Travel photography to me is telling the story of people, their way of life and their culture. Naturally, I travel a lot for my work. My role as a photographer is to be invisible and to get close to people who’s story I would like to share.
Research is important
My latest assignment took me to Southern Malaysia where I met a group of charcoal workers. Many of us are lucky – we get holidays and long weekends during which I’m sure many would be firing up the barbecue. However, I bet there are very few who give a thought to the charcoal commonly used to provide for the feast (in South-East Asia). I have seen first-hand how much hard work goes into the production of charcoal and I wanted to share this experience. My approach for this series was to become part of the group, get dirty myself and capture unique moments.
Immerse youself in the environment
The workers begin their work after dawn prayer. As part of the charcoal production process, their task is to reduce the wood pile and filter out those that has become charcoal after firing. The method of making charcoal in this way is rarely seen due to the hot and difficult environments – the air at the charcoal stack is so thick and polluted that it felt almost impossible to breathe.
Get the establishing shot
Photographs shot in the bright morning sunshine have an impressionistic, misty look; one may even think the pictures look dreamy if not for the fact that it was caused by the air so full of soot, smoke and toxins, even the day gets turned into twilight. And as if the smoke from the charcoal production wasn’t enough, half the time the workers have cigarettes dangling from their lips.
Slow down and appreciate
While it is inevitable that one would feel pity towards these workers, I also feel awed and inspired at how these people can overcome such adversities for their livelihood. This led to a reminder that we should always be thankful and contented with what we have.
Trust your equipment
The weather-sealed ZEISS Batis lenses paired with a Sony A7 RII and A6000 couldn’t be better companions for this environmentally-challenging journey during which dust is a big problem. Besides, the ZEISS Batis lenses are most certainly one of the sharpest and cleanest lens lines that I have been fortunate enough to use. ZEISS made a great decision to create a line-up of smaller lens that do not take up too much weight and space in a camera bag. Each Batis lens balance almost perfectly on the full-frame E-mount mirrorless cameras. While I was also armed with the ZEISS Batis 2/25, the new Batis 2.8/135 was my to-go lens for this trip, with the focal length forcing me to think more carefully about composition.
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