Weligama means "sandy village", a reference to the curving sandy bay in which it stands. Local men fish from long poles rammed into the sandy bottom to which they fix a cross piece as a seat.
Sri Lanka – Photo Tip

Move away from romance – capture reality

Photo by Jochem Wijnands

Sri Lanka – Photo Tip Move away from romance – capture reality

One of Sri Lanka's most eye-catching sights is that of the stilt fishermen of Weligama, a fishing village on the south coast of the island.

Jochem Wijnands
Jochem Wijnands Founder / photographer

They are often photographed at a distance, usually from the beach, which causes the images of men, stilts, waves, horizon, rods and lines to become rather abstract. It gives an almost unreal quality, rather like a calendar shot: beautiful but superficial.

I wanted to move away from this romantic cliché and capture the reality of the situation. These fishermen, who represent an idyllic view of Sri Lanka, are in fact very poor and two or three families often live in the same house. The long hours they spend on the stilts are physically very demanding.

I took one camera with a wide angle lens and a flash and waded through the surf to where they were. Before I could start, I had to promise to pay them, which I gladly did. When the day came to an end and the light was fading fast, their work was done. They came down from their stilts and quietly made their way home. The beach was empty, the photographers were gone.

This was the moment where I managed to capture another, more intimate and realistic side of the Weligama stilt fishermen. To capture the colors in the sky, I measured the light and underexposed by one stop, using fill-in flash for the foreground.

jdw10820

With the rebound in tourism in Sri Lanka, the fishermen of Weligama are finding they can make more money posing for tourist cameras than they can fishing. The younger men in the community in particular now go out "stilt fishing" with their eye on a bigger catch than fish. Photo by Jochem Wijnands

Jochem Wijnands

Jochem Wijnands

NIKON D2X

Aperture
ƒ/4
Exposure
1/15
ISO
100
Focal
18 mm

With the rebound in tourism in Sri Lanka, the fishermen of Weligama are finding they can make more money posing for tourist cameras than they can fishing. The younger men in the community in particular now go out "stilt fishing" with their eye on a bigger catch than fish.

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