Kalk Bay Fishing Harbour

Interviewer: You were going to talk about working in black-and-white. But these images are in colour.

Me: How perceptive of you! Some images will work both in colour and in black-and-white, and some insist on being processed and shown in one or the other.

These photographs would have worked ok in B&W I think, but that was not what I wanted to show. What I wanted people to see and enjoy was the deeply saturated colours of the fishing boats and the blue waters, reflecting the sky. By the way, you can click on the images to enlarge them, if you like.

Interviewer: Ok, so where are we?

Me: We’re in Kalk Bay, halfway between Cape Town and Simonstown. The little fishing harbour, with its stone breakwater reaching out into False Bay, its brightly-coloured fishing boats lying at rest with the mountain looming above, is just the sort of place that the tourist guides call ‘picturesque.’

It’s a lovely spot, certainly. But to call it picturesque is to miss the grittiness of a working fishing harbour, the sights and smells of silvery-pink fish being gutted and scaled on open tables on the quayside, the saltiness of the worker’s language as they slosh about in green plastic overalls and wellies, wielding big knives that flash in the sunlight.

Not to mention the seals – one climbed up the stairs, plopped onto the quay, and went shuffling on the prowl in search of fish carcasses, to the accompaniment of loud squeals and cries from the crowd that had gathered to watch.

We went to the harbour, Fishers all (with Rob of course) on the last day of our family get-together in April. Cape Town is further west than Johannesburg, so the evenings are longer; we went down late afternoon, and stayed for dinner, at the excellent Harbour House Restaurant.

I took a few photographs while the sun was still high and later, when tummies were full and the sun was down and dusk was settling over the water, I took a few more. The evening photos I’ll show next time we talk.

Interviewer: So tell me about these photographs.

Me: Well, the first thing, obviously, was to control for the light, both direct and reflected, and the very high contrast. This was fairly easy to do, in the photo on the right – I just opened up a stop or two, composed the image, and took a couple of shots. Looking through the images in post, they were all pretty similar, but this one stood out, because of the gulls obviously, three of them in a line, with the two closer birds forming a triangle with the moon, to balance the triangle formed by the boats and the water in the bottom left diagonal.

The image on the left was more challenging. Here I wanted to frame the image quite tightly, to emphasise the hulls nested together in the water and the jumble of gear. And I wanted to capture the intensity of the reflections, the glare, so I shot into rather than away from the light, which created some interesting challenges in post. I needed to open up the shadows on the boats, to reveal more detail; at the same time, I wanted to retain the highlights – the sense of the glare, the intensity of light – without letting them blow out.

To get the contrast I wanted, I set the black point in Lightroom; I increased the saturation, and opened up the shadows. Then I exported the image to ColorEfex Pro, one of the brilliant set of DxO (formerly Nik) plugins, and used the detail extractor to bring out more of the shadow detail on the boats, before importing it back into Lightroom for the finishing touches. Then I introduced a vignette, to focus the eye on the hulls and the light at the centre of the image.

Finally, the seal.

Here what I wanted was to capture a sense of the seal as a living creature, with a ‘character’ of its own; I was interested in the shape of its body against the rocks, so I cropped the image quite tightly; and finally, it was the irridescence, the glistening sheen of the seal’s dark wet fur that made the image stand out.

Again, I used the ColorEfex Pro plugin to bring out the detail in the fur; I brought up the highlights and saturation; and I used a quite a strong vignette to focus the eye.

Travelling through life without a map

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