Dolly Varden Underwater Fishing photo

Underwater photography may be in its heyday. Thanks largely to technological advancements, capturing underwater images is now easier and more accessible than ever before. We're seeing more and more images from under the surface, whether those images are ones of kids taken by parents at the pool, pictures of coral reefs taken by snorkeling vacationers or professional photographers capturing images in and far below the surf. The results have us captivated, allowing us all to explore our world from vantage points we've never -- or at least rarely -- seen before.

Why Go Under

For the photographer attempting to document the fishing world, being able to take a camera underwater is an immensely powerful asset. Images that reveal the scenes beneath the surface of the waters we fishermen ply marry our world and that of the prey we spend so much time chasing. It expands the photographer's storytelling from a one-sided yarn to one that allows the viewer to immerse him or herself in both sides of the story. This connection between two worlds formed by underwater photography makes the fishing photographer's tale more whole. In fact, I have talked with a number of photographers that, like me, have come to feel that returning from the field without underwater photography makes a collection feel incomplete.

The Underwater Fishing World

The underwater world of the fisherman -- at least that of the freshwater and near-shore fisherman -- is a fairly unique in that it is almost always concerned with the interplay of the underwater world with that of the surface world. Unlike the the marine or dive photographer who typically seeks to reveal the scenes of life deep below the waves, where the surface world is either reduced to little more than a weak ambient light source or forgotten altogether, the underwater fishing photographer is almost always worried about the world above.

Bolivian Dorado
A angler fights a Bolivian golden dorado in this image from photographer Matt Jones.

This is entirely a function of water depth. The world we fisherman play in is a shallow one. The trout we toss nymphs and dries at, the steelhead we swing flies for, and the bonefish and permit we strip crabs and shrimp patterns in front of all spend much of their time not far below the surface. Fishermen and fish interact where our two worlds meet. As such, the fishing photographer is focused on the interplay of those two worlds: the way the light from above illuminates the world below, the way their world looks from our vantage point, the way our world looks from their vantage point, the differences and similarities in perspectives and so on.

Images that capture and reveal this interplay between our world and theirs captivate us because they tantalize our imaginations, asking them to do more and more. Fisherman across the globe peer out across the bodies of water they pass, imagining the worlds below. Underwater photography offers us a glimpse of those worlds, simultaneously satisfying our curiosity and fueling our ability to concoct new fantasies about the underwater universe.

Getting Wet

As mentioned, capturing underwater images is easier than ever thanks to more capable and more affordable gear. Getting a lens under the surface may mean as little as heading to the water with the gear you already have, adding some minor equipment to your photographic quiver, or ponying up for some series underwater gear. Whatever route you choose, the tools that today's fishing photographer yields are more powerful than ever, and can yield impressive results.

Permit boat mexico
Another shot from photographer Matt Jones, this one offers up a view of a boat full of anglers from the perspective of a bonefish cruising the flats of Mexico's Ascension Bay.

Underwater photography, however, poses its own unique set of challenges and the learning curve can sometimes be considerable. Over the coming weeks, we'll continue exploring the world of underwater fishing photography through a series of pieces that seek to help you get started exploring the underwater world, and do so with greater success. We'll dig into the gear (cameras, accessories and so on), tips, technique and more.

Underwater Fishing Photography Series
Underwater Fishing Photography: An Introduction
Underwater Fishing Photography: The Gear
Underwater Fishing Photography: Tips for Success
Underwater Fishing Photography: Mastering the Split Shot (coming soon)


Wow-What a great article. Thanks for helping encourage fisherman to see, as you put it "the other side of the story". I used to love fishing and did a lot of it decades ago, but once I started spending time with fish underwater in their world, I came to appreciate them in a very profound way. Eventually, I was no longer able to fish for these magnificent creatures. Today I appreciate them on their terms and in their world and the satisfaction and enjoyment I get from that transcends anything that I ever experienced when I fished for them.