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Inside Hypebelly’s Moody Food Photos

Photos by Hypebelly

At home, he goes by Alex Tsang, but online he’s known as Hypebelly—a Toronto-based food and drinks photographer. Food Instagrammers are a dime a dozen, especially in Toronto, but Tsang stands out. Instead of the typical overexposed overhead shots, Hypebelly images are moody: full of shadows, natural light, and texture. It’s all part of how Tsang transcends the food porn genre and instead uses his images to tell a full story.

We recently spoke with Tsang about his approach to photography as storytelling and even picked up a few tips along the way.

Your photography has a certain look—a darker color palette and lighting than most—how did you develop your style?

It just evolved into that type of style—that moody style that right now I really enjoy. If you go all the way back from when I started, the account wasn’t even named Hypebelly. I had just gotten an iPhone and my friend was like, ok now you’ve gotta download Instagram. All those pictures are still available if you scroll all the way back. I started just doing food pictures. Food was just an everyday thing that was there. And then through experimenting and playing around and just developing a style that I like, that also translates into when I do portraits. When I do food, I look at it kind of like portraits or candids, and vice versa with people. And then just discovering light and playing with that a lot. I liked that darker moody style, manipulating light.

Beyond treating food photography like you would portraits, is there a special approach you take to depicting food?

I think you’re still trying to tell a story. But you want to tell it the best you can, you want to represent what the chef is trying to put out—the philosophy in their cooking.

Is there an example where you think you achieved that goal particularly well?

I was pretty happy about the Goose Island shoot. We went up to the farm and got a whole experience of what goes into making different Goose Island beers. They brought us through the farm and gave us a tour, explained the whole process, and paired different foods with the beer. I think I was able to capture that, that feel—what they were trying to convey to us. 

During this time when a lot of restaurants are struggling, do you think your role as a food photographer has changed?

I like to support the community wherever I can. Even if it’s not through photography. So, even trying to just tell the story of restaurants and be more vocal about restaurants and try to support where I can. It’s definitely a tough time for everyone in the industry.

Do you have any tips for amateurs looking to improve their food photography? What can they do to convey that story beyond the plate?

Practice every day. At one point, I was shooting every day. And just shoot whatever, even if it’s not gonna turn out right. Now you know, you’ve been in that situation, you know how it's going to turn out. The more you shoot, the more you’re gonna learn and just play around with things. Play around with different setups. Play around with light, understand natural light and the difference in different times of day. Have fun, go out, explore, meet people, enjoy. That will translate into your photo. Get inspired, and that will really show in your photos. Get to know people, be humble, and have fun—I think that’s what it is. It’s just connecting with people and learning their stories through food.

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