While it is true that we have no control over the chaos going on in the world right now, we do have control over the nutritious (and not so much) treats that’ve been surrounding us lately. Working from home has been the perfect excuse to keep a full pantry and come upon new options meant to satisfy our munchies. Being able to take a “break” whenever we feel like it or having our cameras off during our zoom meetings has its perks, such as searching for cooking hacks on social media. We indulge in scrumptious food photos that we either want to replicate during our cooking solo time or simply admire and wonder if one bite would take us to food heaven. If you’re the latter, then you’re definitely into the Insta foodie-addicts category. You’re instantly salivating over inviting shots of pretty good-looking food, and honestly, who wouldn’t?
The mind behind those mouthwatering inviting pictures are photographers that, in less than 15 seconds, shake us to our core, especially when our refrigerator is running low. Having the perfect salivating worth shot is time-consuming and not as easy as it seems. Tim Cheung, a bay area based photographer, is the curator behind Instagram’s and Tik Tok’s bayareafoodies. Sharing his interesting finds has gotten him to become a known name in the food blogging industry with content that serves as a platform for hungry scrollers and home cooks. With a style that stands out by its contrast, his goal is to make food appealing enough to make your stomach rumble. If someone is willing to try the ghost pepper noodles spicy madness making his lungs burn for 10 minutes, then this is someone you should definitely know.
In the age of Instagram-perfect images and videos, we can only wonder what’s the daily routine of a food photographer and the behind-the-scenes creative process very few people know about. And If you’re just food curious, here are 10 insights Tim Cheung’s shared with us about the most common misconceptions and behind the scenes aspects of making a lucrative career out of food blogging.
You don’t need to be a professional photographer to get into food photography
Self-study can turn any hobby into a profitable career. Cheung’s last thought was that he would be able to transform his long-time food passion into his day-to-day job. “I haven’t really taken any courses that are photography/social media related, but I do a lot of self-studying,” Cheung says. “This includes googling things I want to learn more about and searching for key YouTube videos that will get my content and my photography skills to the next level.” For beginners trying to get to the next level, he recommends searching and learning how lighting interacts with objects from different angles.
The editing process goes beyond using professional apps
We can’t deny that editing apps can turn regular photos into gourmet meal style images. Photoshop and Lightroom are photographers’ favorites; however, there’s more to it than adjusting lighting and colors. A keen eye is needed when it comes to those minuscule details that make the difference. “When everything seems good, the process can take around 10 minutes but can also take up to an hour,” Cheung says. “If the food is misplaced, for instance, it takes much longer. Visualization is also important, imagining the final result while working on the shot is something you master through a lot of practice.” Stunning photos and witty captions will definitely motivate anyone to put a foot in their kitchen.
Being active is more than posting every day
There’s no doubt that being consistent helps you build a following base and create your brand identity. However, it is crucial to have a growth strategy where every post serves a purpose, always follows an aesthetic, and is relevant. “Strategy is important because it helps you make sure you’re staying relevant and analyze the impact you’re having on all social media platforms,” he says. “Having a familiar face is also important. You want your audience to know the person behind the camera and develop a connection.” Familiarity becomes an essential factor in getting your audience to relate to your content.
Yes, you want to go for the weird-looking type of food but also understand the story behind it
It adds value. The story behind a stunning photo can be just as important as the photo itself. Tim has acknowledged the importance of being informative while being entertaining. Curious facts and a little bit of history can fulfill the followers’ craving for new cultural cuisine. “When I go into the restaurant, I always want to go for their best tasting dish and their most interesting one,” Cheung says. “There’s always that marketable dish that gets customers into the door and the one for which they keep coming back. It’s all about keeping a balance between the dish that matches your aesthetic and one that’s going to start a conversation.” Whether it’s the ingredients or how it is made, storytelling is the best way to capture a viewer’s attention and get in tune with their emotions. So, what’s the story?
Despite all the equipment needed, we can also get practical
For video types of content, iPhones are simply the way to go. The number of features and apps offered for good quality videos is infinite. Cheung’s foodstagram is filled with videos of him trying different over the top dishes and drinks that would make many anyone jealous. “I feel like everything done on my phone is the fastest way to go, making sure to maintain good quality. I like to do voice-overs on my videos, and editing apps on my phone allow me to do it with just one click,” Cheung says. “For behind the scenes photos or videos, my phone is the best way to get in contact with my followers in real-time while adding a personal touch to my feed.”
An iPhone is just as important as a professional camera
We live in an era where camera phones continue to evolve, and so do their lenses. While it is true that professional cameras are ideal, it is also accurate that natural lighting combined with any accessory can make even the ugliest of foods come to life. “If you’re taking photos in a dark environment, then a professional camera is the best choice. These have a dynamic range in general, so if something is really dark or bright, it can still be fixed and equalized,” he says. “When you’re editing professional photos, you end up having a bigger advantage.” According to Cheung, if you’re outside in a well-shaded area and want to take an up-close photo, then iPhone performs the best. With a wide-angle lens, iPhone’s close-up shots can make the food look larger than life, making it look even more delicious. Natural lighting is definitely the cardinal rule, and this is why photos with sun-kissed feels tempt us even more.
Optical tricks are a thing
One true thing is that the world’s obsession with food isn’t going anywhere soon, and we are guilty as charged. Food bloggers have thousands of tricks up their sleeves to make food look drool-worthy while elevating their shots to the next level. Did you know that cardboard spacers add height to food? Just like this, there are many ways to make sure your followers can’t get enough. “One of the common tricks is to spray vegetable oil to add a juicy look to the meat and use hot water on rice noodles, so they loosen up,” he says. “You can also use a lot of tricks when editing. If a dish doesn’t look the right color, you can use Lightroom to paint it and play with a brush until you create a perfect color combination like in a real-world setting.”
Believe it or not, captions can be the hardest part
Social media has proved how inclusive the food culture is, but even though taking the actual photo seems like the most challenging part, coming up with a worthy food caption is no easy task either. Should one go for the “felt cute, might eat later” approach or be more serious? The truth is food content should rely on balance. It is important to be informative but relate to your audience, nonetheless. “I always try to be informative. The first sentence is key to making your followers stop and engage with your content, so for those first one-liners, I’ll try to think about what is something my audience would relate to,” he says. “If it has a unique element to it, I’ll try to emphasize that along with the most relevant aspect of the food.” Cheung will then focus on talking about the restaurant, what they are known for, and additional details.
Having to retake photos happens more often than you think
Going out to dinner with only your phone in hand, hoping to capture the perfect Instagram food photo, is likely to end in disappointment. We already know that lighting is key, but many factors surround it that make retaking photos a common exercise. “The most frustrating part of my job is setting up flash lighting for different shots. Getting the lighting correct is usually very time consuming and moving around flash equipment that weighs 15 pounds makes it even more difficult,” Cheung says. “There’s only so much Photoshop and Lightroom can fix in terms of lighting and misplacement. It just takes much longer when you have to fix an error in post-editing rather than just getting the shot correct on the first try.” According to Cheung, if even editing can’t fix a photo, they need to be retaken.
Low key restaurants are the ones that have the surprise element
Hidden gems that no one really knows about are the restaurants you should go for. You might be surprised about the stories behind small or starting businesses and how much your audience appreciates it. Cheung usually finds about these places through Instagram, Yelp, or TikTok. In his search for helping small businesses during this global pandemic, Cheung seeks out ways to use his following as a tool to bring awareness to minority-owned restaurants. “For this project, I’ll be visiting a lot of these restaurants and be taking photos of the owners and getting to know their best dishes,” he says. “These are the foundations of local restaurants, so I’m excited to be able to help my community.” And to fulfill our culinary desires for sure.