The sea and fishermen have been my photographic obsession for a while. Once I got an underwater housing for my Canon 5D MKII, this obsession was directed towards fishermen who fish underwater, with a speargun.
Spear-fishermen became a subject that I searched for, while I was traveling around the archipelago nation of the Philippines. I found the ideal fishing village on the island of Panay. There were spear-fishermen, a little hotel nearby and an American Peace Corps volunteer working with the fishermen. He would be my translator and as a side note became one of my favourite friends in the world.
The situation was perfect. I was able to immerse myself into my subject matter. I shot in the village every day and I was just 100 meters away, ready to go to sea whenever the fishermen were. They don’t go daily and sometimes the decision when to go is rather spontaneous, so it was crucial to be nearby.
The man in the photo is Joseph. After having speared a fish at a depth of about 5m, he’s holding it out for another fisherman to take and to store on the boat. The sea was a little rough on this day. The boat was rocking. Nothing was still for even a moment.
Main reasons I think it works
I think that before anything else, the first reason is that I'm really there, in the sea with the fisherman. You can’t help but feel engaged when a photograph brings you on “eye-level with the action”.
The composition also plays a role in making the image work. The conventional rule of keeping the horizon straight seems a little banal in a situation like this one. The boat was rocking, the sea was moving, I was moving side-to-side in the sea. My horizon definitely wasn’t straight, so it made sense to convey that in the photograph.
I’ve ended up with some diagonal lines, including the line of the horizon. The diagonals make the image feel more dynamic and convey some of that rocking and swaying caused by the sea.
Most important tip
The most important tip relating to this photograph is that I immersed myself in my subject matter. I spent a fair bit of time with the fishermen. We regularly went out to sea. I ate with them, shared drinks and even joined them for Karaoke once (I usually hate Karaoke with a passion).
My involvement allowed me a great level of access. I was given an intimate look into their lives and was able to be right in there with my heroes when they did what I was interested in most – fishing.
So the tip is: If you want to create intimate images, images where you’re right amidst the action - you need to immerse yourself. Spend more time. Hear people out. Join them in what you want to photograph a few times. There are no shortcuts to getting strong and genuine images of this kind.
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