It takes more than a discerning palate to be a food blogger in the competitive digital space, and HK food blogger Joyce To aka @hk_datfoodlife surely knows how to stay on top of the game with inspiring food photography. We caught up with Joyce to learn how she managed to pursue a law degree and build up an impressive 38k IG following at the same time. She also shared with us some useful food photography tips and her first impressions of our Dishtag app camera!
Can you tell us a bit about yourself? How did you get to be a food blogger?
I would say my passion for food photography began with an enthusiasm for food, then a desire to photograph food at its finest. Born and raised in Hong Kong, I went to boarding school in the UK when I was 13. Being fed a diet of canteen food, I started to appreciate any good food that I was able to get my hands on. Around the same time, iPhones became more and more popular, so it only seemed natural to use the phone camera to visually document any yummy dishes I could enjoy. After I started my IG food account, I became frustrated by the quality of the iPhone camera, which often could not fully capture the mouth-watering dishes in front of me. I then started fiddling around with a proper camera, lugging it out to every meal I had. The rest, as they say, is history.
How do you balance being a law student and food blogger?
Food blogging was very much my creative outlet at law school. I kept a pretty good balance between these two passions to make sure they did not encroach on each other. The rigorous workload my law degree required was manageable but very time-consuming. Therefore, I liked to edit my photos in any spare time I had: travelling to my lectures, waiting for supervisors, queuing up in the library etc. I also had to make some lifestyle changes, such as spending less time on YouTube or sleeping a little less every night. However, I think it is totally worth it!
How do you see the role of food photography on your food blogger account? Do you find your followers more inspired by the photos or the comments you make about a dish?
Food photography is king. A beautiful photo is what draws your eye to a particular post and this is true no matter what caption is written underneath it. I have some posts which I explicitly mention that the food was rather average or even poor, but someone nevertheless comment they would love to try the food since it “looks so good”! A captivating photo is therefore more inspiring than any lyrical praise I can write for a dish.
Do you still remember the first dish you photographed?
Oh lord no. As I mentioned I was 13 when I first started getting into food photography so my memories are rather hazy. It might have been some Reese’s Pieces milkshake, or possibly sweet and sour pork from my favourite Chinese restaurant.
What have you learned as a food blogger in this time?
I have learned that it is super important and indeed fulfilling to find your own photographic style. There is no point trying to emulate your favourite food blogger’s photos as it will feel forced and artificial. Worse, it isn’t ‘you’. Experiment with different compositions, lighting, editing techniques etc. If you’re fortunate enough to be able to get your hands on different cameras and lenses, then do so. The key is practice, practice, practice (and eat, eat, eat!).
It is often that we don’t have the perfect setup to shoot professionally when we dine out. Can you give us some tips in the following situations to instantly make a dish look good in pictures?
Don’t be afraid to use the flashlight on your phone! You might get some strange looks but that’s better than regretting not being able to get the perfect shot in a dimly lit restaurant. I use a pretty heavy duty fill light to correct shadows, and it really does make a huge difference. If you do decide to use a fill light, make sure it’s not disturbing other diners!
Shoot on the phone
iPhone photos can actually be pretty stunning in the right environment. For example natural lighting or where a bright white light is shining directly onto the subject. “Portrait mode” will also be your best friend as it instantly gives a professional-looking photo with minimum effort (although we’re all familiar with that struggle of how far we need to lean back to get portrait mode to work properly!).
There’s no such thing as no props! Your hands can be used to pick things up, or forks can be used to do a pasta pull. A plate of food can be held up against an interesting piece of art in the restaurant. The possibilities are endless!
How do you vary your approach to different styles of food?
Rather than thinking about it as different styles of food, I look at each dish for its aesthetic value. Is the overall plating so pretty that it deserves a top shot? Is it a hunk of glistening meat that perhaps would suit a closeup to capture the shine? Also think about the interaction between food and mouth: a finicky canapé looks better in photos if it is held in your fingers, whereas the communal-style of eating hotpot screams “overlay”, perhaps with several hands holding chopsticks in the frame.
What do you enjoy most about being a food blogger, food photographer and influencer?
Combining my two great joys of eating and appreciating beauty! Yes, the perks of free food are great but that’s only half of it. I relish the mini-challenge of figuring out how to present food that I have been offered in its best light, so that my followers will be enticed to try it out. My mantra is to showcase food that is beautiful to look at and also gorgeous on the palate!
As you know we are about to launch our app, what is your first impression of the Dishtag app and how do you like the tutorial feature of our food photography camera? Is it useful for a food blogger?
I love that I can look up how specific dishes in my favourite restaurants look like, or simply search through pictures of a type of food that I’m craving. It makes food-ordering and photoshoot-planning so much easier before I actually visit the restaurant.
The tutorial feature of the food photography camera is also so novel and innovative. I love that the various layouts empower you to take the perfect shot, always. I think this takes the stress out of food photography so that you can focus on enjoying the food itself. The tutorial feature will turn even your grandparents’ shaky camera pictures into professional looking snaps!