There is a word for learning from experts; school. It’s time to be schooled. There are too many bad photos on social media these days; let’s stop that…starting now. Award-winning photographer Natalie Chen has been an official photographer for star-studded events like Summit’s LA 17, documented the culinary arts for lauded institution The New School of Cooking in Pasadena, and created images for major companies like El Pollo Loco, Sun-Rype, Schlotzsky’s, Carnivor Wine, & others (with Shutterstock Custom), more than qualifying her as an expert in how to recognize, compose, and manifest the kinds of images that stop you in your tracks and peak your interest. When asked about online photos in Social Media and other platforms, she concedes that there are way too many bad images as the result of misinformation and a lack of guidance. We asked and she relented to give us all the benefit of her extraordinary ability to transform a seemingly mundane pic into something truly artistic and pleasing.
First of all, there’s no pitch here to spend a fortune on professional equipment. As a highly in-demand pro, Natalie confirms that she uses top of the line gear but also finds herself shooting with her iPhone constantly. The biggest step forward in creating an interesting photo is recognizing that you are not an artist just because you have a tool as technologically advanced as an iPhone. Finding a unique way to “say” something with your photo is more important than snapping a pic of a vista. Natalie notes, “I don’t appreciate someone calling themselves an ‘artist’ or calling their photos ‘fine art’ just because they take photos. I’ve seen the most cliché landscapes photos referred to as fine art, but it’s simply documenting the already existing facts on earth without adding any personality to it. Fine art photography is more than simply taking a beautiful image. You can’t just bring out a bowl of boiling water and call it soup. What is the concept? Why does it matter? How is it different than everything else? Find a way to make your own signature.”
Chen directs would be photographers to be aware of lighting and composition. The little details in life are what creates substance, meaning, and perspective; photos should do the same, even if they’re only of your food. Natalie expounds, “For example, when you are casually taking pictures of the food at lunch, there might be a piece of wrapping paper for the chopsticks at the edge of the frame visible on your phone screen. Do you intentionally leave it there or do you not see it at all? How do your eyes flow with the composition? If you are sitting at the window seat, are you blocking the light with your body? Is this intentional or are you not aware of the lack of light source?” This very statement reveals that while most of us “happen” on a somewhat pleasing photo, consummate experts like Natalie are aware of every facet that is present within the frame and include everything seen because it has a purpose for their intent. Specifically, in dealing with food shots (that applies to many of us), she cautions, “Weirdly angled food photos don’t look appetizing. I’ve seen many people on Instagram posting food photos taken from the top down with the issue of lens distortion (typically from the wide angle feature). This makes a glass of smoothie looks like a skyscraper and makes the avocado toast next to it very tiny.”
When inquired about her greatest pet peeve, Chen quickly notes that over edited selfies with bony chins and over-sized eyes are just plain disturbing. The most vital important piece of advice from this immensely talented and successful photographer…don’t take a photo unless there is an absolutely good reason to do so.