Have you ever looked at the photos on another blog and wondered, “How in the world do they get those gorgeous shots?!” Wonder no more, because Johlene Orton of Flavours and Frosting is giving away all her best photography tips in this episode. You don't have to be a food or recipe blogger to use her advice. Johlene is self-taught and has progressed from an automatic camera user to a manual pro. You'll be empowered to do the same after learning from her!
On the Podcast
01:27 – Meet Johlene
03:58 – Transitioning From Product-Based To Blogging Business
05:26 – Building A Blogging Income
08:28 – No One Ever Said Blogging was Easy!
11:14 – Getting Started With Photography
12:41 – Food Blog Photography Resources
14:50 – Key Ingredients To Awesome Food Photos
16:37 – Experimenting With Backlighting
19:20 – The Rule of Thirds
22:06 – Shooting Angles for Food Photography
23:50 – Tips on Using a Manual Camera
26:41 – Tripod and Tether Mode
29:52 – Behind The Scenes of a Food Photography Shoot
31:16 – Food Blogging Struggles
34:43 – The Tooth Mouse (Johlene’s Adorable Mommy Moment!)
Press Play on the Podcast Player Below to Hear from Johlene
Johlene lives in the Gran Canaria, a Spanish island, with her husband and two children. Originally from South Africa, she moved to the Canary Islands for love and now lives in a three-language household with plenty of love and culture to go around!
Johlene sold cupcakes in her city, as well as hosted cake decorating workshops and dessert parties. She started blogging to showcase her baking. Fun fact: Johlene’s blog was originally bilingual, with posts in both English and Spanish.
Transitioning From Product-Based to Blogging Business
Johlene first used her online platform to sell her delicious products. But when she made the switch from Blogger to WordPress and dug into the tech side of blogging, her business transitioned to being exclusively online. Johlene realized she could leverage her time and talents much more if she stopped creating products to sell individually and instead focused on digital products, services, ad and affiliate revenue.
Building A Blogging Income
The one thing that holds true for most bloggers is that there isn't just one revenue stream in their business. Many different parts can come together to make up a vibrant whole!
Johlene is no exception, and she has found success doing sponsored posts, creating recipes with promoted products, and affiliate marketing. As she has gathered knowledge and expertise, Johlene has begun to use her skills to help others. Occasionally, she will take clients on a retainer and instruct them on how to build a food blog. She helps them with Pinterest strategy and scheduling, scheduling with Edgar for other Social media sites, along with giving them advice and direction for growing their business.
No One Ever Said Blogging Was Easy!
The switch from Blogger to WordPress gave Johlene a big reason to learn more about turning a blog into a business. After blogging for three years without a lot of tech savvy, Johlene knew it was time to get serious. A friend suggested that Johlene check out Amy Porterfield; Porterfield’s site was a springboard for Johlene.
It wasn’t all smooth sailing, though. When Johlene migrated Flavours and Frosting from Blogger to WordPress, she experienced some major problems. First, she had a glitch with her permalinks and went from 20,000 page views a month to 1,000 views. Ouch! During that same period, her site was highjacked and visitors were redirected to a sleazy site. Her blog even got blacklisted by a major search engine. Talk about a nightmare! Johlene was ready to give up on blogging; not realizing that this was only the beginning. She still had a lot to learn.
Johlene looks back on this time as both the best and worst of her blogging experience. Through these struggles, she began to learn new things and experienced doors opening.
Getting Started With Photography
Johlene used to use a simple point-and-shoot camera for her food photographs. But when she started following other professional food bloggers, she realized she needed to up her game.
She had to convince her husband to invest in her online business, and she was able to make the case for them to purchase a Canon 600D (European EOS Rebel T3i)* for the business.
*denotes affiliate link. Learn more in our disclosures here.
Food Blog Photography Resources
While learning how to become a better blogger, Johlene stumbled upon many fantastic food photography resources. A few of her favorites are:
Tasty Food Photography* by Bjork and Lindsay of Pinch of Yum
Food Bloggers Central by Nagi of Recipe Tin Eats
The Food Photography Book* by Nagi Maehashi
Food Photography by Nicole Young
Food Photography Behind the Scenes – Bright Food, Dark Shadows by Nicole Branan of The Spice Train
Key Ingredients To Awesome Food Photos
- Avoid too much light. Heavy light washes out the food being photographed. For that reason, food photographers should also avoid direct sunlight and shadows.
- Use directional lighting. Directional lighting means the food is lit from only one direction.
- Use a backlight and a side backlight. These are the most flattering angles for food as they enhance the texture.
- Use a reflector when needed. (get creative!) If Johlene finds she needs more light cast upon her subject, she employs the use of a reflector. And we love how creative Johlene gets: She uses a simple white dustbin lid when she needs additional lighting. (Problem solving skills to the rescue!)
- Use a remote. Don’t solopreneurs often wish for more than one pair of hands? Using a camera remote* can help you get the shots you need – no more worrying about steady hands.
Experimenting With Backlighting
Just as recipe testing creates perfect dishes, Johlene has found that backlight testing creates the perfect photographs! Here’s a peek into her process:
- Set up shots with a window behind the food. (Good light, but not direct light!)
- Experiment with a diffusor for your light – such as lightweight curtains.
- Wait for certain times of day to shoot. Late afternoon, for example, is often perfect.
- Test various times of day and seasons. (Yes, even the seasons can affect how your pictures look!)
- Test different windows and light sources throughout your home.
- When experimenting, you want to hit the right location at the right time.
After all that experimenting, Johlene has found certain ‘go to’ spots in her house. In an ideal world, she would have her photo shoots prepped in advance. But, as a busy mamaprenuer, she often is working around her kids’ schedules.
The Rule of Thirds
The ‘rule of thirds’ is commonly known in the photography space. But as newbies, we don't always know what we're supposed to do with it!
Imagine there are two vertical lines and two horizontal lines running across your photograph – dividing the image into nine equal sections. The focal points of the photo are found in those four points of the intersecting lines.
This means that the focus of the photo should intersect with one of these four corners. It doesn't necessarily have to be in the middle, but by focusing on those four corners for points of interest, your photo will be pleasing to the eye.
Johlene likes to fill the negative space around her focal points with elements. The focus should always be on the main dish, with the added elements serving as enhancers. Like this example of chocolate chips surrounding the chocolate bundt cake. Johlene once heard someone say that these negative space fillers should work as breadcrumbs leading to the main focus of the photo. Let those little crumbs enhance the main subject. (Genius!)
Shooting Angles for Food Photography
Most food photographers shoot their dishes from the top down, but Johlene has a style all her own. (She says she’s a rebel with a cause!) She prefers shooting slightly above the food at an angle, or directly in front. Close up shots are great, but Johlene likes to give her food room to breathe. We love that tip…give things room to breathe!
Tips on Using a Manual Camera
As a budding photographer, Johlene shot with an automatic camera. It worked well enough, but she was frustrated that under poor lighting conditions she could never capture the shot she wanted. After trial and error, Johlene has a much better technique these days.
- Focus on the lens, not necessarily the camera. Johlene says that when you buy a camera, the body of the camera isn’t as important as the lens. You’ll get the most for your money if you invest in a quality lens.
- A Prime lens is better than a zoom lens. In Johlene’s opinion, it’s better to use a prime lens rather than a zoom lens. The prime lens requires a photographer to physically move closer or further from the subject in order to get the right shot, and Johlene says it produces much better photos than a lens that has the ability to zoom in or out.
- Johlene uses a 50 mm 1.8 lens.* (She wanted a 50 mm 1.4,* but that lens was out of her budget. The 1.8 is about a third of the cost.). The first number (50 mm) is the focal distance, meaning how far away you need to move from your subject to get a good photo. The second number (1.8) refers to the F-stop or aperture, which determines how long light is allowed to enter into the photo. This feature also allows the photographer to create fields of focus – photos with a blurred background and focused subject, using a lower F-stop. So for example, the lowest F-stop Johlene’s camera will allow her to use is 1.8.
Tripod and Tether Mode
We wondered, “Are tripods necessary to get the perfect shot?” If you really want to use manual settings and get the most out of your camera a tripod is important, Johlene says. Until a few years ago, though, Johlene didn’t see her tripod as a necessary piece of equipment. When she began using tether mode (linking her camera to her computer), she came around and began to view her tripod as a useful and necessary tool. (Remember how Kim from Lucy Jane Totes introduced us to tether mode?)
Johlene’s camera has a flip out screen, which she used to use to preview photos. But when she would import photos to her computer she would notice that a few of the shots weren’t up to par, and this came only after she had packed away the photo shoot. Some edits were easy to make; like fixing underexposed photos, but overexposed photos were harder to manage. By viewing the photos on her computer screen as they’re taken, Johlene has drastically minimized her photo shoot time.
Behind The Scenes of a Food Photography Shoot
Speaking of photo shoots, we also wanted to know how often and how long a foot photography shoot is. Do food bloggers do all their baking and photographing in one day? Is the process spread throughout the week?
For Johlene, timing food photo shoots depends on how well she plans. For example, leading up to a school holiday for her children, she knew time would be limited, so she planned recipes and baked dishes that she knew would keep well.
It takes Johlene one day to bake and one day to shoot. She will often bake a few recipes on one day, then decorate and gather props for shooting on the second day.
It’s a lot of work to be a food blogger and photographer! Johlene laughs when friends will ask, “What else do you do?” (As if there were time in her schedule for things beyond food blogging!)
Food Blogger Secrets for Scrumptious-Looking Food!
One struggle that seems universal with food bloggers is ensuring that their dishes look just as delicious in photos as when they come out of the oven. So what's the trick to ensure delicious photos?
A blow torch! Johlene uses e a torch (like one you would see for a creme brulee) to make her frosting look fresher on photo shoot day. (Genius!)
Savory dish food bloggers often have trouble photographing cheeses. (Who knew?) And apparently white ingredients are notoriously hard to shoot because it's difficult to capture texture with white.
So does Johlene avoid using white ingredients? It’s not always possible with baked goods, so she finds that adding elements (like chocolate chips or sprinkles) helps the look of white ingredients in pictures.
Food photography has become a passion for Johlene, but she’s also found that the more she’s learned the harder it has become. She keeps raising her standard and continues to improve!
The Tooth Mouse (Johlene’s Adorable Mommy Moment!)
Johlene's five-year-old son Luka is losing his first few teeth. In Spain the Tooth Mouse, not the Tooth Fairy, pays a visit to children who put their lost teeth under their pillows.
When Luka was telling his Mom about how he spotted a dead mouse on the side of the road walking home from school, Johlene’s first response was, “Oh, I hope it wasn’t the Tooth Mouse!” Her boy was concerned for just a second, before he quickly rebounded, “The Tooth Mouse is like Jesus, he never dies.” We were cracking up over that viewpoint!
We loved learning about a few different Spanish traditions from Johlene. Listen to the very end to get your own taste of Spanish culture!