People often call me with fish stories. In fact, last week I had three separate conversations with readers, and each one had a fantastic tale about the one that didn't get away.
"Do you have a good photo?" I ask.
"Great photo," they usually respond. "I took it with my cellphone."
But when that photo of the once-in-a-lifetime fish is downloaded to a computer and enlarged, it no longer looks crisp and sharp.
That is because most cellphones don't shoot the same quality of pictures as an inexpensive point-and-shoot camera.
It's funny, but most fishermen wouldn't think twice about spending $100 on a high-quality spinning reel if it would help them land a 20-pound snook. But what good is catching a monster linesider if you don't have a photo to show your friends?
Ask most diehard anglers what is the most important piece of equipment in their tackle box and they probably will say needle-nose pliers or a hook sharpener. I disagree. In this era of catch-and-release fishing, nothing beats a good point-and-shoot camera.
When I started using digital cameras in the late 1990s, even the cheapest models still cost more than $500. But today, you can get a 12-megapixel camera (10 times more powerful than my first digital) for $100. Buy yourself a waterproof box for about $15 and you will be ready to shoot everything from redfish to wahoo.
In case you are wondering, we love good reader-generated photos. We prefer files that are 3 to 5 megapixels in size. Larger file sizes will reproduce better. Smaller photos won't make the cut.
That said, if you are shopping today, think about buying a camera for your favorite fisherman. Count on spending at least $100, but you won't need to spend more than $200. It will probably end up being dropped in the water eventually, so don't go overboard.
Then, once your angler is armed with a new camera, all he has to do is catch a fish. Here are a few tips from several of my colleagues to help you take that perfect "Great Catch" photo:
• Perhaps the most important thing to remember when shooting a fishing picture is the lighting. Even on a bright, sunny day, it pays to turn the flash on with a point-and-shoot camera. Most fishermen wear hats, and a cap usually throws a shadow across a face. That extra bit of light will help bring out the natural colors of a fish. Even on a beautiful day, a flash will only help a photo, never hurt it. Most inexpensive point-and-shoot cameras allow you to turn on a flash whenever you want it.
• The picture taker should remember to shoot with the sun at his back. If not, the picture will look washed out.
• Fortunately, the best time to shoot photos is also the best time to catch fish. Dawn and dusk offer the softest light and the best bite. Look at how the light is hitting your subject before you take the picture. If you have to move the subjects to avoid shadows, don't hesitate.
• A clean background is also important. Try not to have your subject standing in front of the bait shop or boat ramp. Keep the background simple.
• Many picture takers also make the mistake of standing too far from the subject, so get as close as possible. When you look through the viewfinder, fill the frame with the angler and fish, not the sky or water.
• In most fishing shots, the angler holds the fish horizontally, leaving the viewer with lots of sky or water. Try holding the fish vertically, and then hold the camera vertically. You get more of the fish and angler in the picture.
• Keep it simple. Shoot the fish and those who caught it. Two people usually don't catch one fish. So why take a photo of your buddy? Exception: It is perfectly acceptable to take a photo with the guide who put you on the fish.
• Look at the details in the viewfinder before you shoot. Nobody wants to see a bloody rag on the deck or your cousin's beer belly.
And remember, a photo says a lot about you. Avoid photos of a big stringer of fish. With more and more people practicing catch and release, a pile of dead fish is more often considered an embarrassment than a badge of honor.
If you have a photo of a memorable catch, email it to ttomalin@ tampabay.com. Include your name, contact information and the details of your catch (what, where, when, etc.).