FINNISH ICE FISHERMEN - PERSONAL PROJECT

When I first started out as a photographer I didn't have the budgets or timescales to take bands or models to exotic locations and photograph them in situ, so I developed the skills to shoot elements separately and bring them together in Photoshop, to create the epic, cinematic images in my head.

This has worked brilliantly for me over the years, and is often the only practical way to achieve what is needed on budget and on deadline, but I do occasionally find myself shooting in yet another studio, dreaming of taking my camera on real adventures, shooting people for real in spectacular landscapes and magical places.

When my Finnish friend Jori first mentioned ice fishing I was struck with the thought that this would be a great photographic subject. Huge frozen landscapes, man aginst the elements, it sounded like a great photo adventure.

In Finland it's only ever a matter of time before someone gets naked. We were shooting Ville and Jori said 'This shot would look great if you were naked apart from your boots'. Ville's reply was 'You know, I was JUST thinking that'. Never one to look a naked gift horse in the mouth I was more than happy to shoot Ville doing a little nude ice fishing.

Planning

Having friends in Finland was invaluable at the planning stage as Jori took on the role of producer, finding fishermen who were willing to be photographed, researching good locations and arranging a date that would work for everybody. Worryingly the winter of 2015/2016 turned out to be one of the warmest on record, with reports of very thin ice on many of the lakes, but luckily a couple of cold snaps ensured that when we arrived at the lake the ice was around 30cm thick, plenty thick enough for me and my lights.

Shooting

Lorna towed the all important case of beer, a thank you to the fishermen for letting me photograph them, on a sled from the car to the location...

Lorna towed the all important case of beer, a thank you to the fishermen for letting me photograph them, on a sled from the car to the location...

...while I carried the flash heads, stands, camera gear and one of the battery packs.

...while I carried the flash heads, stands, camera gear and one of the battery packs.

Once at the lake, and having been shown the thickness of the ice to put our fearful city dweller minds at rest, we started setting up the gear. I had been worried about the battery packs (Bowens Travel Paks) draining really fast in the cold, and brought buckets to sit them on to keep them off the ice (and out of the wet) but they actually held out brilliantly, with plenty of juice to spare by the end of the shoot.

We were told we could probably have safely driven a car around on the ice it was so thick.

We were told we could probably have safely driven a car around on the ice it was so thick.

The other problem with working in snow on top of ice was that it very quickly turned to wet slush. As a lover of low angles in my photography I inevitably end up lying on the floor at some point and it was very fortunate that we had the sled on the shoot for me to lie on, or I would have been a very cold, wet photographer by the end of the day.

We had only just started shooting when we got an impressive demo of ice fishing in action, when Janne caught a huge pike, so big that it only just fit through the hole in the ice. He was delighted.

My concept for the shoot was to produce final images that were real, but heightened, using lighting and post production to make the scene as impressive and cinematic as possible, but shooting gthe guys for real in the actual environment. I used Bowens Gemini flash heads and Travel Pak batteries, and lit my shots with a basic setup of softbox on the front and to the side, and a hard backlight/edgelight. I modified this for each shot, however, as the sun also played a part in the lighting, coming from diffferent angles depending on where I was shooting, and sometimes being hidden by cloud and sometimes shining brightly, throughout the day. The lights did a great job, allowing me to push the background a little darker than the guys, and to shoot into the sun while still having them lit.

A nice cold beer

A nice cold beer

After a great day of shooting, capturing all the shots I wanted, we just had time to sit by the fire and eat sausages and karjalanpiirakat before heading back across the ice to the cars.

Post Production

I had a running joke with Jori through the planning of the shoot that I wanted him to make sure we got a nice snowy day for the shoot, with fat snowflakes drifting down that would look beautiful in the shots. Of course weather is the one thing that you can never control, and our shoot day was completely snow free.

So, this was the one element that i added to the shots, to give them extra drama and to embody the FEEL of winter. The rest of the retouching process was just working on colour, tone, and the relative brightness of the foreground, midground and background, to make sure that the eye of the viewer was drawn to the guys. Below you can see the image staright out of the camera, with retouching, and with the snow added.

So i got my icy photo adventure, and I got some great shots. Many thanks to Jori for being a great producer, Lorna for being a great assistant, and Mikko, Ville and Janne for letting me photograph them. Now I have just have to decide where to go next...