Shumaila Chauhan is a 31-year-old Indian Food Blogger at ‘The Novice Housewife‘ and a lifestyle photographer. She owns a photography brand under the label ‘MuddyChoux Photography‘ and is very passionate about food photography.
Read on as Shumaila talks about her inspiring journey from fighting loneliness to truly finding herself.
“I started blogging in 2010, right after I got married and moved to the US on a dependent visa. My blog started as a way to document all the new recipes I was trying out as a housewife. It was also a way to keep myself busy. We lived in a small remote mining town, and the initial few months were lonely as I had not yet made friends, had no job and no chance of getting one, leaving me with hours of free time. I felt unproductive and I needed something to change that. I also have a very busy mind- and thought rather than talking to myself, it’s better I pen the thoughts down somewhere and that’s when I started blogging about the recipes I was creating. I would share snippets from my life along with a recipe, and even though initially no one was reading it, my blog was my space to talk, to share a part of my life.
For 6 months I had kept quiet about my blog, and the only people who read it were my mom, my best friend, and my husband. I have never considered myself a writer nor had I ever cooked before getting married, so I did not have too much confidence that the blog was of any interest to others. This was also the time when Facebook sharing wasn’t popular and Instagram was mostly non-existent. Slowly I grew more comfortable with blogging and the recipes I was trying. My blog then became my identity. It took a while but gradually I started getting work because of it.
Earlier, I would put everything and anything that I made in my kitchen on the blog. That was during the first few months of starting my blog when my readers were only people I knew. But, as the blog grew popular and I realized people were actually trying out my recipes, I felt a little more responsible for what recipes get on the site. Now, the blog has become more of a place to store my favorite recipes. I do share my trials and errors on my Instagram page though.
I always loved baking. Even though I never baked before marriage, I have grown up on the most amazing baked goods courtesy my mom. When I would come home during college vacations, I gave mom special instructions that the house should smell like a freshly baked vanilla cake, so make sure you don’t bake the cake in advance, else that whiff you get when a cake has been freshly baked, that won’t be there. I would flip through my mom’s cake decorating magazines and just stare at them in awe. So I guess there always was a part of me that wanted to be a baker. Being a hardworking student, who got good marks, I never explored that option, until I got married and was left with a lot of time on my hand. They say everything happens for a reason and I am glad for that free time during the initial years of my marriage. Had I got into a 9 to 5 job, what I am doing now may never have come to be.
My blog has taught me a lot about myself. It made me understand my strengths and made me work on my weaknesses. It introduced me to the world of food photography, something that I love so dearly. During the initial one and half years of blogging, I used a point and shoot camera, and would photograph at any time of the day. There were a lot of poorly lit photographs. But as I grew into the blog and learnt a whole new world of food blogs, I was impressed by the talent of the amazing bloggers whose photographs would leave me drooling. I started giving more thought to the composition, started shooting during the day- and making use of natural light. I would submit my photos to some recipe sites that laid emphasis on photography, only to get rejected. But the rejection is what made me want to improve. I know photography is very subjective and what appeals to you might not appeal to me, but the approval of these sites became a measure on which I improved my photography. Slowly, my photos started getting accepted, and along the way I learnt I really enjoyed the whole process- of composing a shot, choosing props that would make the food pop, the angle and playing with the light.
Sometimes when I look at some of my initial posts that still have my old crappy photos on them, I am so proud of how much I have learned in terms of styling and photography. As much as I love baking and now cooking, I love styling and shooting food- love creating a story not only in words but visually as well. I have also started making food videos, which requires much more work, but something that is now rising in importance in the food blogging community.
When I started blogging, the blogosphere wasn’t as saturated as it is now. I didn’t have to work too much to get noticed. I had hits without trying much. Nowadays though it’s a different ballgame. If you don’t post regularly, be it Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or your blog, you are lost. Out of sight is out of mind. Earlier if your content was good, people noticed you. Now I see so many people who post such good content but they are struggling to be noticed. I jumped on the social media wagon quite late and it has affected my blog. Do not underestimate the power of social media. I did but now I am working to improve my social media presence.
It is sad that you are valued based on your followers, and that your work is rated on the number of likes you have, but such is the reality. There are so many players in every field that unless you constantly post and promote, you will go unnoticed.
Having said that, I still feel content is important. You might have to work twice as much to get the reach and might take a while to get there, but if your content is consistently good, people will notice. People will appreciate.
For people keen to learn food photography, there are various resources online- YouTube tutorials, photography blog posts, books and most of it is free. This article by Six Bittersweets really helped me a lot during my initial phase of food photography and I hope it helps you too.
Also, here are some of my favorite shots and links to the recipes if you want to try out.
Another thing I would like to mention is that there is a lot of power in your words these days’ courtesy social media. Make sure you use this responsibility wisely. Don’t blindly promote brands, and because of one bad experience don’t judge brands publicly.
The most important advice: blog about food because you enjoy it. It’s not always easy, there are a lot of things that comprise food blogging- from creating a recipe, perfecting it, styling and shooting it, cleaning the mess, then posting it and then without fail to share it on all social media platforms possible. One needs to be passionate about it and patient with it.
Feel free to reach out to me on any of my platforms in case you have any questions. That’s another thing. Ask, ask as many questions you want to people you admire or whose work you want to know more about. People you ask might not always reply immediately, but they always reply and they always help. The blogging community is very helpful and almost all the people I have turned to for help have always given it. So ask away.”