over themselves!

    the moral of the story boils down to this…..HATERS GONNA HATE. so i say screw em.

  20. A great fish, to be sure. My complaint with almost all modern fish photography is the amount of time the fish spends out of the water to achieve these magazine-cover-style shots. In my mind, a photograph of a fish should be a small memento to help recall the fish and share the moment with friends. If you can get a photograph of that quality without keeping the fish out of the water more than a few seconds, more power to you. If the fish is sacrificed to get the hero shot, then count me out.

    • A good point, however I think the trend is in favor of keeping fish wet. Trout Magazine for example no longer prints photos of fish out of water. If done properly however a fish can be photographed without being harmed. Look closely at the header photo on this article and you will see water coming out of the fish’s gills. We do a “Dip and lift” style of photo where the fish is only out of the water for a couple of seconds.

    • Our Fly Fishing club has just adopted a policy to not take pictures of fish out of the water. We are all fishing a valuable resource that should be protected in every way possible.
      Congrats on that fish, however.

  21. Okay, I’m going to throw in my two cents as someone who LOVES fish pictures. The bit I hear sometimes in fly fishing circles that suggests that fishing pictures are base and low, taken by the unenlightened and insecure bugs the hell out of me. The fish we target are beautiful, and I can’t begin to understand why someone wouldn’t want a picture, no matter what your favorite angle is (just the fish, “enhanced perspective”, or traditional “hero shot”).

    My brother and I have had discussions about the new trend in fly fishing photography (enhanced perspective / forced perspective). We agree that the pictures are more interesting than the old school hero shots. They look more alive, less wooden and stiff. The fish always looks better. You can see the details, the spots, the colors; all the things that make the fish beautiful, much better with a shot that is zoomed in on the fish.

    The down side is that it is difficult to tell what you are looking at. The zoom distorts the size of the fish so much that it could be anything. It isn’t so much about the idea of trying to exaggerate the size of the fish, though if that were what you wanted to do, this would be the way to do it. It gets comical sometimes, when you see the claim that a trout was ten pounds, when it is clearly a twelve inch trout being long-armed. Of course, you can always ask the person who does this if their hands are really three times the size of their head…

    The problem in the end is that you want a great picture. A great picture isn’t all about fish size, as a professional like the author of this story could explain. You really want something that captures the feeling that you got when you netted or tailed that great fish, and, unfortunately that isn’t really possible. Even the enhanced perspective shots somehow pale compared to the memory of the real thing. So when my brother was talking about his 30 inch ‘bow from the Naknek, and what a hog it was, and how overwhelmingly large it looked in the net, I still am left looking at the picture and asking; “So, was it really as big around as your chest, or is that just the angle (my brother weighs in at 220)?” Like I said, you can tell it’s big, but your eye is busy being confused by the proportions in the picture. The real whoppers lose something with the forced perspective.

    With the old hero shots you knew just what you were looking at. You don’t look at them years later and have a hard time figuring it out. The new school loses that, but gains something else. I prefer the new style for overall image quality and much more interesting, lifelike shots. Two cents, deposited….

  22. One last thing. Looking at the two photos of that big brown, I’m still going to stick with my original point. In the “normal perspective” shot, which is a less interesting photo overall, I look at the fish and think “Damn, that’s a hog. Not just long (well over two feet), but nicely proportioned. A fish over ten pounds.” In the “forced perspective” shot, the fish looks thinner (a common problem with these photos). Looking at that photo, I think it is a nice fish, but could be anything from 20 to 30 inches, and a bit thin for it’s length. That’s the down side of that style. It confuses the eye more so than enhances fish size. That’s four cents now…

  23. This is how I do my fish photography and I am mostly an amateur but gaining more respect with time. If you catch a big fish and you really care for people to know it’s big (first of all consider the size of your ego) then hold it up to your body in a “non forced perspective.” “Scale” is what you are looking for. Without scale or something to compare the fish to, people become confused. You can hold the fish to your chest or hold a quarter next to the fish so people can get a sense of scale. (laughter) If the fish is small but you want a cool shot, then absolutely use a macro shot or a forced perspective. Photography is an art! We are not taking scientific documentation of these fish. A forced perspective may actually communicate the feelings of the angler or situation in a better way. The angler feels STOKED so the photo should communicate that.

    If we are surfing the internet and we hear ourselves saying, “well that fish is not as big as that guy/gal is making it out to be and I think that’s lame. What a jerk.” We should take the following steps:

    1. Close your browser.
    2. Turn off your computer.
    3. Go fishing.

  24. I guess I’m a bit torn on this one. As an amateur photographer myself I realize that the fish is the subject of the photo, and the angler can be considered as part of the background. Especially for magazine/web site photography.
    However, most of my own photography is related to documentation, so my goal is usually to portray things as realistically as possible. And deliberate forced perspective shots are counter to that.
    For a memory shot, I’m inclined to position the fish closer to the angler’s body, and step back to include some of the location as background. Memories include much more than just the fish after all. Include some of that beautiful Alaskan/Patagonian/Montana etc scenery too.

  25. You’re spot on…it’s always about the experience of being in nature with the people you care about and not the size of the fish. I’m thrilled landing ANY fish at all….oh and I have a pic of that baby trout’s sibling 🙂

    We may never eliminate the haters, but I just ignore them and continue to fish…and enjoy the company of my fiends and family. The haters get to live with all that venom inside them. Happiness is the best revenge.

  26. As a guide here on Colorado’s South Platte river, we See fish like this come out of the river every so often. However to pretend like this isn’t an amazing fish and an even more epic moment for the both of you; would just be a lie and an insult. As you stated, when Justin landed this fish you were as excited for him if not even more so. That is exactly what this sport and guiding are all about. the moment you find yourself putting down another man’s success on the water is the moment you should reevaluate why you started fishing in the first place. I believe it was Arnold Gingrich that said ” a trout is a moment of beauty known only to those who seek it”. That quote speaks volumes about the big trout fad we have going on today.

  27. Dear Team

    What a perceptive article! My thoughts entirely! I think it is great when kids or new fishers capture a fish on photo and you see the sheer joy on their faces. However when it is the standard yuppie pose with a fish trendily held way in front of them and a fly rod balanced on their shoulder (I note the craze of fly rod clenched in teeth is now out of fashion) to prove some kind of new-age man macho thing I find it incredibly boring and a case of following other sheep. I far prefer simple photos of the fish in water or of scenery or of fishing mates having a laugh. Nought wrong with taking pics of fish caught but please keep it innovative, real and humble – not a Trendoid Brag-Fest….

  28. I overhead a catty conversation on the launch ramp between some guides complaining about a rival outfitter that always publishes photos of fish held by their guide with tiny hands to make the fish seem larger. (Tiny Hands is the best guide I’ve ever fished with.)

  29. My largest Brown was a 26″ Male, on a day that I was alone, no camera and no witnesses …. But I can tell you a detailed story of the time, amount of Fog on the River, the Rocks and the “Trash Talking” (aka “Me and You, Big Boy, Me and You”) and the landing/releasing…. some may say “No Photo, didn’t happen” but I still see all of that fight, and that Fish! Don’t really care about the non-believers …..

  30. Personally, I’ve stopped enjoying grab n’grin pics in consideration of the harm to the fish. I enjoy when the angler puts the effort to keep the fish, at least partially, wet for the memory shot. Again, a personal thing. Tight lines.

  31. Hey guys, you do a great job in reporting everything fishing and love your site. Everyone has set feelings about fish, and I think we all know when a fish is being held toward the camera. It’s for each individual to decide what they like, and of course you’re going to get negative feedback. Oh well, keep your strengths and blow off the junk…..thanks for what you do……cj webb

  32. I’m really glad you wrote this article. I’m a self proclaimed picture snob but it’s mostly because I just hate seeing a great opportunity at some awesome fish porn wasted on a terrible photo with bad lighting, angles, and perspective. With that being said, it’s not about the picture. You nailed it on the head when you mentioned the things you remember most about epic fishing trips are the places, the people, and the fun you had in the pursuit of fish.
    I’ve always been annoyed at the “uppety” vibe far too man fly fishermen put out there. I can remember being a newby 20 years ago and being intimidated to ask questions to fly fishermen who were more advanced than I was… it shouldn’t be that way. Thanks for responding to the trolls with a well written article. They cannot win.
    Oh yeah, and NICE FISH!!!

  33. I have never met a “troll”. I have met many many outstanding fisherman that have shared tips and stories over the years. interesting, that the trolls mostly show themselves under a cloak of electronic anonymity.

  34. Thank you Louis! So very well said… Thank you for documenting and sharing the joy of success of so many anglers. Justin should be proud of the great catch as you should of the great pic. And thank you for calling out the negativity that has no place in our sport. Cheers to you both!

  35. As a dabbling wanna be photographer you always setout to find that forced perspective no matter the photo you are taking. No one ever lifts up a cell phone or a camera and says I’m going to take this photo cause it looks so normal. Most people do not stand in front of a camera wanting to show of their double chin and hairy back.
    Except for a troll they have no choice I suppose, probably why they are so mad.
    Anyways, you are always wanting the best shot every shot not matter the subject. Have you seen what these influences” make their loved ones do for the photo.
    Regardless of how big that fish was, you always want the photo to show the fish in the best way for memories and for many other possible benefits, like bragging. I bet you searched through numerous quick shots of that fish to find the perfect balance of sharpness and blur and background and, and ,and…..
    I think you did a great job! And in all honesty that photo probably makes the fish look smaller until you deep dive and study Justin’s hand position and the angle of the dangle. But it does show the fish off in the best way. Keep it up!

  36. One thing from my perspective: I love the shots during the fight. While most of my fly fishing is currently from a boat (inshore salt water), this is easier, but the series of pictures with bent rod, excited smiles, then one of the fish, tell a much better story. I know this is impossible if fishing solo.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Captcha loading...