Following the arrival of the first Copper River salmon on an Alaska Airlines cargo plane and a ritual filleting, local chefs compete in a cook-off and serve the prized fresh fish to the assembled press, VIPs, executives and employees.
Because of the high fat content, the fish from Alaska’s Copper River Delta is considered a delicacy and shipped soon after they’re pulled from the river. Copper River salmon can go for $60 per pound or more, and this monster 45-pounder nicknamed “Bob” hand-delivered by First Officer Melissa VanDyke is worth about $1,500.
Another wave of flights during the day deliver 50,000 more pounds of the salmon to the Seattle region. Annually, Alaska Airlines partners with Ocean Beauty Seafoods, Trident Seafoods and Copper River Seafoods to ship their hyper-marketed salmon from Cordova, Alaska, to markets in Seattle, Anchorage and cities in California. It’s a fun, visual event and the second time I’ve attended.
Coffee And Salmon, Trial By Fire, Too
Up at 4 a.m. for a 5:30 a.m. meet and then waiting for the fish plane to arrive means a groggy group of media stumbling around the SeaTac tarmac waiting to get their shot, gulping coffee.
I got my shot of the winning dish with a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV ($3,299) and Canon cine lens, the CN-E 50mm T1.3 ($3,950). Even though I’m from Seattle with family in Alaska, I usually don’t start my mornings with salmon straight shots and a coffee chaser, but these two were cooking.
The dishes included a gingery one, a risotto-inspired one and buttery, poached salmon. My fave, because the coffee really brought out the flavor of the salmon, was the Otak Otak Salmon by David Yeo. The winning dish wasn’t my fave when paired with coffee, but the crowd voted.
It was my first time shooting with the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, a trial by fire in a media scrum with all the local stations. The EOS 5D had just arrived the night before with the lens sealed in a hard case. I had no time to set it up, learn how to use it or mess with the settings, let alone, work out the intricacies of a huge cine lens without aperture clicks and manual focus only.
Quintessentially Alaska and Seattle
My personal favorite pic from the event is the Chief Marketing Officer of Copper River Seafoods emerging from behind the plane looking quintessentially Alaskan and obviously proud of a job well done.
Here’s a shot of Cassandra and the Copper River Seafoods crew.
Much of the market value of that salmon is attributed to the work of her company and the 540 independent boats that fish the Copper River annually. It’s selling now at grocery delis for $45 a pound. The boats, known as bow pickers, are manned by one or two fishermen who cast nets over the bow and then handpick the salmon as the net is reeled in.
Handpicked salmon delivered fresh from a fishing town in Alaska to Seattle chefs for high-end dining—that’s a quintessential Pacific Northwest experience, too, and one that was a pleasure to cover, especially after Seattle lost one of its own, Chris Cornell, the day before.
It was a pleasure to shoot with the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, and I now understand why it’s a camera for the working media. There were three others in the hands of journalists at the event, and afterward, I spent a minimal amount of time in post.
If the shot was in focus (many were not, as I spun the focus dial or inadvertently bumped the aperture dial), then the famous Canon color delivered, with a tweak here or there for vignetting, highlights and shadows.
This 5D is a camera that you’re handed to do a job with, not necessarily debate in comment threads, or honestly, discuss if it has a mirror in it or not. It goes beyond justifying or arguing the latest tech to delivering a story on deadline, and I did just that. Note that I’m not recommending anyone shoot stills at a live event with a cine lens, but in a pinch you can with the deepest bokeh.
Watch the edited video from the cook-off below.
The Setup For Next Time
After filing my story, charging the battery and regrouping for a bit, I reached out to Canon with an exhausted, “Well, the salmon was great, so was the camera, now I have some time to breathe. Can you tell me a bit more it?”
It’s Canon’s full-frame DSLR, with a 30-megapixel sensor, 61-point AF and touch-screen back in a relatively compact body. After a phone call with a Professional Services staffer, I learned a few critical items to set up for the next event. If you’re ever handed an EOS 5D or the like before a critical event do this:
- For stills, in M mode, set the aperture to wide open, the shutter speed to double the focal length and auto ISO
- For 4K video, in M mode also, set the aperture to wide open, the shutter speed to match the focal length and auto ISO
- Bang ’em with the 50!
Okay, the third bullet was my advice, and it was shared with me by an editor on one of my first photography assignments. Because at full frame a 50mm length is the most representative of the human eye, I set it to wide open to capture the subjects of a story.
It didn’t matter for the manual cine lens, but I set the EOS 5D AF for moving the points around, of course, shooting in RAW with a JPEG to the second card and the video at 4K with a 23.98 frame rate.
I’ll take the 50mm cine lens and 50mm F/1.2 still lens with me to London next week for another assignment.
The fish there is fried, battered and served with chips. Add a pint to the order, and at the current exchange rates, it’s still not as much as Copper River salmon.
But it’s London, where the light bounces from stately avenues to gritty side streets and pubs. And it’s a location with plenty of material to bang with a 50mm—cine or still—attached to a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV.
You can follow DL Byron on Twitter @bikehugger