• Published:May 10, 2017
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You can take in-water fish images of a billfish release without getting wet.

A year or so ago, Capt. Chris Sheeder from Casa Vieja Lodge in Guatemala, sent me a photo of an angler holding a sailfish alongside the boat that looked like it was shot from a photographer in the water. I didn't think anyone was jumping out of the Rum Line to snap photos, but I couldn't believe the quality of the photo.

On my next trip to Casa Vieja I learned some tips on how he gets the shot. Chris has a 7- to 8-foot GoPro stick made from a fiberglass gaff handle. (You can now buy them at various retailers.) Prior to this, all the selfie sticks I’d seen were under 4 feet long, which is too short to manage Chris’ trick shot.

Chris uses a tripod mount for the stick and then attaches a ball-joint connection for the camera so the GoPro faces back at an angle. The mate holds the GoPro out in front of the angler to get the shot, then Chris crops the mate out of the photo and winds up with a perfect portrait.

The challenge is to angle and hold the GoPro in the right position to capture the angler and the mate holding the fish centered in the image. This takes practice. It doesn’t matter if the GoPro is shooting upside down and actually the upside-down position works better at times. The orientation of the camera really depends on which side of the boat you are on. The most important thing is to have the sun shining on the subjects. If you are on the shady side of the boat, the colors will not be as vivid.


With the camera 8 feet away, you can’t see what the camera is focusing on and you can’t snap the photo. If you use the GoPro App on your phone, you can control the camera that way and see, but you only have two hands here and juggling your phone and a long stick at the same time just doesn’t work well. The key is to put the GoPro on the time lapse mode and set it to take a photo every .5 seconds. Set the photo quality to the highest quality jpeg and to the wide format.
" The key is to put the GoPro on the time lapse mode and set it to take a photo every .5 seconds."
--Pat Ford
When the angler/fish pose is ready, start the photos and stick out the GoPro. Since you can’t see what you’re shooting, move the camera around to cover what looks like the best angles. After about thirty seconds, bring the camera in and check your shots. Make any necessary adjustments and shoot another batch or two. Be sure to clean the lens often, water drops ruin photos and there are always water drops!   

When you are finished you should have about 100 photos, a dozen of which will be great. Delete the bad ones and edit the good ones. If you want to print the images you have to convert them to 300 dpi (dots per inch).  

Chris’ brother, Capt. Mike Sheeder who runs the Intensity at Casa Vieja Lodge, took the system a step further and made himself a giant stick, probably 15 feet long. He shoots the hero shots in 4K video and then pulls still photos off of the video.   

Mike gets fantastic results with jumping fish by freezing the video and taking a screen shot. His jumping-behind-the-boat shots are truly incredible. I haven’t tried that yet, but you can check them out at Mike’s Facebook page.  

I have used the Hero4 in it’s waterproof housing but recently bought the Hero5 which is supposed to be waterproof without a housing up to 33 feet. I’ve only used it a few times and never really submerged it, but condensation developed in the LED view screen on the front. I’m told that is the first stage of a terminal problem. GoPro replaced it promptly and I purchased the waterproof housing for the new Hero5 just to be safe. I don’t want my equipment failing on a trip, even if it’s under warranty.  

Always remember that the key to good photography is ‘Spray and Pray,’ shoot a lot and dump the bad ones. Actually, I dump everything that is not outstanding and do some editing on those. Only show people your best shots and they will think you are an expert. If you waste their time showing them junk, that’s all they will remember.