CHOPSTICKS ON THE LOOSE
In 2015, Sarah and Eric decided to leave their 9-5 job to fulfil their travel dreams and Chopsticks on the Loose was created. With over 16k followers on Instagram, Chopsticks on the Loose have worked with a number of clients including the likes of Uber, HK Express, Park Hotel, Booking.com, Park Hyatt and more. Chopsticks on the Loose is a blog not only showcasing beautiful images but also sharing travel and photography and video tips.
Introduce yourself and tell us what Chopsticks on the Loose is in a nutshell?
Hey we’re Sarah and Eric, and together we created and co-run Chopsticks on the Loose. In a nutshell, Chopsticks on the Loose is a media company which focuses on creating travel content for ourselves (and our clients) which inspires others to get out and explore more of our world.
How old are you and where are you from?
Eric: I’m 28, and was born and raised in the UK from a small town in Surrey called Hindhead.
Sarah: I’m 29. I was originally born in Hong Kong but moved over to the UK with my family at the age of 7.
What kind of work were you guys doing before Chopsticks on the Loose? And why did you quit?
Before we finally decided on making the jump to working full-time on Chopsticks on the Loose, we were both living and working in Hong Kong. Sarah working as an English Teacher and I a Managing Editor for a media company.
We really liked our previous jobs, we were both doing something which we enjoyed and it was fairly flexible. This meant we had time to do what we love the most, travel. But the decision to quit came about when the degree of flexibility began feeling restricted. We were always looking for a location independent lifestyle so we knew we had to move on. It was also around this time that Chopsticks on the Loose was starting to gain some traction so we decided to take the leap.
Which year did you start out as travel bloggers? Did you have a lot of money saved up before you left to travel?
We started blogging back in 2015 when we first left the UK. We did have some money saved up but decided to leave most of it in our savings just in case of a rainy day.
There’s a lot of people who take all their money to go travelling with but once they return things can get difficult. So we left with £1,000, and started off by exploring Hong Kong and further in to mainland China. When money started to run out we found jobs which were flexible enough to let us carry on travelling at least once a month.
What was your initial vision for Chopsticks on the Loose? Was it initially just to document travel photos together or did you always plan to monetise it?
That’s exactly what Chopsticks on the Loose was. It was just a place to document our travels and share what we got up to with our friends and family. It also became an opportunity to practice our craft in photography, something we had just started delving into.
Over time we realised there was a great opportunity to take Chopsticks on the Loose further. So we started offering photography and content creation services to clients.
You’ve got over 16k followers! Did you anticipate that Chopsticks on the Loose would experience the growth it’s seen over the last few years?
Not at all. To be honest, we’re still amazed that anyone besides our parents follows along with our adventures.
What hacks and tips did you do to grow your following?
Hopefully this doesn’t sound like a cop out answer but there’s really no hack which substitutes for hard work. We’ve been creating content for Chopsticks on the Loose for almost 5 years, starting out as beginner photographers and novice writers who had no idea what they were doing. But over time, we’ve honed our craft which (hopefully) means we now produce better work.
A trend we have noticed though, is in the last couple of years we’ve grown at a much faster rate than before. A lot of this has to do with the fact we now post 5-7 times a week as opposed to once a week.
“So perhaps in summary the best tip we can provide is to not just focus on quality or quantity - but both."
Did you initially reach out to brands or did they contact you?
Although brands do reach out to us today, we originally reached out to brands first. We’ve managed to grow a tight-knit audience but it’s still hard to bubble to the top and be noticed by the biggest brands - there’s just so much noise on the internet nowadays.
There’s probably a few people out there who completely disagree with this approach, there’s a lot of negativity and stigma on content creators for reaching out to brands and asking for something - whether it be money or “free stuff”.
“But as long as you’re offering true value to these brands, as in not value in your eyes but value in the eyes of the brands themselves - then most will be interested”.
What was the process in getting to know your own photography style and presets?
We learnt very early on that trying to force a style doesn’t work. In our opinion, style comes from the inspiration and experiences of a person. So instead of focusing on the style, we focused on creating instead.
There’s this amazing quote by Steve Jobs that goes, “You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards”. So it’s only now when we look back at the thousands of photos that we’ve noticed our photographic style tries to capture the magic of moments. We’ve both been heavily influenced by Japanese animations, especially films from Studio Ghibli, so this is probably where the whimsical, magical feel comes from.
How do you think changes in Social media and IG have created new opportunities for Chopsticks on the Loose?
Without a doubt, Social media and IG has been the driving force behind us getting opportunities in the last few years. Almost all our clients first discover us or get to know our work through social media. Even with recent algorithmic changes to these platforms, it continues to be a powerful tool to reach people.
What camera do you use?
We’re currently shooting with the Fujifilm X-H1 and X-T1. We also use the DJI Mavic Pro drone.
What photo editing apps are you loving right now?
Almost all of our photos are now edited using Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop on the desktop. If you’re looking for a mobile app solution, we’d highly recommend Lightroom mobile which has almost all the features of the desktop version though you’ll need a subscription to unlock everything. Alternatively, Snapseed is also great and is completely free.
What do you look for when looking for the right shot?
The first thought which runs through our minds is “how can we inspire the viewer to visit this location,” or at least get out and explore. This’ll come in so many different forms - things like shapes, colour, scale, lighting…they all come into play.
How do you determine which photos to pick to post on Instagram?
With difficulty! Chopsticks on the Loose is the combination of two people so it has to pass the standards of two before it gets posted on our Instagram. In a way, this helps to filter out the very best of our work.
What useful apps or programs do you use to post content?
The only app we use is UNUM which helps us visualise what our feed will look like and organise what order to post photos. Besides that, we do all the posting of content manually. It’s us typing in the caption and clicking publish every time. We love interacting with people who have been kind enough to leave comments so we would never leave it to automation.
Out of all the places you’ve traveled to, where has been your top 3?
Japan is definitely top for us. We just spent a year travelling across the entire country across all four seasons, yet we can’t wait to go back. There’s just something magical about the place.
Second is China. It’s a country which gets a lot of bad press from the mainstream media. But if you explore the country for yourself, you’ll find beautiful landscapes, rich history and culture as well as kind-hearted people.
Third is Vietnam. At the time of writing we’ve only explored Hanoi but it left such a deep impression on us. We’re currently planning a month long trip through Vietnam so we’ll have more to say soon!
What is your philosophy on life?
Be happy. We only have one life so why not strive to live it joyfully.
21 July, 2019