With iPhones and social media, let’s be honest, now a days almost everyone considers him or herself to be some type of photographer. And I do not mean to take credit away from any of these weekend warrior paparazzo, but instead want to promote the few professional artists that I feel separate themselves from the pack of instagramers. These incredibly talented photographers shoot photos for a living, not a #hashtag. One of my favorite photographers in this industry is Russ Schnitzer. If you recognize the name, that is probably because you have seen his images in publications like the Fly Fish Journal or the Drake Magazine. Not only is Russ talented enough to make a living documenting this sport that we all love, but he is also one of the nicest people in the industry. He is a fantastic angler himself with a great understanding of the sport which I feel really shows in the uniqueness of his photos. Russ took some time out of his busy schedule to go over how he got involved with the sport originally, gear suggestions, and some advice for aspiring outdoor photographers. Enjoy our conversation below!
Russ, where are you from originally? Did you grow up fishing? I grew up in a rural corner of northwestern Minnesota, where most kids were fishing from the time they could hold a Zebco 303. We were surrounded by lakes – big, small, deep, shallow, swampy, and everything in between. The diversity of water and fish was coupled with tremendous access. Then, as it is now, fishing was everything to me, a part of my DNA. It was something I did with my grandfathers, my dad, my uncles, and my friends. We didn’t skip school for illicit reasons, we did it because the conditions were ideal for pike, bass, or musky.
When did you start shooting photos? When did you start doing it professionally? I started making photos around 2001. Prior to that time, I never really had a camera. It all started with a pretty basic SLR camera, a 50mm lens, a pile of film, and a notebook. I didn’t have any idea what I was doing. I carefully made notes for each exposure, and when I got the film or slides back from the developer, I would cross-reference the frames with my notes. I did this for a couple years, filling up a stack of notebooks. It was a slow process of experiential learning, but it provided the foundation for not just my understanding of how to use photographic tools, but also paved the way for my individual photographic style.
What besides fishing have you shot this year? Besides fishing, I’ve shot a bunch of other stuff. Recently, this has been conservation material, ongoing work related to ranching in the West, real estate, editorial, documentary, and a miscellany of other commercial work.
When taking photos of people fishing, do you ever grow impatient and just want to fish yourself? When I’m photographing fishing, it isn’t difficult for me to stay focused. I learned a long time ago that you can only do one thing well, so choose to go all-in with fishing or with the camera. Trying to do both generally produces poor results on either side of the equation. Besides, making a good photograph is, for me, at least as exciting and energizing as catching a fish.
What advice would you give aspiring outdoor photographers? I get a lot of aspiring folks asking for photography advice. It’s challenging for me, because photography is artistic expression. I feel that one must have that innate drive to connect with and communicate the esoteric before they even pick up a camera. A lot of people are being sold to by gear companies, led to believe that acquiring technology will allow them to become artists. The best advice I can offer is to pay attention to photographs that really speak to you, and ask yourself “why?” Secondly, make photos purely for yourself – not for social media “likes,” or for some other outside objective. The most important element in photography sits directly behind the camera’s viewfinder.
Any affordable camera you would recommend for the weekend warrior who is just trying to document his fishing missions without getting too involved with the technical aspects? An affordable and easy-to-use option for making better photos of your weekend outings would be a Nikon D3500 with a 35mm f/1.8 lens. You get the capability and adaptability of a DSLR, including the opportunity to grow and learn with it, all while coming in at sub-$600. For another $150, you can upgrade to the D5600. That said, many people want to have something compact and pocketable for their time on the water. The new generation of compact mirrorless cameras offer plenty of options. Look at models like the Sony A6000 or RX100 III, or the incredible Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX100. When I’m not on a photo-specific mission and want to spend most of my time fishing, I often carry only a Fuji X100F, which is a compact mirrorless camera with a fixed 35mm lens.
If you had one week to fish for yourself, would you pick Alaska or Bahamas? Would the answer be different if you were shooting photos and not fishing? If I had one week to fish for myself, I think I’d have to pick Alaska over the Bahamas. I love both places, and have had some incredible experiences in the Bahamas. But, Alaska has a piece of my heart not only for the diversity of fishing, but also for its vast and incomparable wildness. I’ve often said that if I could spend the rest of my life fishing for one species, it would be permit or steelhead. Swinging flies on big rivers for Alaskan rainbows or kings is right up there with steelhead, and I can feel my heart rate increasing as I type this just thinking about it. If I was just shooting photos and not fishing, I think I’d probably stick with the Last Frontier. While the Bahamas provides plenty of eye candy opportunities, I feel that there is no comparison to the Alaska experience in terms of the diversity of settings, light, weather. If only I could get some fresh conch salad and a Kalik at Rapids Camp Lodge!
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