A trio of young Albertans with Prince Edward Island roots put a whole new spin on the working vacation theme this spring.
© SUBMITTED PHOTO
Rob Lim concentrated on capturing the video images that are now part of the Lobster Island photo documentary project.
During a recent visit to their annual summer destination, professional photographers Rob and Lauren Lim and Lauren’s sister, food blogger Stephanie Simpson, rigourously explored a subject that was super close to their heart and an even closer attachment to their taste buds — the lively, luscious lobster.
And after an intensive month-long shoot in the height of the spring lobster fishing season, their multifaceted Lobster Island documentary project — which includes a softcover photography book, an e-book photography tutorial, a website and video element — is ready for public consumption.
“I think (documentary photography) can be one of the most rewarding photography experiences ever. It lets you really experience something that you’re interested in through photography,” says Lauren Lim, who, with her husband, operates Photography Concentrate, an online education site that teaches photography to 100,000 people each month through free blogs and articles, as well as tutorials that can be purchased and downloaded.
The Lims became obsessed with photography during a backpacking trip around Europe almost a decade ago. Despite a lack of knowledge or experience, they decided right then and there to become professionals with dreams of travelling the world with a camera.
“We have travelled a lot, but of all the places P.E.I. is right up there in terms of the beauty of the place. It’s one of our favourite places. The people in P.E.I are so friendly and so welcoming it’s unlike anywhere else we’ve ever been,” says Lim, whose mother, Sheila (Rose) Simpson, grew up in Souris and whose father, Tim Simpson, moved to the Island when he was a teen.
The Simpsons moved out west as a young couple where they raised their family. They retired to Little Pond three years ago.
“The last time we were (on P.E.I. in 2012) we were checking out the wharfs and things, just to explore and we really enjoyed photographing them. And then as we were talking about the next visit, we (said) ‘Oh wouldn’t it be cool to go out on a lobster boat? That would be so much fun. Let’s make that happen.’ And it just spiralled from there,” Lim says.
They hooked up with Terry and Jean Carter who graciously agreed to take them on their boat when the spring lobster season rolled around in 2013.
“We (basically) built the project around that one shoot. That was the thing that we set up (beforehand) and then we developed the rest of the concept: What is lobster culture on the Island? How far does it reach? All those kinds of things,” Lim says.
The couple, who started out with wedding and portrait photography, were up for the challenges presented to them by their first photographic documentary.
“Weddings are actually a very fast-paced shoot and so after a lot of years we got really good at having fast reflexes, moving quickly to get the shot but staying out of their way. That was really important on the boat. We could not get in their way because that could actually get really dangerous,” Lim says.
“In terms of preparation, this one required a lot more planning and research beforehand because we were hoping to tell a pretty big story, and it was something that we weren’t really familiar with . . . .
“This required different planning. What are the different (components) of lobster fishing? Where are different places on the Island that we could go? We wanted to get the eating side of things. So after lobsters are caught, then what happens?”
The Lobster Island project also includes a recipe component and this is where Simpson’s skills came in especially handy.
As the sole operator of the FoodHappy.ca website, recipes and food photography are a familiar forum.
For Lobster Island, Simpson gathered original recipes from family and friends for things like chowder, coleslaw, mussels and blueberry pie, and tested them to make sure all measurements were correct.
“We ate pie three times before she got it just right the way she wanted it,” laughs Lim.
“Getting to bring that really special part of P.E.I. to other people and encouraging them to do it themselves is really neat.”
The actual fishing day — albeit in a calm sea — was a shooting challenge for the Lobster Island documentary crew.
“One of the tough parts was the light. Photography is all about light and out on the ocean it changed like every five minutes. We had clouds or it was bright and sunny or the sun was just coming up or it was really overcast or the sun was going in and out of clouds. The light changed constantly so that meant we were constantly changing our camera settings,” Lim says.
“So trying to balance the action — those people are so good at what they do, so they’re moving super fast — so trying to capture them while they’re moving is really hard.
“And you’re also trying to keep up with your camera settings and try to make an interesting photo. It was the most challenging shoot that I’d ever had.”
The reaction from local fishers to them doing a photo documentary about their way of life was a welcome one.
“I think they were really excited to see someone else taking an interest in it because being a lobster fisherman I think they have a lot of passion for what they do,” Lim says.
“The guys that we met, they were always so happy to share what it was like to be a fisherman. It goes back in their families. There’s a lot of history and tradition.
“They’re very proud to be a lobster fisherman. They really wear that pride openly and so when we showed an interest they were telling us all their stories . . . .”
Because the project was multidimensional, not only was the focus on the Lobster Island book complete with text and photos of their sumptuous subject, the Lims were also interested in content for their online Photography Concentrate education website, which has had 1.5 million visitors since they began three years ago, as well as an e-book tutorial.
“We were hoping to be able to do the project but at the same time create a resource so that other people could do it themselves and have a shorter learning curve than we did,” Lim says of their 104-page How We Did It: Lobster Island PDF, which takes readers on a behind-the-scenes tour of their documentary process and provides tips on how people can go ahead to create their own project.
“(You might) find yourself in situations that are challenging, photographically speaking . . . (but) when you put yourself in situations that are outside your comfort zone you’ll just rise to the occasion and make it happen,” she adds.
“You’ll become a better photographer and have a ton of fun, then when you share the piece people get to know more about you and the place you live or that you like to travel to and what you’re interested in. You just get to share a really cool story and help other people learn a little bit about the world.”
The Lobster Island book, as well as the e-book and website component atwww.lobsterisland.co, were launched in October.
“We were working on all this (material) and we didn’t just want to keep it just in a book and not share it. That’s why we have the website so that if you just want to see (the content) and experience it you can. You can see most of the photos and you can get the recipes . . . ,” Lim says.
“And then the book is for people who enjoy having something to hold so they can sit and have a cup of tea and flip through it.
“Our biggest thing here was getting to share what makes Prince Edward Island so special to us.”
AT A GLANCE
Lobster Island is the first photo documentary project by professional photographers Rob and Lauren Lim and food blogger Stephanie Simpson of Edmonton, Alta.
Strong family roots to P.E.I. promoted the creation of this multifaceted endeavour, which includes a book, a website component and e-book behind-the-scenes photography tutorial that can be purchased at www.lobsterisland.co.
Books can also be purchased online or contact Sheila Simpson of Little Barn by the Bay Antiques and Collectables in Little Pond at
1-902-583-2223 to arrange pickup or delivery.
TRY THIS AT HOME
Here’s the recipe for Uncle Paul’s Chowder (in his own words). It’s featured in the Lobster Island book and on the website.
“What you’re going to need is 2 big onions, diced up fine. You’re going to need 4 cans of baby clams, juice and all. You’re going to sauté your onions in a 1/4 pound of butter first, then dump your clams in.
“When the clams and that are warm, you’re going to put in 8 pounds of fish — 4 of Atlantic pollock and 4 of sole. You’re going to let them all break apart. When they’re hot enough they’ll start to disintegrate.
“Then you’re going to put in 2 litres of 2 per cent milk and 2 litres of 18 per cent cream, followed closely by 4 cans of frozen lobsters (about 1 pound a can), 4 pounds of scallops, and 3 gizmos of king crab. Now those king crab gizmos are about a half a pound apiece. Cook that for about 8 hours. Preferably 8.
“And you got chowder, buddy. Big chowder. Chowder to feed a small country.”
(Ensure each bowl gets a lobster claw. Serve with cheese biscuits.)