When Nikon loaned me the new, ultra-fast 58mm NOCT, they asked me to stress it, find someplace dark and difficult to work, so that the available speed of the lens and its incredibly durable construction would be tested. I found such an environment in a country I have worked a couple of times and have come to love….Romania. Their coal mining industry, on the wane in these days, is part of the historical fabric of that country.
I have always been drawn, photographically, to the imagery of labor and craft. People who build, people who work with their hands, people who labor mightily at daunting tasks. So it is with these Romanian miners I visited in February of this year. Working in a dying industry, these men go deep into the blackness every day to wrest a living for their families from the unforgiving earth. It is dangerous and difficult. And I found pride, humanity, humor and dignity in front of my lens. The fastest lens I’ve ever shot— 58mm 0.95 NOCT. A specialty lens to be sure with its own look, feel, and, call me crazy, a color palette. Amazing optic. Feel privileged to have had it in my bag, however briefly. More on this story at Nikon Learn&Explore. Using the Z, I was able to engage pinpoint focus and focus peaking as I manually focused at 0.95. Bit of a challenge for eyes that have grown accustomed to lenses that focus all by themselves!
The story over at L&E goes into the technique and BTS of creating the pictures. Down in the mine, I lit the portraits with a Manfrotto Lykos LED panel. No flash allowed, as coal dust is quite combustible. The mine is complete blackness, as crews labor down there with only their headlamps for illumination, and millions of tons of rock between them and the daylight. What I did to “light” the environment of this picture was to strategically place miners and crew at points behind my subject and asked them to light pieces of the tunnel with their headlamps. What you see in the background below are the hydraulic supports for the rock face. I stabilized the camera, a Z 6 for down in the mine, and a Z 7 for the studio portraits shot in the locker, with a rugged Gitzo Mountaineer tripod. Light enough to carry down there, hard core enough to handle the heavy lens and the general muck of the conditions.
Tip of the battered helmet to these men. Their way of life is fading away, but the nobility of their labor is undeniable. Every day, they risk, literally, everything in the deep blackness of the earth.