Photographer Eilon Paz, who accompanied SAVEUR executive editor Betsy Andrews to Indian River County in Florida to photograph the grapefruit harvest, tells us how his favorite photos from this shoot were made.
When I get an assignment that has a very clear topic—in this case, the grapefruit harvest—I try to create a photograph that tells a story without actually showing exactly what the topic is. The tall ladders were among the first things I noticed in the grove. This photograph is almost a preview; it’s an introduction to the whole story. The tool lets you imagine a bit of what’s going on. With the yellow and the blue—the complementary colors—the whole composition is appealing to me. Eilon Paz There’s the rule of thirds in composition: You break up the frame into three sections horizontally and vertically, and if you place your subject on the intersecting lines between sections, then your photo will have the right balance. Here I tried to break that rule. I placed this picker, Jose Antonio Pañapiel, right in middle, in a kind of awkward position—I was playing with a more naive way of photo taking, trying to get away from the “classic” framing. I didn’t want to take much of his time because that means money out of his shift. Still, it seemed he was enjoying it; he was very patient with me. Eilon Paz This was taken after I had spent some time with Jose, so he was relaxed and could disregard me. I couldn’t really see any facial expressions because the sun was blinding me, but he was picking as fast as he could, and I was shooting as fast as I could. Sometimes you get into situations like that, and you feel something is happening, but you don’t control it. I knew that one of those photos would catch his expression and the movement in his hands. Eilon Paz This photograph was shot in the “magic hour”—that time of day when the sun sets, and the light is soft but still intense. You get this soft, almost studio-like light quality but with still vibrant colors. I used a wide aperture to get that bokeh (out-of-focus) effect in the background and to emphasize the grapefruit’s texture and color. The soiled hands wrapped in socks remind me of a boxer’s hands, and they show that these beautiful fruits are delivered to us after very hard work. Eilon Paz Sheffield Green wouldn’t pose for me at all. He was just talking about how hard it is to work and how he would love to retire soon, but he kept going. He is a strong character who just didn’t care that I was there. He didn’t mind, but he wouldn’t stop for me. At this specific moment, one ray of light was entering his eye, and I think that makes the shot. It’s a breathing moment between picking and looking for the next grapefruit. When I approached this guy, whose name is Saintjuste Othnael, he immediately said, “Oh, I’m sorry.” He was apologizing, and it made me think, why is that? Is it something about his history? Is he fearful for his job? I made the best effort to be nice and ask him if he was willing to be photographed. I always ask people before I shoot. I had to lie in the grass to get this angle. We normally just raise the camera to our eye. We rarely move ourselves up or down, change the vantage point, but that’s what makes a photo look different. I love this shot. I used a 70-mm lens, which has a long focal length, so it compresses the landscape and makes it look flat. I wanted to make this orchard look more two-dimensional and make him look a little bit lonesome. If I had taken this with a wider-angle lens, I would have had to get much closer to him to get the same composition, and so much would have been lost. I wouldn’t have been able to show that long stretch of orchard. This was shot on top of the truck that hauls the grapefruit to the packinghouse. My first intention was to get a landscape shot, but then I looked behind me and saw the crate with the grapefruit and this guy, Nick Suarez, standing over it. When you’re shooting, there is a tendency to get locked on an idea, but you should be open to other choices. This wasn’t planned, but it works at that angle, looking down and seeing the orchard in back and the grapefruit in front. It wouldn’t have been possible if I had been shooting on the ground. I’m fascinated with automated processes, but I also found it amusing to see those grapefruit jumping around as if they had their own life. I was looking for geometrical patterns, but also for the way those patterns intersect with time. Standing there watching the grapefruit made me contemplate how we consume. Seeing the hard-working pickers, hearing how low their pay is, and then moving on to the packinghouse showed me the full circle of our world and how we take this thing, eating a grapefruit, for granted. Being washed, the grapefruit almost seemed like they had their own character. I could have shot from the other direction and gotten a better composition, but the light coming from behind allowed the texture of the bubbles to come out. I used a bit of a slow shutter speed—not so slow so that the image is too blurry but also not so fast so that they look sharp enough—so you can sense the motion of the grapefruit over the conveyor. I was waiting there for ten minutes for something interesting to happen—for the grapefruit to form a nice shape, and then for the boxes to arrive and the hand to be in the right spot. It’s all about patience and closing down your point of view. I was just framing and waiting for the right moment. Sunsets are beautiful, but there’s no way to transfer the feeling of being there into a photograph without heavily manipulating it after it’s been shot. And how do you shoot another sunset without being redundant? Having that truck with the arm in the shot gives the feeling that this is the end of a long day of work. It contrasts that hard work with the tranquil moment of an amazing sunset.