Why I take photos of my food
No, I am not a good photographer, nor am I a good cook. I started taking photos of my food for two main reasons.
Firstly, I am spending less and less time in Singapore and I do miss the food. I spend less than a month in Singapore, the rest are split between Boston and Brisbane. I cook everyday, so I can reproduce most of the food, since we can get most ingredients in most parts of the world today.
But I cannot always remember the taste and smell. So, it is hard to reproduce the food the way I want it. There are so many recipes on the Internet but they don’t reflect my memories. And therefore, I have to take photographs of my own to remind myself what I like, and what I do not.
The second reason is to show my husband what I have been feeding the kids, so that he knows and can participate in their lives. My husband is still in Singapore, and food is an important part of our family life. My kids can all cook since about six and we spend time in the kitchen. By showing him photos of what the kids are eating, he has an additional conversation topic with them.
My journey of taking food photos has been a long one. I started this site in 2015, when I wrote most of the above paragraphs. Honestly, I took the ugliest food photos I knew. I would explain that my recipes were good and if you follow them, you would be successful. However, I asked people who use my recipes to take nice photos and then post them. I explained that I was a scientist and not an artist. Indeed, many much better photographers, bakers and cooks have used my recipes to better success than me. Some even become stars from baking my recipes in their own rights.
I still think that I am a reasonably good scientist. I am good at analyzing different recipes. I would taste things and break down the ingredients and then figure out the method of preparation. I can roughly reproduce most tastes. Probably not 100%, but good enough for a general public. If you show me a photo of some food that I have never tasted but if you can describe it, I can probably reproduce it to some resemblance in taste and look.
In 2015, I created an Instagram account and started posting photos. If you go to my Instagram account: @mei.recipes (or left column <-), scroll to the bottom, you will see how awful my food photos were in 2015. Discouraged and embarrassed, I stopped. But I continued to document my recipes and post my ugly photos in Facebook food sharing groups, and believed nobody would bother to read my blog anyway. Strangely, a few people did. And some of my recipes went viral, mainly because I would create short cuts for most traditional bakes and dishes. People who didn’t like to slave in the kitchen found that they spent much less time using my recipes. They post their beautiful photos and point people to my recipes.
By some luck, I had to do a video production course in Cambridge, Massachusetts in June 2017 as part of a masters degree. I became great friends with my professor and he later became my business partner too. That’s when I had to handle a real camera and I was taught about lighting, iso, depth of field, exposure, etc etc etc. I finally understood at least a little bit about cameras and compositions, but I still could not take good photos, but decided I should not give up. I engaged my oldest daughter’s help. Young folks and teenagers are digital natives and they can spot a good photo with just one glance.
My daughter was shocked by my ignorance on what was nice and what was not. I just didn’t know how to take or view photos. I did not even take photographs of my own kids! She started by taking my photos and tried to edit them. I would cook and take hundreds of photos, and waited for her to come home from her swimming practice to edit them for me so that I could post them.
Then, like all teenagers, she got tired of me. She told me that none of my photos looked good even after edits. So, she tried to take photos for me instead. Using the DSLR, we tried. After less than five tries, we gave up as well. It was just too much work. And I saw that she was getting tired of me.
I thought to myself, I had to figure this out myself. First, I could not rely on using a DSLR, it was too cumbersome. I needed to be able to snap photos easily because I was not a professional food blogger. I am a mother, and I needed to feed them quickly. I needed to wake up at 4:30 in the morning, prepare food, ferry my kids to school and training, sit in my boys’ classes, and I needed to work on my startup company. I had no time for DSLR to take photos, transfer photos to PC, edit etc. I needed a short cut.
I was determined to train myself to take nice photos on my phone. My Samsung is now 3 years old and that’s the only camera I use for taking my food photos these days. I do not put filters on my photos because I want a consistent look on my Instagram account. However, I do adjust the lighting using Lightroom before posting them to make sure things look delicious and proper.
Every time I take some photos, I would send them to my ex-professor and partner to see his reactions. He was the one who told me that he needs to take a hundred photos to find a good one. He has never had anything bad to say about any of my photos. But for the ones that he really liked, he would edit them on his phone and sent them to me. From there, I started to understand what a good photograph should look like. He does this tirelessly for me up till today. and recently, he said that I take really good food photos. He forwarded photos from NYT to prove his point, and we examined those from Nigella and Jamie Oliver etc etc.
Even my kids admit that I am pretty good these days even given very difficult shooting conditions. Well, I’d like to think that if I can do it, then everybody can. After all, I was the one that people laughed at. What can’t you learn if you take a few hundred food photos a day? I knew the kind of angles to use for certain kind of shape, and when to take a closeup and when to take a wider angle. I guess I just know a little bit better these days.
Going forward, I will start replacing some of my ugly photos herein, but I will not remove my first photos, just to remind myself how I started. You can compare and see, and hopefully, it is an encouragement to those who want to be better. Like me when I started the journey of insisting that my photos wouldn’t be bad forever in August 2017. I am quite sure I have become better.
The trick is simple to grow from nothing to something in a year or two: get some instructions, get a mentor, keep doing it until you are good.
So my friends, if you enjoy the food we Singaporeans share or if you want to improve in your food photography, then please contribute your recipes and photos! It does not matter if these are Singaporean food, food inspired by another culture, it does not matter how your photos look like at all. All of them are stuff we love, and what we share with family and friends.
These photos were taken in 2015
Photos taken in 2019:
These were food taken on the plane with the aircraft lighting, I had to use my body and blanket to control the light. Haha.
Now… let’s move on to videos… 🤦♀️
~ Pamela Lim