Methods to the strange act of photographing fish

pinksalmon.DSC_9805.jpg

methods to

the strange act of photographing fish

Sometimes when I photograph salmon, I dive down and place the camera on the river bottom. I set the camera to take hundreds of shots at a few second interval, compose the shot, weight the camera to a small tripod, and make myself scarce.


Sometimes I'll swim away and play around in the river elsewhere while my camera works unattended.


Sometimes I meditate for a time, facedown and buoyed by the river, breathing in and out of my snorkel. I try to remain open to the energy of the great migration unfolding beneath me. It's far too easy to remain closed off to such forces, even if it's happening all around.


Most of the time I'll make like a thoroughly saturated sea lion and unabashedly haul out to dry on the rock bluffs. I'll slip sweetly into a waterlogged daydream. Still in my wetsuit I'll splay my limbs out with belly up to the sky, arms wide open to catch the fleeting autumn rays.


This allows the salmon time to school up, hold, and generally do as they would any other day in the upper reaches of the river. In this way, the camera captures their undisturbed behaviour. The thing about photographing salmon while freediving is that I resemble their natural predators. Just like a scrawny seal, except markedly less graceful, when I descend upon the school - they scatter.


I can challenge my breathhold abilities and come to rest on the river bottom for a minute, maybe two, and the salmon will begin to pass by overhead. I might get a shot or two out of it before running short of oxygen. I can't stand to scatter the fish when I inevitably head for the surface just as I've tricked some trust from them. I don't believe these fish need to feel any more fear on their journeys than absolutely necessary. I think of the seals, bears, and baited hooks they've dodged to make it this far. This is their place to rest and hold before the next surge to their spawning grounds.


In this shot, I'm diving back down to collect the camera. A few pink salmon swim between me and the lens, and I pause to let them pass by. Later, I smile when I come across the unintentional self portrait.

April Bencze