We've been inspired this year by creatives who not only excel at three or four disciplines, but combine them seamlessly—Elizabeth Kirby, Dan Rubin, Cubby Graham, and Amanda Jane Jones, to name a few. When we first met Betty Liu in the spring, we were drawn to her sublime yet practical stop motion cooking vignettes. Over the course of the year, as she's taken her Camps Bay backpack from Yosemite to the Shetland Islands to Martha's Vineyard, we've seen her merge landscape photography, culinary arts, travel writing, and a knack for mentorship, via her sell-out workshops and her instructional blog posts. Along the way she picked up a finalist nod in Saveur's Blog '16 Awards; oh, and Betty and her husband are wedding photographers by trade.
Hear her story in our Q&A below, and see some of our favorite shots from the past year.
Betty Liu carries the waxed canvas Camps Bay backpack.
How did you get into photography?
I studied architecture in college and bought an entry-level DSLR in order to document the models that I made. I became more and more curious about photography, and my then-boyfriend now-husband bought his own camera as a little friendly competition, and we went on from there. We originally vowed never to do wedding photography, but after getting roped in to capture a friends’ wedding, we fell hard for it, and here we are!
What type of equipment do typically you use?
We use Nikon gear, and our kit changes now and then, but currently we are using D5s, D750s, and f1.4 prime lenses. We also recently acquired a Canon 5D Mark IV to mix in for some variety.
What inspired you to start your food blog?
My food blog really started out as a hobby, more to document my kitchen experiments and my attempts to recreate my mom’s classic dishes than anything else. With more complex steps such as wrapping dumplings, I wanted to photograph the process, as photos are more explanatory than words in these situations. I fell in love with food photography - the control, the styling, the story behind it. Quickly, my blog became as much about food photography as it is the food.
Describe your creative style - how has it evolved?
I’m drawn to the process - the story behind an image. In both wedding and food work, my favorite photos are usually the in-between, transient moments. I find myself paying more attention to the seemingly mundane details that I find captivating - the smoke furling out from brewing coffee, the sparkle of hair spray falling onto a bride, the translucence of a veil in the sunlight, the surprising blue interior of a mussel shell.
I do think, though, that wedding photography has really helped make me a better food photographer, and vice versa. Wedding photography requires a lot of on-the-spot thinking, a lot of quick problem solving and immediately assessing the situation, and making it work for you while really telling that story. This means an acute understanding of your tools, and of light. Food photography is often more controlled, and more attention is paid to details. Having a wedding photography background lets me be more spontaneous and makes me more aware of the story behind this dish. It compels me to do more storytelling than just still life.
You shoot food, travel and weddings... which one is the most challenging?
That’s really difficult to say! I’d say weddings, simply because of the nature of weddings. Continuously varying lighting situations, dealing with many types of people, the pure stamina, and having subjects that move and think and express themselves. It’s quite a thrill.
Where do you draw inspiration from when creating new recipes?
I’m constantly inspired by what I see in the market - what is fresh and in season? For example, just a few weeks ago I discovered a tiny squash that looks like a minion - honeynut squash, and I had to try it, taste it, and then an idea for honeynut squash congee just appeared in my mind.
We love your composition – what’s your approach when shooting?
I usually have a picture in mind before I even raise my camera to my eye. And then I adjust accordingly. It’s mostly instinctive.
How do you decide where you will travel next?
Oh, my husband and I have a very long list. We choose where we go based on how much time we have available, and the season. We’re drawn to places where we can lose ourselves in nature, where we can go somewhere and wander by ourselves, away from the throes of tourists.
How do your travels influence your creativity and vice versa?
Sometimes, it’s nice to take photos purely for ourselves. It’s a new subject matter, and it’s inspiring and invigorating to be surrounded by nature, to refresh.
How do you maintain authenticity?
I try not to think too much about what other people are doing, and just do things for me. Whether it’s a job or for pleasure, I create, style, compose, and take photos according to what I like, and what works for me, and that keeps my work authentic and consistent.
Any advice you would give to an aspiring blogger?
Be yourself! Don’t get bogged down about the numbers- passion and sincerity will show in your work. Keep creating new work - when I was first starting out, I spent some time just studying light. Taking photos of the same pear at different times of day, with different light conditions, just to study how it fell on the subjects and the shadows created.