Monday, January 03, 2011

Behind the scenes shooting a photo story

Colourful fishing nets in Fuengirola harbour.

What goes on in the mind of a photographer shooting a photo story? I thought some readers may be interested in a 'behind the scenes' insight into my latest story, "Catch of the day".

You can see my full photo story here and a shorter version here on the International Guild of Visual Peacemakers website.

Travelling with fellow professional photographer, Magda Indigo, to Andalusia in Spain, we had a number of ideas and shooting opportunities lined up. Photographing the fishermen in Fuengirola was not fixed but as we're always drawn to harbours and fishing we knew we would head down there.

The fishing quay is not open to the public but we managed to gain access. The fishermen were mostly friendly and open. A few were suspicious of us and one was fairly threatening. People are people and you just have to adapt and deal with each situation.

Communication consisted mainly of hand signals, facial expressions and I had learnt one or two phrases to ask someone to pose for a portrait. Magda speaks a bit of Spanish so she faired much better than I did. Some of the fishermen, from North Africa, spoke French and she could converse fluently with them. She managed to get on the right side of everyone with her inimitable charm. By the last day of the shoot she was receiving marriage proposals! The fact that we are married was waved away with humour as minor obstacle.

When we work we go off in our own directions, although we do keep an eye out for each other.

Yours truly on the hunt for images. Photo by Magda Indigo.

The photography

The first day we scouted the scene quietly and discreetly, not taking many images, and we made contact with some of the local fishermen.

Equipment decisions for the second day of the shoot were fairly straight forward. I didn't want to come in with all guns blazing so I stuck to a single DSLR with a 50mm lens. On subsequent trips I went in with my full kit (see pic above). By then we'd got to know a few fishermen and they recognised us, so we were more easily accepted.

By the time we left Fuengirola fishermen were hailing us in the street with a friendly wave, "Ahhh los fotógrafos!"

Spending time on the quay opened up the possibilities with scenes unfolding throughout the afternoon. The light was another consideration but when you're shooting stuff that happens, as it happens, you cannot wait for light, just hope it is good and look for compositions that maximise the beauty of the available light.

To construct the photo story and have it make sense I had to show wider scenes, details, the various activities (mooring, sorting the catch, replenishing supplies, fixing nets, cleaning, repairs and sorting out equipment to ready the boat for the next day etc). I also wanted to show the character of the fishermen and the general atmosphere.

The quayside cats provided a nice little thread in the story, symbolising the generosity and kindness of the fishermen, through showing their interaction with the animals (feeding and petting).

When we returned home I had a lot of material to sort through. Editing the images down to the essentials is a key process in creating the photo story. You need to look for the right balance and make sure that the images work together. Some visually strong images didn't make the final selection for this reason.

I think about the colour palette and style of the images to ensure consistency as well as balanced content. I dislike heavy photoshop manipulation. It has no place in the way I see the world and is at odds with a photo journalistic approach.

After the edit I was satisfied that I'd got my "Catch of the day". Yes, I know, awful pun.

The words

In the case of this photo story I had not done any research before. The story kind of happened. So when I got back I wanted to find out more about the Spanish fishing industry. Spent many hours researching and checking my information, so that I could, in words, provide the social and political context in which these fishermen work.

Decisions in the EU affect their daily lives. Politicians are often so distant from the real people.

At the end of the day, these fishermen are, like you and me, just trying to make a living. I wanted to show our common humanity.

One last thing I feel I should add. When we were photographing we promised some of the fisherman a print. Before we left Fuengirola we found a small photo lab and had prints made which we gave to the fisherman. I feel it is extremely important to honour any promises you make to people.

As always your comments are most welcome.

Till soon,
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