Once upon a time, there was a game that for intents and purpose changed the face of online gaming. This game was (and is), World of Warcraft. An MMO still going strong after 14 years. At the time of writing, they have released their seventh expansion, Battle for Azeroth.
Of those 14 years, I probably spent a good 12 of them, on and off attempting to clear the highest level content. Even built my own PC that could run the game smoothly while recording gameplay. And then it became less important. Other things in my life took priority. No, not my career, or family, or something life changing. I just grew tired of it all. I had a new interest in travelling, and seeing as much of the world as possible.
With this came the bonus, that I got to eat food in new places, and try new things. This was rammed home when a group of us went to Vietnam for near enough 3 weeks. We started in the south in Saigon, and went as far North as Sa Pa. All the while getting to eat lovely food that was (at the time) out of our comfort zones. Most of the group started afraid of chopsticks. They all came back chopstick wielding ninjas. No familiar fast food restaurants to save you here. Except in the most touristy spots such as near Hoàn Kiếm Lake in Hanoi, where you could spy a KFC, Dominoes Pizza, and Popeyes.
It was during this time I was earnestly documenting everything through photography. In particular, my phone camera. Woohoo, Shotononeplus.
I took pictures everywhere we went, street photography. But more importantly, what we ate. Before I knew it, I was taking pictures of near enough everything we ate. In fact, I was making sure we knew where we were going to eat. A more altruistic view would be that I wanted to make sure the group had a plan. The reality was more a selfish need to be the one in the know about where to go and eat. Thank you Google, TripAdvisor, and in particular, Erwan Heussaff’s Overnight Series on Youtube.
We’d go to a place, order various foods, freshly cooked, I’d take a picture, then shoved it on my slightly neglected instagram account. Occasionally throwing on a hashtag.
Through the collective urgings of the group I finally started a blog as well. This one, in fact. My first post talking about the initial parts of the trip. Including me crushing a plastic chair.
Now, I’m sitting here wondering how I’ve applied what I learned in Warcraft, to my life in general. A thought that hit me this morning, while lying in bed (yeah, go figure).
One of the things I read somewhere, and stand by is “the best camera is the one that’s with you”. A saying I picked up a while ago, and only now (like right now, I googled it) do I find out it is the title of a book by Chase Jarvis (a fantastic photographer).
Back in the early Warcraft days, I would try to get any and every tool that may, or may not help me eek out performance. Guides that told me what to do, “pick these talents” “get this gear” “farm these materials”. Did I understand what any of it meant? Did I heck. At one point, I had an addon (fan-made changes to the game to improve quality of life) that literally told me what button to press next. Why did I have to press that button? who knows, didn’t care. I was told to press it.
It was only further into my time with warcraft that I grew to understand how my class worked. The synergy of different buffs, why I was using a certain move, and not another. It is was the same with photography. You could go to any number of websites that tell you: shove it in manual, put these settings on, and you’ll be golden. Or use these Lightroom presets and your pictures will look amazing (never works).
But thanks to Warcraft, I knew I wanted to understand how stuff works. Even at the most basic level: Aperture, ISO, Shutter speeds. I set out on how to learn about this stuff. It actually wasn’t that hard. Find a good youtuber, in my case Joanie Simon, and follow her lessons on the basics. All of a sudden, me and my OnePlus phone could do so much more.
And as you go on, you learn the limitations of your gear. eg for phones, it’s usually a fixed aperture, and only a small amount of physical zoom available. I wanted to now see the difference between a phone and a camera. Step forward, my sister who (after much prodding, and reminding) found her camera underneath a load of junk. A Nikon D3100, and she even had a few extra lenses. The ever useful nifty-fifty (50mm f/1.8) in particular. I took it to DC, and New Orleans. I felt like a pro. Then slowly you realise that you still need to learn the differences. It’s like going from a pushbike to a car. More buttons, more modes. What on earth does everything do? No longer a pro.
And again, over time you learn the limitations of what you have, and what you can do.
“Light” will always be the limiting factor. Much like in Warcraft, Gear is your limiting factor. There is only so much you can do with the gear you have.
You have to go out and get better gear that works with what you have. Increasing your stats, your dps/hps will happen when you get pick up that new hot weapon.
Just like my photography improved when I’d picked up a new piece of gear. For example. the Joby Gorillapod. It gave me more opportunity to work in lower light. By doing longer exposures knowing that the gorillapod would keep the camera nice and steady.
8 second exposure of Warsaw night skyline
But how much you improved would always be dependant on your own personal skill level. In Warcraft, I could play my Warrior easily, knowing exactly what I had to do at any given moment. However, my skill using say, a rogue, is so much lower than if it had equivalent gear, and stats, I would not put out the same results.
The only way I would improve with said “rogue” would be to go out and practice, fail, learn, repeat. At one point everything will click. But only if I went out and practised. Reading/watching youtube guides will only get you so far.
And it’s the same with my photo taking, and how I wanted my Instagram feed to look. It took the comment of a fellow foodie who mentioned that my pictures had a certain “aesthetic” to them. A way I like my photos to be. In my case I do like close up shots of my food, occasionally trying to frame it through something (thank you, Peter McKinnon).
However, you see people like the great Dennis Prescott and his amazing flat pictures. And he cooks all his food too. Like the example of me using the rogue, I can do flat lay shots, but not to the level of Dennis Prescott. Also, his videos on how to take food shots are amazing and should be a must watch.
I think I’ve prattled enough for today. Please do follow my Instagram
for all my foodie shots.
Also, the following people’s channels and guides helped so much.
Joanie Simon – The Bite Shot – food photography guides
Peter McKinnon – guides and tips on all things photography and cinematography
Dennis The Prescott – food photography and receipes.
For the Alliance.