Photographing the tea pluckers.

Tea plucker, Ella, Sri Lanka.

Every photographic situation has its own difficulties, and photographing the tea pluckers of Sri Lanka was no exception. The good thing is that these people are genuinely friendly and helpful so dealing with them was not much of a problem. Of course the language barrier is always going to stand in the way, but a smile and some hand gestures can work wonders.

The main obstacle to me was their working hours. By the time they get ready, sign up for the day’s work and make their way to the plantation, it’s already around 9 am and the sun is too strong. They don’t normally work too late, and usually by the time they head back home the sun is still high in the sky. The high mountains around some of the plantations can also complicate matters. If one waits for the sun to set behind the mountains then the contrast between land and sky is too harsh.

I found that the best way for me to work around this was to contrive an image where I could have more control of the light.

My first step was to take a walk into the village where the workers live. The environmental sanitation conditions are generally very poor, so care must be taken not to offend by waving money around. Tea pluckers earn approximately £2 a day, and must collect 18kg of tea leaves, so therefore most of them are more than willing to earn double that to have their picture taken. Once a model was found and a price agreed it was time to head to a nearby location.

Here I set up the off camera flash with an umbrella and set the power to overexpose a little. I then underexposed the camera a couple of stops, and waited until the sun was just about to hide behind the mountains. The underexposed, ambient light made sure that the detail in the sky was recorded while the overexposed flash captured the model and made certain that she stood out from the background. By shooting in RAW I allowed myself enough information in the file to be able to then further enhance the effect in post processing.

If you have any questions about the post, Sri Lanka or photographic tips, please do not hesitate to ask.