Liquid Gold! Documenting the creation of Maple Syrup at the Hoaglund Homestead by John Yuccas

My friends Sven and Hannah Hoaglund are two incredible people living outside of Tofte, MN who are getting serious about Maple Syrup! I was honored to get an invite to come and document their process this Spring on the North Shore.

The temperature high was around 45 degrees, with many lakes still being frozen over (I brought my kayak hoping to get some paddling in….). The sap was running fierce this year, which is a great thing for producers like the Hoaglunds. The ratio to make 1 gallon of maple syrup is 40 gallons of sap!

The process begins at the maple trees where the sap is tapped to run into either a holding bucket or directly in a main line. That leads to collecting or sending sap to a tank that holds the syrup until it is time to boil. The sap then gets to run into the boiler, where it travels toward an eventual landing pot when it has been reduced to the proper consistency.

Measurements include checking the buoyancy to ensure the precious liquid gold is ready for harvest, ensuring there is a lack of bubbles formed on top of the boiling sap (this causes the sap to stop evaporating), and ensuring the temperature continues to rise by adding more fuel to the fire. The fire has to constantly be fed wood, and the steam rises from the boiler to the top of the structure housing all of the equipment. Drops form on the ceiling until they fall. The steam was welcoming against the backdrop of very cool air temperature. It reminded me of your face being exposed outside of a hot tub mid winter.

It was awesome being able to try some maple water, which is partially reduced. If there were a tea that tasted that good, I would be ordering it a decent amount of the time. I was also ecstatic to be able to try the finished product, and to photograph it on top of some oatmeal blueberry pancakes made by my host!

I hope you enjoy the images of the process!



Always Consider the Light by John Yuccas

As businesses try and keep pace with creating content, photography skills are necessary to ensure you are showcasing all aspects in the most flattering way possible.

One of the mistakes I see frequently in restaurant photography (and photography in general) is the execution of an image being tainted because light wasn’t factored in after a subject was chosen. I know that hearing photographers drone on about “the light” can seem confusing or pedantic, but I am hoping to create some clarity and recommendations so you are mindful and strategic when thinking about the next image you make.

Location is Key:
Once you have a subject in mind, start thinking about areas of your restaurant that would suit it best. Part of that equation is thinking about when light is going to be coming in the windows from the sun. If that isn’t an option, what areas are utilizing non-harsh or diffused light that aren’t going to create shadows or be overly harsh in nature (no heating lamps!).

Expose for the Subject:

Are you exposing for the subject? What I mean by that is that if you point your camera/phone at the subject, do you tap the screen or toggle where the subject is or choose selective exposure points? Many phones also offer an exposure dial to scroll up and down on to ensure you are making the subject stand out as much as possible. Lighting from the side and front help ensure that the subject is bright enough for the viewer. Just focusing on the subject can lead to darker images. We always want to show what we are emphasizing above all else.

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Time of Day:

Light has different variation and color temperature depending on the time of day. Photographers often speak about “Golden Hour” or “Blue Hour”. Depending on where the sun is in the sky, you are going to have to evolve to the type of light you have available. In nature, you can set yourself up for success by being ahead of the warm non harsh sunrise light; same at sunset. Overcast days mean you have diffused light available all day, with no harsh shadows on your subject matter. It was pointed out to me that warm light is actually more appetizing than blue light, so food should have a more warm appearance overall when dealing with consumable offerings.

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Easy to use Light Tools

I utilize a light diffuser to spread light evenly across my subjects when direct light is too harsh or is not portraying the image the way I want. For a simple solution that costs under $2 in most thrift stores, grab a white bed sheet or table cloth to put over the window while photographing. Are you in a really dark environment? Try using a phone flashlight through a white napkin. Also, check the curtains in your space; is light completely blocked, or is some coming through? How does it make your subject look?

Direct Light Example

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Diffused Light Example

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Cocktails and Other Beverages

If you try to expose a drink from the front with typical lighting conditions, the image is going to be lackluster. Mainly, because you are exposing with light hitting the front of the glass and the liquid is going to appear dark. Have the light source directly behind your cocktail or beverage to showcase the contents and colors.

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Play with Light

There are light sources everywhere, and the images you are taking are free. Utilize light where it exists and have fun!

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Chilean Wine Country by John Yuccas

This past October, I was fortunate enough to take my first trip to Chile. At the tail end of the week I was there, we made arrangements to spend two nights in the Colchagua Valley. Being that I have never been to "Wine Country" before, I decided it would be a fun challenge to capture it as best as I could with a fixed lens Fuji x100s (My favorite travel camera when doing an activity or exploring). I tried to capture the 3 elements I think are most important when it comes to content and storytelling: the spaces, the experiences, and the offerings (food and wine).

Frozen Fruit by John Yuccas

Over the last 16 years, I have been a photographer in one capacity or another. I have used darkrooms, slide film, switched to digital, switched manufacturers, consolidated down to one camera and lens, and over the last 2 years re-built a photo gear bag that weighs over 35 pounds. I have photographed nature, architecture, people, and a whole host of different subject matter within that time. At the end of the day, you use what tools you have to photograph whatever subject matter is available to you (and hopefully, it interests you as well).

But, deciding what to photograph can be just as big of a challenge if not greater than understanding how to take a good photograph. Once in a while, a creative idea strikes, and it's up to you to run with it and do the best you can to capture what you envision.

This occurred recently while thinking about ice. Specifically, what ice represents to me: time stopping, pensiveness, physical cold. And then, the other end of that spectrum: warmth, lively, fast, colorful. It hit me: fruit represented all of the characteristics ice doesn’t to me. I decided to mix the two entities while taking advantage of winter in Minneapolis. After some quick online education, I discovered that distilled water freezes clear, which allows some transparency of the subject matter trapped inside.

Cookie Photography by John Yuccas

This is a short video exploring different ways to photograph cookies. This video specifically showcases Alison Roman's Salted Butter and Chocolate Chunk Shortbread Cookies made by my fiance

2018 Best of the Wurst by John Yuccas

One week ago on September 23rd, 14 restaurants competed at Sociable Cider Werks in an attempt to be named “Best of the Wurst”. A big thank you to FairVote Minnesota for putting on the event with Sociable Cider Werks, and for bringing me on to photograph.

Every vendor a did a phenomenal job, and it was clear in the reactions of every participant. Enjoy the images below!

Special thanks to all of the vendors for letting me come into your space with my camera to document your process, offerings, and participants!

Borough

New Bohemia

Lake & Irving 

France 44 Wine & Spirits

Ingebretsen's Nordic Marketplace

Union Kitchen MN

Northern Waters Smokehaus 

Cara Irish PubsKieran's Irish Pub

Domo Ramen

J. Selby's

The Bungalow Club MPLS

Pitchfork Sausage

fig + farro

Lowry Hill Meats

Sociable Cider Werks

While photographing, I also was reminded of the benefits of ranked choice voting. To learn more about ranked choice voting and FairVote Minnesota, check out their site at http://www.fairvotemn.org/

The Ultimate Shore Lunch by John Yuccas

Over the past weekend, I had a couple of friends getting married at the bride's family's resort in Ontario near where I grew up fishing as an adolescent. This opened the door to a one day fishing adventure that I could share with my fiancĂ©e, Ananta - who had never caught a walleye in her life - in what I describe as "postcard country" on Lake of the Woods. More than anything though, I was looking forward to reconnecting with my old friend and guide, Ellery Horsman. He always exceeds expectations: the catch, the laughs and stories, and the incredible food he prepares on the shore.

I hope this post showcases some of the facets that are often hard to transcribe to someone who has never had the opportunity to travel north of the border for such an experience. The fish we caught that morning included perch, smallmouth bass, and of course, walleye. All delicious and fresh. 

A few nuances regarding this shore lunch to note:

- Ellery used butter instead of traditional lard to fry the fish this afternoon. I have to say, the butter really made for a delicious alternative! 

- The "O Canada FlambĂ©e" is a dessert invented by Ellery; and to be clear, dessert is NOT typically an addition most guides include (especially with ice cream!). He named it as such because it includes ingredients by all of the founding cultures of Canada. Maple Syrup and blueberries from the Indigenous communities in Canada, Grand Marnier from the French, and ice cream from the British. Also included: butter, nutmeg, lemon juice, and orange juice. The ice cream portions were also quite large because we were splitting a brick between three adults as the rest wouldn't have made it back to shore.

With that, please enjoy the images below that showcase an experience like no other.

To learn more from Ellery, or simply connect, find him here on LinkedIn:

https://www.linkedin.com/in/ellery-horsman-13832964/

Thanks again Ellery for an incredible day!

The Cooks Collaborative Dual Citizen Brewery Takeover by John Yuccas

What could be better than a pop up, at a brewery, on a beautiful day in July, that featured mouth watering pork offerings and sides? Not much. It was so much fun photographing this event: the space, food, and energy really came together to allow some great pictures to be made. 

The Cooks Collaborative took over Dual Citizen Brewery in Saint Paul this past Sunday afternoon and put on a fantastic event. Nick Vasquez and Grant Nelson offered pork sandwiches, tacos, elotes, slaw, and beans in a relaxed patio setting. Luckily, the venue also had a lot of great beer to pair with the chef's offering. 

Be sure to like Cooks Collaborative on social media to ensure you won't miss any of their future projects!

Instagram: @cookscollab

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CooksCollab/