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This is part of my Makin' Bacon podcast, you can check out all the episodes or subscribe on your favorite podcast player.

Becoming a Professional Photographer with Christina Peters

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Today we are talking about how to set the tone with your fans, ways bloggers can get their foot in the door, and how remote shoots can help during the pandemic.

One of the ways many bloggers can make money, or even start a career, is by providing consulting services to companies and brands. These services can take many forms, but a very common one is providing photography. Most bloggers don't know how to get started, but today's guest will help us out.

Listen to or Watch the Interview

This episode from the Makin' Bacon Podcast podcast is available on all your favorite podcast platforms including Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Overcast, and Google Podcasts.

The video of the interview is also available on the Makin' Bacon YouTube Channel.

About Christina Peters

She has been a commercial food photographer for more than 25 years and has been teaching food photography since 2010. She's shot more than a thousand jobs as a commercial photographer, which is amazing, and those have ranged from small, single person jobs to shoots lastings weeks with an entire crew of people. She has also worked with hundreds of bloggers through her website and her speaking engagements.

I can't wait to learn from today's guest, Christina Peters from the Food Photography Blog and the membership site Food Photography Club. Christina, welcome to Makin' Bacon!

Key Takeaways

  • How to understand social media
  • Why don't more people post on my Facebook group?
  • Why set expectations for your Facebook group.
  • When can I work for free?
  • The importance of really understanding what's in the final contract before you sign.
  • What if a brand wants my photo copyrights?
  • Why do I need "instant approval" in the contract?
  • Who brings the contract to the table? You or the brand?
  • What other business decisions do you need to make for a shoot?
  • Do you need to work from a photo shot list?
  • Who all is present during a professional food photo shoot?
  • At the photo shoot, who's in charge of what?
  • How has COVID-19 impacted the photography world?
  • What are remote photoshoots?
  • How do I get started in photography for money?
  • How to set up package deals.
  • Besides photography, what can I offer small businesses as a blogger?

Links and Mentions

If you want to read some more about this, here are a few helpful links.

Transcription of Christina Peters Podcast

Today, we're talking about how to set the tone with your fans, ways bloggers can get their foot in the door and how remote shoots can help bridge the gap at, during the pandemic.

One of the ways many bloggers can make money or even start an entire career is by providing consulting services to companies and brands. These services can take many the forms, but a very common one is providing photography.

Most bloggers don't know how to get started, but today's guest will help us out. She's been a commercial food photographer for more than 25 years. She's been teaching food photography since 2010. She shot more than 1,000 jobs as a commercial photographer, which is just really amazing to me. And those have ranged from small single person jobs all the way up through shoots that are lasting weeks and having an entire crew working on them.

She's also worked with hundreds of bloggers through her website and her speaking engagements. So I can't wait to learn from today's guest, Christina Peters from the Food Photography Blog and the membership site, Food Photography Club.

Here is What Christina and I Had to Say.

Jason Logsdon: Christina, welcome to Makin' Bacon.

Christina Peters: Hello and thank you for having me. It's really nice to be here.

Jason: I really appreciate you coming on. And I can't wait to dive, you know, not only into photography, which a lot of bloggers are interested in, but also the membership site, which you run. Because that's another thing a lot of bloggers are curious about the Holy grail of membership sites. And I know you have a lot of thoughts on that.

Christina: Absolutely.

Jason: One thing I like to start with is what is it like around your dinner table on a typical day?

Christina: It kind of varies. My fiancé and I just moved back east to take care of my parents actually. So sometimes I'm making dinner for mom and dad lately with what's going on though we'll get a lot of takeout and, you know, just sort of reconnecting with my, with my family again. I've been away from this area for over 30 years. I still have business in California. So I'm sort of bi-coastal right now.

But other times it might just be me and Scott and we'll just cook something and watch TV. Seriously.

Jason: Sometimes dinner can be very nice and relaxing way to get away from the rest of the stresses.

Christina: Exactly, exactly. It's definitely. We never, ever worked during dinner, that's for sure. So it might happen later in the evening, but we we know we have, we don't have cell phones, the computers aren't out, nothing like that. You know, it's, it's just us. So I appreciate that Scott does that too, you know.

Jason: It's really nice to disconnect sometimes from everything.

My wife and I are pretty similar that we, we almost never worked during dinner. We might work through lunch, especially now that we're both working from home. But dinner is definitely like we're going to sit around together and either watch TV or chat or just to relax.

Christina: Exactly. Exactly. Yeah. I never was the type that actually was glued to my phone. Believe it or not. Even with the whole Instagram thing, I'm not, you know, I'm not on social media every day. I'm not, I'm not doing stuff like that. I am to an extent for the business, but personally, actually Scott uses social media on a personal level, way more than I do. Way more.

Jason: I think it's interesting how people that have to use it all the time for work occasionally or like. I use it for work and that's about the only time I'm on it.

Christina: Yeah, exactly. So I always ask Scott sort of, it's interesting to me how he uses his social media and what he, he follows and how he interacts with it. It's, it's very interesting. So, so it's kind of like, okay, well, you know, that's probably what my customers are doing as well.

Jason: Yeah.

On Understanding Social Media

Jason: Do you have any big takeaways that you've used in your business and found a good response to it from following him?

Christina: So, yeah, what I really learned, and I do the same thing too. He's more of a lurker in a lot of like Facebook groups and things like that. So he isn't really posting actively, but he's on it every day. And so he'll check in, in the evening with certain groups that he's in and he'll even we'll have conversations about something that got posted that may be was very, very turbulent in the group. And then, you know, sparked this whole controversy and things like that. But he doesn't do a lot of posting.

And I always remind myself of that because I run a Facebook group too. It's Food Photography Club. And I recognize there are a lot of people in that group who are actually timid about posting and timid about sharing. That group's all about, you know, sharing images and getting feedback and things like that. And ask just asking questions. And so, when I'm in there and it seems kind of quiet it's because people are really taking in content versus posting.

And when somebody does post they'll even say, okay, been in this group for 2 years, this is the first time I've had that, the guts to post. And so I'm always trying to remember that and just. Try to make people feel comfortable in my group. I don't allow people to get mean and you know, post unnecessary comments and things like that. And if it ever happens, they get kicked out within like seconds, you know? So it's interesting, you know.

Jason: I think that's something that can be hard as food bloggers. We're creating new you know, either Facebook groups or do pages and we talk about engagement and how do you get people to respond to you? And even the best people probably have maybe 20% of the people that follow them respond. And it's more often like 10% or 5% of the people are actually writing or commenting. And so it can be really hard to keep that in mind.

But I think like you're saying it's so valuable that there's a lot of people out there reading what you're doing and consuming your content. And now you're helping, even though they're not commenting and kind of feel uncomfortable, sharing their expertise with a group of people that they might not know.

Christina: Right, right. It, it's definitely something that when I first started learning about Facebook groups and the sort of interaction that you're talking about, where there's another membership site, I'm a member in that's about membership sites and they say you're doing really well if you actually have 8% engagement, And that's I mean, 8%, that's pretty tiny, you know.

So, and then we've all been in those groups where there's maybe 50,000 people and then it's not moderated and it's just a bunch of mess and noise, you know? So that's the opposite type of engagement. It's not really engagement, it's more spamming, but.

So, so yeah, it feels a little lonely sometimes. And then sometimes when you just ask that right question, there's a whole bunch of comments come up and it's like, Oh, okay, that was a good one. That's a good question to ask. You know, you never really know sometimes.

Jason: I was listening to someone talk about authenticity and how much to share it's too much or not too much. And they said it was amazing that something came up and they missed a post. And it was like their first time missing in 6 months or 9 months or something because they just needed to disconnect from what was happening.

And when they came back, they said like, Oh, I don't know if any of you noticed, but I didn't post for the last 2 weeks, so sorry about that, I had to step back. And she got hundreds of comments on that. On that 1 post compared to what she normally got, but everyone's just, Oh yeah, we noticed, we were hoping everything's okay. We're glad you stepped away, that you're doing better now. And just this outpouring, she was like, I've never heard from any of these. I didn't even realize that they were following me, you know? So closely to even know that I missed. And so it was just a good reminder for her that people are consuming just because they're not telling you that they're consuming all the time.

Christina: Yeah. That's very interesting. Yeah. I'll warn the group if like, if we're traveling or something, I'll warn the group and just say, well, I'm here. I'm like, sort of, kind of like. Don't act up in here just because I'm gone. Doesn't mean you can start, you know, doing something. Cause some of the guys will test me in there, you know, making maybe not so nice comments and stuff like that, thinking I'm not going to catch it.

So warn them that, you know, I'm still here. But when I do that, when I warn them that I'm kind of traveling and stuff, the activity is definitely a lot less in the group. You know, so it's like, I don't know. Should I not tell them that I'm, you know, I'm going to be offline for a good 12 hours, you know, it's, it's just, it's hard to know. It's hard to know.

Jason: I think what you were talking about too, that when people are insulting in your group, you block them. When you know, you talk to them, they kind of know what's going on. And I think that's whether it's a membership site or a Facebook group, or even just a comments on your blog, it's so critical to establish that type of culture that you want.

And for whatever reason, sous vide has a few like hot button issues that fire up different people and yeah. And there are certain groups and certain people that if you suggest do you do something, they will reign the Holy fire down on your head. So that was a very quick for me that like in my group, you have your own opinion and they're opinions, they're not, you're not going to tell someone that they're wrong. You can say, this is why I like to do it, but you're not going to tell someone they're wrong. And it completely got rid of that in our group.

While the other group has embraced that philosophy of they do things the way that they do them there. And they have a strong, tight knit community there as well. So there's no right or wrong. But it is, you know, you need to not feel bad about just kicking people out that are taking advantage and making sure that you're protecting all those other people that are the type of people you want in your group.

Christina: It's important to remember, if it is your group that you're running it, it's your group and you are the one running it. And some people like to get in there. You know, we call them keyboard warriors, you know, and they're not using like their Facebook profile isn't really their name, it's something else that you can't really tell what it is. And their, their profile isn't an image of them, it's actually an icon or something else. So you don't really know who this person is.

We actually are extremely selective about who we let into the group. In the photography world, it's kind of unfortunate, but there's definitely some, some keyboard warriors that are just not pleasant in the photo world. And, um, you know, there'll be. They just want to go around and troll everywhere. And they have the, they have the no, the no photo, you know, blank profile, kind of a thing. You can just tell who they are, they're not being honest and open about who they are. And so we're really, we're probably turned down anywhere between 20 and 40 people a day who are trying to get into the group.

So my group is pretty small. It's maybe only, um, I don't know where we're at right now, 4,300, something like that. And compared to other food photography groups, you know, there's some out there with 10,000, 15,000 members. But, um, I'm always just on the back of my mind, like this isn't a race, actually. I want this to maintain. I want to maintain this nice family vibe that we have in here. And so. Yeah, we, we actually, we turned down a lot of people every day. It's really, it takes it's time consuming to sort through that, you know?

Jason: Yes, I do. We have a lot looser standards, but we definitely, you know, we try to keep out the major spam players and like, there are just every day you have to go through all the comments, all the applications to get in and see who's real and who's not, and it's surprisingly amount of work.

Christina: It is, it is, it does take time. So, so yeah, we, you know, I had some moderators in the group that were existing called members there and they pretty much just letting every, everyone in. And so what happens is Facebook recognizes the types of people that are in your group and they will suggest your group to other people who are like them and it starts this whole thing.

So it got really out of hand at one point where, you know, we weren't sure where these people were coming from, you know. So yeah, it's a challenge and definitely not a, uh, not a perfect science.

Jason: I think it's always good for people that are going to create a group that it's, it's worth knowing what you're trying to accomplish with it. Cause a lot of people will look at that and say like, you're turning it down 40 people a day. You could have a group that's, you know, 30,000 people in it. And it's like, that's true. But depending what your goal is size might not matter at all. If you're trying to develop this tight knit community of people that help each other, that respect you and know you, and that hopefully some of them might join your membership site or, you know, purchase products or hire you to do jobs. Like those are the types of people you want to cultivate, and you don't need 40,000 people in your group to find the handful of those that are actually going to be important.

Christina: Yeah, for me, the group has been absolutely key with teaching me what I need to teach them. I'm constantly. I mean I'm in there every day, I look at all their comments and when they're having questions or struggling with something, just the language they use, the way they are interpreting what's happening or what they're struggling with.

It's like, wow. Okay. They don't even understand blankety blank. So, okay. Well, okay. So, you know, maybe I'll do a blog. So I'll use it for research for the blog posts and I just go right out and tell them, you know, this is an excellent topic, I'm so glad you asked it. You know, in the meantime, here's, here's my quick answer, but I'm going to make this a blog post and then I'll, you know, share it in the group and just say, Hey, so a lot of you are struggling with this and so here's a blog post about it. And then in these comments, let me know if you have any follow up the questions, you know, so.

It sounds negative, but I use the group to help me to give them the training that they want. Now do all those become members? Definitely not. Probably only about you know, 5% have become members. And they'll come and join and then they'll cancel and come back and cancel and come back. It's interesting. And then some are just with me since day one. So it is kind of like a, it's a feeder for my products, but I really want to help them. I genuinely want to make sure that they're in there and they're getting value out of it.

There's nothing I can't stand more yeah, than a Facebook group where the, the dude or gal running, it isn't even in there. They're not even posting at all, they have their admins do it. And it's like, you know, the people are in there really to get access to you now. Sure. There's that whole thing of you know, when they're the guru, you hire a team, you know, you have to make it so you know, you have a life and all this stuff. But I think there's a way to make sure you can still be in touch with your people. And some, the gurus that I like and follow do that, you know. So I make sure I'm there, it's high contact, high touch point, and they're going to get value.

Jason: You know, I think it's important to set expectations too. As the, as the guru in the group that it's, you know, if you set expectations that you're going to be there reading everything, then you should be there reading everything.

Christina: Right.

Jason: You set the expectations that every Friday you're in there for two hours, like office hours, basically. Yeah. People would generally be fine with that because you've told them what to expect. But it's when those 2, I think don't mesh is when people start to be like Why am I even here if so-and-so's never around.

Christina: Exactly. And then it does turn around sometimes. And then there's those people who literally start messaging me, email me, tracking down my phone number. I've had people leave me messages. I mean, crazy. And so it's like, Okay. Yeah, no, I'm not like, there's a limit here. This is a free group, not even in my membership site, you know, so some of them try to really take advantage of it. So, so then I'll do a post as a reminder, when I make a comment and you want to have a conversation about it, do not call, email or message me, comment in the post. It's a little creepy sometimes, you know.

On Should I work for Free?

Christina: Not that there's a lot of controversial things with food photography, but there absolutely is some controversy over pricing, day rates and, and, um, people shooting for free in order to sort of gain access to something or, you know having a little carrot dangled. So I stand very strong with, nobody should shoot for free, unless it's for portfolio building and you're actually controlling the shoot. And that's where, when I say that, just people just come out of the woodworks and just really get angry that I. That I say that and like, I'm out of touch, I don't realize what it's like to start from the beginning. It's like, of course I do, but I certainly wasn't shooting for free all the time.

Jason: I think it's good to have like most things. One of my, one of my big philosophies is that you should know why you're doing something. And if you're doing it for free, because of a valid reason that you are sure that it will get you closer to that, then I think it's a good thing to do. But if you're just doing it, because, because you want to, whatever, then it's not a good reason you'll probably be disappointed. But if you have reasons that you know are going to be accomplished by it, like portfolio building or establishing relationships with a legitimate company that may be is building things, then there's different ways you can go about it. But definitely people are very fired up on both sides of the, "do things for free" equation.

Christina: For sure. And the way, what it really does come down to for many of them is especially with the women, they don't value their time and they, they, they don't like they don't have, they haven't defined their worth as a photographer. And they feel that because they're new at it, they shouldn't charge.

And so my little story I always like to say to them is, okay, so you have a brand new restaurant that just opened. Are you expecting that restaurant to give you free food for the first year, because it's their first year? Of course not. They would fail. So why are you giving away your work for free for the first year? Just to gain experience, I'm portfolio built ... not for a year. You're not portfolio building and shooting free jobs for a year.

I only allow you to do that with 2 or 3 clients, that's it. And they're not really clients, this is a business arrangement where they are very fortunate to get your photography for free. However, it has to be what you want with your shot list and you can't let them run amuck. There's a certain way to run the free photo shoot.

So it's very interesting how many people want to argue that for the first 5 years you should, you know, take any job that comes along, even if it's free. Like, no. Nope. Now your first 5 years is a long time, you're going to fail and you won't be able to pay your bills. So, yeah, I'm a huge advocate.

Jason: You might not charge the same at the beginning as you do after 5 years, but you should be charging.

Christina: And that's the thing, so there is a scale. So we have beginner prices. You have those who are a little bit established and getting some ground after about five years, I'd say is fair to start raising your prices. And then when you're in my boat, then you know, I've been shooting for a long time. I have just minimums that I'm not willing to leave the house. You know, so unless I'm making this, this amount, I'm not going to leave the house. And my day rates are 4 figure day rates. And that's what I try to teach my students to get up to that, that 4 figure day rate. You know?

Jason: So if there's a blogger out there that says, this is something that I am interested in doing. I have been practicing the photography for the last 5 years on my blog and getting better and better at it, or 10 years, you know. Some people have been doing the food photography before they got into the blogging and they say, how can I start turning this into a paying job or getting started when I've. How can I approach someone when I've never, when I haven't done this before, even though I think I probably could do this.

Christina: So as a blogger, you're definitely going to be familiar with the companies that do sponsored posts and things like that. That's very different. So I actually am not a recipe developer, so I'm not a food blogger. But the way I work with brands, is exactly how a food blogger can work with a brand.

And so I'm, I'm actually a little detective. So I, I look for the companies that if you were just starting out, so you're not going to be working with a big ad agency and design firm that is doing the sort of work for the brand. What you want to look for is other brands that have the internal marketing departments.

It's really common, especially these days now. These companies really don't want to work with the big ad agencies anymore, and they do want to bring things in house. So they're paying designers to come in and they're actually trying to force these designers to do the photography and handle the photo shoots.

So these are the type of people to reach out, to, to where you can even create regular content for them. So something that they might need monthly. As an example, um, I get approached regularly to do this type of work where they don't even want to go to a studio. It can be done in your home. They would send you the product and then they want maybe 10 or 20 images a month. And for someone like me to do that, they would offer something like $10,000, $20,000, $30,000 a month, depending on how many images and the scope and the food.

So if it's really difficult food to photograph and I would have to have a food stylist, then that's when we're talking the high level stuff. But yeah, so they would basically send you product and then you're responsible for coming up with the props and putting the things together.

So as a food blogger, if you're comfortable with food styling and you like doing that, then this is an excellent thing that you can propose to a lot of brands. Everybody needs content. They all need to shove their feeds full of food images. Right.

They want stuff on a daily basis. So to look for the brands that really are posting regularly, you'll notice some food brands, the last time they posted was 3 weeks ago. Yeah, that could be an interesting lead, but those that are actively posting all the time, clearly they need content. They want content and they're getting it from someone. Someone's making them that content, and so why not be you?

You know, so with starting out. And sometimes in all fairness, some of these brands want to pay hardly anything. And I don't, I don't work with them, but if you're just starting out and it's a bigger brand. And then, uh, depending on, on the terms and conditions on the job, if they will tag your feed and pay you something, that's awesome.

Just be real careful. Some of them try to take copyright, and I don't agree with that either. So there's a whole gamut of awesome brands to work with and ones that are kind of taking advantage. So you just sort of read the contracts and, uh, there's just a ton of food brands out there that need your content.

On Maintaining Copyright, Contracts, and Other Business Decisions

Christina: So maintaining copyright is a big thing that you want to watch out for. What other kinds of gotchas are out there that new photographers, you know, might not realize that brands might be trying to do.

Well, here's one thing that's actually, it's a little unfortunate in the landscape that's happening right now. A lot of brands have created terms and conditions, which you can find on their website that says if anyone tags our, you know, our name, our brand, or let's say this brand has come up with their own hashtag phrase, they might actually create terms and conditions, unbeknownst to anyone that saved you use that hashtag they can take your content, use it for free, sell it, do anything they want with it, license it out whatever.

Wayfair was one of the first brands to actually do this. And so I haven't checked their terms and conditions recently, but a few weeks ago I did, and this was still in their contract. And it's usually pretty easy to find because legally they're not allowed to bury it.

So if you, if you are, you know, if you're working with a product that you really love. And, you know, it's a food product and you've made a recipe with it. And you want that brand to notice you before tagging them. Go and look at their website and look for terms and conditions or terms of use something like that and see if there's anything public about it. Now, some brands have made it so that it's not a public page on their site, but what they'll do is they'll go and they look for content and then they say, respond to my content with hashtag yes brand.

And that means you agree to our terms and conditions. And then they link to it. Read those, because those are the ones that usually say they take your copyright. They don't, they don't say they take your copyright. They say they can do anything they want for free, they can sell the image and do anything as if they do own the copy. It's really predatory practices, actually, I can't stand it. So, um, just, just be real careful about that.

So if the brand is a nice legit brand and they're not pulling any stunts like that, then you could look at tagging them and look at their feeds. When the brand is genuinely supporting bloggers, we all see it. You know, they'll have links to the blogger. They might even link to the recipe. It's things like that or hashtags, and they're at, you know, there's signs and all of that. Their name on whatever platform we're talking about, where there's Instagram or Facebook or what have you.

So, um, you can usually tell when they're genuine, generous with like, yeah, we're going to let everybody know you took this picture today and share it and that kind of thing. It's really interesting times right now.

Jason: Is it generally best to have your own contract that you try to give to a brand or do most brands have contracts and I'm sure it depends on the level of it.

Christina: It's the gamut for sure. When I'm actually doing a photo shoot, it works, it works both ways. I'll if it's a smaller brand, I usually have the contract. If it's a larger brand, and then what they typically do do is create a purchase order. And this is for a photo shoot, right. But for, for me, when I'm doing any content that actually is going to be social media, they want to get as much sort of usage out of this content. So it's typically a full blown photo shoot, right? Where I have a food stylist and a prop stylist and stuff like that. And so that's where I have a contract, I send it into them and then they create a purchase order. And then I have to sign that purchase order. So a lot of people don't realize it works like that.

So, you know, they typically take what's in your contract and then put some of the language with the terms and licensing into their purchase order. Some of them take it verbatim, which I think is really nice. Others do an interpretation and you just gotta watch and you gotta read every word in there and cross out what you guys mean. What you didn't agree to originally.

Some ad agencies are notorious for trying to take your copyright. There's a term called "work for hire". That basically means anything that you're doing, they own it, they take copyright. You're not even allowed to use it in your own portfolio. And typically, you're not even allowed to mention that you shot it, it's as if you were employed by them in house, so "work for hire". Um, but they're treating you as a freelance, so you don't have any of the benefits of being an employee, right? So they just want to take all your content.

So I've never done a "work for hire" job. Um, let me rephrase that, I've never knowingly done a "work for hire" job. I saw it with a huge brand. And they tried to say that I, I signed the wrong purchase order. And then they tried to get me to sign a different purchase order and threatened to pull the entire job from me unless I signed it. And so I found out after the fact, this was a stunt that this particular ad agency did with this client regularly.

So I signed it. It ended up they got my content. But it was a lot of food packaging and stuff on white, so I wasn't upset to lose those images. That was the one time where I felt like I really, really got. I just got burned. I mean, they paid well, however, the price that I would have charged would have been literally twice that that's what the going rate would have been twice if they want to own it and take the copyright. So, so yeah, it was like hmmm.

Jason: I think what you just said there too, is something important for bloggers to remember is that, you know, whether it's "work for hire" or what type of rights that the brands have, there's no right or wrong with giving them certain things. You should just make sure you're compensated for if they want "work for hire" than it's going to cost more than it would if they just wanted to use it in a one campaign. Right?

Christina: Exactly, exactly. What started happening as soon as food bloggers really started becoming into existence and that's when a lot of predatory practices came on with the ad agencies and the brands. Because the food bloggers didn't know about the commercial photography world, they didn't know about copyright. They didn't know about protecting their rights as a photographer and that, you know, we make continuous money coming in by not selling our copyright. And so you work with usage and licensing and things like that. And it's been a massive struggle in the last 10 years because brands will work with a blogger who literally gives them everything for maybe $500.

Whereas somebody like me would have charged $50,000. Right? So when the brands pick up on that, that dramatically changes the landscape. It's been, it's been a struggle you know, for holding, maintaining and holding like, okay, this, this is my day rate and yeah. And I'm worth it. And by the way, and yeah, you're not going to own my copyright unless you pay for it.

Jason: One of the things you mentioned that always surprised me when I first learned this, is that like, you don't do the food styling. Most of the time, right? A lot of photographers don't do the food styling or the prop styling. Can you talk a little bit more about those different roles? Cause I feel like those could be some other options for food bloggers that maybe are better at styling, but don't enjoy the photography as much, you know, vice versa.

Christina: Yeah. Um, very good point. And so on a commercial job and when I say commercial job, I mean, we're photographing a food product for a company specifically to make money off of that food product. Okay. So then there's editorial work, which is a little more artistic. And then of course there's cookbook stuff where you're, you're selling a concept, an idea, a recipe, right? So with commercial photography, we're specifically talking about, um, with commercial food photography, we're talking about the food brands.

Jason: So that'd be like you're shooting a McDonald's hamburger and they're using it in their advertising or margarine, a specific, you know, Kerrygold butter or something.

Christina: Right. So, you know, a certain brand of olive oil or what have you. And so when you are doing that type of work, it's not physically possible for the photographer to do the styling. It's just not because you're working with someone with you next to you. Sometimes I set my clients up on the same desk as me, because they want to be right there in front of the monitor. And so you're working with them, you're working with a brief or a mood board or a mockup. And you know, we're talking about the lighting.

So while my food stylist is creating the food. In the kitchen and she's got a food assistant at least. And there's usually someone there from the brand who is what we call a food tech. And that is the person whose sole job is to make sure that their product is represented accurately, both for legal reasons and then just for their brand, you know.

So that nothing funny is going on yeah. In the kitchen with their product, with the food stylist. Yeah. Right. So the food stylist might have questions about how this product is you know, doing something. Maybe the product starts to break down at a certain temperature when they're cooking it or what have you. So each brand, you know, depending on the product has their different complexities and issues when we're photographing it of course. So the food stylist will be working very closely with the tech.

While all that's happening. I have to set up the set. I have to get the lighting. And then I'm working with a prop stylist. The prop stylist has been out shopping for a couple of days, getting all of our stuff that the food is going to sit on, the backgrounds, the surfaces. I actually do a lot of woodworking. And so I'll actually with many of my clients, I'll make wood backgrounds, wood surfaces for them to match something exact.

In the California, because of the film industry, hiring someone to create a wood surface for you is like, very expensive. It could be $2 to $2,000 to $5,000. So I'll just include that, but I'll charge them maybe $2,000 for $1,200, depending on what surface I'm doing. And it's a whole day of woodworking in the studio.

You know, anything like that is done ahead of time, like with the props and, and, you know, non-food stuff is done ahead of time and brought to the studio. And then, you know, as soon as we get in the morning, we start working on our first shot. We'll work with what's called a "stand in". The food stylist will make a rendition of what we're going to be photographing so that I can light it. And so that the client can see what it's going to look like with these props and these bowls and these plates.

And a lot of the creative has been dictated by the creative person from either an ad agency or like an art director or a creative director, or that type of person from the brand.

Jason: So they have some ideas of what they want to get out of the shoot for whatever their marketing campaigns are.

Christina: Exactly. And it, some of it might be really tight, meaning they will give me an exact comp of what they want it to look like, like down to the fraction of an inch. The drink has to be here because we're going to put text on the top of it. And then on the right side is going to be the price. And then on the left side is going to be, you know, this other like, you know, text.

And so I have to create an image that's going to fit exactly their media of what they're doing. Sometimes it's an extreme vertical, sometimes you know, if it's like a, if I'm doing photography for website, then they want banners. Well, those are extremely horizontal. You know, and so I need to know those sizes and those specifications in order to take photos that fit into that usage.

As I'm working, my prop stylist is there. She's bringing props over and the creative director, you know, we'll take pictures along the way with the stand in food. And the art director will say, you know, I'm just not digging that plate. Do you have any others? We sure do. We've got like 50 for you to choose from. And then they go through and they pick what they want.

And so we have like a mini prop area and then the food stylist is doing her thing. And then I let her know when we're done. Meaning I got my lighting down. We know our props are. Now we're ready for hero food. And then she'll bring in the hero food, and then it's all hands-on deck.

And so I'm taking pictures and everyone's looking, I'm shooting tethered, which means the image is coming into the computer and showing up on the monitor. And so the art director will see everything coming in and then they'll say, okay, I want you to take this and move this over here. Or, you know, that burger bun is, is too hot, too tall. Can you lean it on the side? Or, you know, that salad the dress. We can't see the dressing on the salad. Is there anything you can do about that, you know, on and on and on. It's it's very, very different. You know, you're when you're photographing a recipe versus a food product, it's a very different thing.

Jason: It amazes me how much just goes into that process and how many people can be involved in everything that comes together. Like I just, you know, before I started learning about this, I never really pictured that much went into the different photographs like I knew there was more talented people working on it than I was but I didn't realize there is like a dozen people working on it, instead of 1 mediocre, you know, food blogger like myself.

Christina: Yeah. It's sometimes it is a little ridiculous. I'll just have to say when it's a bigger brand and there's a big ad agency involved. Oh my gosh, seriously, there's there have been photo shoots where at lunchtime, because it's the client pays for this, right. So we usually get catering or we'll order takeout from a restaurant.

There's one particular agency that was notorious, at lunchtime there were 5 or 6 people that I never knew that had nothing to do with the shoot would show up at my studio to get their free lunch. And they wouldn't even introduce themselves to me.

I mean, it's like, how rude can you, like you're crashing a party at dinner time and then they leave. And that just became like this industry standard for this 1 particular ad agency in Los Angeles. I would be curious to know if they're still trying to pull that stunt now. But, um, yeah, it's just it's yeah. People would, uh, run amuck, you know, and it's a free photo shoot.

Jason: It sounds like a great party.

Christina: Yeah, exactly. And then the client gets this bill for that. It's just crazy.

On COVID-19 Impact and Remote Photoshoots

Jason: So as someone that often works in these smaller rooms with groups of strangers over close conditions, all crowded together, I assume nothing has changed at all in the photography world over the last two months since the pandemic. Right?

Christina: Yeah, so that actually has changed, you know, it's, it's, it's crazy.

Now. I've been called to do some remote photo shoots. With the way, one of them, this is interesting. The way one of them was going to be done was I would still be there with one food stylist and one prop stylist and an assistant. I had a photo assistant and then all of the creative we're going to be in another room, but they were going to be social distancing amongst themselves.

And watching what we were doing on closed circuit television loop, that kind of a thing. And this was going to be happening alongside, um, a TV commercial. I do a lot of work where there'll be doing a TV commercial, and then they realized they want to pull stills off of it. And then they'll you know, hire someone like me to come in and sort of basically do the same thing that they're doing with the live action, but then we'll do it in the still world. And so there was that type of a scenario. So it was a huge, huge brand, huge photo shoot. Um, you know, just the use, they wanted everything. They wanted to unlimited usage, um, in perpetuity, which means like, you know, forever. So that was like the highest day rate and they ended up not doing it because of the virus.

They just couldn't, there was such a big deal. They, everybody. Really insisted that they had to be physically at the shoot to see it. And then the, um, this was going to be in LA County and so that's when the governor shut it down. So we weren't allowed, I think at that time it was like, you weren't allowed to have gatherings and more than 10 people. And this was going to be like, at least 20 people, you know.

I'm bidding on jobs, but it's all the, to be determined date, to be determined based on COVID. That's like the language that they're using now. So it's like all of these estimates just floating around, out there. Okay. So yeah, I'm very intimidated about what this is going to be like, you know, moving forward with a bigger job, lots of people and you know, whose responsibility is it if somebody does get sick from the shoot. I mean, and how awful would that be? You know? So I don't know. It's, it's very interesting times right now. I've got to say.

Yeah, it was definitely a big change for that industry. So I'm all about the remote photo shoot, I love those.

Jason: Yeah. You had a great presentation at the International Food Blogger Conference, their virtual event. Um, we actually met at the IFBC, right? In New Orleans 3 years ago, I think.

Christina: Yes. Yes, that's right. We did meet in New Orleans. Yeah, that was great. When are we going to feel comfortable doing that again, you know? It's like getting gathering hundreds of people together in close quarters and then hanging out and going out. I mean, the fun part is going out to dinner with everyone afterwards, you know, so yeah.

Jason: So you, you do a lot of remote shoots now. You did the presentation at IFBC, which I think is still available for download. Um, if you're interested in listening to that; Christina, talk about this for an hour, which is worth it if you want to do remote shoots at all. Um, how do you approach or like, what is a remote job? Is it just, you know, you set up a FaceTime with them or is it what goes into that?

Christina: Well there's different ways to do that. I'm actually an advocate of involving the client only when really necessary on the actual shoot day. But before you even get there, plan your shootout. And this really goes for any photo shoot, it's not just a remote photo shoot. I'm like a planner. I'm an organizer. I have lists of lists. I just organize my entire garage yesterday and it was amazing. I like to organize things. I went, all the questions answered as much as possible creatively before we start the job.

So on the actual shoot day, I have a shot list. I know exactly what props, what colors, what items are going to be in every shot. So I've talked to the client multiple times before my shoot day even happens, to get all of those questions sorted. And I think that's really key for the success and the speed of any photo shoot.

So I want it to be when I'm shooting remotely, that the client is sort of on call with me, if you will. So they're not on FaceTime with me. They're not on zoom with me because in all honesty, they're doing that in their day job. They're zooming with people all day long with their clients, with other meetings that they have internally. So to get them on a zoom with you is going to be kind of challenging. So I'm an advocate of just using email first, then text, and absolute worst case scenario if you've got to hunt them down when they disappear because they always do, um, then, then you've track them down on the phone. So yeah, it's, it's fairly easy to do.

And a lot of bloggers who do sponsored posts. You all have been doing remote photo shoots this whole time, right? You just might not have known that's what it was called. So you're just basically just communicating with your clients through the shoot day. And it, the most important thing though, is to get approval as you're working on that shot.

So let's pretend you're doing 4 or 5 shots for them. You're going to be contacting them multiple times throughout the day as you're working on each shot. And then when you think you really have your perfect shot, you send that in for approval and you don't change anything on your set until they tell you, yeah, this is good to go.

Or, Hey, you know, what, can you do a variation where you take the spoon out? Or can you do a variation where you put the spoon in the lasagna or whatever. So you didn't strike your set, so you're able to give them a variation on that. If they want it.

Jason: I assume nothing takes more time than having to reset up something that you broke down because they thought it was right or you thought it was right. And ended up not being what they were looking for. And then you have to redo what you had already done.

Christina: The whole key is this though your contract. It has got to say that's basically not allowed. If they disappear, and they usually do, I give them 15 minutes and it's written in the contract ahead of time. So like heads up client. Find out where they're going to have lunch and when they're going to break for dinner or if they have to go and drive and pick up kids or do something like that. Because then there are going to be times when they're just offline. And so you don't want to have hero food, let's say it's a salad and it's wilting lettuce, you don't want that sitting there while you're waiting for final approval. If they want to change anything, chances are you're going to have to rebuild that and redo it. So, um, so it just gets a little tricky to sort of coordinate logistically, especially if they're not in your time. So that's a tricky one.

You just gonna have to sort of work around their schedule, but pretty much you just sort of warn them that, Hey, this is the final shot. If I don't hear from you, in 10 minutes, we're moving on. And you've already told them before the photo shoot, this is how it's going to work. And if you, you know, if we need final approval, but you're not there to give it, we're going to have to move on.

And if you want to change something after that, you're going to have to pay for that the additional shot. Because you're going to go through more food and you're gonna, it's gonna take you more time. So you need to be compensated for that. A lot of bloggers make that mistake. They'll do a photo shoot and then the next day send them the images. And then the client, the brand says, well, no, we wouldn't like this. And then they go and redo it.

You need immediate approval onset. That's what that's called. That's the language I use in my contract. Immediate approval on set. If I don't get it within 15 minutes. What I say goes.

Jason: So if a blogger is getting started with this and not doing a big commercial shoot, like some of the ones that you do and they're looking for a specific things, would you normally, like, would the blogger normally work with the brand to say, like, here's the type of shots that we're looking for and the type of style and kind of come up with a shot sheet together? Or is that something that the brand would have, or does it go back and forth?

Christina: Really good question. And honestly, It's it's there isn't a standard or expectation either way. So I always ask the brand, because every brand, whoever you're working with at that brand, it's important to sort of do your little detective work and figure out have they done a photo shoot before? And have they worked with a food photographer before? Have they worked, have they themselves experienced working with a photographer before?

It's important to sort of understand that because then you're going to know. If they've never worked with the shooter before, they're just not going to know how it goes. You're going to have to really do more education with that client. And I've had, I've done huge, uh, jobs like with, um, pet food brands. And there's a huge one here in the U S. And actual contact, yeah, the way they did things at this company is everyone rotates positions. And my creative director, quote, unquote, was literally an accountant.

He didn't go to school for this. So he literally had no idea. He was very nice about it, and he was very honest about it and he was very straightforward. And so I spent an enormous amount of time prepping that job and working with him to come up with a shot list. He didn't even know what that meant. So the shortlist is literally listing out every image we're doing that day. He didn't know what that meant. And he was like, Oh, He's like, God, I think we need one of those. And I go, yeah, yeah, yeah. We're doing 150 shots. We are absolutely making a shot list. In fact, it's going to be several variations of the shot list until we get to the shoot day, you know, so, but I was able to charge my time for that.

If it's a smaller brand and they don't know, then it get a little bit more hand holding for you. And it's really your decision. I personally like to sort of take control of the shot list because then I, then I, I know I will understand the interpretation of it. There are brands who will make a shot list, but when you're reading it, it's not very clear what the shots are. In their mind it's so clear because that's internally how they do things.

And so I've gotten shot lists where I did not know what I was looking at. All it had was like a name of a product. I couldn't even tell what the product was because the name was so, you know, and ambiguous. You know what I mean? So it's like, okay, that this list is literally just a product list. This isn't a shot list at all. This is a product list. So we need to dive down, like, what are the prompts? What are the backgrounds? What are the surfaces? How do you want this?

And that particular brand though, it was a really huge brand, this particular brand they just had some designers where they're like, Oh, we don't know and that's your job. And this was an art director telling me that. And so I explained, so actually that's, that's technically considered art direction. And so if you would like me to art direct, I charge $900 a day for that art director.

Jason: I am happy to do your job for you, but you will pay me to do that.

Christina: I don't know your brand. I don't know your, I don't know what your intention is with this. All you gave me was a list of products. So, I don't know what the intention is here. A lot of brands now go into a photo shoot, just creating a library of images. And it's a little unfortunate because when you don't have a real intention with an image, you don't have a story, you don't have, you know, propts that are cluing you in as to what that image is about.

Then really your only option is to photograph it on white when they want to use it for everything and they want to strip it out and they want to put it over here on the website. They want to do this. They want to turn it into a gift, they want to do yeah all this stuff. And so it's like, okay, well, the only way to do that is actually if we shoot it on white because if we put it in an environment, your shadows are going to be all weird because there's going to be fabric in the shadows. There's going to be color contamination coming from the environment on your product, things like that. So. Yeah. So it's really, these days, it's just just the wild West.

So some clients will give me gorgeous illustration that they put together in Photoshop that they hand, not hand drew, but they digitally hand drew in Photoshop that they understand perspective and they understand lighting. And then other times I've literally gotten where the client sends me some 15-megabyte file. They don't even know how to optimize images for the web. They send me a 15-megabyte file. That was a snapshot they took of a marker dry erase board with a black marker and some circles on it. I'm supposed to understand that means that's their burger on white. And like, okay, awesome.

On Getting Started Ideas

Jason: I think that's something for bloggers to keep in mind, too, that if you are just getting started with this and you're going to be working with brands that maybe haven't done this before, especially if you want to get paid a little bit of money when you're getting started, like it could be someone from the farmer's market that you go to that's selling something. That you've seen their social media and it's not very good.

Like you can use some of these techniques that professional photographers use. Instead of just talking to them and saying, Hey, do you need some photos? You can go to them and say, you know, here's a shot chart list of shots that I think would make sense. Here's kind of where you can use them, you know, on social media or on your website. Or in, I see, you know, every week you have a sign next to your product here at the farmer's market like it could make that look better. And approach them with some specifics of how these images that you're going to take. And then they can see the value of giving you money to create this for them, as opposed to just saying I can make better photos for you.

Christina: Finding, I call it package deals, right? We all have package deals. And so I always suggest when you're working with brands who don't have a lot of experience working with a talented food blogger like yourself, or, you know, photographer, come up with little package deals where they have um, different options. So you can do a 3 image package, a 5 image package, a 15 image package and then have different pricing structures for that.

And part of that, you can include a consulting fee to figure out where do they need imagery right now? You know, one thing that's interesting. I do I find with, um, restaurants in particular, smaller restaurants in particular, they feel like they have to photograph everything on the menu. And you really don't have to do that. No one's ever going to sit through and look at 200 images on a website. But for some reason they have this sense that, well, if we're hiring a photographer, we better get her to photograph everything and it's really just not necessary. And it's quite frankly a waste of their money. And so I generally talk them out of doing that type of a job. And really, it just comes down to if they, if they don't have any photography done at all um, in their a restaurant then you can suggest a 10 image package and at the most a 15 image package where there's some food shots, maybe some people shots and maybe some restaurant shots.

If it's, it's like a brand at your local farmer's market and someone that you really you follow and you admire them and you love their food product, do you want to help them out, then you can come up with maybe a 5 image package, right? Where maybe it's a little story. Um, you can, you know, maybe go and photograph the place where the stuff is made. That kind of a thing if it's local, if you're interested in that sort of thing. More lifestyle photography, you know. Um, and just look at what they have. If they have a website, some of them don't even have websites. I mean, it's surprising in this day and age, but a lot of the brands starting out they don't even know how to go about making a website. And if you're comfortable with that, that's something you could throw in there too. And, you know, charge for that. Of course, I've actually made websites for a couple of clients. I'm not, I, I'm not a developer, but I'm pretty good at figuring out Squarespace and Wix and all of those different things. I've been making websites for a very long time.

Jason: And bloggers have a lot of skills like this too, that you can package them that you don't think of. Like. You know, if you're approaching someone at the farmer's market and you see in their posts on social media, that just have a picture that's not very good. And pitch them on taking better pictures, pitch them on doing some hashtag research to figure out how they should be tagging their photos.

You have these skills that they don't have and it doesn't have to just be photography or even food-related that you can transfer these to other domains. And it's a great way to, like, you're saying, put these packages together and say, Hey, your social media presence, as you know, isn't that great, like I'm going to help you with that. And here's a breakdown of the cost and what I'll do and you know, the benefit you'll get from it.

Yeah. I mean, we all, we, we typically have the same pain points as they do. Meaning it's usually come down to the time it takes to do these things. So when you're dealing with, or working with a very small family food product, who we want to support them. And we want to, you know, we want them to, to survive and we love their food and we buy from them every week at the farmer's market. You know, those are like the wonderful people to work with. And so you can put together a little proposal where it's a simple site, just a few pages, you know, for people to get access to their content.

Right. And Squarespace has an awesome e-commerce setup. Shopify is another one that is really both Squarespace and Shopify have amazing tech support. I loved them both a lot. I've, I've built websites on both of those platforms and I, they have the best tech support, both of them do, and just, they just make it really easy to sell stuff, you know?

And you could pitch that too. There's so many different little packages you can come up with to support a small brand, um, that can all be done virtually.

Jason: So we're running short on time, but I at least wanted you to build a, give a little pitch for your membership site. Because it's, it's an amazing, uh, amazing membership site. People that I know that are in it, rave about it. I've been in discussions about membership sites for other things. And people have said, well, there's this there's this lady, Christina Peters does this photography thing. Oh, I know her people. You hold it up as an example of the way membership sites should function in an ideal world.

So I'd love to talk a little bit just about what you have in there, because for anyone listening that is interested in learning more about photography, especially if you want to make money from it, it's a something you should be involved in.

Christina: Oh, thank you. So I started Food Photography Club in 2017. I really was from the need of figuring out how to extend my workshops, to be honest with you. Originally I used to do a lot of workshops in person. I love teaching workshops, but my studio only would hold so much with capacity-wise. And so we could, we really maxed out at 15 students. And so, and I have a lot of international followers that just couldn't come to the States for a workshop for obvious reasons. This is before the COVID, you know.

So as a result of that, and people were asking me if I had some courses that they could take online. It's like, it was always in the back of my mind to do a course. But then when I broke it down and you know, I'm the organizer. I'm the list maker. I broke down. I'm like, okay, this is like really 20 different courses.

When you break it down, and just from total beginning to all the way through advanced with business practices, this isn't, if I made it a course, it would be ridiculous. It would just be too long. So I decided to make it a membership site where each individual content is its own little course. And so we have beginner content, intermediate and advanced.

And once I went after it with the membership in mind, then it made sense to me, versus making this big course that would maybe lead into a membership site. So when I started the membership site, we only had a few classes live. I had about 6 of the beginner class, 3 of the beginner classes live, and I had a bunch of advanced people joined and I didn't expect that.

And I was totally clear, like we don't have any advanced content made yet. However, twice a month I do live webinars. And so the people who were advanced members who had already been shooting for a while, they actually wanted, they joined the club to get out access to me. It's a very, very high touch membership site. I'm in there all the time. I have a private forum in there and so people can ask me questions, get feedback on their images and support each other. And then twice a month, I just, I talk live about what I'm doing, what I'm working on, what's happening in the industry right now. I'm still a working shooter.

And so I basically just all cards on the table, tell everyone what I'm working on, the struggles, what's happening, how things are changing and all that stuff. I learned how to do the membership site, the model that I'm using is, is taught by Stu McLaren. And so he has a program called Tribe. And he has a certain way of basically running a membership site, which I really, really, really jive with.

And, um, we've all been in those programs where the person making it like the Facebook group, they're not even involved in it. And I really hate that I'm paying to get access to you. So why is, you know, and I'm sure your assistants are sweet and lovely, however, I'm paying money to get access to you. So I make sure that I can give that to my people.

I don't want 50,000 members in this thing. Like my Facebook group, it's like the opposite. I don't want 50,000 people in there. I, I want it something that's easy to manage. I want to help people. I want to get to know them. I mean, they're like my family, I'm close. I've hired several of them as photo assistance over the years. I mean, it's just been really, really cool. It's a fun little food world.

Jason: Well, I really appreciate you coming on and sharing all your expertise. You've done so much, and you've worked with so many bloggers from beginners up through advanced photographers that, you know, like yourself, do this for a professional living. So it's always great to hear just from your wealth of knowledge.

Christina: Oh, thank you, you thank you so much.

Jason: And if people have follow up questions or want to join the membership site, they can go to foodphotographyblog.com, correct?

Christina: They, yes, so the free content foodphotographyblog.com. So I blog there once or twice a month, if I can get the time to do it. But I'm pretty active on there. And then, um, foodphotographyclub.com is where the membership site is. And then you can always check me out for, you know, in the free Facebook group as well. Just make sure that you tell me that you heard me on this podcast, then we'll make sure we let you in.

Jason: Otherwise you will be just left at the door.

Well, thank you again. It's always great talking with you. I have had amazing time.

This has been Makin' Bacon, we're all about helping you serve your fans, grow your income and get the most out of your blog. Until next time, I'm Jason Logsdon.

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Jason logsdon headshot Hi, I'm Jason Logsdon! I'm an adventurous home cook and the head writer and photographer for Amazing Food Made Easy. I grew my income to 6-figures by focusing on serving my Fans by providing massive value, and I want to help you do the same.
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