Listen to this episode of the Savory Shot featuring Dyutima Jha, a seasoned architect turned food photographer and podcast host who found her creative liberation through Instagram’s food world. DJ shares her unique perspective on the power of social media in shaping and nurturing our passions. Tune in and hear about her journey, hits and misses, and how she leveraged a digital platform to enhance her love for food and creativity.
Dyutima Jha is a seasoned architect turned food photographer, food stylist and podcast host who found her creative liberation through Instagram’s food world. After 15 years of studying & practicing architecture, designing healthcare facilities around the world, DJ found passion in food styling & photography. DJ is a mom, red wine lover, and cheese fanatic!
Mica: [00:00:00] Welcome to the 25th episode of The Savory Shot y'all. Damn. I can't. I cannot believe that we are in the 25th episode. Veinte y cinco. Damn. That's awesome. Well, y'all know who I am. I'm your host from coast to coast, Mica. I'm so, so excited to be here back with another incredible episode. I'm grateful you're here, back, to listen to another episode.
Mica: I have a question for you. Did you listen to the last episode with Jeff Brown? Because if you didn't... You're missing out.
Mica: That was a banging episode, y'all. Jeff, man, all the way from across the pond was bringing us facts. [00:01:00] Just straight up gospel, speaking nothing but truths. Y'all, that was an interview that will go down for the books. That was bomb. If you did not catch it, you need to stop right now and go listen to it. Like, seriously, go listen to it.
Mica: It's pretty bomb. Y'all, I have this little thing called Pod in a Box. It's a new experiment. I have not received a single message. Y'all, that makes my heart so sad. I need some feedback. I need some love. I need attention. Please head over to Pod in A Box. Leave me a message. It's anonymous. So if you're worried about your business being out there, your girl made it private.
Mica: So the only person who's going to hear it is me, moi, I promise I will not put this out there for the world to know. [00:02:00] So go to Pod in A Box, leave me a message, give me a review or sing me a little diddle diddle. I am open. To almost anything, don't leave me some weird, you know, quantum physics, math equations for me to solve or some crypto grant, like, don't do that.
Mica: But I would definitely love to hear what you think about the show. The link is in my bio on Instagram. So go to Instagram, find the link in my bio and the first button. I've made it's so easy for y'all. The first button is right there. Leave me a message. I want to hear from you. I want to hear your voice.
Mica: Now, I want to talk about today's episode. Y'all, this episode? I know I say it every time, every episode, that this is my favorite interview, but y'all, this is my favorite interview. Gosh, I don't think there's enough words in the [00:03:00] vocabulary to describe how awesome this next guest is. Today's guest is Dyutima Jha but y'all know her as DJ.
Mica: DJ is an architect turned food photographer and educator, and y'all, she hosts a podcast called My Food Lens. So if you want to learn the ins and outs of photography, the business side of photography, her podcast is a great additional resource to check out. Y'all.
Mica: I tell you what, making this interview happen was hard. It was hard because your girls in Austin, Texas and DJs in Singapore and Mica has a really hard time with time differences. So I'd like to give a shout out to DJ for her patience and her understanding for making this interview happen.
Mica: And I'm so glad it happened, y'all, because DJ is the bomb. She's so amazing. [00:04:00] She's so passionate. She's inspiring, driven, and best of all, she believes in paying it forward to the food community. Y'all, her story is one you will definitely be interested in. But before we get into that, let's start the show.
Mica: I just want to start off by saying thank you for being on The Savory [00:05:00] Shot from one host to another host. It's so awesome to have you on the podcast. So welcome, welcome to the show. Welcome to this hot mess express. And I'm so excited that you're here. Hi.
DJ: Thank you.
DJ: Thank you. Thank you, Mica. It's always special when I'm on the other side of the mic. I'm on the other side. I'm shaking a little bit more today, but yeah, it feels like home. It's still familiar territory. So thank you so much for having me. It's a complete delight.
Mica: Oh man. So I was researching you.
Mica: I mean, I call it researching, but really, I was stalking you, and I love that you are an alumni of Texas A& M. You are an honorary Texan. Heyo! So I scrolled back to your first post on Instagram, and first of all, it was a lot of scrolling. A lot, a lot, a lot of scrolling.
DJ: Yes, yes. 500 posts.
Mica: Oh man, 500 posts? I believe it because I scrolled [00:06:00] all the way back to December 2016. So tell me, who was DJ at that time?
DJ: First of all, yes, I am a honorary Texan.
DJ: I carry Texas in my heart. I live there. I studied there. I totally miss the barbecue but also Texas really shaped me. I'm sure we'll, it'll come up a few times as we speak today, but if you just ask me where I was, what, 2016, end of 2016. So at that time, DJ was an architect.
DJ: She was a healthcare architect. So I used to design hospitals. I used to design healthcare facilities. I worked in a very intense corporate environment for many, many years. And at that time of my life, I was actually taking a break from a job. So I had left one job. I had not started the other architect job.
DJ: And I have to tell you that I was at that time. A completely clueless and yet like hopelessly smitten Instagram [00:07:00] user. I'd been introduced to Instagram by my sister and I was like, what is this? You know? So when I was in between jobs, I was taking that break. I was cooking. Like I was literally on fire.
DJ: Like if my husband walked into the kitchen, he would be like, flaming. It was that crazy. I was a crazy woman in the kitchen and my sister introduced me to Instagram and I started taking all these bad crappy photos from my iPhone Seven that I was very proud of. And those photos were bad. They were out of focus.
DJ: They were so close up that you couldn't tell what it was. And yet I was like totally loving Instagram. I was putting stuff out there and I was thinking like, yeah, this is the life. I love it. You know, I had missed this all along. Where, where was this world? I was just having so much fun in it. I was thinking like, let me just do as much as I can.
DJ: Let me just have as much fun as I can, because sooner or later. I'll be back in architecture, I'll be back in that old world of mine and it definitely didn't look anything [00:08:00] like that. So yeah, that's pretty much where it was.
Mica: I love it. I love it. And you know, Instagram, when it first came out and people were like joining it, it was like this really cool connector and it's like, wow.
Mica: How creative can I get with my phone? Just the fact that you could take pictures with your phone is like a mind blowing. But it was just this wonderful, creative world that you can go crazy with.
DJ: Absolutely, and it's such a great way to start.
Mica: Yes. Yes. What did you learn about yourself during that time on Instagram?
DJ: Well, one thing I really learned was that it's fun. You can have fun, you know? As an architect, was not exposed to social media. My only social media was probably Facebook, and Facebook was all for friends and family. But this was a real visual platform, and for an architect. Visuals are everything.
DJ: So suddenly you're exposed to this world where you're like bombarded with beautiful imagery and I literally like I [00:09:00] live to eat. I'm not exaggerating. I have food is that close to me. I would do anything for food. So I'm in this world where, where, where I'm seeing these beautiful photos of food. So it's not just about at that time, my mindset was very cooking and finding new food. And so suddenly you're not just bombarded with beautiful photos, but you are looking at these very creative recipes.
DJ: So I think it just really opened my mind into a world. Where you were out in this sea of creatives, where you could put out your work, you could share something, and you're right that Instagram was a very different place at that time, and I felt encouraged. Even if 10 people saw my post and even if 10 people came and said something, who was I?
DJ: I was a person who was just cooking in my kitchen. I was just using this platform to put out something that I'd made. It sucked. The photos sucked. And people were like, I love it. It's beautiful. How encouraging is that? I mean, it might be fake or whatever. It worked. It worked for me. It really [00:10:00] opened my mind. It was a breath of fresh air. That's what I would say in my life. It was a breath of fresh air. I was exhausted from my corporate life. So Instagram came to me as a breath of fresh air, as a new sparkle in my world of food. And yeah, it just took me in a completely different direction.
DJ: Yeah. So that's what I learned about it.
Mica: Oh man. Gosh, I love that. I connect so much with you on the breath of fresh air, like the creativity. Anyone who's never worked in corporate, I mean, I worked in the medical field as well, but not nearly like the importance of what you were, like you were designing entire hospitals.
Mica: I worked in the front office. I was an office manager, but it is a very, very stuffy, stuffy world, especially the administrative side is very stuffy. Instagram was just this really cool, it's like none of us know what the hell we're doing, but we're all just so excited that, you know, I'm just excited to see what this person in another country is doing.
Mica: It's just the [00:11:00] coolest thing in the world. And so. I love that freshness, that creativity, and the idea that nobody really did know what the hell they were doing. They were just there to have fun, and it kind of formed into a much different world. Yeah, I love it. So, I want to move to... Like you said, you're a Texas alumni.
Mica: Oh my god. Texas native.
DJ: Oh definitely, it's a cult there.
Mica: Oh my gosh, yes, it is definitely a cult. My, my brother is part of that cult. He named two of his sons after Aggie players. I will never understand it. I tell people all the time. You think your college football culture is something you need to come to Texas.
Mica: You need to come, especially like UT because it's very cult like. You need to go to Bryan station because that is also a cult like Aggies. They have their traditions. You won't understand until you're there, either as a student or as a guest, but your story about meeting that history major who changed the architecture.
Mica: Then you were there with his grandmother, who's like seventy years old. And [00:12:00] she decided, Hey, I'm going to pursue a career in architecture too. I love that story. I love it. And I love how that moment changed your perspective on career changes. Like you called it. I think you called it the first seed implanted in your mind for a career change.
Mica: So what I want to know is, what about that moment shifted your perspective on the possibility of career changes?
DJ: The things in life that happen and you don't connect the dots then and then you connect the dots much later in your life, like this is pretty much that for me. So I don't know about the Western culture, but I know that when I was growing up. My mindset was very like, I need to choose a path in life.
DJ: I need to stick to it. You know, at the age of 17, like we had to make big choices. We had to make big decisions. We were stepping into college. We had to decide which major to pick, what to be in life. Once those decisions were made, we just really had to stick to them all the way through, you know, and for me, especially, I went to a professional architecture [00:13:00] college, which means it was a five year program.
DJ: So at the age of 21, when I finished my undergrad, I finished my undergrad at 21, I was already an architect, I was a registered architect, and I could start working. The stakes were high. That's the commitment, that's the investment I had put in. And even after finishing my undergrad, I started working in India for two years.
DJ: And what was I doing in those two years? I was applying for a grad program for a master's degree in the United States. So even though I was like working, getting my career on path, I was still thinking of the next step and I was taking architecture all the way through. So right after an undergrad, you work for a bit and then the natural course is that you go for the next level, which is a master's degree.
DJ: I did it like a natural progression, but there were parts of architecture that like completely connected to me. Like healthcare. It was my love. My dad's a neurologist. I spent a lot of time in hospitals growing up. And so that was [00:14:00] something that came very naturally to me. So I enjoyed it. I wasn't doing this by force. These were things that were coming to me and I felt that way passionately about architecture and healthcare.
DJ: So I got into this program at Texas A & M, you know, right next door to you, the cult, the Aggie, Aggie world. So I got into that program and it was like, the biggest thing for me, the biggest achievement I've ever, I'd ever had in my life, I'd fought with my family and gone there. It was so far away from home.
DJ: I was on this path of like, once an architect, always an architect. I was leading my mission. I was following that. And then I see this classmate of mine who was this history major. He had a history major for three years and then he was like, Oh yeah, let's just go into architecture. All right.
DJ: And then I see this other classmate of mine. She was 70 year old grandma. I can't remember if she was his grandma or she was a grandma, but she was a grandma and she was my, my classmate. And then there was this [00:15:00] whole program.
DJ: It was called the career change program. It was part of our master's program. This whole thing about like changing careers, shifting gears, pursuing a degree when you were, you were 70, it just, it was just too much. That whole concept just blew my mind. I was 24 years old. I was laser focused.
DJ: I'm going to be the best architect of the world and you know, I will, I'm going to follow this through like the, until the end of time. And there I see these folks, they are like completely breaking the rules. Come on, right? I'll really be honest here that at the beginning. I thought that they were shifting and they were making these choices because they didn't know what they wanted.
DJ: Really, and it came from a place of being closed. It came from a place of being like completely ignorant about this. But later on, as I moved forward, as I got to know them, as I understood and my horizons broadened, I actually realized that they might have chosen a different path for themselves, but [00:16:00] along the way they discovered something that they loved and they were not afraid to follow their heart.
DJ: It was actually tougher for them coming from a different major and pursuing this very difficult program, you know. All it did was it really showed me that you can follow your heart at any point in life whether you're 50, 60 or 70, you can really do it. So being exposed to that very unrestricted way of thinking, it just really opened my mind.
DJ: It told me that, Oh, there's a world of possibilities there, you know? And I was nowhere thinking of a career switch for myself, like architecture. I was in it for the long game. I was going to do it. I loved it. But the one thing that shifted in me was that it made me realize that switching is okay. It made me understand that people switch and people succeed.
DJ: Switching doesn't mean failure. It's okay to change your mind. And it's okay to [00:17:00] change your life's course. I honestly feel that there are very few people who are actually in real sync with their emotions. They're in sync with what they like, what they don't like. And they are brave enough.
DJ: To follow it, to take action based on those emotions and the likes and dislikes. Not everybody does it that way. Being exposed to that career change program, my grandma classmate and my history major classmate, it just broadened my mindset. It made me such an open person and it made me accept others.
DJ: It made me respect them so much more. At that time, I had no idea how that exposure would actually, like 11 years later, it would come and impact me in a way that I'd never thought about. It just planted a seed, I would say definitely at that time. But you know, you never know it then.
DJ: And when you see it back in retrospect, then you connect the dots.
Mica: Oh man, man, you brought up such a great point about having the courage to change course [00:18:00] and having to make such a big decision at 17. I mean, I'm 37 now. I did not know what I wanted to do in my life, really, until I was 30. At 17, 18, we're required to pick a major, choose a whole life path.
Mica: Like, how can you know who you are at 17, 18 years old? My niece, she's a marketing major. I forgot what university. My niece goes to San Marcos, Texas State University, and she's a marketing major there. But before she started college, one piece of advice I gave her was don't pick a major yet.
Mica: Take the first two years, you know, just be a general major. Get those core requirements out of the way. Interview a couple of people on different career paths. Like, take your time. You don't have to decide right here, right now, what you want to do and then pursue it.
Mica: Also something you said earlier that I really loved is that it's not seen [00:19:00] as a thing of failure when you decide to change a major and so I love that that conversation that narrative is is being talked about. Your interview with Becky from Storied Recipes, I just want to say I loved listening to that episode.
Mica: I loved listening to it because I can definitely hear your passion for food. What I want to know is when did your passion for photography develop?
DJ: First of all, that episode on Becky's podcast, it is so special to me. I've said it so many times, I cried when I was recording that episode, I cry every time I listen to it, and it's unbelievable how the conversation is all about food, but it just makes me cry.
DJ: When you feel emotionally about things, something that's very close to your heart, then I guess that's the effect it has. And, and that's pretty much how it was. Even if you talk about photography, that's how it, how, how it started. So my [00:20:00] love for photography was, was not something that I was like, Ooh, you know, I've always wanted to be a photographer my whole life.
DJ: This is exactly what I wanted to be. Nothing of that sort. It was a very different sort of a journey. In fact, when I decided to start my food photography business, I had never used a DSLR in my life. I had no idea. I was using my phone and I had no idea how to operate a proper camera on manual mode because using a DSLR on auto mode is not really photography, you're not really using your skills.
DJ: But that's where my skill was at that time. I could actually just press the shutter button on a DSLR or I could hit the click button on a phone. And yet I had decided to start a photography business. My skills were at real rock bottom, but my love for photography was really, you know, I would say on a high and how that happened was that I told you that I was, I was taking a break from my architecture job and I was cooking a lot like a crazy woman.
DJ: I used to love creating [00:21:00] recipes and I used to love testing all of that out and I was spending a lot of time there and then I used to take the food and I used to shoot it with my phone and do all of those things. And somewhere along the way, I realized that I just wanted to be done quickly.
DJ: I just wanted to finish my cooking very quickly so that I could spend more time on the photography part. I also realized that I was very interested in learning about photography. So I kept feeding myself little bits of knowledge and every little thing that I was learning was just like. I love it. I love it. Oh my God, this is so cool. Wow. That love for cooking just kind of started taking a backseat and my love for photography really took the forefront.
DJ: That's what I began to feel about photography.
DJ: So yeah, my, it's no, Oh, I was meant to do this. I was born to do this. I was born a photographer. It was nothing like that. Taking a break from my job took me to my love for cooking.
DJ: And my love for cooking actually introduced me to photography. It led me to photography and I would say that [00:22:00] initially I used it just as a tool to kind of share my photos on Instagram, but then later on it just became my whole life.
Mica: I love that. I love that. I love the shift from, cooking to photography.
Mica: I can see you as cooking the food and how it makes you feel and the flavors and everything and how photography is a way to like bring that emotion and that feeling. This is how I feel when I cook this. This is how I want my viewers to feel. That hokey I'm born to be a photographer.
Mica: Anytime I meet someone like that who was like, I was born out of a camera. My mother was a camera and it was delivered via film. Like, I don't need y'all. I don't need to meet y'all.
DJ: But Mica I will say something. Cooking has actually helped me a lot because I do position myself as a food stylist, food stylist as well in the market. So I feel like cooking techniques, understanding ingredients and how something needs to be prepared for the camera versus eating.
DJ: I feel like the cooking experience has [00:23:00] really, really helped me be able to position myself. If I'm in the kitchen with the chef of the restaurant, or if I'm working with a brand and we are preparing food for the shoot, I'm also the stylist. I'm also the photographer. Then I can really advise them.
DJ: And sometimes I'm the one who is prepping the food. I am the one who is getting it ready for the camera. So I feel like my cooking experience does help me in that way. As a food stylist, you do need that knowledge a little bit. So I guess it helps me there.
Mica: Oh, oh, completely agree. Completely agree. Even if you aren't a good cook, just to understand what the chefs are doing, what the cooks are doing, and, and knowing, like, okay, for, for vegetables, you don't cook them all the way.
Mica: You just leave them a little bit just so that there's crispness or I don't know, you know, just knowing little tricks like that. The only way that you can really gain that experience or that knowledge is through either cooking it yourself or watching other people do the cooking. But yes, yes, [00:24:00] absolutely agree. So
Mica: I... Love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love how you incorporate your skills as a architect into your food photography. I regard chefs as, as architects of the culinary world. I absolutely believe that that is the hill that I'm going to die on.
Mica: I also like to think that photographers are architects themselves and that they bring a vision together and they put it in, in realistic terms, and they just take someone's idea and they elevate it into something that they could never envision. So how do you use your architectural background in your food photography to create an immersive and visual experience for the viewer.
DJ: I absolutely love this as well because you are right. You're 100% right that all creators are architects in their own way. You know, chefs are architects of food, photographers are architects of visuals and, and in that broader sense, [00:25:00] 100% that's right. But if you're going to define an architect, you know, architect is usually a person who's kind of qualified to build a building and to supervise construction.
DJ: And I was that architect. So I come from a very different place of being an architect. If you've ever like interacted with architects, you know, that they work with design and aesthetics like day in and day out to the concepts that are part of their existence, you know, it's like balance, color, rhythm, harmony, proportion. Symmetry, geometry, golden triangle, Fibonacci series, like anything you talk about, it's embedded in their soul. They are working with it day in and day out. So obviously they come from a very deep understanding of design and aesthetics. That's kind of a given.
DJ: You kind of expect that from an architect, right? So I feel like definitely that's something that helps me creating compositions or coming up with photos is, is really the easy part for me. The hard part, I would say, is the technical part of photography. Handling gear and [00:26:00] creating light and, you know, those are the new parts.
DJ: As an architect, I come with that advantage, I take that as a blessing that I've carried with me. But if you really see what an architect does, there's one thing that they do, which is the essence of the entire profession. And that is that they have to create something from scratch.
DJ: Imagine you have this barren land, and you're given a few words. Go turn it into a fully functional building. An architect literally has to take all of that and convert it into a a piece of building that works. And I think the stakes in architecture are high.
DJ: We're talking millions of dollars. You cannot slip. It can be fatal. It can be dangerous for people to be in a building. So you have to come from a place where there's a lot of like emphasis on clarity.
DJ: Clarity of conceptualization, clarity of expressing your ideas, conveying it to the client, and then executing it to the [00:27:00] utmost efficiency. So I think that is more of something that I've carried with me from architecture. Design and composition is probably just one part, but the business side has been such a huge like deal breaker for me.
DJ: I do want to say that when I made the switch from architecture, I thought that I was leaving behind those 15 years of experience, but it's never ever like that.
DJ: When we switch careers, we can't take it as a sense that, oh, all of that will go waste. It's actually an opportunity for us to turn our weakness into our strength. Imagine if you can take all your learnings, all your background, all your experience, that you've had for so many years, and put it into practice, into your new creative career.
DJ: You're creating a differentiation for yourself in the market, like no one is going to do it like you, no one is going to be able to bring that experience and that background in the creative world. You are going to set yourself apart, you're going [00:28:00] to be so memorable to the client, you're going to use everything you learned.
DJ: In a very unique way. So don't think that you're starting from scratch. Everything that you're doing is actually setting you up for what you're meant to do in life.
Mica: Oh, man. Man, you are speaking gospel. I'm loving it. I'm loving it. My first adult job, I was the office manager at an architect's office and the main thing that I took away from my experience working at an architect office and how I describe every architect I've ever met, is that architects are visionaries. Architects have that imagination, that, that futuristic vision of what could be. Then they have to convince and sell something that doesn't yet exist.
DJ: Yep. Yeah. So true. So true.
Mica: I loved hearing them talk about like their projects and what they were doing. And I understood. None of it. I didn't know what I was listening to [00:29:00] and they had like this giant printer thing where you print out the drawings and everything and I print them out for them and I'm like I have no idea what I'm looking at, but this is the coolest thing I've ever seen. When I see a building that I know one of the architects I worked for designed that building and I think to myself Wow, before that this did not exist This was not here.
Mica: It's insane to think about. Does that feeling ever come for you whenever you look at a photo and you go, this did not exist before I photographed this?
DJ: Oh, a hundred percent, a hundred percent. Sometimes I literally have this food in front of me. It's not even dressed up. It's not even ready. Maybe it's just the color. Maybe it's just the texture. And I have this, like, vision. And I feel like definitely that my architecture experience has helped me in visualizing things before I even can get it on the backdrop, on the drawing board.
DJ: I have a feeling about it. I can think things or feel things and then I can go execute from that place.
Mica: [00:30:00] And being able to express that to your clients and taking them on this journey of Here's your product. Here's your brand. This is what I can do with your product and your brand.
Mica: So I want to take it to the questionnaire that I sent you. I asked you what your favorite business book was, and you've listed Think Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert.
Mica: How has Think Magic changed the way you think about business?
DJ: I don't think I remember anything as vividly as I remember that book. It was that life changing for me.
DJ: It was the first nonfiction book that I picked up. And I have to say that it usually takes me weeks or months to finish a book. That's the fastest I've ever read that book. Like I read it on the bus. I read it during my doctor visits. I read it during a holiday in Taiwan. I read it before bed. I just could not keep it down.
DJ: Every time I read it and there was a moment. I would cry. I'm a crier. Well, surprise, but I would sigh and I would be like, [00:31:00] Oh my God, I, I would think about it. I would stop. I would pause. And I would learn and I know that at the time that I finished that book, I was not the same person.
DJ: I just felt differently. I thought differently. And the day I finished that book, I went and I typed out six learnings of that book. I typed them out. I printed them and they are pasted on my wall. Like right here.
Mica: That is the coolest thing ever.
Mica: Would you consider those to be your, your affirmations, like daily affirmations? Are you into daily affirmations?
DJ: A little bit, a little bit but they are definitely reminders for me and they were my top six learnings and I never wanted to forget them. I didn't want that to be a book that I read and I felt inspired, but at the end of it.
DJ: I didn't absorb. So I really wanted to put those things into practice. If out of those six learnings, like you asked me, what did I learn? You know, what did I learn about my business? Or what did it change about [00:32:00] my business from that book? If out of all of those learnings, I literally had to pick one, there's a point where Elizabeth Gilbert says that all creators should be tricksters. She talked about being the trickster and a trickster is somebody who tricks people, but that's not what she's saying. What she's saying is that every creator should be light and easy and willing to take risks and just like a trickster is, is willing to take risks, right? So you have to be nimble.
DJ: You have to do things and see where they go. If they don't work out, that's fine. Just move on, try something else. So you have to play tricks on your own mind , so that you're frisky and you are unattached to results. So play the game unafraid, play the game fearlessly. As if you have nothing to lose like that was such a big learning for me because there's so much pressure I'm telling you Mica, like when I look back at all the big radical changes that I've made ever in my life, it was definitely when I [00:33:00] was telling myself.
DJ: Let's just give it a shot. There's nothing to lose, I was able to start this whole new life in food photography. I took a leap of faith. I was like Oh, let's just give it a try I was being the trickster. I was tricking my mind into thinking there's nothing to lose and let's just see where it goes.
DJ: I know you're talking about from the business side, but I want to share this. On a personal front, I don't think I've ever talked about this, publicly, but I have been on a fitness journey for years now. In the last three years, I've lost over 30 kgs or 66 pounds or so.
DJ: I was grossly overweight. I was not happy with myself. And I remember seeing this message from a health coach one day, and she was sharing some healthy eating habits. And I was like, well, might as well give it a try. What's there to lose? Probably a few pounds, right?
DJ: Today I've really stuck to those habits. I've changed everything about my lifestyle. When people see my old photos, they can't recognize me, so I feel younger than I did 10 [00:34:00] years back. Every time I was able to make these.
DJ: Big big changes in my life. I remember when I again, I go back to connecting the dots. I feel like I was being a trickster in those situations. I was not expecting heavy results. I was like, let's just see where this goes. Let's at least give it a shot. You know, if it doesn't, we'll see what it does.
DJ: This was all before reading the book, but after reading the book from a business perspective, I think it's helped me so much like just putting myself out there and just being like, okay, let me just see whether this takes shape or it doesn't or even just taking rejections positively, or reaching out to clients that I didn't think I was ready for or maybe even going for top magazines and like pitching to be on the cover, or this podcast, you know, the podcast that I have.
DJ: Yeah. When I started the podcast, I didn't think of competition. I didn't think whether I had a small audience, I had a big audience. I didn't think if it would be successful, it would not be successful. I just felt it in my gut. I did it. I didn't have any results attached [00:35:00] to it. And I was like, let's just see where this goes.
DJ: It's a thought idea of feeling and it flew. So being able to take risks just with this super easy mindset. Where you don't put unnecessary pressure of performance on yourself. And I think that's what that book has really taught me. And I think when you, you are a creator, when you are also creating business around your art, it's so important.
Mica: And you said every life changing decision you've ever made.
Mica: The one consistent thing you've said is there's nothing to lose. If more people told themselves that, like there's nothing to lose. And if it doesn't work, it's okay. Like this isn't the end. With failure, there's this sort of finality about it, but you can either decide. Okay, I failed this time.
Mica: What did I learn from this failure? Do I want to try it again? And then if you want to try it again, try it again, and it's fine. If you don't, that's fine, [00:36:00] too. Creators need to think about the what if, and I love that you said the same thing.
DJ: What if from a place of like, what if this works out, not what if it doesn't work out? What if it works out?
Mica: Look at the glass. At the world. Half glass. So, I don't know what the saying is, the glass half full or half empty. Like, why don't you just look at it as half full?
DJ: Or it's refillable. It's refillable. Just fill your glass again. There you go. Like you said, if you fail, you try again. It's refillable. It can never be empty.
Mica: Oh, I love that. It's refillable. That's like, oh my God. That's my favorite quote of tonight. So take me to the moment where you filed your business your paperwork for your photography business.
Mica: What was the first thought you had?
DJ: I don't know if you like my answer. I don't know if that would be the popular opinion of the night. I don't know if it's going to sound any way close to being realistic. I don't know if we're going to like this answer. So usually when people set up their business, I think the first thought is again, will this make money?
DJ: Will I be [00:37:00] successful? Will I find clients? Will it survive? And these are just natural thoughts that we have and money and clients are definitely the foundation of running a business. If you're not making money, then it's not a business. All of that is a hundred percent natural.
DJ: All of those things are the thoughts that you come, you're like literally signing papers and you're like, Oh, shaking, shaking. Right. But for me, it was none of that. It was none of that. When I started my food photography business, I had no idea of how to even use a camera. I was at that level and yet I was like, let's do this, man, for me, registering a business was about making myself equipped to be a business. To be a professional out in the world.
DJ: When I was signing those papers, when I was filling out those forms, the only thing that hit my head was do I have the skills? Have I empowered myself? What am I even doing? Who am I as a photographer? I was asking myself very tough questions. I was saying, okay, if I'm setting myself up as a food [00:38:00] photographer, what do I want to create? Who do I want to create for?
DJ: That's when I established that, okay, I do want to be a commercial food photographer. So I do need to learn artificial light because it's always raining in Singapore. You never have sunlight, right? We, we work in cramp in small alleys and that's how spaces are in Singapore. So I knew that I had to equip myself with that knowledge, with those, with that training to be able to position myself in the market as a professional.
DJ: So my entire energy was really focused into learning and in asking myself those questions. When I look at it in retrospect, I really feel that I had a lot of clarity when I stepped out. I knew where I fit, I knew where I didn't. I started with a vision for myself as a photographer.
DJ: Not in terms of money, but in terms of the kind of projects that I would like to do.
DJ: So, you know, yeah, so yeah, very unpopular opinion for the night, but that's where it was.
Mica: Oh, oh, oh, not for me. Not at all. I'm right there with you. [00:39:00] I only filed an LLC for Austin Food Guide because my husband is an accountant. And he's like, you don't want the IRS coming after you, so make sure everything is legit.
Mica: And I'm like, ah, numbers, papers, letters. Hate them. Hate them. I don't want to do that. I just want to create. I don't really care about that. And he's like, uh, well, you will when they come kicking down your door. We're doing everything by the book. So let's protect you. Let's protect your assets. Like this is the business part. So I don't think it's an unpopular opinion. I'm right there with you. I'm more focused on the creative side, building my skills as a photographer and thankfully. Thankfully, I have someone on my side who's more the analytical and the business side and stuff like that. So I want to talk about transitioning. What was your experience like making the transition from architect to food photographer? I know it wasn't like a day long, like one day you're an architect, next day a full blown photographer. But what [00:40:00] was that transition like for you?
DJ: I love this question. Like every time it comes up, my heart just begins to beat a lot faster when I really think back on what I did. So I always give this, example, it's as if you're standing on top of a cliff and then you're like, let's just jump, what's the worst that can happen, right?
DJ: And then you jump off the cliff and then you make it, you land on your feet and then you look up and you're like. Was I crazy or was I crazy? You know, who does that? That's exactly how I describe my decision to take up food photography as a business professionally.
DJ: After such a long time in architecture, when I was working in such a intense environment, and then suddenly I'm exposed to this very different world of cooking, photography. It's like I'm in a different era altogether, you know.
DJ: My first few clients and my first client was the largest retailer of Singapore, [00:41:00] which was like, Oh, no pressure, but I was dying. So I never waited for the right time in my, in, in this trajectory. I never waited for the right time. I took the plunge wherever I needed. I said yes, when I was not ready and it it just kept me moving forward.
DJ: So my transition was. Just like, do it, do it, do it, don't overthink it, go, go, go, go, go, nothing to lose. Keep tricking your mind and just keep moving forward.
Mica: Ah, yes, yes, I love, love, don't overthink it, don't overthink it, keep it simple. You've got to drive, you've got grit, then you're unstoppable.
Mica: Because everything else you can learn like you're uneducated on the camera. Well, you can learn that you've never owned a business. Well, so did half a thousand other people that are business owners now, that's learnable but like grit, determination. I've got nothing to lose. Don't overthink it. Just do it.
Mica: You can't stop that.
DJ: Exactly. Your energy, your energy is everything and if you're feeling that energy, stay there. [00:42:00] Stay there. Don't lose it because you can learn everything else in the world, but that energy is from within you.
Mica: You mentioned that you booked a gig with the top grocer retailer in Singapore.
Mica: I want to hear about that. Was that your first paid shoot?
DJ: It was my first paid shoot. That's right.
Mica: Oh my god. Okay, tell me about that. What did you learn about that shoot?
DJ: It was the largest retailer which was an equivalent of Walmart. I was shaking with nervousness. A week before the shoot, I was shivering. I hired an assistant who was overqualified for the job. He had like 25 years of experience, which means he was 25 times more expensive.
DJ: But I hired him to assist me on that job because I just need help and support, you know, I need someone else to be there in the room. We were shooting tricky food. We were shooting things like popsicles. And if you've ever even tried eating a popsicle in a tropical climate, you know that it doesn't last for more than 10 seconds.
DJ: But the client was [00:43:00] unbelievably amazing. They were very chilled out. They were very supportive. Like encouraging and I also remember that I had practiced all my shots in advance.
DJ: So we already had the shot list ready. I had done that homework and I knew exactly the concepts. I knew exactly how I was going to set up my camera. I knew the props I was going to use. At least I was prepared in that way.
DJ: I had all the mood boards approved. So I knew that the client was on board as well. So I was very prepared for my first shoot. I'm always overprepared. I like to be overprepared than underprepared.
DJ: But if I have to say that there was one big learning for me, I think it is that whether your shoot is smooth or not. You are definitely capable of handling it, no matter what skill level you come from, you will do it. You will do it your way and you will walk away with a successful shoot. So just have that conviction when you walk in and you'll surprise yourself in the end.
Mica: First of all, [00:44:00] I just want to like give snaps because your first photo shoot with a major retailer. You're photographing ice cream, which for listeners, y'all, if you've never photographed ice cream before, photographing ice cream is like the hardest and most difficult product to work with. I probably would have gone to the bathroom and just, you know, cried forever.
DJ: But that's exactly what doesn't happen, Mica really, we think, and that's exactly what I thought, that I thought I would be, like, sweating and I would be so, like, shaking. But when you're on the set, when you are there, you are completely in control and the key is to be prepared. You really have to prepare yourself for at least the things that you know.
DJ: And then the curveballs come in, but, but, yeah, you're right, like, we all think like that. It doesn't happen like that, ever.
Mica: It's also just thinking about what can I control? One thing my therapist always says to me, she says, you can't control what other people do. But you can't control what you do. Having that [00:45:00] knowledge and knowing that about yourself.
Mica: That helps me with like the pressure and the jitters before a big shoot. Anytime there's a big shoot, the day leading up to it, the week leading up to it, I am a wreck. And I'm thinking just like, Oh my gosh, what if I screw this up? What if I'm not this, whatever, you know, what if this happens?
Mica: Just whatever, whatever, whatever. Like I just think about everything that could go wrong. But then I remind myself, I've surrounded myself with a team of professionals whose main mission for this shoot is to make sure that I am successful. And knowing that feels great.
Mica: So I want to know the story behind your business name, My Food Lens.
Mica: Tell me more about that.
DJ: It's a funny story. My story does not begin as a food photographer. I actually set out to be a food blogger and not many people know this. I had my mom's diaries and they were like 47 years old. And I was recreating those recipes and I was creating plastics and I was putting my own spin on it.
DJ: And I was doing all this like fun stuff in [00:46:00] the kitchen. There was a reason why it was on fire. So the natural thought process was, yeah, I could totally be a food blogger. Let's just do this, you know. We actually set up the website as a food blog. And then came the decision of, oh, let's think of a name.
DJ: And I can't, for the love of God, not follow a recipe to the T ever, ever. So I am a pathetic baker. So I called the blog The Rebel Kitchen and I was like, it has to be The Rebel Kitchen and then I was like, nah, nah, it's, it's too provoking, you know, let's just think of something better.
DJ: Then it went to DJ's Cooking Escapades and I was like, mouthful. Let's think of something more. And then it went to DJ's Kitchen Zest. So I like that. I like the energy. I like the zing in it. So I was like, Oh, cool. Very nice. I started writing all these recipes. And I was like, I'm going to publish so many recipes.
DJ: And [00:47:00] I'm going to then release my blog officially. Well, what happened in the course of creating those recipes, in the course of writing it all down, my focus had shifted, my love had shifted from cooking, I had already started feeling things for photography, and so well, cooking zest had to be changed, and just overnight, the food blog was never launched, even before it was launched, the website was turned into a photography website.
DJ: All the recipe pages were hidden and we just began to think of a new name. I was like, I want camera in it and I want food in it. So The Food Lens was my first choice. And then I saw that it was already taken as a domain name. So I was like, okay, let's just bring maybe a little bit of personalization and make it My Food Lens.
DJ: And that was available. So we, we chose My Food Lens. I still love it. So yeah, the name was born from the foundation of The Rebel Kitchen, to DJ's Cooking Escapades, to DJ's Kitchen Zest. In fact, my [00:48:00] blog, my website, has still got DJ's Kitchen Zest as one of the names, like I've just hidden it for now.
Mica: How I got into food photography, I started a food blog with my friend Charlotte and she's a cook and she cannot follow a recipe to save her life.
Mica: And I'm like, this has to be a common thing amongst cooks and chefs, the cook lovers, or they look at a recipe and they're like, uh, no, we're gonna switch this up. We're gonna do this. We're gonna little pinch of this, and a little pinch of that. That is so funny.
DJ: Turn a cake into a, into a cookie. I'll tell you how ,
Mica: You know, ironically, or I guess unironically Charlotte is also a terrible baker.
DJ: Oh, really? Oh, yeah.
Mica: Yeah. Yeah. I could do better with baking because again, it's very specific. There's no room for guessing, no room for experimentation. Like you can put that extra pinch of salt, but then your cake is going to explode in the oven.
Mica: So do your thing, boo. You're going to have goo for cake.
DJ: Or you could have a blast.
Mica: Or you could have a blast, you know, , [00:49:00] you could have a, you could have a blast. Sorry, cleaning. You could have a blast cleaning.
Mica: So you also have your podcast and you just celebrated your first anniversary. Congratulations.
DJ: Oh, thank you. Thank you.
Mica: Oh my gosh. You are a wonderful host.
DJ: Oh, thank you, Mica.
Mica: What has been the most fulfilling discovery as a host?
DJ: I am really emotional about everything I do and I think the podcast is just so close to my heart.
DJ: I just love how you use the word discovery because definitely when we start things out, especially when we are being a trickster, we really don't, expect something, we don't anticipate something, we just put it out there. And I think the podcast was exactly that for me. I felt it in my heart.
DJ: I put it out, I put in my blood, my sweat and my heart into creating it. And I really felt called to do it. The biggest discovery was that I've gone and [00:50:00] I've put this out in the world.
DJ: And it's actually helping people. It's actually making a difference in their lives. I'm a huge believer in definitely expressing gratitude.
DJ: And every day, like when I write my gratitude journal. I think there have been countless number of times where I've thought that, wow, how did I ever get here? I'm so blessed to be in a position where I have this opportunity to actually help people through something that I felt in my gut that I was supposed and I was meant to do.
DJ: So even if I'm having a bad day, I've lost a client project. I'm just hitting rock bottom. One message, one message from a listener. And I'm sure Mica, you can relate to this, you know, one message from a listener who can come and say that. Oh, my, your podcast helped me find a client or your podcast helped me nail a photo.
DJ: You know, I really understand my camera better now it is the best thing. You know, it just fills my heart to know that you can help someone in their journey. It's just completely worth it. There was one episode that I created on pitching to a client and there was a photographer [00:51:00] who emailed me right after she heard that episode. And she said. I sent out a pitch and then I was listening to your episode and I could immediately see everything that I should have done differently and I was like, Oh my God, that's why I wasn't getting replies.
DJ: And it was such a breakthrough moment for her. What a moment it was for me. If that is not fulfilling, like I really don't know what is, you know.
Mica: How many guests have you had on the show so far?
DJ: So we finished a year. I think we did 46 episodes. We were a weekly, we are a weekly podcast. We're just taking a bit of a hiatus and we're going to restart again, but I think we had 22 guests or so, so far. So we alternate between my solo episodes and guest episodes, but we've, yeah, we've had 46 episodes and they've ranged everything from technical photography knowledge to food styling to business to mindset to food blogging to art direction, everything that really comes through in our journeys.
Mica: That's incredible. And for the listeners, just [00:52:00] so y'all know, there's a lot of work that goes into a podcast. You are the producer, the researcher, the editor, the, the, the show guest arranger. I mean, there's so many hats for you to wear when you have a podcast. And so for you to be a food photographer, you have your own business as a freelancer and be a podcast host.
Mica: I mean, that's impressive.
DJ: Well, you're doing that too. You're doing that too. You get it.
Mica: Well, I'm trying. I'm trying. I'm learning some things. I'm definitely loving the conversations so far.
Mica: I also love reading your reviews. You've got a super serious, loyal fan base, and they just love what you're doing. What surprised you the most about your listeners?
DJ: I would say two things.
DJ: I did not expect that my listeners would be such rock stars. Like they are action takers, you know? So if I'm talking about camera angles, they go practice it. If I'm talking about light, they go practice it.
DJ: If I'm talking about pitching, they go write that pitch.
DJ: I [00:53:00] feel like they've really surprised me by taking full advantage of the podcast. They really take the time to tune in, they educate themselves, and then they go and take action on it. They put it into practice, and I definitely like to create my podcasts in a way that they are actionable strategies, something that can be executed immediately, and they do it.
DJ: When I created the podcast, I absolutely had no strings attached.
DJ: The only string attached was my own heart. I'm just going to do this, you know? And they surprised me with their support. They surprised me with their words and really it's like an assurance for me. It's an inspiration for me. It tells me that, Oh, I need to create better, deeper, more relevant content for them.
DJ: I think those two things have really surprised me.
Mica: Oh man. Yeah,
DJ: It's all evergreen. A lot of these podcasts are for people at different levels in their life at different stages in their life. So let's say food photography, it could be for hobbyists, it could be for business folks, you know, so pick and choose what you like, [00:54:00] what is really valid for you at that stage of your life.
DJ: And, you know, go from there.
Mica: I love that. I love that. What do you hope the listeners learn from today's episode?
DJ: Well, definitely, please don't cry for everything. That's something you... No.
Mica: If we had ever met in Texas, I mean, we're besties now, but like, if we'd ever met in Texas, like, you and I would just be crying over every commercial because I'm a crier too.
Mica: Don't be ashamed of crying.
DJ: Don't be ashamed of it. It's, it's definitely a superpower because you feel things so emotionally. But if you really asked me, I think I really want to leave the listeners with three things today. And these are things that we definitely talked about on the podcast today, but I would just repeat it.
DJ: Number one would be, don't be afraid to take a leap of faith, be that trickster, and my second one would be, you're better than you think, you're more capable than [00:55:00] you can imagine, you are bigger than what give yourself credit for, you can do what you think you can't, you can reach where you think you can't, you're capable of things you can't even imagine, so never undermine yourself, and then the third one would be if you have a gut feeling, if you feel something in your heart, if you hear these voices in your head that are asking you to do something, well, those are ideas and inspirations that are looking for you.
DJ: Whenever we have something that's going on in our mind, in our gut. It's actually inspiration looking for us. Inspiration has chosen us in the entire world to take action on it. And if we don't take action on it, it will leave us and it will find someone else.
DJ: Your one action can change the entire course of your life and that'll be totally worth it. So those would be my three takeaways for today.
Mica: Ah! Love it. I love it. Where can listeners find you and support you?
DJ: I'm the most active on Instagram. They can come find me at deertima [00:56:00] underscore myfoodlens. That's my Instagram. I also have a podcast, which is myfoodlens. So you can come join me there. And my website is myfoodlens. So yeah, pretty much myfoodlens, myfoodlens everywhere, wherever you. You'll find me.
DJ: We're on Pinterest. We are on Facebook. We're everywhere. So yeah, come join us in, you know, creative and, uh, powerful discussions and no crying. Promise.
Mica: I will only join if there is crying.
Mica: Oh man, DJ, thank you so much for joining me on today's show. This was. Ah, I loved this entire conversation so, so much. So thank you for being here.
DJ: Well, thank you so much for having me. It's really, it's, it brought out so many things from the past. It helped me connect dots in, you know, so many different ways.
DJ: It's just been such an incredible experience just being here talking to you and sharing that, with your listeners. So thank you Mica for having me.
Mica: Y'all, was that bomb diggity or what? Damn! DJ was spitting facts left and right. I feel like I've gone to church. I feel like my, my heart, my soul is right. And I've got a fire lit under me.
Mica: I'm so inspired by this interview. And I hope you were too. Make sure you go follow DJ on Instagram, go listen to her podcast, go check out her food photography, y'all support her. She is amazing. And last but not least, leave me a message on Pod in a Box.
Mica: I need your words. I want to hear from you. Y'all, this show would not be possible without you. And your feedback means everything to me. I need to know if I'm doing some things right. The link is at my bio. First button. Leave me a voicemail, alright?
Mica: Oh, by the way, I lost my voice last week, [00:58:00] so I don't know if you noticed, but my, my, uh, my voice is like a tone lower. I'm like two breaths away from sounding like Miley Cyrus and I'm here for it. So till next time, guys. Ha ha ha. Okay, that was weird. Till next time, y'all. Buh bye!