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Capturing the Environment in Portraiture
How I Photographed The Fisherman
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How do people make a living in remote parts of the world? It’s something that fascinates the hell out of me. Imagine travelling hours outside of an Indian capital to find a tiny fishing village, where a community has built a life for themselves by the sea. How did they end up here? How do they keep going? What brings them joy?
It’s these questions that make portraiture around the world feel comfortable to me. The genuine curiosity outweighs any nervousness to interact with a stranger. It’s the primary reason why I’m able to create some special moments.
It all starts with curiosity.
This image was shot on the Leica SL2-s and Vario-Elmarit 24-90mm F2.8-4.0 lens. There was a variable ND on the lens that day, key for when I’m switching between photo and video in bright outdoors. The settings landed at F4.0, ISO 8000, and a shutter speed of 1/500.
I have a default outdoor street photography profile on this camera where the shutter speed floor is 1/500 and the ISO ceiling is 25,000. The noise control on this camera is so good, I’m not even thinking twice about where it lands. Now, if this were a commercial setting I’d take the variable ND off, lower the shutter speed, and allow the ISO to fall much lower. But the marginal difference in noise is negligible for my personal work.
We were scouting some film locations with a friend and ended up around Pulicat Lake in Tamil Nadu, India. It’s a remote fishing village with very little shade and unforgiving sun. As we wrapped our trip, we started to see more and more fishermen getting back to work, this time is was cleaning and prepping their nets for the next voyage.
While there were several men at work, this individual here caught my attention in particular. Something about his face and demeanour had me confident that he’d make for a great portrait. After a quick introduction, I squatted up in front and started to roll video while looking through the viewfinder. Yes, video.
I’m trying this new thing with the SL2-s where I start rolling video first to see what happens between me and the subject during our first interaction. I’m looking through the viewfinder and seeing this person react to me; a mix of curiosity and rising impatience. I’m also using these valuable seconds to scan their environment and look for the composition. And it’s hard to say when, but when I feel the moment is right, I bring the camera down and say some throwaway line like “one second…” or “wow, one more…” to buy a bit more time. This is when I switch to photo mode and quickly land the shots I need.
In this case it was to capture the moment of our friend at work with a blade in his mouth; a level of confidence that shows you he’s been doing this for a while. You can also see some playing cards laid out between him and a fellow fisherman, reminding us that it’s not all work and no play. And finally a layering of nets and beams to wrap around, and bring our subject forward and support the story here. Everything comes together for an image that just makes me happy.
And why the f*ck not just shoot what makes you happy?
I’m intentionally trying to keep the ‘gear talk’ to a minimum with these posts. If you’re curious about the cameras and lenses that I use, how I use them, and what I think of them, visit my YouTube channel.
Anyway, that’s enough text for one week. See ya next time.