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Get the Perfect Shot

How to get stunning images of leaping marlin and sailfish

November 3, 2020
A collage of four anglers.
Four professionals give their advice on how you set up for a jumping-billfish shot. (from Left): Courtesy Scott Kerrigan, Courtesy Harry R. Hindmarsh, Courtesy Richard Gibson, Courtesy Carol Lynne

Scott Kerrigan

A man wearing a visor smiles.
Scott Kerrigan, Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Courtesy Scott Kerrigan

All the finest techno settings and most expensive equipment won’t help your final image if you end up shooting through someone’s head or a rocket launcher full of fishing rods. A portion of your best setup time should be spent on your ­surroundings. I shoot from the cockpit, so it’s imperative that I know how the crew responds, and where they are going in a few basic scenarios. Study their movements during a bait-and-switch; know where the tag stick and line cutters are stored before the leader pops up. This understanding can help keep you and your camera in an unobstructed place as you move around the boat during a battle.

Harry R. Hindmarsh

A black and white photo of a boat captain at the helm.
Harry R. Hindmarsh, Virginia Beach, Virginia. Courtesy Harry R. Hindmarsh


Two things I do whenever photographing billfish is to pre-focus and adjust my shutter speed. If the last photo I snapped was 30 yards away, then that’s where my focus is set. But if a billfish is busting a flat line or teaser, then my lens must be refocused to 10 yards. The time it takes to refocus from 30 to 10 yards is usually enough to miss the shot, so I’ll have one camera set up and pre-focused for teaser distance and one for rigger bites. Blues, whites and sails jump at different speeds, so I always adjust my shutter based on the species—the faster the fish, the faster the ­shutter speed.

Richard Gibson

A man smiles while someone has a hand on his shoulder.
Richard Gibson, Homestead, Florida. Courtesy Richard Gibso

Capturing magazine-quality pictures of billfish is extremely difficult. First, you must get yourself to a destination that offers plenty of opportunities,

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and the weather is always a consideration. I have two mottoes: 1) If the camera can fall, it will; and 2) salt water always wins. If it’s rough, then stay on the bridge and shoot from there. Use a large focal-length zoom lens, and put your camera on shutter priority mode so you can set the shutter speed manually—up to 1/8000 of a second—and freeze the jumping fish. Ask the mates to hold onto the fish a few seconds longer, and you might be awarded a great image—and don’t forget to shoot vertically, if you want a cover-worthy one.

Carol Lynne

A female angler smiling and wearing sunglasses.
Carol Lynne, Kona, Hawaii. Courtesy Carol Lynne

I keep two cameras—each with a different lens—ready to go right inside the salon door. Once the lures are out, I adjust my settings according to the light. On the bite, I grab my camera with the longest lens and start shooting. Sometimes the best jump shots are right after the hookup. When the fish settles down, I will keep an eye on the line and be ready to shoot as it angles toward the surface. Then, when the fish is close, I switch cameras and head up to the tower. I like the perspective up there, and with no obstructions, it’s a great place to get both leader and release shots.


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