BPP 165: Hannah Chia - Learning Photography One Bite At A Time

Hannah Chia is a vegan food blogger from Portland Oregon. She photographs her recipes and then shares the delectable looking images for the world to see. Today I am excited to chat about the impact learning photography has had on her success.

In This Episode You'll Learn:

  • How Hannah got her start in photography

  • The hardest part about photography for Hannah to learn

  • Why Hannah upgraded from her cell phone to a DSLR to photograph her food

  • What is food styling

  • How to start food styling

  • The importance of dishware

  • How Hannah takes flat lay photos

  • The camera gear Hannah uses to photograph food

  • The importance of lighting food

  • How Hannah was able to keep her look consistent after moving across the country

  • How many photos Hannah takes per recipe

  • How to achieve a photography style

  • Signs of an amateur food stylist and photographer



Did you enjoy this episode? Check out more recent interviews with other great guests!

Full Episode Transcription:

Disclaimer: The transcript was transcribed electronically and may contain errors that do not reflect accurately what the speaker said. Because of this, please do not quote this automated transcript.

Raymond: 00:00 I hope you're hungry because today on the beginner photography podcast, we talk all about photographing food. So let's get into it.

Intro: 00:08 Welcome to the beginner photography podcast with Raymond Hatfield, the podcast dedicated to helping you grow your photography skills. Raymond interviews the world's top photographers in their field to ask questions that will get you taking better photos today. Now, with you as always, husband, father, home brewer, La Dodger Fan, and Indianapolis wedding photographer, Raymond Hatfield. Welcome. Come back

Raymond: 00:37 The podcast. As always, I am Raymond Hatfields and today I haven't interviewed that a is going to get you thinking differently about photographing food from somebody who got into photography simply because she loved to cook. So really fun to interview. I'm excited to get into it. But first I wanted to share with those of you who are not in the beginner photography podcast, Facebook group. This week, I released a set of 52 free Lightroom presets for you to download. So for many, just getting started, editing can be, I know it, it can be intimidating, time consuming, and you know, you never know when you're done. And the truth is Lightroom presets are simply the fastest way to transform your images and bring consistency to your work. So that you can, you know, just make simple adjustments and then get back to shooting. So to get the presets and access to these step by step installed video, all you gotta do is just head over to learn dot beginner photography, podcast.com, forward slash courses.

Raymond: 01:40 And then you will find it right there. You just sign up, download and get editing. Again. That is learn l e a r n. Dot. Beginner photography podcast.com forward slash courses. So before we get into today's interview, I just wanted to give a real quick congratulations to Roseanne. So Roseanne actually left the podcast, a glowing review in iTunes where she shares the story of how for years she was a quote unquote scaredy cat and intimidated by her camera. But you know, all on her own by listening and implementing what she had learned from the podcast and from the guest, she ventured out of her comfort zone and with time is now has full control of her camera and is shooting in manual. So Roseanne, massive congratulations to you. I cannot wait to see some of your photos once you post them in the Facebook group.

Raymond: 02:41 Okay. So let's go ahead and get into today's interview. Oh, and another shout out to a Risa who actually opened up my eyes to today's guest. So thank you. Reset for that. If you are feeling unsure of your photography or that you know you're not a natural, I I know that you're going to have a lot of takeaways from this interview as Hannah is relatively new to photography herself, but she's been using photography to fuel her larger passion. So just take a quick moment to check out the show notes of this interview so that you can see a samples of some of her work. It is truly a lovely and incredible stuff. So with that, let's go ahead and get into this week's interview right now. Henna Chia is a food blogger from Portland, Oregon. She photographs her recipes and then shares those delectable looking images for the world to see on her blog today.

Raymond: 03:34 I'm excited to chat with her about the impact that learning photography has made for her and and her success. So, Hannah, thank you so much for coming on the podcast. I am excited to talk to you today for a few reasons. One, obviously because looking over your blog, you are able to create fantastic images of a, of something that, you know, seemingly everybody has access to right food. And yet here you are making something incredible that that not many people can do. And then second, because I just love talking about food and that's just a fantastic thing to spend the next hour of my life. But before we do get into that can you share with the listeners a little bit about yourself and what it is that you do and how you got into photography?

Hannah Chia: 04:22 Yeah. So currently I'm a full time food blogger and a food photographer. Slash. Stylist. I actually started doing this two years ago when I was in Grad school. So I'm a pianist, classical pianist, and I was in school for piano performance and it's basically one summer. I just decided, you know what, I like photography, I love food and I will, I'm also a begin. And so I had a passion for making Vegan recipes and sharing them. And it was initially just with my friends because they'd be like, oh, so what do you eat as a Vegan? And I'd be like, okay, let me start this Instagram account where I would basically document my meals that then I think I gradually didn't, I wasn't as satisfied just with like at first I just used my iPhone, you know, and just like to close. But then I want to explore more of the, just like styling and more photography. And I had a camera then a digital camera that I didn't really use. I just kind of had it because I was like, oh, I want to get into photography eventually. But this was a great avenue for me to actually start using it and yeah, so I'll start from there. I started posting more. I started my blog, the website, and then it kind of just [inaudible] progressed from there.

Raymond: 05:41 Interesting. So it all started simply because you wanted to prove to your friends that that Vegan food is tasty and looks appetizing.

Hannah Chia: 05:49 Yeah.

Raymond: 05:52 So then you started posting your photos on Instagram and then after, I'm assuming the success that you had had posting these photos on Instagram, you decided to start the blog, is that correct?

Hannah Chia: 06:01 Yes. And I also wanted to space like a more permanent space to place the recipes. So I could direct people like, Oh, where is that recipe for this dish? I just feel like you can just find out my blog.

Raymond: 06:13 Yeah, no, I love it. So so your love for food came before photography and then your love of photography facilitated making more food, is that right? Yes. Okay. Gotcha. Cool. So when you first started out photographing your food, all these amazing dishes, and if anybody's listening right now please check out the show notes. There's, there's a bunch of, of photos of Hannah's of her recipes that she makes. And if you've ever you know, wanting to get into vegan cooking, I promise you this is the place to do it. In fact, she has a recipe for spicy, is it Korean? A cauliflower wings that I purchased all the ingredients for it. And I'm super excited to try out this weekend because it looked so fantastic. So fantastic.

Hannah Chia: 07:00 Cauliflowers and magical ingredients.

Raymond: 07:02 It is, right. I know. We got, we gotta we gotta use more cauliflower in our lives. So when you first started making these recipes and then you, you just photograph them with your phone, what was the, what was the hardest part about the photos that you were getting and what kind of made you feel like you had to step it up to the digital camera, the DSLR, whatever was the next progression.

Hannah Chia: 07:27 [Inaudible]. Yeah, I think honestly my phone took pretty good photos and I was, I think it did really well with I guess more like flat lays. So if I wanted to take an overhead shot of a few dishes there were pretty sharp images, but I think I just want to play rounds mostly with light room and with editing. And I felt like, oh, I wanted to do certain things to make the colors pop out more. I wanted, I'm particularly drawn to more like rustic looking images. So I wanted to experiment more with like darker photos and using more shadows, more contrast. And I felt just like editing on my phone didn't really quite get me that. And so that was when, and also wanted to take more photos that were like from the side. And so you can have like that blurry backgrounds. I just, I was really drawn to those types of inches. And so that's when I kind of started just moving away from the phone and using my DSR.

Raymond: 08:24 So you said earlier that you just had a digital camera, was that already a, a DSLR? And is that what you started shooting with?

Hannah Chia: 08:31 Yes, it was a DSLR. I got it off of another student. We had like those students selling stuff, pay Facebook page and so it's a pretty old model. I'm actually, it's still the one that I'm using now and I just, it was like the body with just the camera body. And so I started researching, oh, what kind of lens should I use for food photography? And so I decided to get like a Prime Lens, which is pretty cheap too. Yeah, so that was the camera body we used. And then I got a prime lens specifically for food photography.

Raymond: 09:07 And you said that you're still using that camera buddy? Yes, I still could you tell me what camera it is?

Hannah Chia: 09:12 Yeah, it's an icon. D 90.

Raymond: 09:14 Okay. Yeah. So that is, that is an older body, but that's, that's fantastic. Now this is what I love to hear. So many people think that obviously, you know, gear is what makes the photos and here is proof that this, I believe it's like a seven or six or seven year old cam and the d 90 is, and yet that you're able to create these, these fantastic images. And as you said you know, it's all in the glass and playing with with light and stuff. That's awesome. So when you first started using the DSLR rather than your phone did you already have an idea of how to work a camera or or did you have to learn photography from the ground up?

Hannah Chia: 09:54 I had previously been using a DSLR to just take pictures of people like my family and my friends, but I primarily just use the, I just one of the auto settings or the ave mode, I think it was, yeah. But then I was like, oh, I really want to learn how to use the manual mode. And so I really had no idea at that point how to manipulate like the shutter speed and opportunity and all that. So I think what it did was just a lot of googling and looking in the manual. And just seeing also, I was doing a lot of research on people who also did through blogging and some of them have like their aperture settings on there and like what shutter speed they use. And then I was like, okay, this is what ISO means. So it's just doing a lot of research primarily myself.

Raymond: 10:43 So did you ever see one of these other photographers settings and then try to use it in your own work and realize, oh, this, this doesn't work at all or something, something's not right here.

Hannah Chia: 10:52 Yeah, you can't because the light conditions vary so much.

Raymond: 10:57 Absolutely. So then what, so what was, what was the struggle, right. So once you learned what aperture, shutter speed and ISO were, even though you were using settings from other photographers, where was that struggle? And I guess how did you, how did you overcome that?

Hannah Chia: 11:13 It was just a lot of trial and error. I think endo helps that I had a very consistent lighting setup, so I just picked a spot. It was in my old department in Houston, but it was just a really nice window. And it was kind of like a diffused light because there's a tree outside the window going to blocking direct sunlight. And so had I had really good lighting and I think that for me was the key. And that's when my photography started getting a lot better was just figuring out, okay, this is the learning that I have. And think honestly for food photography or any photography in general, lighting is just critical. And then it was after that I set up the lighting or I set up the, I guess camera where it was and then figuring out what were the best settings. And so I started using manual mode and I think I just bumped down the aperture. Really, I'm a lot lower so I could get more of like that depth of fuels in the backgrounds. Yeah. So it was a lot of trial and error essentially.

Raymond: 12:18 Yeah, no, I would, I would imagine especially with that, that's great that as you said, you know, you kind of have this one consistent which was this window and a, the quality of light that was coming inside, which I'm sure would make it a a whole lot easier to or, or would give you the ability to quickly learn those settings rather than having to change the light and then figure out what to do every single time. Cause that would, that would just be a mess for sure. So when you first got that DSLR, when you first started taking pictures and then you would bring them into light room, where you getting what it was that you wanted out of these photos or what were you hoping to get out of using it, using your DSLR?

Hannah Chia: 13:01 Probably just image quality. And one critical thing for me was switching to Ra are shooting in raw and because I liked to play a lot with white balance. So you can, when you shoot in raw you can, like a lot of information is carried over. And especially I like to shoot really low lower exposure pictures. So just darker photos. And I feel like when I, once I started shooting in raw and transferring it over to light room, then I was like, oh, okay, I can do so much more with these images because I'm not losing all this information from just shooting like jpeg. [inaudible]

Raymond: 13:41 Right. Yeah. Light Room is, is one of those things that once you figure it out it's like this whole, this whole other world of photography just completely opens up with the, with the ideas and the, and the possibilities. That's cool. So I think I could be wrong cause I'm not a a food photographer, but taking a photo of food is one thing, but kind of the next progression is styling those images, which is a completely other thing in and of itself. So for those who don't know, can you explain what food styling is and maybe share your first experiences styling your own food?

Hannah Chia: 14:21 Yeah, so food styling is the process of taking the food and I guess manipulating it a ways so that it looks more appealing on camera. Because I think any food really like, oh look good to you, but sometimes it just doesn't translate well into photos and so has a lot to do with using props. I'm doing a lot of layering with like using Napkins and putting the plate, like putting the plate here instead of there or adding silverware or adding like small dishes with on the side kind of also in the frame. [inaudible] And yeah, so a lot of that too was trial and error kind of figuring out what looked the best. Along the way I think I started just developing my own sense of I guess personal aesthetic, like what I liked, I'm in my photos and then just carrying that on over to, I feel like most of my photos have like a similar kind as this aesthetic. And I also use the same prompts for a lot of the images too.

Raymond: 15:23 Yeah, yeah. Yeah. So w w w what got you into the food styling? Was it simply kind of being in that world of food photography and seeing that this is not naturally how I would set up my table? Maybe I should add these things or was it, were you taking photos and thinking there's something missing here and then, and then going deeper?

Hannah Chia: 15:41 I think it's a combination of both. And also just seeing a lot of other photographers work. I noticed one particular, I guess style is having like that kind of messy look. And I'm like, when I'm eating, I want my table to be clean, you know, it's just the plate there, my fork. But in order to make food look more appealing, a lot of times you will like scatter a little bit of, let's say if it's like Chia seed or whatever on the side. And to have that really like messy hony kind of lived in look and a lot of inspiration I took just from looking at other people's photos and seeing what they did, seeing the props that they used and the little details that they were focusing on. So I think a flew styling a lot of times just comes down to details.

Raymond: 16:28 Isn't that weird how a Messier House looks, makes food look better? I know exactly what you're talking about. Like my wife likes to just go off and like create, she'll get a, like these ideas of like, you know what, I'm gonna Start Baking bread. And I'm like, okay, yeah, let's do this or whatever. So then she'll look at recipes on Pinterest or wherever it is. And all of these photos are like this flower everywhere and there's jars for, and I'm thinking like, like whose kitchen, you know, naturally looks like this. It should definitely be cleaner. But that's hilarious. That's, that's one of those things that I think if I was taking a photo of food, I would try to make it look as clean as humanly possible rather than trying to add these these elements everywhere. So aside from just kind of trial and error was there, was there anything else that you did to, to go out in and learn food styling? Cause I would imagine that food styling for say Asian cuisine is going to be different than like what we just said with like, like baked goods and stuff.

Hannah Chia: 17:27 Hmm. Yeah, that's true. I think for a lot of Asian cuisine, the dishes that are used are a little bit different. And so a lot of porcelain particularly for Chinese cuisine. And I think I just noticed that in a lot of the photos that I was drawing inspiration from and thinking back to, oh, I remember this dish that's like, my parents use had this like old bowl. It's like a blue and white kind of porcelain bowl that they just use everyday for like rice or things like that. And so I was like, okay, I want to kind of find that type of ball or even little things like finding, using like gold silverware. And mine was just from like target. It was pretty cheap. I think once I started using gold, silver, I was like, oh, I thought it was look a lot better.

Hannah Chia: 18:19 Yeah. So I think a lot of the times when I set up a photo too, I would have different dishes or different bowls and different plates then use and then I would swap them out. And so it'd be the same exact food. And a lot of times I'll switch out the background too in the middle of the shoe if I was like, okay, I don't really like how this like clashes with if it's like a cooler toned background and matched better with like a warmer tone color or warmer tone food. Sometimes I'd have like a warmer tone, like a wooden background and then the food itself would be like orange. And then I'm looking at it and be like, okay, that doesn't look as great as it could. And so I'd like Swish it out even in the middle of the same recipe shoots. And then later on just like seeing it in my computer to be like, okay, I can see what works and what really didn't. And so I think it was just being open to experimenting a lot. Yeah. It's cause because sometimes you might have this crazy idea to like, do this and then in my like totally fail, but sometimes it just like works out really well.

Raymond: 19:25 I love that. So then side question, how many sets of dishware do you own? Because looking at your photos, I mean, well I, I, you know, you wouldn't be able to tell by looking at your website. It's, and that's another thing that I wanted to bring up is, is I, I don't know if you did any sort of research on on color theory or figuring it out, like what colors compliment others, but you just pretty much talked upon that, that, that subject right there, that having orange food doesn't look good on a, with a wooden background and then trying out those different things. Is that simply just experience or, or did you, did you look for complimenting colors and and try to bring that into your photography?

Hannah Chia: 20:14 Yeah, that's some, the concept I, I was like intentionally thinking about and because I feel like in the past I've always been like more, I guess artistic when it came to like my hobbies and what I want to do. And so I did a lot of like painting and in that and painting you were like, the teacher will tell you about like color theory. And so I always kind of had that in the back of my head. And then thinking of, okay, when it comes to food, the same concepts apply to this because it's all just, it's still like a visual portrait instead of like drawing something you're trying to accurately or you're trying to capture it as you see it in your eyes with your eyes. Or even just enhancing colors to make it look even better.

Raymond: 20:59 Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. What are some, what if somebody is just getting started and you know, they're at home, they're making a recipe themselves. Are there some simple props that you would recommend that are just, you know, good for, for most beginners to get started when styling their food?

Hannah Chia: 21:15 Yeah. one thing is just having some like tablecloths or napkins or not, not tablecloths, but like smaller like linen napkins. I think even just if you have one dish and nothing else, if you put like a Napkin kind of like swirled on the side or folded underneath the plate, just that one thing itself can add a lot of visual interest.

Hannah Chia: 21:41 Another tip that I have would just be to think of like layering. And so you have like the plan, you have the backgrounds and then you have your dish. But if you try to think of like, okay, what can you do to create more layers in terms of like the height, so you can put like two plates together or have

Hannah Chia: 22:03 Let's say like you have different bowls. That's another tip I would have is just like using smaller bowls and putting ingredients in the bowls and putting them kind of off in the side or in the corner so that you can see them when you're looking at them, but you don't want it to be too busy. So there's always a balance. I think one, there was a period where my photos started getting really busy because I was just like, okay, how many things can crown to this one photo? But then it would take attention away from the actual dish. And so I think it's just playing around with that balance. It's pretty important, but just having like maybe two or three other elements in the photo apart from just

Raymond: 22:46 The plaintiff of food. So a little bit of height and a linen, a Napkin or tablecloth just to get started. And Gold Silverware.

Hannah Chia: 22:56 Okay. That is not necessarily a good start. Yeah, it's

Raymond: 23:00 Definitely going to be something that stands out. I think not everybody has golden silverware, but if I saw a picture of gold silverware, I would look at it for sure and take notice. Yeah. so let's talk about that flat lay shot that you were talking about earlier with the with the phone phone makes it easy to do that flatly shot. Now that you've got the DSLR does the d 90 have an articulating screen or is it, it's flat on the camera. Okay. So when it comes to that, I'm sure that you have some sort of, you know, tripod, you know, with a camera pointing down. Risa in the beginner photography podcast, a community who asked me to reach out to you and said, check out her work. She's fantastic. Follows you on Instagram, your work and she wants to know what your setup is, right? Do you use a remote to take the photos and how do you make sure that your photos are in focus?

Hannah Chia: 23:55 Yeah, good question. So until about like three months ago, I actually did not use a tripod and all of my overhead shots are taken pretty much just with me almost standing on the table. I gotta have a stool next to it. And so I would literally just be like bending over the food with my camera to take these photos. And I really liked the freedom of like having different angles. I can be like, okay, I want to take it from this angle and then take it from overhead shot. And so I liked moving around a lot, but it translated to sometimes the photos will not be as sharp as I would've liked. And I didn't really notice this on the camera, but then when I uploaded it into my room, I'd be like, oh, okay. That wasn't as crisp as or as sharp as I wanted it to be.

Hannah Chia: 24:45 And it was a lot of just because of like the motion, I was literally quoting my camera over these shots. And so I got to try it. But that was actually pretty recent and it's made a big difference I think in just being able also to have it there. And I would set on a timer so it'd be, I think it was like 10 seconds timer. And the tripod I had was, I got like a Manfrotto tripod so it was pretty sturdy one and it came with like a overhead arm. So that's primarily what I use now. So I touch it to the end. And the table that I have, the arm just extends over the table. And so I feel like that's been [inaudible] it's been helpful to have a tripod, but I don't think it was like exactly essential because for the first, like two years of what I did for most of the photos I have on my website, they were taking just kind of like just standing over food.

Raymond: 25:46 So now, now that you're knocked, I'm able to view the screen or I guess how do you, how do you still compose the photos? Are you still using the stool and then if so a, is that how you focus your image before taking?

Hannah Chia: 25:58 Yes, I still use that, although I'm thinking of doing some like tethering. But that's still just like, I'm still like researching that, but I think it would be a lot easier if I could like connect it.

Raymond: 26:10 That's some next level stuff right there. Yeah. so your, your website, it says on it that though, when you first got started with your blog, you would take those dishes to your window that we were talking about earlier just to get the best life that you could. Are you still primarily using window light or do you have some new tricks now that you're using to to, to light your photos?

Hannah Chia: 26:36 Well I'm still using natural lighting, but I moved actually about, I moved in May, I wasn't originally in Houston and I moved to Portland and after that move I realized how lucky I was with my previous window set up just because I did not have to think about the light at all. It was just perfect. Most of the time it was really great direct but diffused lighting. And I think I was just lucky with that where the window was. But then when I moved here there was also great natural lighting. But then I kind of had to figure out how to manipulate the light to look kind of the same way as my previous setup had been. And what I discovered, and I think this applies to especially the food photography, is that you don't want light coming from several sources. So the common thing that people will think is like, oh, okay, I just want to take this photo in summer.

Hannah Chia: 27:30 That's really well lit, like with really good lighting. But the problem with that is sometimes if you have several windows and light is kind of coming from the side and coming from the front, the photo itself ends up, ends up, ends up not looking back. Great. And I think it's because of there are too many sources of writing. And so what I had to do actually was get a few blackout curtains. And so my living room or the dining room, it's like connected to one room has really great natural bites, but there were just too many windows. And so I had to take a few blackout curtains. I also got this thing on Amazon where you essentially just put like velcro strips around the windows. So you essentially block out the light from all the windows except for one. And I think once they did that, then the images really pop because of that direct light from one source. And then I also got a diffuser because I felt the light was a little bit too bright. And sometimes when it was sunny outside, which you wouldn't think would happen here in Oregon, especially in the summer when it was just too bright. Having a diffuser really helped [inaudible] as well. And so I had to do a lot more with manipulating the light too. Look the way I wanted to really make the images pop. Versus before I think I was just lucky.

Raymond: 28:50 Yeah. Sorry I didn't, how did you kind of figure all this stuff out? How did you like walk into this room? W was it that you started taking photos and you just thought this isn't what I wanted at all? And then you, so, okay. So then from there you knew that you had to block out some, some light sources. Where do you, where did you get that idea? Is that just something that you had picked up over time or, or, or did you go to the Internet to try to find answers?

Hannah Chia: 29:19 I think I kinda just picked it up because I was shooting the same way that I did back in my old place. But the photos just are not coming out well. And I was like, oh no, my food blog is ruined if I don't have good lighting. Like what do I got? Moved back, you know? But then I started looking at my photos mean like, what is it about this sliding that is so magical? And then I just discovered, okay, it's because the room apart from that light, from that one window was dark. And so you had all these great shadows. And then once I figured that out, I was like, how do I imitate this in my new place? And so a lot of that was just blocking out all the, which is funny to say. You would think that like having a really bright room, it would be great for her photography. I've actually blocking out a lot of the light save for just one source. Really.

Raymond: 30:15 Maybe the difference. Yeah. You know, it's funny, I've heard that from a lot of other photographers who shoot at home. Like even portrait photographers Boudway or photographers, family photographers, they're like, you know, we got this a, a this wall of windows. But the majority of the time I block out like 80% of it just to get this nice sliver or this this, this beautiful quality of light. And that's very cool to to hear it from somebody who photographs a food as well. I also loved how you obviously sharing did you, did, you kind of figured it out, you reverse engineered it, right? And you went back and you looked at your old photos and you thought to yourself, what is it that works here? And now I have to make it work here. And that is something that I don't think enough photographers do is go back and look at their old photos and try to figure out either what works or what doesn't work and then try to to improve.

Raymond: 31:00 So that's, that's awesome. That is, that's so great to hear. When, when I was looking at some of your recipes I noticed that you have, I think like the, the, the typical shot pretty much like the, the cover photo or whatever. Like on the home page where it shows all the recipes. It's pretty much that math flatly shot. Right. But then when you click on a recipe, there are like a dozen photos. There's a bunch of photos, different angles, you know, getting your hands dirty and getting in there. So for any given dish that how many photos are being are being taken?

Hannah Chia: 31:38 Probably like 150

Raymond: 31:40 150. Wow. Okay. So then in that time, is it, is it you taking the photos, is it somebody else coming in and helping you take the photos? Cause some of them, like you got your hands in there. Like you're, you're really, you really getting it. So who, who or how are you taking these photos?

Hannah Chia: 31:57 That's all thanks to the tripod. It's a one man show here. I don't have any assistance unfortunately, which is really funny because when I go home to visit my family like once or twice a year, I have my sisters there and they're the best photo assistants and they do like hand modeling for me. But I on my home most of the time when I'm shooting, so having to tripod was really nice just to be able to have my hands in the photo or sometimes in my older photos I've had one hand in the photo but then you know, the other hand is like holding the camera in for care.

Raymond: 32:32 That's like a, that's like a movie trick right there. Like how do we get this thing to look and that's hilarious.

Hannah Chia: 32:37 Like creating your neck.

Raymond: 32:43 So how do you, how do you do that now? Like if you have to get your hands dirty, do you just assume that you're going to have to get your camera dirty as well? And then, I don't know, how many times do you have to stick your hands in, you know, some dough or whatever the that you're mixing up to to, to get the right photo?

Hannah Chia: 33:01 Yeah, so I do keep like a like paper towels and like a hand, like a washcloth nearby. So I can like wipe off my hands before touching the camera. But a lot of the times I just think about this particular recipe. And what would be the most useful. And so I feel like if I shot every single step of the recipe, that would just be too much. And a lot of the times like readers don't really need to know how to like cut a carrot, you know, but then showing the parts of that recipe, that would probably be the most helpful to have an extra visual of. Yeah, and a lot of the times, even some of the shots I just took my kitchen like on by the stove, which is not where the finished photos are taken. So the lighting is a little different there.

Hannah Chia: 33:49 But a lot of times instead of just taking photos of like every single step of like adding this to the pan and then you add this to the pan and then you have this two pan, I would just be like, okay, take the first one and then maybe take like one at the end. So just picking out just the crucial moments and it really depends on that particular recipe. Some recipes are really straight forward and I found that I don't really need to take that many process shots, but if it's something like dumplings are working with doe then I would have more photos of like working the dough actually with my hands. And so I'd carry the setup back to the window that I have or take the final photo. And so I like kind of do a lot of like carrying things back and forth. But yeah, so a lot of times it's just deciding what's important for that recipe and really just trying to get those shots I think.

Raymond: 34:41 And then is that something that you do before you start the recipe, you, you go through look and then decide what is it going to be most important to capture or do you have to make a recipe first and then while you're doing it, make those mental notes of what needs to be photographed?

Hannah Chia: 34:55 Yeah, so I w I test my recipes before I shoot them. So usually I haven't made the recipe once before in the, at least once before doing it again for the photos. And so I'll be making notes while I'm making it the first time to be like, okay, this part is a little bit confusing. And so even if I write like a really detailed instruction, it would help to have actual visual.

Raymond: 35:18 Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. I bet. I bet. So how w w I guess I'm trying to figure out here you know, you're making, you're making all this food. Has there ever been something that you made that you thought this is going to be fantastic and then you go to, to set it all up again, do it, and for some reason it doesn't look great or it just doesn't photograph well. And if so, what do you do at that point?

Hannah Chia: 35:43 Oh, I have had so hot, I have a lot of folders of photos actually in my computer. The, I have just never used and I just decided to reshoot it like another day usually because that day I was just tired. Or still a lot of the times the problem with, or the beauty of natural lighting is that, I don't know, I just, I haven't really tried artificial lighting. I might in the future, it might be something I'll experiment with. But the thing with natural lighting is that a lot of times it changes depending on the day. The weather outside. I really liked cloudy weather, particularly because of the diffuse soft light you get. But sometimes it's sunny outside. And so if I'm planning to shoot something that day, but the lighting, it's not looking, is not working out, I'll just like postpone it to another day. So now I know too that I can just move that instead of being like, no, I'm going to shoot this today and like work with the lighting. And I've usually ended up with photos I would just was not as happy with. So I have had a lot of like discarded shoots, but I think just through that process kind of learning what I really, what really tastes like, have good photos and kind of streamlining the process just from trial and error and just from doing it over and over again.

Raymond: 37:06 Yeah. That's interesting. I'm trying to figure out how you can use those photos. Kind of a like to your advantage, you know, because you know, it's true. Wherever you go, it doesn't mean that it's necessarily going to be great line or that the quality of life does change. But I don't know. I'll have to think about that and get back to you. But yeah,

Hannah Chia: 37:26 And then with styling and yeah, I've actually shared two photos on my Instagram stories a while back. It was about, it was not for the same recipe. It was like this, I don't remember if it's like a tomato or a carrot soup, some kind of soup. But the first time I shot it I had used like these shallow wooden bowls. And so it was like one set up and had like a different like styling going on for that. And I shot it and I thought it was like pretty great. But then I looked at it like again, like a few days later I was like, you know what, I think I can do better. And so I actually use the same soup cause I just had my fridge just like reheated it. And I did a totally different setup. I use like a different background. I use different bowls. And I think that it just really worked a lot better for that particular recipe. But I had photos from both of them. And so I ended up posting that second one to my Instagram. But then my stories, I was like, here's actually the first photos that I took of this recipe. And so I kind of used it as like, oh, this is what would be helpful for people who are into photography. You just seeing the difference in styling and really like what a difference it could make.

Raymond: 38:34 Yeah, that's, that's a great idea. Yeah. I would've loved to have a, a scene that if I was, you know, following along, I think w w we get this idea that you know, everybody on Instagram is just perfect and we're the only people in the world with, you know, internal problems or whatever. But being able to see somebody else post either how a photo didn't work and what changed to, to make it work is, is, is a really great idea. But one thing that you said in there kind of brought up another question for me, which is when you're, I mean, you're making food, right? You're making food, food is meant to be you know, consumed and shared after you're done photographing a recipe. Well, I guess first of all, quick question, how long does it take? Let's say you're, you're making a tomato soup or carrot soup from, from start to finish. How long does the whole process take, would you say,

Hannah Chia: 39:28 Including the photos and the editing or just

Raymond: 39:31 No, just, just the, just the day of shooting.

Hannah Chia: 39:34 Okay. Yeah, so the cooking takes actually the shortest amount of time. I'm usually done in like 30 minutes to an hour. But then a lot of the time is spent cleaning up because after a shoe, my kitchen will be a mess. So a lot of the times when cleaning up washing dishes, I like to say the most probably what food bloggers are doing most of the time is washing dishes, which is not very glamorous, but it's kind of true. And then yeah, so making the food and then shooting it, the actual photography probably takes, depends on the recipe, but usually like an hour I'd say.

Raymond: 40:16 Oh Wow. Okay.

Hannah Chia: 40:17 Yeah. And then that would also include cleaning up though.

Raymond: 40:22 That is a whole lot shorter than what I was expecting. But I'm sure that over the years you have a kind of figured out how to cook and shoot and clean as you go. If a, if I were to do something like that, it would be like a four and a half hour it would take all day. And then at the end of that I would think, I don't even want the soup anymore. I'm just so stressed out.

Hannah Chia: 40:41 Oh, sometimes it does take longer though. It really does.

Raymond: 40:45 What's, what's like a really long strenuous recipe that that, that you've made?

Hannah Chia: 40:53 Probably like the past one that I posted on the soup dumplings because that also the cooking process itself, like I had to refrigerate something to let us set for a few hours and then for the dough itself had arise. And then I think one thing that really, so now sometimes I'll take the whole afternoon would be like spent on one recipe. And I think the reason for that is because I started doing or taking videos for my Instagram stories on the process. And so for every step I would be like, just like taking a little video. Anything that just like prolongs the cooking process, you don't realize it like a dish. I take like 20 minutes to makes on this takes an hour to seize. You're like documenting every single step. And then so for that particular recipe, also wanted several different shots. I didn't just want the finished product, I wanted one with like the little buttons are like the little dumplings like before I fried them. And so I like set that one up. So that one took a good like five, six hours.

Raymond: 41:55 Oh my goodness. Yeah. Okay. So when when you're doing these shoots, right, you say it's the end of the six hours and you're like, oh my gosh, I'm just toast right now. Right. Are, are like, is that, what is the first thing that you, do you dig into the food that you just made or do you wait until you look at the photos and determine whether or not you do want to reshoot it before you?

Hannah Chia: 42:20 Usually by that point I just eat the food. I'm always hungry. One time, one time it has happened where I was like in the middle of eating this plate of food I made, I was like scrolling through the pictures. I was like, oh wait, I can probably like reshoot this to make it look better. That was like, you know what? It doesn't matter. I shot those photos. That's what it is. I'm going to eat.

Raymond: 42:44 That's right. You got into this because you love food. Not because you love the photography. The photography facilitated the food. So I would've made the exact, the exact same decision. That is hilarious. Has that ever came back to bite you in the butt? Have you ever taken taking a bite and been like, oh no, wait, I didn't photograph this yet.

Hannah Chia: 43:00 Then I'll just take a picture of like the food or the bite in it.

Raymond: 43:04 That's even better. Of course. Yeah, makes it look way more appetizing. So I can't think of, I looked through a lot of your recipes and I can't think of any that have the the bite in it. But obviously you're looking over a lot of your photographs. You have this consistent look and whether it be from the lighting of this you know, single, large soft source or a, the way that you style your food. I think that there's no denying that you do have a style to you in your photographs. Is that something that you feel like you always had or is that something that you struggled to find and if so, how did you find it?

Hannah Chia: 43:43 I think I kind of developed it just over the PR. Like if you actually just on May Instagram, if you scroll down to the very bottom, I started out taking really just like, I felt like there were like more typical images on Instagram where it was like a very bright backgrounds, like white backgrounds. Because I was like, okay, this is like, what does well on Instagram, so I'm just going to do that. But then I realized I didn't really necessarily like the brighter images. So that's when I started thinking, okay, this is what I like. I like darker, like more rustic, more shadows. But then a lot of the times the images would look not very consistent. I don't think it was because like I was just playing around with editing during that period of time so we can kind of see like the progression of these photos. But then once I really established even when it came to the light room, I made my own preset. I would like apply to the photos and then like tweak them depending on the individual photo. I think that's when I started really getting more of a consistent look.

Raymond: 44:47 When you started applying all the same colors and tone cards

Hannah Chia: 44:52 [Inaudible] or just doing the same edits basically, like, this is what, like every photo I start off just like doing these few things to it. And so I think that's, and then I, I think I feel like my style is still kind of changing though and I feel like that for me, that's kind of a way I still want to improve. Like I'm definitely not happy with how I am now. I'm always like looking for new ways to make my photos even better. And like getting the tripod was part of it and now I'm thinking just like how could I constantly be improving and making my photos even better.

Raymond: 45:27 So when you say that you're not happy with your photos now, do you mean that you're not happy with your photos now or that, that you're still developing your style?

Hannah Chia: 45:36 The problem with the ladder, I introduced that I'm satisfied. I was like, okay, this looks good. But in the back of my head, there's always that like self-critic you know, being like, okay, what can they do to make it look even better? And sometimes you really can't, like that's just how it's gonna look, you know? But it's just thinking more experimenting with some, one thing I'm thinking of now is just doing even more wider shots and doing photos that are more just like, instead of just focusing on one dish, maybe have really several dishes in it. But then for that I would probably have to consider getting a lens that would like I guess, right. I'll use a 35 millimeter. I'm thinking if I get like a zoom lens or one that can like zoom out even further, that would, that'd be nice to have.

Raymond: 46:26 How much work do you think that's going to add onto your plate? No Pun intended.

Hannah Chia: 46:32 Oh, I don't know. I feel like it'd be fun.

Raymond: 46:35 Huh. I don't know man. I mean doing it all on your own. That's gotta be a ton of work for sure. So that's a, that's gonna be an interesting endeavor. And I'm excited to see how that works for you. But yeah, I think you know, just using or you know what as, as I think possibly w w I picked up this trick from like shooting weddings and stuff. You know, there's always the one reception shot of like the entire reception. Nobody in it you know, but all the, the glasses and silverware and the tables and the venue was like set up nice. And I always thought like, oh, this has to be like a super wide image. I'm going to put on the like the 24 millimeter and like just get the nice big shot. It's going to be very encompassing and, and, and very cool.

Raymond: 47:17 But what I found is when I did that it's very easy to lose focus in your photo, right? Because cause with something being so wide, you have to get really close to it to be, to the hero of the shot. And I found that actually using a tighter lens. So my favorite lens is the 35 Mil, but once I started using something tighter, like a 50 you can focus on on one singular element, but still, you know, just change the composition and get lower or or you know, change the angle of the shot to add a little bit more context to the photo and that that really helped. So one thing I would recommend is maybe renting a lens before you buy because prime lenses as you know, are not the cheapest things in the world. So that's great. Again, I'm excited to to, to, to see where that goes

Hannah Chia: 48:06 And even beyond photography, just like doing more with videos I think is something I'm thinking of in [inaudible]

Raymond: 48:11 With the DSLR more so than than Instagram. [inaudible]

Hannah Chia: 48:15 Yeah. Or maybe, I dunno, I'm working more with like youtube or just learning how to do videos and then that's going to be a whole nother learning curve. Like how to edit videos and I feel like that's just going to add a lot of work.

Raymond: 48:28 You're definitely gonna need some consistent lighting if you're gonna, if you're going to start doing videos, that is for sure. Yeah. I had another question about your your style and I completely lost it going off on my own self absorbed a, a story there about the, about the title Lens. If I remember, I'm sure that I'll come back to it. I bet you look at a lot. Oh No. Yeah, that's right. That was the question. When it comes to figuring out your style, you said that you know, it took awhile of adjusting a lot of photos and then figuring it out. I like the settings. I'm going to turn this into a preset. How long do you think that took from when you first started with light room until kind of if you can put a label on your style today, how long do you think that progression took?

Hannah Chia: 49:13 Took a few months, let's say like, like four or five months. Actually. Just have making little edits and yeah, I feel like also for light room, a lot of people will ask me specifically like sending questions. Like, how do you edit? And I have done one like stories series in the past where I kind of like show people exactly what I was doing, but I feel like now I'm, I have less of a tendency to want to do that because I feel like with editing you don't really just want to like copy what someone else is doing. And knowing how to like do the basic edits is important. But then anything just like tweaking that it really depends on like your own personal preferences and your own aesthetic. And a lot of the Times I've noticed that photos that do well on like social media or like brighter just because it's like the more easy to be shared if it looks like that.

Hannah Chia: 50:07 But then if you have like moody or photos, those look better on like, like a blog or a website. So I think it was just really focusing on like what you want your style to be like or just seeing like what you want your, whether you're doing like food blogging or whatever it is. I don't know what the listeners are thinking of doing, but just really honing in like what exactly you want two people to be drawn to in your photography. And just kind of like just working it out. I think a lot of the learning just comes from like figuring out. And really I think if I had tried to like copy what other people, like what photographers I admire were doing that would not turn out, would not look the same. And I think I wouldn't have like learned the same things that I did just trying to figure out on my own.

Raymond: 50:55 So just being self aware and asking yourself those questions, what is it that I want and what do I want to focus on? Yes. Yeah. I think a, just you sharing that little tidbit about maybe not wanting to share more about editing is a, is kind of, you know, told me everything that I need to know because it's like you, I mean as, as a blogger you could and even as a podcast host, you could share every little detail about not only the, the main subject, which is the food, but every little detail about it, how photos are shot, how photos are edited, how you style a plate and stuff. But at the end of the day, if that's not what gets you excited, but what you think that your audience is going to get excited about, you're going to lose the passion for that real quick. And I like how it sounds as if you've already picked up on that and you're like, you know what, I'm going to stay away from this. I'm going to focus more on this and potentially bring in videos. That's very cool. Very cool. So now back to that question that I got to before my request of this one. As somebody who got started food styling by looking at other of food stylists and food bloggers, I'm sure that you still see a lot of images of food in your Instagram feed. What are some signs of an amateur food stylist photographer that that you see that the listeners should totally avoid?

Hannah Chia: 52:18 I think a lot of clashing colors especially if there's just like, I feel like too much going on or, so the two that I see is like, either there's like not enough going on or it's just like very, very simple. Just like one bowl and that's it. Or too much going on where they're like, there's like a red napkin here and then like the food itself is orange and they have like a green thing here and a blue thing here. In terms of food styling, those were the two that I would like try to avoid. And a lot of the times also just lighting just seeing certain photos, like if they're underexposed or they're too dark or some that are like washed out or even some that I can tell are taken in a setting where there's like a lot of different sources of light. So now that I can like I kind of like know what it takes to like set up lighting. I can like kind of figure that hour pinpointed it just by like looking at a photo and being like, okay, I can see like what they did there or what didn't work or what worked.

Raymond: 53:21 Oh absolutely. Absolutely. It's, it's one of those things, once again, you have to on a kind of yourself and how you shoot to see how others shoot. And all of this just comes with practice. Obviously you can't, and I've said this before, you could watch every youtube video read every blog about photography and if you don't actually pick up that camera, you're not going to learn anything at the end of the day. And I love how, you know, you kind of started off by saying I've only been doing this for two years, but you put in two years where the practice, like this is what you do a lot of. And in those to, you know, quote unquote short years, I think that you've got a lot more practice behind the camera than a lot of other you know, photographers could maybe shoot families or especially weddings cause you don't get that opportunity to go out on your own and do these things like like you have. So that's, that's fantastic. That's fantastic.

Hannah Chia: 54:11 And one thing I wanted to add just I would just like to picking up the camera and doing it is I feel like people have this tendency, especially like I realized I wanted everything to be perfect before I started. Like I wanted to have like a really nice camera, a really Nice Lens, like do all the research, figure it all out. But I was just afraid of like my first, my photo is just like not looking good. I think getting over that fear and actually just starting is something that's really important, especially for anybody. But I think especially for photographers who sometimes like your photos will suck and a lot of the times it's like after you take those photos, like learning from that experience, because I think I just encouraged you who just if you want, if you're interested, even in starting something with photography or food photography, whatever it is, just like picking up the camera and like actually doing it instead of like being afraid that like, oh, it's not perfect. It's like I need to know all these things before I start. Just like kind of diving in and learning from the process.

Raymond: 55:09 So my last question is always what piece of advice would you have for a new photographer? Just getting started, but without me even asking you totally nailed that question and I can't imagine a better way to, to end our time together than that right there. Oh, so Hannah, before I let you go, can you please share with the listeners where they can find and keep up with you online?

Hannah Chia: 55:35 Yeah. So my blog slash website is Hanna chia.com and on Instagram, I'm Hannah two underscores Chia and she has not actually my last name. It's cheap, but it was kind of like a pun.

Raymond: 55:48 Oh, I love it. I love it.

Hannah Chia: 55:51 Yeah. So those are the two

Raymond: 55:53 Well basis I've always envied people who have that ability to like take their last name and just like change it into something slightly different. And then now it was like, you know, something totally different or whatever. And I've always, I've spent way more time than I probably should, figuring out how I could alter my last name into something different. My last name being Hatfield, so it's like hats, fields. These two things aren't, like, they're not related at all to photography. Chia obviously, you know, goes into food, but I just, I just Kinda gave, so I envy that. That's very awesome. That's very awesome. Well, and again, thank you so much for coming on the podcast, sharing everything that you did, especially getting started with a food styling and all of your experiences. I appreciate you sharing all of your information with the listener and I'm excited to keep up with you here in the future and hopefully start seeing some videos.

Hannah Chia: 56:42 Oh yeah. Stay tuned for that. Yeah. Thank you so much for having me.

Raymond: 56:47 I'll tell you what, I loved this interview, Hannah, if you are listening you are a gym. Seriously, I cannot tell you how much I appreciate you are sharing your story and I know that it will inspire many for sure. I think my biggest takeaway from this interview was just simply how much daily practice had skyrocketed the quality of Hannah's photography. I mean, if you think about how often you eat and then imagine being able to practice photography that much, just if you were able to do that, the quality of your work would also take off. So what I want to do is encourage you this week to think about something that you do every day and then think about how you can incorporate photography. Intuit, remember Hannah didn't set out to be a great photographer. She wanted to cook and then that got her into photography.

Raymond: 57:38 So that she could photograph her dishes. Now you don't have to make this like a, a big production. Just try to be mindful of what makes sense, you know what do you see on your walk into work every day? Take a photo of your kids every day and take a photo of the sky every day. You don't need to start producing incredible work immediately. The point of this exercise would be just to always be looking for a shot rather than, you know, just walking into work because it's, it's the practice in the doing that will actually grow your skills so much more than listening to podcasts. So much more than simply watching youtube videos or reading blog posts. You have to actually do. So that is it for this week's episode. Remember to download your free light room presets by heading over to learn the beginner photography, podcast.com forward slash courses to sign up and get them today. So until next week, I want you to get out, keep shooting, focus on yourself and stay safe. That's it. I love you all.

Outro: 58:42 If you enjoy today's podcast, please leave us a review in iTunes or your favorite podcast player and continue the conversation with Raymond and other listeners of the podcast by joining the beginner photography podcast Facebook group today. Thank you. We'll see you again next week.