My latest magazine covers

Bass-fishing images chosen for April covers of Louisiana Sportsman, North Carolina Sportsman magazines

I love shooting fine-art photography, but I got my start as a photographer capturing images of people enjoying the hunting and fishing sports. So it’s always great when I have the opportunity to work with someone in the outdoor community to capture their passion.

Louisiana Sportsman cover

This image captured at Toledo Bend this spring was chosen for the northern cover of Louisiana Sportsman magazine’s April 2016 edition.

Seeing one of my images in print never gets old, and having an image chosen for a magazine cover is even more exciting. So I was pumped when two images I captured a few weeks ago made it through the process to appear on the upcoming April 2016 covers of two of the South’s best outdoor magazines: the northern version of Louisiana Sportsman and the statewide North Carolina Sportsman cover.

For full disclosure, I serve as the editor of those publications, so I do make cover recommendations. But I’m not the final arbiter; that honor falls to the company’s CEO, who (don’t tell him I said this) is awful picky and often chooses images taken by other photographers (the nerve of him). So it’s a nice victory when I present an image that passes muster and receives final approval.

All that said, both cover images were captured on a trip with tournament angler John Pecoraro, who reached out to me through Facebook and asked if I wanted to join him at Toledo Bend, which was named the nation’s No. 1 bass-fishing destination by Bassmaster Magazine last year. I couldn’t wait to join him and get on the water of this amazing fishery.

We spent a day flipping hay grass and caught a couple of nice photo fish. No, they weren’t giants, but they were solid bass I knew would look great in the camera. All I had to do was lock on my Nikon 20mm lens, which I tell people is magic because the wide angle seems to make the size of fish grow by a few pounds.

For the North Carolina Sportsman image, John and I found a shallow clump of cypress trees and put down the Power-Poles to hold the boat steady. I then donned some chest waders and hopped out of the Skeeter to get the off-the-boat perspective.

This is my favorite setup, learned about 10 years ago from Ohio photographer Mark Hicks, who had captured some images at a media event that were so much better than any of the images I had captured from inside of the boat.

John was a great subject, wallowing around on the front deck of his boat and lifting the fish from the water over and over without complaining. And I didn’t even have to ask him to smile (you wouldn’t believe how many bass anglers want to look serious).

North Carolina Sportsman magazine covers

John Pecoraro shows off a bass for this cover image chosen for the April 2016 cover of North Carolina Sportsman magazine.

However, wading around along the edge of a lake has its dangers, which I learned when I backed up to reframe a shot and tripped on a cypress knee. I stumbled a few feet backwards, coming very close to falling and giving my D810 a bath. It was a pretty scary deal, and it took a few minutes for my knees to stop shaking.

The Louisiana Sportsman cover image was captured later that day to illustrate a story on how to punch hay grass for bass. This shot had to be taken from inside the boat, since the vegetation in the background was in 6 to 8 feet of water. So I simply had John kneel on the front deck and hold his biggest bass slightly up toward the camera — not quite in a Roland Martin fashion, but enough to help me get the proper perspective showing him and the fish, along with the hay grass and the main lake.

The key to successfully capturing these kinds of images is, predictably, lighting. It’s easy to get harsh shadows beneath the bills of caps or blow out a fish’s white belly with too much light. It often takes a few shots to get everything set up properly and ensure the light from my flash is hitting everything correctly.

My process is pretty straightforward: I set my exposure (I only shoot in full manual) to properly expose the background, and then I allow my Nikon SB-910 flash to put enough light on the subject to balance the light on the subject with that of the background. One of the real challenges is that I’m holding my camera literally inches from the fish (which is why the wide-angle lens “grows” the bass), so hitting the subject with the full flash puts way too much light on the fish and angler’s face, resulting in horrific overexposure. To solve this problem, I simply rotate the flash head up so the light is shooting away from the subject and pull out the built-in bounce card to throw less light fish and angler. Then I simply have to adjust the flash output and exposure to get everything correct.

It sounds complicated, but it doesn’t take too long to get the hang of it.

Once I got off the water and downloaded the images into Lightroom, I knew I had some real winners. At that point, it was just a matter of tweaking the images and putting them into the cover templates. I didn’t even have to beg my boss — the images spoke for themselves and perfectly illustrated the stories within the magazines.

Be sure to visit my fine-art gallery, where you’ll find the perfect accents for your home or office.

About Andy Crawford

Andy Crawford has been a photographer and writer for more than 20 years, with thousands of images and articles published in magazines and newspapers around the country. He now focuses on Louisiana photography, landscapes, HDR photography, urban prints and other fine art photography. He also is a portrait photographer.