One light portrait

A couple of days ago I was shooting a series of portraits for a local client at a Christmas drinks evening.  The intention was to get head and shoulders shots of a number of key people for website use while at the same time enjoying an evening of mulled wine and chat.

I recently managed to get hold of a 46" Photek softlighter ll - a lighting modifier that's for some reason almost impossible to find here in the UK.  This quick little job proved the ideal opportunity to give it a first try on a not too pressured job.  I liked the results the Softlighter gave - a little bit of bounced light off the wall to the right of camera filled the right side of the face and gave a very natural soft light

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an invitation to the imagination

I was recently asked by a client at BBC worldwide advertising to provide a set of images to illustrate a presentation entitled "the business of content, the art of storytelling".  With a series of key themes as the guide to the content and topics it proved an interesting challenge to find suitable images to be used. The client finally settled on a selection and the following key slides were produced as headings for the presentation subsequently shown to audiences around the world.

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As a nice little addition key slides and images were given to attendees in a very old school manner in a 3-d viewer similar to something you might have had a s a child.

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Image of the day

Getting up at 5am to shoot images is always a risky business...  What's the weather going to be like? Is the light going to be any good?  Could I just sleep in another 10 minutes?  All these questions and more are there as valid reasons why you might decide to put the alarm back onto snooze.

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Kaziranga national park in Assam is one of the best places in the world -  well in fact one of the only places in the world - to see the Great Indian one horned Rhinoceros, but it does mean getting up early.  Clambering onto an Elephant before breakfast is a great way to get the day going - 2 hours later when you clamber off and realise that man is not designed to sit astride an Elephant is not so great.  Having your legs that wide for an extended period is to put it bluntly a painful experience.  But it's worth it..

In the light of a beautiful dawn with dew still on the long grass and the chill of the previous night still lingering, Kaziranga is a magical place.  Within 15 minutes of setting out we were sitting 12 feet up looking at Rhinos wallowing in water holes totally oblivious to our presence.  Yes, missing a few hours sleep is definitely worth it.

Have a break...

As a photographer it's always nice to see your work in print.  Recently I picked up a well known chocolate bar by an equally well known confectionery company and was pleased to find an image that was taken several years ago still going strong on their packaging.  It was only a tiny image, the size of a small postage stamp, but it was enough to take me back to the trip to West Africa where the images were taken.  Shortly after the assignment images were run in mainstream media adverts but it's good to see them still being used after several years.

This type of shoot is sort of a dream assignment - a clear brief, an interesting project and art direction from people who are genuinely interested in achieving the best possible results.

All images ©Nestle/Toby Adamson - please do not reproduce without permission.

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Pemba vs. Maputo - Sport or Politics

Sport as an opportunity for political campaigning.

I'm not known for being a great fan of Football but given the opportunity when overseas I will jump at the opportunity to go to a game - football crowds seem to reflect the personality of a country or region pretty well.

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On assignment in Mozambique recently I was faced with a Sunday off and nothing to do - asking my driver what people do on their days off in Pemba he suggested football and mentioned there was a game that very afternoon when local team Ferroviario took on a team from the capital Maputo.  Turning up at the stadium I realised I was the only non local in the crowd so drew a little bit of attention - I was glad to have my discrete little Fuji x100s with me rather than my more usual Canon gear.  Soon after I started shooting images I realised there was more to the occasion than just football.  With upcoming elections only weeks away the match was being used as a opportunity for a little political campaigning by the ruling Frelimo party.

With the game in full swing, posters, hats and stickers were being given out - to be honest the crowd were more interested in stickers than tackles and goals were the only thing that would distract kids from getting their hands on a picture of the presidential candidate..  That's successful campaigning by any standards.

Frelimo has dominated the country's politics since independence from Portugal in 1975 but the last-minute entry of its long-standing opponent Renamo made the presidential vote a tight call.  Renamo, which fought Frelimo in the 16-year civil war, took up arms again in 2013 but in August agreed a ceasefire.

By the end of the match the majority of kids were fans of Frelimo - in a country where poverty is rife the simple handing out of a few stickers and a poster can provide political gains for years to come.

I'm heading back to Mozambique tomorrow for another 10 day trip.  Frelimo came out top in last wednesdays election but not without calls from Renamo for the results to be annulled due to irregularities in the voting process.

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Shapers

I love people that are passionate about their art - whether it's writers, artists, photographers or cake bakers, I don't care what it is - but passion is important in whatever you do.

I recently visited an event in North Cornwall - it's held most years and celebrates the art and passion of surfboard shaping.  Shapers are an interesting bunch - as eclectic and varied as the boards they meticulously coax out of foam and fiberglass.  This years event brought together shapers from throughout the UK to discuss their passion and talk about rockers , concaves and rails with similarly obsessed people.

I originally thought of doing a set of portraits against black but the venue was a little restricted on space to set up a background so that idea quickly went out of the window.  I ended up shooting most of the series of images with natural light against a blank wall outside the pub where the event took place.  The images were ok as a set - nothing outstanding individually but a nice record of the event and the character that make up the surfboard shaping community.  Having done some basic lightroom corrections I then imported the set into my Iphone for processing using a variety of apps to enhance the images - its seems a strange thing to do perhaps, to purposefully degrade the images but the end results are arguably more interesting than the originals.

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From the QM 2 to Azzam for the day

In June earlier this year whilst sailing back to the UK across the Atlantic, the 65' Volvo Ocean racing yacht 'Azzam' skippered by double Olympic medallist Ian Walker had a chance mid ocean encounter with the Cunard cruise liner the Queen Mary 2.

© Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing
© Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing

The two thoroughbred ocean going vessels took time to speak to one another and the 1,132' 76,000 tonne QM2 performed a close sail past under the watchful eye of Captain Kevin Oprey passing within 200m of the yacht and giving the passengers on board a fantastic view of the round the world racing yacht.

With both boats safely back in the UK Captain Oprey took time to visit 'Azzam' and her crew and was invited for an afternoon sail with Ian Walker and the rest of the guys.

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I was also fortunate to be on board Azzam this particular afternoon whilst shooting images for one of the boats sponsors but took the time to shoot a few images of Capt. Oprey whilst at the helm of something very different from his normal day job.  It was great to see the 2 sailors together - both obviously passionate about the sea and sailing in whatever form it takes.

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Iraq: then and now.

UPDATED POST

Every day the news from Northern Iraq seems to get worse.  The militant Islamic group ISIL seem to be gaining more momentum as each day passes, spreading fear and carrying out horrific attacks as they push ever forward in their campaign to establish a strict Caliphate throughout this ethnically and culturally diverse region.

IN THE NEWS

I feel extremely very lucky to have visited northern Iraq when I did - a mere two and a half years ago in February 2012.  The visit was memorable for several reasons, not least of which was the extreme hospitality with which we were greeted and the kindness of the Kurdish people.  Barely a day went past without finding that someone had paid for our food or drinks before we could or that we were invited to join total strangers over a cup of tea.

I traveled through the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan for about 10 days with another photographer/writer friend and a French film maker and came back with nothing but positive things to say about the region - how different it must be today, only a couple of years later.

One of the interesting and overriding messages that sticks with me was the fact that people in the region identified themselves not by religion saying I am a Christian, Sunni, Shia, Yazidi or any one of the other religious groups that can be found in the area - they considered themselves first and foremost to be Kurds and were very much against being characterized by religion.  Seeing the images on the TV each evening and reading the news online is very distressing - it's easy to dismiss this area of Northern Iraq as a disaster area but it's not the case.  The regional capital Erbil (also spelt Irbil, Arbil) is a thriving city full of modern amenities and at times you would be hard pressed not to think you were in a European city.  There are shopping malls, ice rinks, cinemas, playgrounds for kids and now to add to this there are refugees fleeing the seemingly unstoppable advance of ISIL.

ERBIL

THE YAZIDIS AND LALISH

Until several weeks ago, the Yazidi sect, an ancient esoteric and historically persecuted religious minority group concentrated in northern Iraq, was relatively unknown. But in recent weeks the entire world has been watching as this tiny group of less than a million people became the latest targets of ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) extremists, who launched a campaign against “heretics” that resulted in the slaughter of hundreds of Yazidi men, women and children and the flight of tens of thousands more to arid Mount Sinjar, where their situation rapidly escalated to a humanitarian crisis.

The beautiful and tiny mountain village of Lalish is about 36 miles North East of Mosul in northern Iraq. It is the location of the tomb of Sheikh Adi ibn Musafir, the main figure of the Yazidi faith and is considered the spiritual home of the Yazidis.  It is appalling to think that this group of people who have been repeatedly persecuted for hundreds of years is once again on the run in order to escape the extreme brutality of ISIL.

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Northern Iraq has already had it's fair share of bad times. the Kurds were notoriously persecuted by Saddam Hussein and now once again the region is in turmoil, this time because of religious differences.  Overseas forces ousted Saddam and after years of occupation left the region in a vacuum allowing movements such as ISIL to flourish.  Of course it's not just the Yazidis who being persecuted by ISIL - it's also any other religious group who does not adhere to their strict beliefs.  The historic Mar Mattai monastery, some 20km from Mosul, is administered by the Syrian Orthodox Church and home to a handful of monks.  I wonder what has happened to the smiling Abbot who greeted us so warmly and talked of the many times the monastery had been the subject of attack over the course of it's history

 

KURDS: ONE PEOPLE - MANY FAITHS

Latest images.

Yesterday afternoon was spent photographing on board 'Azzam', a 65' Volvo Ocean race boat skippered by two time Olympic medalist Ian Walker.  The shoot was for a company supplying the team with torches and safety lighting for the forthcoming Volvo Ocean Race which is due to set sail from Alicante in early October.

A sunny afternoon with 15-20kts of breeze provided perfect conditions for a quick blast out of the Solent and down the coast towards Selsey.  Many thanks to all onboard.

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Messages from Haiti

As a documentary photojournalist I've been fortunate to have have had the opportunity to visit Haiti on a couple of occasions shooting for Oxfam GB.  The second visit was shortly before the first anniversary of the January 2010 earthquake that resulted in the death of in excess of 100,000 people. The capital Port au Prince and surrounding areas bore the brunt of the damage and it was reported that up to 1.6 million residents left their damaged homes and set up camp in informal squatter camps wherever they could.  Most of the camps had no electricity, running water, or sewage disposal and disease soon became a real issue with an outbreak of cholera claiming the lives of many more.

Carrying concrete blocks up hill in Carrefour Feuilles, Port au Prince, Haiti
Carrying concrete blocks up hill in Carrefour Feuilles, Port au Prince, Haiti
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Six months after the quake it was reported that as much as 98 percent of the rubble remained uncleared making much of the capital impassable. Crime in the camps was widespread, especially against women and girls. According to a CBS report, US$3.1 billion had been pledged for humanitarian aid and was used to pay for field hospitals, plastic tarps, bandages, and food, plus salaries, transportation and upkeep of relief workers. By May 2010, enough aid had been raised internationally to give each displaced family a cheque for US$37,000. But still conditions on the ground were extremely slow to improve.

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When I visited nearly a year after the devastation, progress on the ground appeared to be painfully slow - rubble clearance for example was still going on - rubble had now ironically become a commodity as a building material to be used for the reconstruction of the city and therefore it was no longer simply a matter of disposing of rubble, ownership had to be taken into account.  Nothing was simple.

A little sub project we did whilst there was to ask many of the individuals we interviewed for a single word that described what they hoped for the future.  The following images show a few of their responses:

Change
Change
Hope
Hope

Image of the day

This environmental portrait of a dusty grain miller was taken in the old walled city of Harar in Eastern Ethiopia.

For centuries, Harar has been a major commercial centre, linked by the trade routes with the rest of Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa and on to the coastal ports and the outside world. Harar Jugol, the old walled city, was included in the World Heritage List in 2006 by UNESCO in recognition of its cultural heritage.  It is also known in Arabic as "the City of Saints" ("Madinat al-Awilya"). According to UNESCO, it is "considered 'the fourth holy city' of Islam" with 82 mosques, three of which date from the 10th century and 102 shrines.

As you walk through the crowded dust laden cobbled streets of Harar you will pass by the grain mills that are a feature of most the city districts.  Inside they are dark and incredibly hot and dusty, the workers covered in a veneer of the finest flour.  I love to shoot images in this sort of environment - it gets you off the street and into a relatively 'quiet' environment in which to make pictures.  Generally people are very happy to have their pictures taken particularly once you take the time to approach them and talk about what you want to do - surprisingly easy even if you have no language in common.

This image was shot on a Canon 5d mk3 with a 24-70mm F2.8 lens.  Exposure was 1/6 at F4.0 at ISO 800.  I lit the image with my standard go to setup of a Canon speedlight on a synch cord with a Westcott 43" double fold umbrella for diffusion held at arms length in my left hand.  I like this particular umbrella not only for the quality of it's light but also for it's size when folded - it folds down to a mere 15", easily small enough to slip into your camera bag.  I generally don't bother to use a lighting stand since I like to be reasonably lightweight with my kit and I can hand hold the flash and umbrella in a variety of positions.  My camera exposures are generally manual - frequently monitoring the exposure with live view on the LCD display.  Flash exposures are sometimes ETTL if the subject is moving and varying distance from me, however if the subject to flash distance remains fairly constant then setting the flash manually will result in greater consistency in exposures.

Looking through my lightroom catalog  I see I only shot maybe half a dozen frames of this guy - one to nail background exposure, one to sort out flash and then a couple of frames to get a composition I'm happy with.  Then it was umbrella down, a floury handshake and off to find the next subject.

New Zealand road trip.

As a travel photographer, New Zealand has always been on my bucket list of places to visit.  Of course I've always been waiting to have a paid gig that would take me there but at the start of this year I finally gave up waiting and went of my own accord and I'm glad to say I was not disappointed.

With 5 weeks to spend I thought there would be plenty of time to get around and see what there was to offer but in truth in that time we barely managed to scratch the surface of what is a truly amazing place.  Distances might not look much on the map but driving can be pretty time consuming when many of the the roads in some areas are gravel - beautiful and fun driving for sure, but boy does it take time.

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With a simple trusty white camper van as our home we managed to see quite a lot of the North Island and skimmed quickly through the top part of the south.  Too many highlights really to mention - surf and beaches great, fishing amazing, scenery and wildlife stunning.  Camping with a van has it's ups and downs - freedom camping, i.e. pulling up wherever you feel like is only permitted if you are self contained with toilet and shower (we were not) - without this in theory you must use a campsite for your overnight stops.  In some areas the choice of campsites was fantastic with the DOC (Department of Conservation) campsites generally providing cheap and simple facilities in some of the most stunning locations.  In other areas the choice was not as good and large busy camps with screaming kids were all that was on offer.

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The trip resulted in some nice images, maybe not as many as one might expect for a 5 week trip but then it was a holiday after all with some stock images shot along the way that may or may not produce returns in due course.

Many thanks to Sri Lankan airlines for getting our boards out in one piece whilst Virgin and Air New Zealand between them managed to cause more damage than I thought possible.  Fragile obviously means something else in their own particular world.

TPOTY 2013. Private view at the RGS

Last night saw the preview of The Travel Photographer of the Year 2013 exhibition at the historic Royal Geographical Society in Kensington, London.  I was lucky to have an image selected for the exhibition having been awarded a 'Special mention' in the 'Vanishing and Emerging cultures' category.  It was a lovely experience to see an image of mine on display in such illustrious setting and being enjoyed by so many people.

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The quality of images on display this year was extremely high with the main award for Travel Photographer of the Year 2013 going to the extremely talented Timothy Allen who received his award live on a video screen from the inside of a Ger in Western Mongolia - such is the life of a travel photographer!  One of Tim's award winning images is shown below.

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This was the first time I have entered the competition and was pleased to find that 2 of my 4 image portfolios had been selected as finalists in different categories - I'm already looking at entries for this years event.

Many thanks to the various sponsors for helping support such a great event - special thanks to Chris and Karen Coe for organizing the competition for the past 11 years, lets hope it continues to inspire for a long time to come.

The following portrait was the image of mine chosen to be exhibited - taken in the tiny village of Kibish in South Western Ethiopia.

Ethiopia © Toby Adamson / AXIOM
Ethiopia © Toby Adamson / AXIOM

Latest images from Indonesia

Well folks - here they are - or rather here the aren't.

Unfortunately on day one of my latest trip to Java I was the victim of theft and my camera bag was stolen containing among other things my 5d mklll, 3 x canon L series zoom lenses, Macbook pro, new Fuji X100s, Iphone 5s, passport, cash etc etc etc.  I am now going through a very painful process trying to recoup my losses from various insurance policies.

It all happened in the space of 5 minutes having got out of a vehicle to go to the bathroom - just a few hours into a long journey - I returned back to the locked vehicle and a window had been forced open and the window lock broken followed by a quick in and out to remove my my out of sight camera bag and my wife's carry on bag..  It just goes to show you can never be too sure when it comes to looking after your kit on overseas trips.

This is my first ever theft in over 30 years of travel - well actually that's not quite true...

There was the one occasion in Ulan Batar's black market in about 2000 when pick pockets managed to lift $20 from a buttoned down shirt breast pocket - they were good I have to give them that.  I had purposefully put the cash away seemingly out of harms way knowing that the market was a notorious spot for thieving hands - if you had cash in your hand prying fingers would be grasping at your closed fist as you passed through the crowds.  Walking down a line of stalls the crowds suddenly became very busy and confused - a few seconds later when the throng cleared I looked down and saw my pocket was open and the cash gone... Very quick and very good at their job - respect!!

On another occasion in Buenos Aires, Argentina in the mid '90's I was walking to a ferry to take me across to the beautiful old town of Colonia in Uruguay when a jogger stopped my to tell me I had what appeared to be bird crap on my shoulder and camera bag.  Pointing to a nearby fountain he suggested I wash it off there.  I nearly fell for the trick but realised that the so called bird crap was large enough to have come from a passing condor suffering from a severe dose of the runs - a quick test showed that it was nothing more than burger mustard.  At that point everything clicked into place and challenging the jogger he then ran off realising he'd been rumbled.

Then there was the time in Capetown about 10 years ago -  going to use an ATM outside a bank in the center of the city the machine didn't work and I was walking away.  At that point a man in a suit came out of the bank and asked if I'd tried to use the ATM - I said yes but it wasn't working - he said it was it was just temperamental.  I "assumed' stupidly he was from the bank - big mistake!!  Few seconds later having tried my card again - his hand covered mine as I went to recover the card and very cleverly palmed the card up his sleeve.  As a very poor magician myself (and I mean very poor!!) I saw what had happened, grab the guys wrist and throat simultaneously and retrieved my card.  All this in broad daylight in the a busy city!

Then there was the time in Ecuador - a long time ago when I was a lot younger and more reckless.  A little the worse for wear due to rum and coke and in the middle of the night I decided a night time skinny dip was in order.  In the middle of an empty beach in total darkness I went for a swim leaving my clothes only a few feet away.  Coming out of the water I met 2 guys standing over my clothes claiming to be police and telling me naked swimming was illegal and there was a fine to pay.  I hastily chucked my clothes on and began to argue with them - I eventually ran off into the darkness leaving them behind.  Thinking I done rather well I then went to meet friends in a bar and only then discovered $50 had been lifted from a pocket - it seems the 'fine' had already been paid!!

And then there was Yemen - held up by armed tribesmen on the coast.... but that's another story.

I guess the point of this is that wherever you are you need to be careful - not paranoid that everyone is out to get you, just careful.  If you assume everyone is bad and has ulterior motives for approaching you or talking to you, then you will miss out on a huge number of opportunities and encounters.  I have happily left my possessions with total strangers in the middle of nowhere but then at other times I keep things in my hands at all times.  It feels bad to be a target of theft - it makes you feel stupid for sure, but sometimes it's just a matter of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, nothing more, nothing less.  In Java we just happened to get out of a vehicle where someone waiting for just such an opportunity - a locked vehicle, tinted windows and being parked 30m from a security post are nothing compared to the riches that lie within when you see a pair of westerners get out of a vehicle.

Loss adjusters on Monday and fingers crossed!

on getting involved

_X2A1400One of the biggest joys of being a travelling documentary photographer is the fact that it gives you a reason to get involved in things that you might otherwise not do.  This image is a typical case in point.  On holiday in Java a few months ago I came across fishermen on the beach hauling their nets.  I guess that most casual observers would just look on with interest for a few minutes, maybe stand back and take a generic picture and then move on and go for a beer or something.  But I love these opportunities, it's what keep things interesting.  It doesn't matter that this was not a paid story or assignment - and it doesn't matter that I was there on holiday, what does matter was that I could see that there was a human interest story that caught my attention and I could see that there were images there to be made given a little time and involvement.

A bit of interest is all it takes to get involved - within minutes of arriving I had dropped my bag off in one of the boats and was joining in hauling nets up the beach with the rest of the crew.  This was all the passport I need in order to get good pictures -  suddenly you are accepted by everyone and images come freely.  Show a few images around and soon everyone is happy to be photographed.  After 10 minutes of ordinary pictures with people smiling and waving you soon blend into the background and this is when good images start to appear.  No longer do people look into the lens and no longer do they behave in an un natural way.  On paid assignments this time to relax with people is often something you don't have the luxury of, ideally it would be great to spend hours with people before even considering taking a picture.

I returned to this little group of people several days in a row - helping to pull the nets, shoot a few pictures, help some more.  Launching the boat, one of the fishermen gesticulated for me to get in and go with them as they cast their nets - I had no idea whether it was going to be a 5 minute or 5 hour trip but jumped at the chance to get more involved.  I'm heading back to Java again next week and will go and see the fishermen again taking some prints with me to give as a thank you - and no doubt I'll spend more afternoons with them helping to pull the nets and shooting  a few pictures but above all just sharing a few minutes with people that you might otherwise not meet.

The opening image has very recently been used by a major broadcaster in a conference presentation on the art of storytelling.

Ganges - something for everyone

The banks of the river Ganges is a wonderful place for a travelling photojournalist - there are seemingly endless documentary images to be made and stories to be told wherever you look.  At last years Maha Kumbh Mela in Allahabad this was the case even more so than normal.  Wherever you looked there were people - literally millions of people - doing something in or alongside the river, whether bathing, making offerings or simply trying to make a living.  While people were throwing small coins into the river as offerings - children were there with their trousers rolled up towing powerful magnets through the shallow waters in the hope of catching any small coins they could attract.  Coconuts bought from vendors on the banks would be gently placed in the river and prayers given by devotees as they floated away downstream - only to be netted from strategic vantage points 100 yards away and sold back to the vendors in order that they could then be sold back to worshippers at a profit.  In many respects this fits perfectly with many of the beliefs of Hinduism - endless cycles of creation, preservation and reincarnation.

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Subsistence fishing - Lagos

Life for a lot of people in Nigeria is difficult - no, let me re-phrase that, it's very difficult. In the port of Apapa - across the water from the bustling city of Lagos - fishermen in tiny leaking boats cobbled together from hardwood planks, tin sheet and anything else that will keep out the water fish for whatever they can catch.  Dwarfed by the rusting hulls of large commercial trawlers from far away countries that long ago hauled their last nets, a fisherman slowly works his way along the quayside line fishing for anything he can catch - two small fish is all he had to show for the morning.

As a documentary photographer these are the sort of places and stories I'm drawn to - juxtapositions of ideas, places and lifestyles, the tiny precarious leaking fishing boat next to the huge rusting trawlers and the messages that could be symbolised by the positioning of one next to the other.

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Millions of people around the world live this hand to mouth existence, I've seen fishermen exactly the same as this in just about every single African country I've visited -  doing the only thing they know in order to put something on the plate.  It seems fishing is a tough way to make a living pretty much everywhere you go.

Fins...

I spent a day last week shooting surfboard fins for a client's product catalogue.  Surfboard fins - like surfboards - are a thing of beauty, particularly if like me you are a surfer.  Usually I'm more of a documentary photographer or spend my time shooting travel or environmental portraits -   but it's always interesting to branch out and do things that might be a little different or present a new challenge.

And so to the fins... translucent, opaque, colourful, reflective and detailed.  I set up a white background scoop and lit it to produce an even toned white background..  The fins themselves were placed on a large sheet of 4mm clear acrylic sheet elevated away from the background to give separation.  The fins were lit with a large soft box and assorted flags and reflectors were used to fill in the light.  With hindsight there were a few things I might have done differently - tiny areas of reflection that could have been eliminated that will look fine when printed, but I will always know they are there.