Chickens!

Anyone who spends time with my wife and I know that we have a real, weird, thing for chickens. We totally love the funky little buggers. We think that they are cute, hilarious – especially their odd vocalizations, noble and super tasty when stewed with dumplings.¬† We can be mid sentence in a very serious conversation but if we find one of those feathered guys in our vision somewhere we will promptly proclaim: “Chicken!” with a huge grin on our stupid faces. Yeah, I warned you about us.

So when I got two assignments lately to photograph chickens I was thrilled. The first was a story about the people at a small farm in Berthoud, not that far from where I live, that teaches people in the burgeoning urban homestead movement how to process their poultry. It’s usually chickens but lots of people are keeping ducks and turkeys too. This day it was just chickens. It was great to see that there was a whole family who was learning how to embrace the circle of life.





It’s been very important to me to know where my food comes from and to respect the sacrifices made for my dinner table. Seeing how the Rameys honor the birds was great to see as was the way that the people taking their class did as well.

Later on in the summer I did work on an article about a family who owns Cottonwood Creek, a pasture chicken farm out on the eastern plains of Colorado. Pasture raised is when the birds have full time access to open land to scratch, peck and eat anything that their little hearts desire. That means lots of bugs, worms and plants: a properly balanced chicken diet the way that nature designed. If you get your eggs at the store and it says “free range” that really is just a marketing term that says that the chickens live in doors but have access to a space outside the huge building for them to walk around in. It doesn’t say how big or wild the space is or much else. “Free range” is essentially the same as “never having seen the sun” chickens only you pay more for the label.

 

Matt Kautz and his family own about 60 acres where their hens roam in rotation so that now mobile roost stays on one plot for more than a week or so and many plots stay fallow to allow the vegetation and bug life to recuperate and be ready for the next roost to roll in.

The children regularly help out taking care of their 5000 hens along with collecting the eggs every day. The kids think that they have 5000 pets to cuddle with.

The hens quickly learn that they roost is where they sleep at night which keeps them safe from predators.

The best part was being able to watch all the hens just being, well, chickens in their natural environment. If you have never seen this you are missing out. Chickens are essentially forest ground dwelling birds and to run around in the grass and brush hunting for bugs is what they are meant to do.

Getting down to chicken level to photograph the hunting hens was amazing. Since they are the descendants of dinosaurs it wasn’t hard to lose sense of scale and see them as tiny dinos making their way through primordial forests. I refer to the above image as “Jurassic Chicken”.

Oh! You don’t want a snapshot?

No, I really don't. Not at all. But I swear that's the conversation that I seem to constantly have regardless of whom I'm on assignment for. For some reason people think that when I show up to make photos I'm going to have them stand bolt upright, put on their best "Olan Mills" fake as hell smile, I'll shoot two frames with an on camera flash and then leave. Wow. I guess if I was shooting for National Geographic they might not think that but in the meantime I have to keep saying "No really, let's have fun with this. Why make boring pictures?"

I was assigned to photograph the Heinritz Brothers, Chris and Mark who for 20 years have owned a historic dive, I mean that in the best way, that first opened in 1923. It's a funky joint with just about every inch of the walls and ceiling decorated in pen drawings and scribbles. It's cool. So when I said that I wanted them over here and over there they were taken aback because everyone, everyone?, gives them the "Castro Special" you know: line 'em up and shoot 'em!

Naw! They are too nice and the place is way to unique to not show off. So I turned it into a shot more about the space than them. Two SB-800's on stands with ZootSnoots, my 17-35mm f/2.8 set to 17mm and f/11 @ ISO 1000 (man is that a total saver!) and blam-O! Not boring.

Sink 1

Oh and I just love this shot that my butt took while I was moving gear around. I should do a whole book of funky butt triggered shots. Ya know?

Sink 2

Making sausage

Being a "foodie" I get a big kick out of photographing the people who grow and craft our food. Cooking is the only art form where all 5 senses are taken into account so in lots of ways I'm jealous of chefs but don't tell them that, ok? They say that the test of a chef is to have them make you soup. It's something where most of the fancy techniques a chef learns, especially those for presentation, can't really be used and none of it matters a whit if the soup isn't tasty. Give a chef a lovely fillet, some foie gras or a lobster and they are hard pressed to botch it. Then there is the task of taking scraps, odds and ends and making something yummy out of it. That is the beauty sausage: turning things that you would throw away into something that is superb. A staff photographer for Associate Press once referred to news photography as a sasauge factory: making something good out of bad situations.

Well I had to photograph a chef/owner of a new place that is about to open and when I arrived what I found was this:

Arugula interior

Well they said that they were finishing up construction but I didn't believe that it would be that rough. I couldn't take him outside as it was snowing and the whole place was a construction zone. Mmm, ok … give me a dude and some space and we will grind it up into something usable. Light is the seasoning that's the easiest to use, yeah I'm still using culinary terms, so I tried to find a space to use. There were about 6 construction dudes running about so I needed some place that let me set up lights without being in the way. So I took this hall way and moved the baking racks out of the way to give me access to the tiles that would break up the scene and give something more interesting than a seamless background. However the hall is only 7 or so feet wide. Gad!

Arugula hall

Alec the chef was super nice and accomidating. I sent him to the storage shed to get some kind of cooking impliment so that he'd have something in his hands.

Arugula lighting

I put a small Chimera softbox high and over his shoulder at camera left very close to him so that it would quickly fall off his face. I also pointed it away from the wall as best as I could to minimize it's spill as it was only about 3 feet from the wall. I aimed a light with a grid about 20 feet away at about waist level so as to light the tiles with extreme side lighting for maximum texture and dialed about 2 stops below "normal". When Alec brought out a long French wisk, yeah I actually know my wisks!, I knew that I wanted some sparkle on it but the main light woudn't be enough. So I pulled out my 3 degree grid spot so as to just add a bit of light to the tip of the whisk without hitting him or the wall. The softbox did spill onto the wall but I didn't expect that the line created would be the same as the line of the whisk – when I saw the first test shot I just smiled and went with it. Why not?

Arugula