Every morning at the crack of dawn the dock at Nan Fang Ao, located outside the city of Suao along Taiwan’s east coast, becomes a flurry of activity with fishing vessels unloading their catch and buyers lining up to bid on the bounty pulled from the sea.
On this particular day fishing vessels were arriving loaded with tuna. Some exceeding 300 kilos! I think it’s the first time I’ve seen a fish of this size. To stand on the dock and watch as these big fish were being lifted from the hulls of these fishing boats was an impressive site. I think the largest fish I’ve ever caught was a twelve inch rainbow trout.
As each fish is lifted from the boat it is first weighed and given an auction tag and then brought into the open air building where it placed in a line with other fish and iced down. Buyers then will walk up and down the line of fish examining each one and plan which they hope to win in the auction. Some of the buyers carry a tool which can do a core sample of the fish they are interested in. Buyers are looking for tuna with lots of fat as that is what makes the best sashimi.
Within minutes the auction begins. The auctioneer will make his way from fish to fish encouraging more and more bids. The auction moves quickly. A moments hesitation and fish of your dreams can go to another buyer.
For a recent shoot at the Fish School restaurant in Hong Kong I worked with Chef David Lai to photograph both his dishes as well as some of the fresh ingredients recently pulled from the sea.
To illustrate the rich variety of fish he likes to employ into his edible creations I decided to do an illustration in which I brought in as many of these different sea creatures as I could fit on my background.
Doing shoots like this on location presents a few different challenges. The first being just the logistics of getting all the equipment needed to the site. Since budgets are tight that means that everything needs to be carried by just me and my assistant, John. For this shoot we had to first travel from Macau to Hong Kong which is about a one-hour ferry ride. The ferry people hate to see people transporting lots of gear so it is necessary to try and make the luggage look as compact as possible. In this situation we had a large Think Tank rolling case, a hand truck loaded with lightstand bags, a large Domke bag loaded with cameras and lenses and a Think Tank backpack containing a Macbook Pro and other essential items. We also had to carry a large piece of glass along with a couple sheets of acrylic. (At this point I think I should state a disclaimer that I am not being paid to mention any of these brand names. It just seems that some people like to know specifics about what gear I like to use. However, if any suppliers out there would like to sponsor me I won’t be too proud to accept such assistance.)
Upon arrival in Hong Kong we then jumped into a GoGo Van which took us to the restaurant. For any photographers planning to do shoots in Hong Kong I highly recommend this service. They operate a bit like Uber but only take people that are transporting goods or equipment.
Of course the real challenge comes down to the actual creation of the photograph. For these types of ingredient shots I sometimes like to shoot on glass which is placed slightly above a sheet of white acrylic. After we got everything set-up Chef Lai brought in several trays of fresh fish and we discussed which best represented the variety of dishes he liked to serve. After making our choices I set to work to compose the image. The hardest part is knowing, or deciding, where to begin. Once you get the first object on the glass it begins to take shape. I like to work from the middle out. This is where the reader’s eye will go so that has capture their interest and draw them in. From there it is just a matter of placing more items, taking a shot, placing more things and then moving stuff around until it all seems balanced and well composed. Below shows how the shot progressed.
The final challenge for a shot like this is to get it done as quickly as possible. Since I had other ingredients and plated dishes to shoot I couldn’t waste any time. There are always improvements that could be made but at some point you just just to call it done and move on.
After we completed the table-top shot we moved on to some other ingredients and cooked items. The next ingredient was shrimp which I shot on a large piece of kelp.
One way Chef Lai likes to serve these little guys is to grill them. However, photographing them on the actual grill in the kitchen would have been too difficult to make an interesting photo so I took one of the BBQ grills into the area where we had set-up and created a scene which resembled a grilling environment.
When faced with these situations I just have to use whatever items are available. The shot was simple enough. We simply placed the cooked shrimps on the grill and secured the grill by placing the handle on a stool while using a sandbag to hold it in place. The shrimps were lit with a small softbox with a honeycomb grid attached. Another light was fixed with a tight honeycomb grid, along with a amber gel and pointed at the floor below the shrimps. The carpeting had an uneven pattern so it helped to actually look like hot coals below the shrimps.
The final shot was done with a Canon 90mm TS lens. By using the TS (tilt-shift) lens I was able to maintain sharpness from near to far on the shrimps while at the same time using a wide aperture so the background would fall out of focus.
After snacking on BBQ shrimp we then went on to shoot a couple more of Chef Lai’s seafood specialties.
And finally a portrait of the chef. Thanks to his patience and enthusiasm we were able to pull off a successful shoot.
To close out the Year of 2016 my daughter, Annalee, and I decided do a camping trip to Joshua Tree National Park which is located in the high Mojave Desert in Southern California.
It would be Annalee’s first visit to Joshua Tree and a place I had not been back to since the early 1990s.
Growing up in Southern California I would often venture out to Joshua Tree for weekend and holiday excursions. Located at an altitude above 3000 feet (about a 1000 meters) this high desert environment boasts a great deal more life than the lower Mojave. In addition to the Joshua Trees, which have always reminded me of something from a Dr. Seuss book, the land supports a variety of other cacti, yuccas, palms and even some pine trees.
Cholla cactus can be found all across the Southwest but for some reason they grow in great numbers in this one section of Joshua Tree. This particular cholla is also known as either the Teddy Bear Cholla because its sections look like Teddy Bear arms reaching out and also Jumping Cholla because the sections that fall on the ground adhere to anything they come in contact with. Almost as if they jump out and grab you as my daughter learned by testing this explanation. Once one of its sharp barbed needles gets a hold of something it is hard to get it unstuck.
For this trip we decided to camp in one of Joshua Tree’s several campgrounds. Most of the campgrounds are located in areas where large boulders rise up above the ground. The boulders provide protection from the often powerful desert winds as well as a playground for kids to scramble around on as well as a place for serious rock climbers to challenge their vertical skills. Of course for me they also provide graphic content to explore with my camera.
Because it is protected on all sides by massive piles of boulders and shear rock walls this little valley has its own unique eco system. The rock walls protect the valley from drying desert winds so water that accumulates here does not evaporate as quickly as in other parts of the desert. This added moisture has allowed a variety of other plant life to survive which includes a type of pine tree called Pinyon Pine.
For most of our trip we had beautiful weather with the exception of one afternoon when a winter storm rolled in and dumped a fair bit of water onto the thirsty desert floor. Fortunately the storm passed quickly and we were treated to some wonderful afternoon light and dramatic skies.
Technical Notes: All photos were made with a Canon 5D SR using a 16-35 f2.8 III lens. No filters or Photoshop trickery was used with the exception of some exposure adjustment and some burning and dodging using Photoshop’s Camera Raw application. For the star-like effect when shooting into the sun an aperture of f16 was used which creates this effect. The final steps were to convert each image to black and white in Photoshop where additional adjustments are made to each color layer followed by the application of split-tone layer to achieve a slightly warmer look.
I suppose that for many living outside of Asia the idea of diving into a bowl of soup in which the eyes of a big fish are staring back at you would not be too appetizing. However, for many people in this part of the world it is extremely desirable and perhaps a requirement.
Having lived in Asia now for close to 25 years I have grown accustomed to this style of eating. In fact if a fish arrives without the head still intact I feel like there is something wrong.
For the photo above we spent quite a bit of time assembling all the ingredients that go into making this Fish Head Soup. The image was created for a restaurant called The Golden Pavilion located in the City of Dreams resort in Macau. The restaurant features a variety of Southeast Asian cuisines.
To achieve this image I had to work closely with the chef to make sure that ingredients in the soup looked fresh and tasty and then surrounded the bowl with a variety of other ingredients that go into making the soup broth.
It’s a painstaking process to get all the elements into the image and composed in such a way that they add to the image both visually as well as provide a bit of information to the viewer.
Getting the lighting just right is the other challenge. Especially when dealing shiny glistening objects. Food almost always looks best when lit from behind. By lighting from behind it brings out the textures of the food and can make it look fresher and gives the image more depth. Sometimes this technique doesn’t work out so well when there is too much reflection. When faced with such a situation the lights need to be moved or adjusted until the desired affect is achieved. For some food shots I may incorporate a spot light such as the one my assistant, Sing, is adjusting in the photo above.
So for the final image we ended up three Eistein strobe heads with two fitted with softboxes and the third with a 3 degree honeycomb grid. A white reflector card was positioned on the right side of the scene to help fill in some of the shadows.
The final step was to add steam to give the appearance that this dish is hot and ready to be consumed. Actual steam is very hard to capture in a photograph unless there is a lot of it. To recreate steam there are a number of techniques you can use but the easiest is to use dry ice. By placing a couple chunks of dry ice in various parts of the bowl and the adding hot water a steam-like vapor will rise from the bowl. It’s then necessary to blow or fan the dish to make the vapor rise as dry ice vapor wants to settle and flow out of the bowl like a witches brew.