Local Catch | Savannah Magazine
There have been countless times I receive a phone call from a client and next thing I know I'm on a little adventure. A few weeks ago, I received a call from Savannah Magazine asking if I wanted to shoot a spread for their latest food issue. We needed to tell the story of a local crabbing family. I always love assignments like this because they have their own set of challenges and different ways to approach the story as a whole. In this blog post, I will tell you a little bit about the story but also what I was thinking through out the shoot and some the decisions that I made to create these photographs. Be sure to pick up the latest Savannah Magazine to read the entire article. Okay, let's jump right in.
"This time of year, we work around the clock. We're just starting another shift."
Early in the morning I arrive at a beautiful home right on the Vernon River here in Savannah Georgia. I'm greeted at the door by Steve Tootle followed by a very strong handshake. It was pretty early for me but Steve told me, "This time of year, we work around the clock. We're just starting another shift." Steve's wife Paula just finished cleaning up their large breakfast of bacon and eggs, and it smelled amazing. She was nice enough to offer me a full breakfast, but had to regrettably decline as we were only a few moments away from boarding the boat.
Any time I show up on location I don't usually start shooting immediately. More often than not, I'm photographing people who have never been professionally photographed before and they can feel a bit intimidated. Before I even turn my camera on, I just start a normal conversation. It's very important to be personable with your subjects and make them feel comfortable. If you want your subject to give you genuine reactions, you need to have a genuine interaction with them. I know that might sound obvious, but it's a large part of our job as a photographer or filmmaker. As they become more comfortable with you, the camera begins to "disappear", and this is when I start receiving authentic reactions. How do you do this? Well it's more of an art than science, but it's not hard. You will need to experiment, but I've found most people who are passionate about their craft are more than happy to share their world with you. Just remember to be in the moment, have fun and the rest will fall into place.
"They must be afraid of your camera, usually the pelicans will get as close as possible, even land inside the boat."
As we board the boat we start speeding down the narrow river. It was clear that Steve and his son Ben were at home on the water. Myself on the other hand was less familiar with the sudden turns and stops. Looking through the viewfinder of a camera on a small boat is more tricky than you might think. I narrowly went overboard a couple times, but hey its all part of the job. I was amazed to see how fast Steve and Ben worked. They are experts at navigating the waters and knew exactly where their crab traps were located with pin point accuracy. It was truly remarkable to witness. As we stop at each trap, large pelicans were circling the boat hoping for a snack. Steve said, "they must be afraid of your camera, usually the pelicans will get as close as possible, even land inside the boat."
They showed me the ropes, literally. I thought that it would be hard work, but I had no idea of the full scope. They really are doing this around the clock. Day or night, rain or shine, freezing winter wind or muggy summer mornings. The only thing you can count on is overwhelming mosquitos and sand gnats, so long sleeves and pants are a must. Most local crabbers come from many generations in the profession. Over the years Steve, Paula and their three sons have made this their life’s work, but it wasnt always that way. I'll get to that in a minute but let me tell you a little about my approach for this project.
For a feature spread like this, we obviously aren't looking for a single photograph. Instead, we are looking a series of images that will carry the reader through the whole story. The photographs need to work well together, all having a similar look and feel. I want to document their actual activities, and I never try to setup or contrive a photograph. I want to have things happen naturally, I just have to make sure that I am in the right place at the right time to capture it. This will always provide a more authentic feeling to the photograph. I ask a lot of questions, because I am genuinely interested but also this helps me try to figure out what might happen next. As I'm focusing on the narrative and carrying on a conversation with the subject, I'm paying attention to what I need to properly tell the story visually. It's always great to have a variety perspectives, so make sure you are shooting both verticals and horizontals and use multiple focal lengths. The publication will thank you for that. And be sure to constantly comb the location for interesting visuals will help you find what you need. The ability to multitask will be your friend.
Okay back to the Tootles. Remember how I told you that Steve wasn't always a crabber? Well he use to work in the insurance industry, quite different from the life on the water he has now. Many years ago, anyone could to buy a crabbing license for only $12. Since Georgia provides year-round crabbing it started attracting out-of-state fisherman, but this quickly began to over harvest our waters. There's so much more to this story, and I wish I could tell you everything but I would encourage you to read the full story in the May/June 2018 issue of Savannah Magazine.
Spending time with the Steve and his family was a great experience. I learned a lot and it's always fantastic to see others who are passionate about their work. Hopefully this gives you a little insight into my process. I wish I could cover all of my methods, but there is far too much to talk about in a single blog post. Do you have any questions for me, or would you like to know what camera gear that I used for this shoot? Feel free to email me for details, and don't forget to follow along on Instagram for more behind the scenes content.