fisherman plots the sailing course on a map

How I Shoot | Documentary Style Images at Sea

Olivier Jobard

When you are shooting in the confines of a fishing boat, you don't have much space to take your shot. Out at sea, you feel like you have all the time in the world, but the moments of action come suddenly, and I have to be ready with my Alpha 1 to capture that moment.

My work onboard the fishing boats is part of a project I have worked on, following a broader call for proposals named 'Radiographie de la France’, supported by the Bibliothèque Nationale de France. It has offered grants for selected documentary photographers to capture different aspects of life in contemporary France.

group of fishing boat workers sorting fish on a boat © Olivier Jobard | Sony α1 + FE 35mm f/1.8 | 1/250s @ f/2.2, ISO 1000

I have been photographing young people, training to become fishermen. Many of them have travelled to France as immigrants. The Government wants them to develop independence, so they are keen to work and feel motivated to start a new life.

fisherman listening to a lecture in class © Olivier Jobard | Sony α1 + FE 55mm f/1.8 ZA | 1/320s @ f/1.8, ISO 320

Life on board the boat is hard. They could be working for eight or nine hours a day straight, so to get the perfect documentary style shots, I have to wait and watch so when something happens, I am ready to step forward and compose the shot with my dependable Sony Alpha 1 and 35mm f/1.8 lens. I then quickly step back out of their way. They need the space to work, so I must be mobile, always watching and moving, ready to take a shot without disturbing them.

I love the big files that the 50 megapixel sensor of the Alpha 1 produces. There is a quality to the images that looks like the photos I used to create when I would shoot on film. The images also have a character that is different when compared to other digital cameras.

the sun setting behind the fishing rope holder on a boat © Olivier Jobard | Sony α1 + FE 35mm f/1.8 | 1/3200s @ f/2.8, ISO 250

I keep it very simple when it comes to lenses. I almost always use the FE 35mm f/1.8 lens on the boat. It is sharp, lightweight and rapid to use. On the confines of the vessel, I need the 35mm lens to capture everything I want in the shot. I also don't want to be changing lenses in such a wet and humid environment. That said, I didn't take any precautions with the Alpha 1. Occasionally I would shield the camera with my coat to prevent it from getting completely soaked, but otherwise, I would keep shooting in all conditions.

fisherman standing on the dock at night © Olivier Jobard | Sony α1 + FE 35mm f/1.8 | 1/15s @ f/1.8, ISO 2500

On land, I use the 55mm f/1.8 lens for documentary portrait-style shots. The lens is sharp but also produces beautiful background bokeh, and the f/1.8 aperture helps me shoot in low light conditions. I'm not scared to push the sensitivity of the Alpha 1 up to ISO 2,500, which is often needed as the fishermen and women are working at night too.

fisherman lying in his bunk aboard ship © Olivier Jobard | Sony α1 + FE 35mm f/1.8 | 1/80s @ f/2.2, ISO 640

With the long hours, it is common for the crew to sleep in the middle of the day as unsurprisingly, they are completely exhausted. They have to get used to falling asleep quickly - in five minutes - as you only get to sleep for a few hours here or there, and you want every minute to be profitable.

fisherman working on the boat deck © Olivier Jobard | Sony α1 + FE 35mm f/1.8 | 1/250s @ f/3.5, ISO 250

With limited space, you must show respect to the people you photograph. One of the subjects of my project was a guy from the Democratic Republic of Congo. He was ashamed of being seasick, but he wanted me to show it tastefully because it was one of the things he was trying to overcome. There is no place to hide when these things happen on a boat.

fisherman checking his phone standing on a boat at dusk © Olivier Jobard | Sony α1 + FE 35mm f/1.8 | 1/30s @ f/1.8, ISO 2500

The Alpha 1 helps me shoot discreetly thanks to the Silent mode and the articulated screen, which I use instead of the viewfinder. These two things don't draw attention to me whilst taking photographs, so everyone carries on working without being anxious that I am there.

two fisherman looking at their catch on board the ship © Olivier Jobard | Sony α1 + FE 35mm f/1.8 | 1/640s @ f/5.6, ISO 320

And I can trust the autofocus to get the shots pin sharp. The new generation of autofocus on Sony cameras is wonderful. When I'm following one person, the camera focuses on their eyes or face. It doesn't matter where they move, they will be in focus. Even if there are other people in the frame, once it has locked focus, it keeps focusing on the people you want. It is one less thing for me to worry about.

I’m so pleased with how the project turned out. Despite the wet conditions, I know that my Sony kit can handle anything and capture stunning images.

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