3 Easy Steps To Photograph Your Flies

Fly photography can be a big step and sometimes overwhelming if you know more about tying flies than taking pictures. Good thing for you is I know more about photography than I know about tying flies, so I will try to break it down for you! I’m going to walk you through 3 steps to get you taking great pictures of your flies. First we will gather all the materials and supplies you need, then set it all up, and lastly photograph it. Easy right? Let’s get started then.

Gathering your supplies
Here is what you need to gather up:

  • A Camera: This can be anything from your phone, point and shoot or DSLR cameras. Just know there will be quality differences between all of these. I’ll explain more about that in a future blog post.
  • 1 or 2 plain white pieces of paper: Or some sort of neutral surface to photograph your flies on.
  • Lighting: This can be as easy as window light or some sort of lamp. You’re looking for nice soft light, which means no hard shadows.
  • Tripod: Not absolutely necessary, but can be a great help in making sure your fly is tack sharp. If you don’t have a tripod of some sort, just make sure your lighting is nice and bright to give you a good exposure.
  • Fly holder and your fly: Fly holders are nice because then you can control the direction and position of the fly easily.  Holders can be anything from your vise jaws to hackle pliers, alligator clip, and so on. If you can’t find anything, don’t worry, you can just lay the fly down on your background surface.
How to photograph a fly
Two different set ups. On the left is with a DSLR and tripod. On the right is a point and shoot camera without a tripod.

Setting it all up

  1. Location, Location, Location: Look around your house for a good place to photograph. What you’re looking for is anywhere with good lighting. Pull up the blinds in the living room, kitchen, bedroom or wherever you can find a nice window.  Window light is so great because the light is so soft with minimal shadows, which is ideal. (See my example above with the big window. I also can control the lighting with the blinds.) No windows in your house or that isn’t an option? I use a lot of artificial light too. Perhaps you’re doing all your photographing at night, so window light wouldn’t be an option. No problem. A lot of tyers will already have a light that they use for just seeing their fly when they are tying, which could be a good option right off the bat. Otherwise, anything from a desk lamp or LED lights can be good options too. Position the light from the side to show more dimension of the fly or overhead angled more towards the front for a nice even lighting too.After you choose your prime spot and have it all set up, position your fly on your background.
  2. Prep your camera: This step depends on what camera you have to properly set it up, but can still be pretty easy overall. On a phone, I would recommend to look for the macro mode and then touch the screen to focus on the fly. On some phones you can even control your exposure, so you would want to play with that a little bit to make sure your fly is bright enough. This step would be pretty similar on a point and shoot camera as well.
    On a DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex Camera), one you can interchange the lenses that is, you have a lot more options for control. To keep it simple, I would recommend using the “A” mode, which stands for Aperture. Basically, you will be controlling how much of the picture is in focus with this. Crank it up to a larger number to make it more in focus. If you have Macro lens, use that.  If not, you may just have to physically move a little bit farther away from the subject.
  3. Prep your fly: Make it look good. This is your fly’s finest hour, so you want to make sure it looks good. Finesse those hairs, trim some stragglers, you’ll know what to do. Sometimes after you take a few pic’s, you will be able to see how good your fly looks, or where you might need some improvement.

Shoot Away

Make sure you fill the frame when photographing a fly.
Filling the frame with the UV Scud
  1. Take your first shot: Well how did it go? Examine it and look for areas you can do better. The most important parts are Exposure and Focus. Is it properly exposed and in focus. If not, no worries, that is the beauty of digital cameras. I grew up in the film days and didn’t have that luxury. Every picture was spending that $money$! Also, check your composition. Ideally, you want to be filling the frame with your fly. (See example above)
  2. Experiment with different angles and backgrounds: Sometimes straight on is boring. Try photographing the fly at a slight angle or on a cool surface. During our last fly tying month some people shot their fly’s on cork, wood, tile and more!
  3. Try shooting at different times of the day if you’re using natural light: As the sun moves over your house you will definitely have a lot of different looks and lighting coming through your window. Around sunset is what photographers call the golden hour and will give your fly a nice warm look to it. You will definitely need a tripod for that though because lighting gets dimmer.
  4. Try a fill card: If you’re using natural light, a white piece of paper is a good fill card, bouncing the light back into your subject.
  5. Share the love: Post it on social and hashtag us at #avidmax or tag us @avidmax, we would love to see your new photographing skills. Don’t have social media. Email them over to us and we will post them.

Thanks for reading and good luck. You will be surprised how nice your fly pictures will start to come out just simply gathering some supplies, setting everything up and then shooting with your new knowledge.

Written by Curt W.

I am a native Minnesotan that grew up camping and spin fishing, but now converted to Tenkara fly fisherman and beginner fly tyer. My background is in photography and when I’m not doing that you can find me hanging with my family in the great outdoors.


7 thoughts on “3 Easy Steps To Photograph Your Flies

  1. Thanks for the tips, I have a sight board behind my wise and a lamp above, so a little tripod and your tips have given me an extra interest to play about with.

  2. Great article Curt!

    A tip for tripod users is to see about getting yourself a cable release for your camera (or use the timer setting). You want to be “hands off” the camera to get the shutter released, especially with extreme closeup shots to avoid any camera shake. Then is your focus is dead-on, you’ll have a razor sharp image!

    All the best – Freddy

    1. Thanks Freddy! I appreciate that. Thanks for the comment as well. That definitely is very important when shooting macro on anything.

  3. Well done Curt. Nice little explanation on how to get good shots using what you have at hand.

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