I love being out on farms. Ever since I was a kid I enjoyed visiting friends who lived in the countryside and had livestock on their property. The small town where I grew up was surrounded by farmland, mainly citrus groves, but we lived in the town so having livestock was pretty much out of the question. I did, however, manage to raise rabbits and chickens in our backyard thanks to some very tolerant neighbors who never complained about the smell or the occasional rooster crowing. My neighbors even bought the eggs laid by my Rhode Island Red hens. While in high school our school had a farm and kids were encouraged to join the FFA (Future Farmers of America) and do animal husbandry projects. So while in high school I raised several lambs and one pig. The lambs I took and showed at the county fair where they were judged and sold at an auction. We ate the pig.
Dairy farming and cheese making is something I never experienced so when the opportunity was presented for me to go to England and visit dairies and artisan cheese makers I didn’t hesitate to get on board. I was traveling with food writer Mamie Chen and our mission was to visit several dairies, cheese makers and a cheese judging show and produce a story for Tasting Kitchen (TK) magazine. Mamie managed to cook down all the information she garnered about cows, cheese, bacteria, curds and whey and organize all into an interesting and informative article called Reinventing the Wheel which you can read by following the link at the end of this post.
I learned on this trip that dairy cows are very shy. They don’t like to be approached by unfamiliar humans, especially those pointing strange machines at them. However, as shy as they appear to be they are also quite curious. So rather than chase them all over the pasture I sat down and waited for them to come to me. Within minutes I was surrounded by these lovely young women. They began sniffing and licking me and my camera bag and one even seemed to take an interest in what I was photographing.
The milk from these lovely creatures is taken to the nearby processing center where it is turned into cheddar cheese. Like any artisan product the cheese makers are always tinkering with their process. The cheeses they do well and are successful they keep doing but there is this drive that always makes them want to try something different. It was fun listening in on some of the interview and hear how once the cheese maker had the idea of rubbing hay on a cows udder to see how that might affect the bacteria in the milk. When he incubated the milk from that cow it literally exploited with gassy bacteria. I’m guessing he didn’t rub any more udders with hay. But I love this sort of process of working to create better or different tasting product through scientific experimentation. Especially when no creature is harmed and you are just using earth’s natural ingredients to help you along.
Next dairy on our journey was Charles Martell & Son located in the village of Dymock in Gloucestershire. It’s on this farm that Charles Martell makes his Single Gloucester cheese with the milk form his herd of Gloucester cows.
And from that udder appears this amazing product…
Stinking Bishop is another cheese Martell makes which was made famous when it was featured in the movie Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. One of the interesting things he does with this cheese process is to wash the rinds with a type of pear cider which he ferments from pears grown on his property.
Our third and final stop on our pilgrimage to find delicious artisan cheese was Cropwell Bishop Creamery located in Nottingham. And before you ask, no, I did not run into Robin Hood. At Cropwell Bishop they are famous for making a Blue Stilton.
To enter the processing facility we had to gown-up with white coats, hairnets and rubber boots. They basically didn’t want us, or any of their workers, to introduce any unwanted bacteria which could make its way into their product. Despite these modern approaches the cheese makers continue to use techniques which have been used for centuries. Things like hand-ladling curds and rubbing-up the cheese to seal them for maturation.
If you are interested in reading more about these cheeses and the process in making them feel free to check out Mamie Chen’s story in Tasting Kitchen (TK) magazine by following this link – https://issuu.com/tastingkitchen/docs/tk31_britain_s_bounty__s_
I recently had the good fortune to spend some time with Chef Vicky Lau photographing her beautiful creations at her restaurant and patisserie Tate Poem in Hong Kong. Chef Lau does a fantastic job of combining her artistic skills along with her delicate tasting palate to create dishes that are as beautiful as they are tasty. For her latest menu she has found inspiration in the words of the Nobel laureate Pablo Neruda. From Neruda’s anthology All the Odes Chef Lau created a series of dishes celebrating the particular ingredient Neruda wrote about so eloquently.
On the ground floor of Chef Lau’s restaurant is her patisserie where she creates pastries and cakes which are almost too beautiful to eat. For this series Chef Lau wanted to created set of pastries inspired by traditional Chinese desserts.
All photos were done on location at Tate Poem in Hong Kong and were published in Tasting Kitchen (TK) magazine. To read the entire story, along with the poems by Pablo Neruda, you may view the entire issue by following this link: https://issuu.com/tastingkitchen/docs/tk33_ode_to_winter__s_
For those interested in the technical aspects in regards to the photography I’ll give a brief explanation. For this shoot I brought along my usual lighting kit which contains four Einstein strobe heads along with a bag of stands, softboxes and grids. For location work I try to make use of any props/decorations and backgrounds from the venue where I’m working. I don’t like to introduce my own props as I want the items I’m shooting to connect with the venue which helps to tell more of the story. One additional thing I did carry on this shoot was a sheet of glass as well as a piece of white acrylic. This was useful for the pastry photos as I wanted those creations to stand out on their own.
The camera on this shoot was a Canon 5D SR along with a bag of heavy lenses which include 16-35mm f2.8, 5omm f1.2, 85 f1.2, 90mm TS f2.8 and a 100mm f2.8 macro.
I recently made my first trip to the United Kingdom and believe it or not I didn’t get to see anything of London with the exception of my last night in England before heading off to California. My assignments focused on the English Countryside where I met up with beef, sheep and pork producers as well as dairy farmers and cheese makers whom I will post about in the near future. For this feature I will concentrate on the meat side of things.
Upon arrival at Heathrow International Airport I immediately headed straight for the car rental lot where they put me in a six-speed manual shift VW Passat. It was a bit nerve-racking trying to adjust to both driving on the right-side of the vehicle while shifting with my left hand. Lots of new synapses had to be developed in a short period of time. After picking up my colleague, Mamie Chen, at a nearby hotel we set out on our mission. I soon found I had a new challenge in England and that was to learn to navigate narrow country roads which were at times only one lane wide. The worst thing was when I had to stop suddenly and quickly shift into reverse to get out of the way of a big truck. The one thing I have to say about English drivers is that they have the best etiquette of any drivers I’ve ever known. Or perhaps they sensed I was a maniac on the road so gave me a wide berth.
Our first stop was to visit Langley Chase Organic Farm where we met up with Jane Kallaway and her flock of Manx Loaghtan sheep.
Jane prefers to allow her sheep live out their lives grazing on her 140 acre farm in Wiltshire. The Manx Loaghtan breed is not a common choice for most sheep farmers. The breed dates back to the pre-Viking days. Some of the rams even have four horns which makes like something that walked straight out of hell.
It was a joy to watch the partnership between Jane and her 10-year-old border collie named Flute. It seemed that the two of them really loved herding sheep.
Further down the road we stopped in at the Dingley Dell farm where we met up with Paul Hayward who co-owns the farm with his brother Mark. Their system for raising out the pigs runs contrary to most commercial operations. Rather than keeping the hogs penned up indoors on concrete floors they decided to allow the pigs to live out their entire lives in the great outdoors. The piglets are allowed to roam freely through the fields which have been planted with a variety of wild flowers while the mother remains in a grassy compound kept in my a single electrified wire. Her area for roaming is significantly more than any commercial farm I’ve ever seen.
While the piglets are allowed to roam free they never stray off to far from their mother.
Each sow is provided with her own little condominium which serves to keep her cool in the summer and warm in the winter. By keeping her comfortable the farmers have learned that her piglets are healthier and grow more rapidly.
Not far away we stopped in at Yarn Hill Farm where Richard and Natasha Mann are raising a rare native breed of cattle known as the Lincoln Red. Like the Manx sheep these bovine date back to the pre-Viking invasion days. Their grass fed herd numbers more than 250 which includes five bulls and a 110 breeding cows.
If you would like to read the entire published story you can view the issue of Tk (Tasting Kitchen) magazine online by following this link: https://issuu.com/tastingkitchen/docs/tk31_britain_s_bounty__s_
Recently I was given the task to create a series of portraits for TK (Tasting Kitchen) magazine featuring twelve of the incredibly talented chefs currently working for the two Wynn resorts located in Macau. The task was not simple and one that I made doubly challenging by suggesting that we do both a restaurant location as well as a studio type portrait of each chef. Scheduling was the first obstacle which was handled beautifully by Dorothy Ip and her team at Wynn Macau. Coordinating all these schedules is no easy matter. All these chefs have busy schedules and finding a free block of time at a specific time for each chef all on the same day was a logistical headache. Fortunately I didn’t have to deal with that issue. My challenge came later when I was shown the schedule and was told that I had to shoot both the location portrait and the studio shot within 1 1/2 hours for each chef. All twelve portraits, as well as a group shot, had to be done in two days.
The shoots were done at the two Wynn properties in Macau. Six chefs were from the original Wynn Macau resort which located on the Macau peninsula and the other six work in the restaurants in the recently opened and much bigger resort called the Wynn Palace which is located on a reclaimed stretch of land called Cotai where many of the new and large casino type resorts are located.
A scouting day helped me to plan how I would shoot each restaurant location portrait so on the day of the shoot I had a pretty good idea of what I would be doing. On the actual day of the shoots we began by setting up our studio in a location that was in a convenient location for all concerned. In the case of Wynn Macau this was in one of their banquet rooms while at the Wynn Palace in was located in the SW Steak restaurant since it was not open on the planned day of the shoot. The one thing we could not have planned for was that maintenance crews also needed to do work on the same day in SW so we had to deal with workers setting up ladders and other such things in and around our studio setup. Fortunately we managed to coordinate things so we all got done what needed to get done.
Once our studio was set-up we would then meet each chef at their particular places of work and shoot a series of portraits and then move to the studio for round two. In the studio I wanted to bring in elements related to each chef and hopefully create a fun and visually interesting portrait. All the chefs were game and got into the concept and provided me with some great suggestions and moments. In both situations we made some wonderful portraits, such as the location images you can see above, but the studio shots ended up being the stronger package. In the end the spread ran 16 pages with each chef receiving his own page. The following are the results of our studio fun.
To see the printed article and read the profiles for each chef you can view the entire issue of TK by visiting it online. Go to: https://issuu.com/tastingkitchen/docs/tk31_britain_s_bounty__s_
Shooting group shots consisting of more than three people can be one of the most challenging tasks for any photographer. Generally they are done in such a way as to just bunch everyone together in several rows and at various heights so that each subject’s face is visible. Such an approach fulfills the requirements of the assignment but is often not visually very interesting.
For a recent story in Tasting Kitchen (TK) magazine featuring the ten top chefs at the Wynn Macau resorts we wanted to create something more interesting and fun. My brief was simple. Capture a shot of the chefs enjoying themselves after hours. Easier said than done.
The first challenge was to find a location where I could position ten people in various positions so that they look natural and comfortable. After considering a few locations at both the Wynn Macau and the Wynn Palace we decided to do the shot in the Wing Lei Bar located in the Wynn Palace.
The next challenge was to figure out where to place each chef and with whom they should be next to. This was achieved through trial and error. There was a fair bit of moving one chef here and there and back again. Then working to get each chef to look natural. In some cases I would have to move individuals into place as if they were manequins. Fortunately everyone remained patient through the process. The writer for the story, Inara Sim, was also very helpful during this process as she had a keen eye and understood the feeling I was going after. Her suggestions helped pull the entire image together.
Once we sorted out who was where the greatest technical challenge was how to light them. It would have been easy to simply use a large softbox or umbrella from the front and make everyone evenly lit but the easy way is often the least interesting way.
Fortunately one of the walls had a large window which looked out onto a corridor where I could place one of my strobes with a medium-sized Chimera softbox fitted with a 40 degree honeycomb grid. On the opposite side of the room I used two strobes with one fitted with a extra small Chimera softbox and grid and placed slightly behind the subjects on the right. Since this light was not providing sufficient light for Chef Christophe Devoille, located in the center behind the bar, I positioned the third light with a five degree honeycomb grid to add a bit of light to his face. Below is a simple diagram of the first shot followed by the actual image.
Because of the limitations of where I could place my lights I decided to do this shot as two separate images and combine them in post production. The group of three chefs on the right required additional lighting so once we felt like we had a good shot I asked all the chefs, with the exception of the three on the right, to remove themselves from the scene. I then added an additional strobe fitted with a small Chimera softbox and fitted with a 40 degree grid to provide light onto the faces the two chefs at the far right of the frame.
So while these three continued to look like they were having the time of their lives everyone else in the room was asking when this torture would end.
The final frame was of the entire scene with no humans and equipment in the shot. This image would then be layered into the final photograph so that no lights and other pollution could be seen in the reflections.
The final shot ended up being the opening spread to a sixteen page feature about the chefs. In my next post I’ll share the individual portraits I did of each chef.