blending light to match the ugly

Zeng Yong stir frys a vegetable dish at the Diamond Palace Chinese Restaurant in Diamond Bar, Calif. Yong uses a traditional wok hei method of cooking, which is when a dish is cooked in a seasoned wok over an open flame and quickly tossed.

Zeng Yong stir frys a vegetable dish at the Diamond Palace Chinese Restaurant in Diamond Bar, Calif. Yong uses a traditional wok hei method of cooking, which is when a dish is cooked in a seasoned wok over an open flame and quickly tossed.


I shot this assignment while I was back home in LA. I was really stuck on what I wanted to do, but I remembered that my friend's mom owned a local Chinese restaurant. I thought that it would be cool to photograph what it's like to be in a Chinese kitchen because it is a different style of cooking. I love that they use open fire stoves for the woks, and I thought that it would be a new and interesting photo of a kitchen that some people haven't seen before. To light this shot, I used my strobe and a reflector that you can attach to the top of your strobe. The strobe was facing straight up with a green gel, and the reflector helps bounce the light towards the subject without being as harsh as direct flash. I think it worked well in this setting especially because it helped eliminate unwanted reflections off the metal. The dominant light in the kitchen was fluorescent, but some light bulbs were more of a tungsten color; I thought that would cause a problem but in the end you couldn't really tell because the ratio of fluorescent and tungsten lighting was so high the fluorescent sort of overpowered the tungsten lighting anyways. Also, the kitchen was a very tight space, and I wish I were able to get more in front of the cook instead of from a side view because I feel like this photo is just a basic kitchen shot. I tried to lean over the stove but I just couldn't get it to work in my favor. I learned more about balancing the strobe to not look artificial, and to just have that kiss of light that some photos need. I also did learn more about adding an intention motion blur to the photos when it was necessary; the cook is moving a lot because he can't keep the vegetables sedentary for a long time because then it would just burn, so I thought the motion blur added some more personality to the photo and didn't make it look as bland. 

This was probably one of my most favorite assignments, because I think that all the techniques that we were prior to this prepared us for this one specifically. I think I enjoyed this assignment more than the first few assignments we had because I finally felt like I was in control of the light and I could manipulate how I wanted it to be. 


Here are some other photos from my take that I really enjoyed but just didn't make the cut.