Excerpted from The New Art of Photographing Nature by Art Wolfe with Martha Hill & Tim Grey. Available online athttp://store.artwolfe.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=2&products_id=494.
People sometimes imagine that great photographs are composed in a flash of inspiration, arriving in the world fully formed. While that can happen, most of the time we fumble toward a great shot, refining the composition with each exposure. This was certainly the case with my image, The Night Fishermen. I will lead you through the process of steps it took to get there.
For centuries, fishermen on the Li River of Southern China have partnered with cormorants to catch fish. Each fisherman has a complement of a half dozen or so trained birds. The light of a lantern attracts the fish, and the cormorants catch the fish and return to the boat, fish in beak. The birds can’t swallow the fish because the fishermen fix bands around their necks, but they eventually get their share.
While the fishermen are working, they see enough tourists to know that a few minutes posing can yield as much money as a night’s work. After a few moments exchanging hand signals, we came to an agreement. In the first image I grabbed a shot of two fishermen approaching the shore. Unfortunately, nothing works here. A bright background throws the men into silhouette, some of the birds sit with their heads buried under their wings, and the composition is deadly static. I decided to try adding a second light to tame the contrast and provide a better sense of separation for the fishermen.