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Photographer in focus: Grace Picôt for Fire To Fork

In an era where we’re bombarded with a constant stream of imagery, it’s harder for truly talented photographers to be seen. The kind who’ve been getting up in the dark since they were a kid to shoot the sunrise with their dad. The kind who’ll yell, ‘quick, pull over! A rainbow’s about to appear over that valley!’ while driving a campervan through remote New Zealand. The kind who … ok, you get the point.

Well, Aussie photograher Grace Picôt (pron. Pic-oo) is this kind of talented individual. Naturally, she was the sole person that we had in mind when it came to capturing the cover for our best selling cookbook, Fire To Fork.

Grace on assignment in West Papua for Coral Expeditions. Pic by M. Connell.

Grace, thanks for chatting with us today.

Now, having seen you at work (behind the camera and also editing) your photography skills are next level. Let’s talk how you started out, the gear you use and your influences (Grace’s dad, Jim Picôt, is a well-known landscape photographer).

My dad has always been my numero uno inspiration. He is one of the most well-travelled individuals you
could ever speak to, he has a story about everywhere and film images to go with the memories. Growing up, my dad would always bring attention to lighting; pointing out the twenty minutes of colour before a sunrise, or the golden light everyone loves before sunset. Whenever those storm clouds would roll in, I would be racing to get the clothes off the line, while Dad was already out the door to capture those lightning shots. Naturally, I dabbled into his style of work shooting landscapes and learning my way around Canon gear.

Shooting in nature is a great way to develop a passion to shoot. You always feel so accomplished when you begin your day in the elements for sunrise. Dad was, and still is, a great teacher.

I am currently shooting with the Canon R mirrorless camera body with my favourite 24-70mm lens usually attached. You will also find in my camera bag my new 24mm tilt shift lens (best for interiors), a 70-200mm for the odd portrait and a 50mm, which is always good to have.

Never miss a sunrise, says Grace’s dad Jim. Cathedral Cove by Grace Picôt.
Sunset Beach, Hawaii, by Grace Picôt. Available in her print store.
It’s been exactly 2 years since we drove north of Broome with a small crew, including Harry, to shoot his cookbook cover. Since then, Fire To Fork has become Australia’s best selling campfire cookbook and the cover photograph that you captured has become iconic. Let’s chat about that afternoon’s shoot.
Fire to Fork cookbook
Pindan cliffs, purple mulla mulla, Fred dog and Harry. Pic by Grace Picôt.
When the sun set and Harry stood by the fire with Fred dog, did you look through your lens and immediately know that you were capturing a winner?

What a scene that was, and yes from the moment I started framing the scene I knew we would ‘get the shot’ once the sun dipped lower, as we’d set up maybe 45 minutes before that golden light we needed.
Harry was actually preparing a dinner for us, so even though we were ‘staging’ a cover shot, it was very true to the process, which always makes for a better outcome.

Fire, red cliffs, a dairy cow dog, Harry’s ‘barefoot gentleman of the bush’ style … there are so many aesthetically-pleasing elements to the cover shot. What are your faves?

What about the steak on the fire? That was my favourite element. Haha … nah, (eating) that was a highlight after the shoot, but the red cliffs would be the greatest highlight for me. Being from the East coast, we don’t see ‘pindan’ red soil like in Western Australia, along with the dramatic cliffs meeting turquoise water. It was also wildflower season; from memory we set up the campfire alongside that gorgeous purple mulla mulla bush for some foreground interest. That definitely added a special element to the rugged desert scene.

There was a lot going on in that moment. The old saying goes, ‘never work with kids or animals’. Well, you had Fred dog and Harry, who’s like a big kid haha. And then there was keeping the fire blazing and how fast the light was fading. Tell us about that – working under pressure, shooting with a book cover in mind, having the right gear etc.

Gladly, I had already spent enough time in the Kimberley region to understand how quickly that golden glow comes and goes, which does mean there’s a bit of pressure to capture that photo in a very short window, possibly 10-15 minutes where the lighting is as its best. Having a plan with angles and lenses was essential; I knew I would shoot with my 70-200 lens as it’s so crisp and I wanted to have a tight frame of the red cliffs and less or no sky. You guys at Exploring Eden Media had the vision for the shoot and were great at reminding me of the negative space needed for the masthead, which was important for me to have in mind while shooting.

Working with Fred dog was really entertaining, he was understandably distracted, performing many zoomies around the beach. However, when Harry called him over, Fred was very attentive.

We did have to hide a stick behind Harry to keep Fred around, though. You would think the steak over the fire would keep him around, but no, the hidden stick was Fred’s eye candy, haha.

Sticks and steaks are better than bones, says Fred dog. Pic by Grace Picôt.
Any tips for aspiring photographers that want to nail a book cover shot?

It’s a collaborative vision. It’s always great to keep an open mind and be able to see the ideas of those you are working with (author, publisher and designer) and then to use your knowledge of lighting and skill to bring forth that idea. Working together in a team environment is very rewarding, especially when you end up with the results you are all after.

A good graphic designer can elevate photography with the right design. A bad one can brutalise it. What do you think of Trent and Cass of Always Studios’ simple yet bold design of the cover (and of the cookbook, in general)?

It was an absolute honour to have Trent Whitehead’s design bring the book and the images to life, as design is so incredibly important in this process which, as you said, can compliment my work or not. When I heard Trent was designer, my thoughts were “ok, this book is going to be incredible” along with “dream team” 😉

Beyond the aesthetics, what is it about this cookbook that’s really resonated with people and made it become a best seller? 

Firstly, I know that Harry is a relatable, well rounded Aussie bloke, with a cooking style that feels achievable with his recipes. He’s the type of guy you would feel comfortable enough to approach at a random campsite to borrow some olive oil when you have run out (you would probably expect Coles brand and get the fancy stuff too), and end up becoming mates with him.

Firstly, I know that Harry is a relatable, well rounded Aussie bloke, with a cooking style that feels achievable with his recipes.

Secondly, I think the camping ‘van life’ scene in Australia has really taken off the last few years (especially with covid). People are spending more money on having the good gear, too (off road vehicle, fridges, camp ovens etc). When you are on the road, you revolve around shelter and cooking; you make sure you set up camp before dark, and being well fed is incredibly important after a day full of activities. It is always a longer process when cooking at a campsite, which is part of the fun and experience. I feel like it’s a joint effort with your camping buddies, someone is always lending a hand chopping the veggies while someone is (hopefully) successfully getting the fire going.

The Fire to Fork book feels as essential as a fire starter or olive oil in your camping kit; your secret weapon to impressing your camping crew when it’s your turn to cook.

Harry fisher cookbook
Winding down with the crew after nailing the cover shot. Now, time to eat that steak! Pic by Grace Picôt.
If we were to publish another cookbook with Harry, what should it be about?

I think a cooler season vibe would be really awesome as a future cookbook with Harry. I can picture some beautiful, tall trees and camping in the bush. If a river is involved, some fishing action would be cool, too. I can picture Fred dog on a tinnie eating a fish that was freshly caught. Let’s do it?

Ha. Yeah I’m keen. Let’s chat with Harry. Ok, finally … give yourself a plug here. Where can people find more of your photography work? Also, if people want to try your tasty treats, where can they do so?

My Instagram is @gracepicot and my travel stuff is found on @shotbygrace. Our Central Coast cafe is
@flourandco_ – famous for the Cali burrito and baked goods.

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