Valuable insights and creative tips for mobile photos and videos: We interview David Ma

David Ma is a director and filmmaker whose cinematic photos and food videos have captured the attention of the culinary and creative worlds, earning him a spot on Adweek’s Top 100 Creatives of 2021. In this interview, we learn about his valuable creative insights, tips for filmmakers and photographers, and how creating content on the go allows him to be more productive, build stronger client relationships, and create more compelling content.

All about David

David Ma has a unique and impressive background that makes him a competent and versatile creative. He started out as an agency creative before moving into the culinary world as a food stylist. Now, as a director and filmmaker, he brings an innovative and fresh approach to food cinematic imagery, with his latest project, Food Films, which shows recipe videos in the style of famous directors, receiving over 10 million views. views and even capturing the attention of Michael Bay. Chances are you’ve seen Ma’s work, which has been featured on Fast Company, Mashable, Buzzfeed, Food & Wine Magazine, VICE, and Bravo.

I had the chance to speak with Ma earlier this month, and he provided some really valuable insight into creating and working with his iPhone to create and edit content on the go. He also published a guide to her favorite LA restaurantsso be sure to check it out if you live in the area and like to eat well!

Ma is particularly fond of her iPhone 13 Pro, which I have also been testing for a few weeks. It’s Apple’s most versatile camera system to date, and I was particularly impressed with the macro capabilities, cinematic mode, and 3x zoom (in tandem with the standard and ultra-wide focal lengths), which make it easy and fun. to capture compelling content anytime, anywhere.

Ma also talked a lot about it. He told me he doesn’t have a heavy technical background and as such puts less emphasis on the specific combination of camera and lens and more on being agile and ready to create at any time. As he puts it, customers expect more than ever to be able to get “nimble, crazy storytelling on the fly” and because of that, “iPhone has been a blessing in [his] pocket.” That’s not to say there isn’t room for heavy equipment, but as Ma says, having a capable camera in his pocket frees him up to be faster and create without the need” of an entire team or crew.”

The same goes for editing. Ma said, “There’s something special about being able to show the chef at the end of the meal a picture of his work.” Plus, “I can make a change in the Uber next job, which keeps me from overthinking or tweaking too much.” I think the editing process should be closely tied to the shooting process; if you start post-processing too long after shooting, you lose the creative thread and the results often suffer. Being able to shoot and edit in one quick motion is a real bonus.

Ma also shared how it changed her working relationship with clients. By being able to show quick edits to a client, it allows “clients to be true collaborators and not just the talent in front of the camera”. In turn, he notes that it allows clients to see the value of taking a shoot a step further, while the intimacy of watching a cut together helps them feel more investment and pride in the project.

Ma’s favorite feature on the iPhone is its slow motion mode. As he puts it: “Other creators focus on hyperlapse and sped up footage. It allows the food to breathe for a moment on screen…it says to the audience, ‘hey, this is really important .'”

The democratization of creativity

One of the biggest points Ma made was how features like Cinematic Mode have democratized creativity:

I like the idea that a 14 or 25 year old can make a short film using the Cinematic mode. It takes the aesthetic that was only accessible to people who had the budget and experienced teams and allows more storytellers. I love to see that we’re democratizing something that’s a cinematic technique that a lot of people didn’t have access to, allowing storytellers of all backgrounds, economic status, training (or lack of training) to tell the stories they want to tell about. In a field where we don’t always have the best representation, I like that everyone can tell the stories that are true to them and that it is on the same level, which opens up immense possibilities. For the industry, the culture and the world, this is something really special.

I think this is particularly important because no one should be prevented from exploring their creativity by lack of access.

Tips for creatives

Ma has lots of great tips for creatives. Talking to more experienced creatives can be hugely beneficial:

It’s great to talk to anyone about their relationship with creativity. Sharing stories can help inspire someone else, but it reminds you of where you have been, where you are and where you are going and that you should never focus on one person at a time. You need all three to propel you to the next step, to be present, and to appreciate where you are and what you have accomplished.

We often worry a lot about the equipment we use, but as he says:

Practice and make mistakes. Don’t worry about finding your niche immediately. In the beginning, learn and try as much as you can. Find what motivates you. Being able to experience this device in my pocket helped me find my style and my voice by being prolific. Don’t worry too much about the equipment you use. Your phone is a great entry point to experiment and discover your voice… Never neglect the tools you have. Everyone has resources. Resources can be trained and relationships can be established. Focus on the story, and the aesthetic will follow.

On the subject of gear, Ma offered some great tips for maximizing the content you create with your iPhone:

Photograph in macro

There is an incredible amount of texture and detail in the foods we eat every day. Use the macro function to capture those striking details you wouldn’t always see with the naked eye. For a larger-than-life close-up, bring your phone closer to the subject (get almost uncomfortably close, up to 2cm away) to see your food from a whole new angle.

Film flames, liquid streams, splashes and drops in slow motion

Whenever you have a flame, liquid spill, splatter, or drop moment, try using slow motion to pull it off. Slow motion is one of my favorite ways to turn a passing moment into a snap and suspend that beauty into a memorable cinematic shot.

Use cinematic mode to tell the story behind your meal

In the example above, I simply shot with the desired composition. Then later I adjusted the aperture to my liking and added the focus transitions. Being able to make these adjustments after the fact is not only technically freeing, it allows you to focus more on storytelling and composing in the moment.

As a filmmaker and storyteller, I like to incorporate chefs and people into my culinary plans. Simply switch the camera to cinematic mode and you’ll see the lens find faces automatically, using depth of field to turn anyone into a cinematographer wherever they are. A simple touch of the screen shifts the person’s attention to the food in front of them, bringing humanity and storytelling to your food sequences.

Get Ultra-wide and Ultra-close

To make subjects look larger than life, flip your phone over and set the camera to the .5 (Ultra Wide) lens. Move your phone closer to the subject. By doing this, your subject will dominate the frame, giving them a commanding presence as you compose your shot. Try it on vertically stacked items like sandwiches, burgers, sushi, salads and waffles, etc.

Use portrait mode

Depth of field adds a professional and romantic aesthetic to any photo, especially when shooting food and/or people. Just open Portrait mode on the camera, make sure you have enough light, and tap on the subject you want to focus on. After capturing your photo in Portrait mode, you can perfect it further by adjusting the background blur. Press Edit, the “F” in the upper left corner and move the slider to the bottom.

If you have an iPhone with Portrait mode and haven’t tried adjusting the depth of field after capturing, take a look; this is a very neat and useful feature.


Before I go, here’s another one from the Food Films series, just because they’re so much fun:

I really enjoyed talking with David Ma. His approach and work is a great reminder that storytelling is what matters, and removing access control and lowering the cost of entry is so important to being creative . You can see more of his work on his PageInstagram and his website.

Casey J. Nelson