Betty Liu (@bliu07) is a 24-year-old food photographer whose step-by-step photos are so delectable you feel like you’re right there in her South End kitchen. The California native started her blog, and subsequent Instagram feed, as a way to document traditional Chinese cooking methods with her friends, and was surprised when the concept took off. Today, more than 15,000 followers get a cook’s eye view of her culinary explorations.
Q. How did you get started with food?
A. I’ve been cooking and experimenting in the kitchen since college when I moved away from home. I wanted to replicate what my mom used to make us. I went to school in St. Louis and there wasn’t a lot of traditional Chinese food available so I had to make it myself. When I got to Boston, I kept getting specific requests on how to fold dumplings or roll out scallion pancakes, and that translated into a food blog. It started as a documentation of food processes, and I never expected anyone to read it except my friends.
Q. How did photography become a part of this?
A. I studied architecture in college and we had to take photos of our models, so that’s how I learned how to use a camera. After that, I started shooting people, and there’s something really special about capturing someone on camera. I fell into [photographing] weddings and loved it, so after graduating, I decided I didn’t want to do architecture anymore.
Q. That’s a big jump.
A. I think I knew for a while that it wasn’t what I wanted to do. It was great for developing creative thinking processes, but after several internships, I knew it wasn’t for me.
Q. So what moved you to pursue photography professionally?
A. When my husband and I moved to Boston, we decided to start our business.
Q. What’s it like working so closely with your husband?
A. It’s amazing, but we were working together before we got married and we were friends and high school sweethearts. It’s frustrating sometimes, but I have to remember we’re business partners as well as marriage partners.
When we’re shooting weddings, we’re not a primary shooter and a secondary shooter, but instead, we’re a team of two primary shooters. I don’t have to worry about if he’s getting a specific shot and we can really divide up the story and make sure we get everything we want to capture. We really balance each other out and trust each other, which is what you need when you’re capturing such an important day.
Q. Do you think there’s any overlap in the way you shoot weddings and how you shoot food?
A. Absolutely, and that was really unexpected. In weddings, we say we’re capturing the micro stories, because it’s a wedding, of course, but there are moments of getting ready with your mom and seeing family you haven’t seen for years and cutting the cake. Weddings are stories with many little moments and chapters. But I didn’t realize when I started shooting food, there’s a parallel.
We see an end product in magazines, beautifully styled and edited food, and that’s great, but why I fell in love with food photography is the moments. It’s about sifting the flour or seeing hands interact with the food in the photo. Food is made by people, and eaten by people, and hands add that human element to it. Food is not exclusively food. There’s a large story behind it, and a lot of that includes people.Rachel Raczka can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org