Leaping Salmon – Photo Project
Our fishing lodge is located on the banks of one of the world’s great Atlantic Salmon river, the Gaula in Norway. This summer I set myself a project to photograph the salmon leaping the waterfall located around half an hour’s drive upriver from the lodge. The waterfall is called Eggafossen and it is a spectacular location where, in the main season, salmon can be seen leaping in huge numbers.
It was one of the toughest places I have ever taken action photographs because the fosse is located in gorge and receives very little light. To freeze the jump of the fish I knew that a shutter speed of at least 1/800th of a second would be needed. That meant using quite high ISO settings and wide apertures between f2.8 and f4. The implication of using wide apertures was that depth of field would be reduced to less than a meter using the telephoto lenses necessary to fill the frame with the fish . There were other problems too. Getting close enough to the action for one. Shots from the main viewing point with a 400mm lens and a 2 x converter simply were not sharp enough and I had no choice but to get closer. Climbing down a very steep rock face carrying thirty kilos of kit was not much fun but going back up was even worse!
You can see from the first shot in this post that focusing accurately was enormously difficult. All focus was manual and was achieved by trial and error. The speed of the salmon leaving the base of the waterfall and the varying positions from which the leaps started made it impossible to use autofocus. Tight framing meant that I had to judge where the salmon would jump, focus on manual and hit the shutter when I gauged that the salmon had entered the frame. The time zone between the salmon entering and leaving the frame was less than a second, meaning that the time it was fully in frame without cutting off the head or tail of the fish was a fraction of a second. With the camera set on manual and a remote cord fitted, I had to judge when the fire the shutter purely by ‘feel.’
With all the white water around using flash proved to be a fruitless experiment. By crawling onto a rock parapet over the gorge and leaning over the edge, I could get fish to virtually leap into the lens. I felt that a bit of flash might light the flank of the fish and help to freeze the action but even with one or two guns mounted off the camera I got very poor results due to the bounce back off all the white water.
As time went by, over several visits,I got more and more jumps perfectly captured with good framing and sharpness but seeing the detail on the flank of the fish was always a problem because rarely did they leap at a flat enough angle t the lens to get the detail.
Eventually I also ended up being suspended on a rope over the Fosse using a mountianeer’s harness. This was a totally wild experience and I actually got struck by leaping salmon on several occasions! At low water I even tried wading the river and climbing down the waterfall to take up a position that got me very close to the fish. This came too late, sadly, as most of the fish had passed over the fall by this point. The best shots were undoubtedly taken after the difficult climb down to the base of the fall.