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.

Iphone 5s as a valid documentary photography tool

I've always been a great fan of the Iphone for day to day personal photography.  The apps that are available make image manipulation very straight forward and the creative options are pretty much limitless and improving week by week. Images out of the new Iphone 5s are a very respectable 3264x2448px and given the right shooting conditions and light, images can really be very good.

Processed with VSCOcam

Straight up images from the standard camera app are ok, but nothing special.  Shoot via an app such a VSCO and suddenly you have independent control of exposure and focus point - something currently not available with the standard camera.  Images take/processed with apps such as Hipstamatic or Snapseed suddenly take on whole new dimension and have the ability to sometimes make the ordinary image extraordinary. OK, so maybe a client might not look favorably on you turning up on a shoot with just your Iphone in hand, but as a backup or second camera in certain situations it can produce some very printable images.  As a discrete tool for documentary work the iphone is fantastic - everyone these days has a smartphone and no one thinks twice about people shooting images with your phone.  Produce a 5d mklll with a large zoom lens and people immediately know you are meaning business and these days, even in remote areas, that can be met with suspicion.  I now often break the ice with the Iphone camera - showing people the images and developing a rapport.  Once this is established the main camera can be brought out and used.

My current favorite workflow is to use Snapseed for image manipulation and output - having first shot in either VSCO or standard camera mode.

The following show image sequence was shot recently in Java with images processed through the Snapseed app.