Here’s an example of fitting together different actions to explain the whole
Amore fluid kind of situation that calls for a jigsaw-like fitting together is when the ‘units’ are moving independently. The only control you have is using anticipation to help you move your camera position as they move.
These shots were taken on a tea plantation in Sri Lanka, at the end of the morning shift, when the workers weigh the sacks of leaves and then transfer these to large sacks that will then go by truck to the factory. In reportage photography, it’s the kind of situation where you’d typically want to cram as much information as possible about the process into a single frame. That way, one shot will do the job, rather than having to run a step-by-step sequence.
Fitting the pieces together
Briefly, there are three things going on in this area, The first is that one by one the pickers put their baskets on the weighing hook, which is at that moment held up by two women. In other words, the peak of that action is when the two weighing women raise their arms fully, and that’s the time for shooting. Next, each picker empties her basket onto a pile of leaves, so there’s a peak moment there too, when the leaves tumble out. Finally, the leaves are then scooped up into sacks for loading onto the truck (out of sight). This action doesn’t have such an obvious peak, but there are arm movements and body stances that may look more graphically dynamic than others. The aim is to get each of these coinciding in a single frame – not so easy to manage visually as, for a start, the moments of the weighing hook being raised and a woman emptying her basket happen together only occasionally. With all the to-ing and fro-ing in the scene, getting these and the leaf-scooping neatly separated takes some dodging around for the right camera position. This is the fitting-together part of the shooting. An obvious choice was to use a 24mm wide-angle lens from this position so that the three actions were in a sequence from background to foreground – and to use an aperture of f/16 to give enough depth of field to keep everything in focus.
If you’re shooting ‘through’ a scene like this, it makes good visual sense to use one or two of the foreground ‘units’ as framing devices – they can be at the left or right edges (or both) cutting into the frame and acting like the projecting wings of a stage. As it happened, there were usually two women at any one time scooping leaves into sacks, which left me with four ‘active units’. A sensitivity setting of ISO500 enabled shutter speeds of between 1/160 sec and 1/200 sec, which was just enough.
So, a seemingly ordinary and everyday activity can become, for the camera, quite an intense operation. Ultimately, perfection is unlikely, but to make up for that there will be unexpected little framings and combinations of shapes. In total, I shot 93 frames over the nine minutes that it took for this operation of tea weighing and transferring.
The frame I finally chose had, for me, the best combination of actions. The key was the weighing action in the background, and it had to read clearly. After that, I looked for a good teaemptying action in the middle ground, and two graphically strong figures close to the camera left and right.