Tips from Bjork and Lindsay
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Welcome to episode 185 of the Food Blogger Pro podcast! This week on the podcast, Bjork interviews Joanie Simon about using flash photography and recovering from addiction.
Last week on the podcast, Bjork chatted with Paul Jarvis about building better, not necessarily bigger, businesses. To go back and listen to that episode, click here.
We typically talk about the benefits of shooting food photos with natural light - namely, it’s an easy way to make sure your photos look natural.
But if you take a quick peek over at Joanie’s Instagram profile (@thebiteshot), you’ll see that she’s getting beautiful, natural-looking photos using flash.
That’s right! Joanie has figured out a way to make flash photography the foundation of her successful YouTube channel, brand partnerships, and more.
But that’s not the only reason you’ll love this episode. Joanie’s journey to food blogging and photography wasn’t an easy one, and you’ll hear about her road to recovery and her story of how she got to where she is today.
Thanks to our Reviewer of the Week, Betsy from The Dinner Sisters! If you’d like to be featured, leave a review for us on iTunes and include your name and blog name in the review.
We’d like to thank our sponsors, WP Tasty! Check out wptasty.com to learn more about their handcrafted WordPress plugins specifically made for food bloggers.
If you'd like to jump to the comments section, click here.
Alexa Peduzzi: In this episode, I chat about a Pinch of Yum case study, and then Bjork interviews the fabulous Joanie Simon about flash photography and her journey to blogging.
Alexa Peduzzi: Hey, hey, lovely listener. You are listening to the Food Blogger Pro podcast. Thanks for tuning in to this episode with Joanie Simon. But before we get to the interview, we’d like to pause right here and thank our sponsors, WP Tasty. WP Tasty makes three of the plugins that we use, we rely on to run Pinch of Yum. Tasty Recipes, a recipe plugin, Tasty Pins, a Pinterest optimization plugin, and then Tasty Links, a keyword auto-linking plugin. The WP Tasty team, that is Raquel, Daniel and Ann, are committed to elevating your food blog with rock solid helpful plugins.
Alexa Peduzzi: And for today’s tasty tip, I would like to chat to you about Pinterest. Now, we talk about Pinterest quite a bit on the Food Blogger Pro podcast, and there’s actually a really good reason why. It’s Pinch of Yum’s number two source of traffic. And actually, if you look at almost any food blog, you’ll see that Pinterest is one of the top sources of traffic, and that’s because food and recipe searches is one of Pinterest’s most popular categories. So we know that promoting content on Pinterest poses a huge opportunity for food bloggers, but how do you actually know the best ways to get that content in front of the people who want it?
Alexa Peduzzi: Well, that’s why we’re so excited about the Pinch of Yum Pinterest marketing case study. It’s a collaboration between Pinch of Yum, WP Tasty, and Simple Pin Media, a Pinterest marketing company. During the study, we hope to learn the answer to one simple question; what actually works when it comes to Pinterest marketing. There are so many strategies, tips, and how-tos out there, but we hope to dig even deeper and uncover the current Pinterest marketing best practices, the ROI on Pinterest marketing, how to use Pinterest to meet your goals and more. This study will continue for anywhere from six months to one year and you’ll get all of the data that we’re collecting on Pinch of Yum’s Pinterest account. And you can check out the kickoff blog post at wptasty.com/pinterest-study.
Alexa Peduzzi: And now the interview. I have to say, the entire Food Blogger Pro team is super excited about this interview. The ball started rolling whenever I was actually in a meeting with our video expert, Emily, and then she mentioned that she was taking this incredible flash photography class by someone named Joanie Simon. My interest was immediately piqued. We typically talk about the benefits of shooting food photos with natural light, namely, it’s an easy way to make sure that your photos look natural. But if you take a quick peek over at Joanie’s Instagram profile at the Bite Shot, you’ll see that she’s giving beautiful, stunning, natural looking photos by using flash.
Alexa Peduzzi: But that’s not the only reason why we love this episode. Joanie’s journey to food blogging and photography wasn’t an easy one, and you’ll hear about her road to recovery and her story of how she got to where she is today. If you couldn’t tell, I am totally fan-girling over Joanie and her photography skills and I really think you’re going to love this episode. So without any further ado, Bjork, take it away.
Bjork Ostrom: Joanie, welcome to the podcast.
Joanie Simon: Oh, thank you so much, Bjork. It’s my pleasure.
Bjork Ostrom: When we do these podcasts, we sometimes will reach out to people, we’ll say, “Hey, who would you be interested in hearing from on the podcast?” We have an internal list of people you want to connect with, and you hit both of those things. We heard from people that said, “Hey, we’d love to hear from Joanie.” And internally, our team recommended it as well, so you hit both of those check boxes. Excited to talk to you today about your story, and then also a really specific niche of photography, food photography, and that’s using flash photography.
Bjork Ostrom: But before we get there, I want to rewind the tape a little bit and go back to the point where you started to get interested in photography, and I actually watched a video on your YouTube channel where you were talking about this transition point in your life, and actually how the creative avenue that you went down with photography and with food came out of an exit of another stage of your life, and you called it your road to recovery. So can you take us back to that point and talk through what was going on in your life at that point and how photography and food and recipes played a role in that transition?
Joanie Simon: For sure. Yeah. I think that any of us in the food blogosphere, so many times you look at your own personal history and go, “I could have never put all of these things together, but how beautiful and wonderful it is that these things all fit together.” It was end of 2014. I actually had a podcast, and it was interviewing a local restaurants and it went part and parcel with what I was doing in my day job selling restaurant point of sale systems, so we’d have technology thing, but working with food people, which has always been important to me.
Joanie Simon: But I also just was getting into Instagram and sharing content online and really started to realize, much as I love sharing other people’s stories, I really wanted to share more of myself and more of my recipes. And right around that time too, had some pretty massive things happening in my life, just God intervening in the process of my journey and helping me realize that I was an alcoholic. And fortunately I’ve got an amazingly supportive family and husband who helped me through that process, got a great therapist.
Joanie Simon: And through that I realized I am a very creative person and I need my day to day to be a creative thing. And so I quit a full time day job and I was the full time breadwinner for our family of four, I have two little guys at home. It was a scary thing. I look back and say, there is no other way that that could have happened outside of divine inspiration because for me, I can be a very fearful and adverse to risk taking. But yeah, I quit that day job and said, "I’m just going to start cooking. I’m going to start doing food blogging at JoanieSimon.com. I even at the time was following your income reports for Pinch of Yum and inspired by what I was seeing other food bloggers.
Joanie Simon: And I was like, “I don’t know if I can necessarily make that happen, but I’m sure that something good will come of all this.” And I just had this intense sense that that’s where I needed to go. Photography, of course being a part of the food blogging experience, and with my background in art, I’ve got an undergraduate degree in art history, it just captivated me, and I started digging deeper into the camera. So as much as I love the food and the cooking, it was the photography that really inspired me and really started to focus more of my attention. I’m like, “I don’t care about writing about all this food stuff, I just want to take pictures of it and delve deeper into that.”
Joanie Simon: And then also because my connections in the restaurant industry, other restaurateurs started to see my work and said, “Hey, can you come take pictures for our menu and for our social media,” and so that dovetails into that. And then along with the blogging side of things, I had started to make connections then with various food brands who then also needed their own digital content, social media content and photography. That’s now the bulk of the work that I do in terms of client work, is working with food brands to create images but still doing a good bit of restaurant work as well. But yeah, it very quickly turned into a photography business much more so than a blog.
Bjork Ostrom: One of the things that I think is so inspiring about your story is this transition that you had. And for those that are listening to the podcast, I would assume that there’s a subsection of people that would maybe have a similar story. Your, as you call it, road to recovery, it’s not related to photography, it’s not related to business necessarily, but I think it’s an important thing to talk about when it does come up. And I know there’s somebody listening to this that’s going to be able to be impacted by your story, that section of your story. What were the things that you learned about yourself in that process, and what would your advice be to somebody who has a similar story, who’s maybe struggling with alcohol and says, “This is a change that I want to make.”
Bjork Ostrom: What would your advice be to them as you reflect on your own story?
Joanie Simon: I think that what was so important was finally just coming clean about so much. I think me, in terms of my personality, I’m an A type personality, first born. I couldn’t be more a classic case, hard worker, very driven. And so everything looked perfect on the outside and looked so shiny. You look at my Facebook and all these things, “Oh, Joanie’s just got it all together.” And so it was a lot of secrecy and a lot of things behind the scenes that nobody other than my poor, sweet, patient husband was aware of.
Joanie Simon: And so when I came out and shared publicly because I don’t think that everybody who is an alcoholic or struggles with addiction should necessarily be so public about it, I think that’s a personal decision. But for me, I just felt really compelled that this was an important story to tell because I knew that that would also be healing to me, to be able to also be very accountable very publicly. And so when I shared that, it was in a blog post on JoanieSimon.com, and it’s actually July 4th, 2015. So it was like Independence Day, this is me declaring my independence.
Joanie Simon: And just shared like, “This is all out on the table. Here’s what I’ve struggled with, here’s what I’m going through, here’s where I’m at now, here’s how long I’ve been sober.” People were literally shocked, like best friends were hurt because they felt that like, “How did we not know that this was going on?” But I think so many times we can do such a great job of putting up this front of perfect. In reality, everybody’s got something. And so whatever that thing is, I think for me, it was finally coming clean about it. And what precisely shifted, I still continue to go back to what was that magic moment, but it really was just really being surrounded by a lot of love and not feeling judged, but then also doing it specifically for myself.
Joanie Simon: I didn’t get sober for my kids, although certainly they’re going to be in a much better place in the longterm because they don’t have an alcoholic mother, or not actively alcoholic. I had to do it for myself. So I think that it’s one of those things that you can deny for a long time, but certainly when that shoe drops and you realized, “You know what, I don’t want to hide anymore.” And I think that that’s been such a key then to the success of my business, is that I have nothing to hide and so what you see is what you get and it’s very transparent. And it makes my life honestly so much easier. People say, “How do you get so much done in a day?” And I go, “Oh man, I’m not drinking. Let me tell you how many great hours and high function I have now. It’s amazing.”
Bjork Ostrom: Well, incredibly courageous and incredibly impactful, and probably more than you would ever know in terms of … That’s the strange thing about the internet is, whether it’s a podcast or a blog post, you talk about it, you put it out there and people absorb that and respond to it. And when it’s such a positive thing, I think it’s impactful even just to hear somebody else’s story and their process in moving through something. In the video, you talk about how the leaving of one thing kind of coincided with the creation of another thing.
Bjork Ostrom: And that sounded like that creation was this part of you that was probably always there, but now was allowed to blossom in a different way around photography and creativity and food. So did you find a direct correlation with that or was that always there and dormant or what did that look like as you started to really lean into some of these things that are now such a big part of who you are and what you’re about?
Joanie Simon: I think that they were always there. I’ve had some sort of creative outlet since I was a itty bitty kid, so those things were always there. Now, was it directly a camera? Not specifically. Although I was having a conversation with my husband last night actually, about, he said, “If you’d asked me 10 years ago if Joanie was going to be a photographer, I would’ve said no, she’s got no interest in cameras.” But I said yes. I’ve always been interested in creating art, but the patience aspect of me is not patient enough to wait for an entire painting or something that’s going to take more time. So photographs are so immediate in terms of that that creative process.
Joanie Simon: But yeah, I think that what was very important too for me in making that break, I left my job. The last day of the job was April 30th, 2015. And so then I gave myself an entire month, that was a part of my process with my therapist. She said, “Okay, you need to give yourself some space to heal and you are one of these highly driven people that just needs something going on all the times so you really need to discipline yourself to do absolutely nothing.” Which a lot of us would say, “Oh, that sounds amazing. A whole month of doing nothing.” But it was one of the most impossible things ever and drove me up a wall because I just like … How do I sit still and not do something productive?
Joanie Simon: So that May play, is what we called it. We went to San Diego, we did things that we wouldn’t do otherwise. Financially, we just refinanced our house so that helped us financially float through that time as my husband ramped back up into his real estate business, which he had left to take care of the kids. It was a lot of different things, but I think that that period of rest was so important for that creative part of you. Because you can’t be creative when you’re just running 500 miles an hour and can’t see straight.
Joanie Simon: That creativity is a very nuanced thing. So it’s still something that I forget, and when I’m running on more cylinders than I have and I go, "Oh, this is clearly going to have a negative impact on my work, on my business, on the value I’m delivering to people. And so as much as we want everything to happen all right now, it’s that taking of time. That was an important part of the learning process for me. And also helpful then for the recovery aspect too, so it was beneficial to both sides of the equation.
Bjork Ostrom: I think people are interested in that period of time where it is the recreation process. So for you, it’s also like leaving this job that you had and knowing that you wanted to go into something maybe that you had a little bit more control over or maybe was a little bit more creative, and taking this in between period where I think a lot of people, and a lot of motivated people, and a lot of the people that listen to this podcast are motivated people, and say, "Hey, I’m going to leave my job, and then I’m going to get home at 5:00 PM on that Friday and start working, because that feels like what you should do. So in that, in between period, what are the things that you feel like you learned about the path ahead as you were starting this new venture?
Joanie Simon: I think it was a real acquaintance with myself and just who I am and what I value and what’s important. I really was very intentional about not working on anything. And you have to sit with things and sit with that uncertainty, I think that we like a guarantee so much to know like, “Okay, I can start making this happen right now and this is within my power.” And I think that some of those breakthrough moments, you can’t plan those to happen, you can’t force those to happen and you need to have that openness for it to arrive. Now, you’re like, “How do I create space for that?” And you can get so anxious in that process.
Joanie Simon: And it’s again, why that whole month of May was so anxiety producing, but then when I gave myself that full time, then as of June 1st, knowing that then I wanted to launch my blog on July 1st, it gave me like then a month where I was probably more productive than I’ve been in a long, long time because I really had saved up, I’d given myself permission to rest and that I was doing this for me and who cares what anybody else thinks. And that I think is also a big part of it just because I have always been, and I continue to try to work on this, but very cognizant about what other people think of me. And so that can also very much get in the way of that creative process.
Bjork Ostrom: Coming out of that month, what was the first thing that you? Did you maybe had some dominoes that you had lined up mentally? Even though you weren’t technically working, I would imagine that that period does involve some stacking of dominoes that you weren’t going to tip yet, but like your finger was ready to tap it right when you got back that first date, to start moving forward. In queuing those things up, what did you decide, "Hey, these are the next steps that I’m going to take in order to move forward on crafting this dream career?
Joanie Simon: I didn’t totally know what it looked like, but what I did know was that it involved a blog and I’d had other blogs as a part of the restaurant podcast and just other miscellaneous Wordpress sites throughout the years, and so I knew I wanted a recipe blog. First thing you got to do when you want a recipe blog is you go to foodbloggerpro.com and you get yourself a membership.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, okay. Thank you. For sure
Joanie Simon: Oh, I did that, and I went through all the things and figured out, unfortunately, I had a familiarity with Wordpress, but I took the time for the education part of it just in terms of constructing the back end and building out the site. I did go and I had had the contact from prior years to get a logo together and-
Bjork Ostrom: Whish is great, I have it pulled up here on other screen. What is the story behind it?
Joanie Simon: The chicken one?
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.
Joanie Simon: I have a tattoo on my arm that I got, when did I get it? Let me do all the timeline. A part of my recovery process with my therapist, she shared with me important story because once I really started moving forward in my recovery and sobriety I thought it was really important because family of origin is such an important aspect of the recovery and addiction recovery process. And so I brought my dad with me to therapy, which is terrifying. This man who thinks he’s got this wonderful, perfect daughter who could do no wrong, and there I am in a therapist’s office telling him I’m an alcoholic, and I did.
Joanie Simon: And the therapist looks at me, she’s like, “Joanie, you’re clearly like very shaken. Having told him that, what’s going on for you right now?” And I just said, “Now I feel worried because my dad’s going to be worried about me, ’Is Joanie out doing something? What’s Joanie doing?’Like I have now created a burden for him that that’s going to be occupying his mind because now I’ve burdened him with this issue in my life. And she said, ”Joanie, I got to stop you right there, that is not your control, that is his thing. It’s just like in life, you’ve got your yard and your neighbor’s yard, your dad’s yard,."
Joanie Simon: “And in your yard you’ve got everything going on, and your dad’s got this chicken in his yard and it’s kicking up dust and crap and making a mess. And so you either acknowledge the chicken and let it be and know that that’s his thing, or you open up your gate and then all of a sudden that crap is in your yard, and you’re dealing with it too.” It’s just the idea of, you can’t control other people, you can’t control their thoughts and emotions, that’s on them. And so if they’re out of flapping chicken, then you just acknowledge it and you can be loving and supportive, but ultimately not let it impact your yard, because really you’re only responsible for yourself.
Joanie Simon: And that was one of those aha moments through the therapy process, I said, “Oh, okay, this makes sense. I do not have to control the world, thank goodness, it’s a lot of work.” And so then the chicken just became like a really important symbol to me, and so I went through a local tattoo artist and she put the chicken that’s now on my shoulder. And then my husband who does digital renderings, things like that, he took that and turned it into then the chicken that’s in the logo. And then I took that to my branding gallons, I said, “Okay, I’ve got this chicken, can you make the rest of it look good and here’s my vision for colors.” Which then eventually turned into other content.
Joanie Simon: But yeah, The chicken is very important. So every so often in social media, if you see a chicken floating around in the comments, you’ll know what that’s all about.
Bjork Ostrom: It reminds me a lot actually of Stephen Covey wrote The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I think it’s in that book that he talks about this idea of circle of concern and circle of influence, and the idea being that you never want … I think this is what it is, but related in that, you don’t want the circle of concern to ever get bigger than the circle of influence, idea being that, everything that you’re concerned about as much as possible, keep that within the boundary of the things that you can actually influence. And once it gets outside of that, suddenly you have these things that you’re so concerned about that are outside of your circle of influence and that’s such a hard burden to carry because you can’t influence it, but it’s nothing that you can do to impact that.
Bjork Ostrom: And that’s been such a powerful concept for me in lots of different scenarios and it sounds like a similar idea. I like the idea of a chicken, is much more enjoyable to think about. We’ll roll with that one. And so you go through this process and obviously, it’s this big deal where you’re having this conversation, and opening that up to having that conversation with your dad, what do you feel from that, like the connection point with that? What was it from that that then allowed you to do and move into and move towards?
Joanie Simon: I feel like it was in part of it, and I think this is different for everybody, but again, being such a high achiever kind of personality, your parents, especially if you’ve got great amazing parents like I do, you want to make them happy and you want to make them proud, but then also sometimes you lose that process of growing up and becoming your own adult, if that makes sense. And so it started this major shift then even though I was, how old at the time? Like 32, however old I was, like, “Why is it 32 year old woman still being parented and concerned about what her parents think?”
Joanie Simon: But I think it was such an important distinction to really then qualify for us, like, “No, Joanie, you are your own person, your parents are their own people.” And that this new mutual respect grew and that there was a closeness there that we hadn’t had previously which healed just so much of me. And again, it wasn’t that anybody had done anything wrong, but it’s just the pure fact that we’re human beings and we’re flawed. And so being able to then grow with my parents through that process and really then identify myself as, “This is for me and what I’m doing is for me and I’m not going to apologize to anybody and I’m not going to feel indebted to anybody, guilt is out the door.”
Joanie Simon: And I think that by removing those negative feelings and those things that had so operated 24/7 in my DNA, that then that creativity was just given a real opportunity to flourish in ways that I hadn’t before. And so I think if you’re pursuing any creative endeavor and whether that’s creative in the artistic means or creative in any certain way, I think all humans are creative people, and so if you really want to tap into that, I think you do have to spend the time and go through the painful. It’s not fun, it’s painful, it’s awful. I wouldn’t wish it on anybody, but at the same time, it’s like the most powerful thing and important thing you can do as an artist and a creative person to let go of those things. And you can’t generally do that without facing some pretty nasty stuff.
Bjork Ostrom: That’s so inspiring, and the reality of a work that we see as like sitting at the computer or doing a photo shoot or things that seem relatively siloed are actually so personal. And the fact that you need to be right with yourself in order to be fully present to the thing that you want to be doing, creating, writing, photography, whatever it is, and how those are so intertwined and the introspection that requires, it’s one of the common themes that we hear on the podcast, is people talking about that. It’s not just tips and tactics and ways that you tweak something and then you find success, so much of it has to do with finding yourself in the process as well.
Bjork Ostrom: Along the way, you’re doing both of these things side by side. You’re going through this process of centering yourself and aligning this new version of who you are, along with a building out what is kind of this business that you’re creating. And along the way, I would assume that part of it is putting things out there and seeing what sticks, both from getting traction with the thing but also with you personally. Like, “What are the things that I like to do? Do I like writing as much as I like photography?” And kind of filling that out. Can you talk about, as you started to get into it, what you learned about yourself and the small changes and pivots that you’ve made along the way?
Joanie Simon: Yeah. I think that photography was important throughout the whole, from the beginning, that’s where I found the most excitement. Now, sometimes it’s so hard to be cognizant of yourself and what you’re doing and what you’re enjoying, but it was definitely those moments where I was fearful to do something, that something great was on the other side of it. And I think about like publishing, especially when you’re first starting a food blog or any digital content, like you second guess the publishing of it a lot of times, which I still continue to do. I get nervous anytime I publish a video, like in high school, “Somebody’s going to hate this.”
Joanie Simon: And so some of the early work that I had done, and I don’t entirely know where I get inspired to do this, but I just thought, “Well, if I want to get the attention of potential food brands for the work that I’m doing, I should include those brands in pictures that I’m publishing.” And so I did some of that and turned around, like for example, there was this Paffee recipe which I thought, “This is not even a recipe. This is just pound cake with pudding and whipped cream and sprinkles on top. I’m not going to be taken seriously.” But it had really pretty pictures and I was going to publish all these pictures.
Joanie Simon: I published their recipe and then I sent it through Facebook messenger over to Sara Lee Pound Cake because they were certainly pound cake and I said, “Hey, I loved your product for many years and here’s this recipe with these pictures on my blog,” and I left it at that. Well, it turned around a couple of weeks later, their PR agency also handles a portion of Tyson Foods and their corn dog division, which is completely random and very relevant though to the strange experience of being a food blogger, and you’re like, “Is this my life right now? Am I talking to somebody who specializes in corn dogs?”
Joanie Simon: And it turned into my first brand photography contract. When I look back, I’m like, “Oh, how much I didn’t know about photography then, I wish I could redo those shots.” But a very important stepping stone to then the process of seeing, “You know what? There’s a lot of value in what I do specifically in this photography aspect.” I don’t know if I can figure out, I’m sure I could if I sat long enough and figure it out, SEO and all of that stuff, but to me, that just seemed like the most, the connection was just made very instantly for me if I saw that there was a way to monetize this and do what I loved and continue to pursue that.
Joanie Simon: And there was a lot of second guessing along the way of, “Well, I’m not really a photographer and I’m not qualified to do this and I’m just the mom who’s running a food blog, like, who am I?” And so there’s so much of that, especially I think when you’re working from home by yourself and you’re just, “Oh, it’s impossible not to second guess everything.” Fortunately, I think that what was important throughout the whole process and what I really continue to learn is anytime that I’m doing something that I think just like that Sara Lee Pound Cake recipe like, “This is not good enough, probably this is not going to make any different.”
Joanie Simon: That might be a great opportunity, that might be something. And so, let’s not squash that. So anytime I second guessed myself, I just remind myself like, “There could be something really great on the other end of this. There could not be, but what’s the worst that could happen? Somebody says that’s not a recipe. And then, okay, go onto the next thing.”
Bjork Ostrom: I think in so many ways we are our own worst critics. And I think when we’ve talked to creators time and time again, this something that we hear is that, especially when you’re creating something on your own and putting it out into the world, it’s so easy to feel that and yet so important just to press publish on that. So you’re learning like, “Hey, this is actually something that I’m interested in working with brands in this case.” They say, “Hey, we’d love for you to help us with some photography at this point.” And if you were to look at a snapshot of your business, food photography blog, here’s some courses which we’re going to talk about in a little bit, percentage wise, what does that look like?
Bjork Ostrom: Are you working with a brand’s 60% of the time and then dedicating 40% of your time to some of the courses that you have? If you were to break that out in terms of what a typical day or week or month, not that there are those, but if you had to say what that looks like percentage wise, where would your time be spent?
Joanie Simon: As far as today, you’re saying?
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.
Joanie Simon: Currently the majority of my energy actually goes into my YouTube channel, the Bite Shot. It takes up, oh goodness, probably at least in terms of hours, anywhere from eight to 15 hours a week is tied up in any YouTube video, creation production, grading, food photography education, because I know that so much of now who I am and all the great things that I get to enjoy was because of what I’ve learned and what I know about food photography. And I know that there are other people who have that creative need and to be able to create some very specifically tailored content is exciting to me and to help shorten that learning curve because I’m like, “Oh man, if it hadn’t taken me so many years to learn new things and make all the mistakes first, I would love to shorten that.”
Joanie Simon: YouTube takes up the majority of it, and then I would say right behind that, then is photography for brands and for various clients. At this point, I’ve got a set list and I’m very fortunate, again, I think over years and time, and honing in what your business is, I’ve got a set list of clients who I just on a quarterly basis, we’re creating new content for them, new marketing materials, things like that. We’re going to be shooting some oatmeal later this afternoon, we do that on every three month basis and then also shooting for local restaurants, but I’ve got two little guys so it’s nice to be able to work out of the home most often.
Bjork Ostrom: And so for those that aren’t familiar with the Bite Shot, it’s an umbrella over the content that you’re producing for photographers and specifically food photography. And then there’s also some courses underneath that. One of the things that we’ve heard from people that had reached out was this interest in talking about flash photography. And that’s something that I think for so many people, we think first and foremost, I would assume people are like, “’Oh, we think about natural lighting,” and then the next thing that we think about is artificial lighting, but there’s this interesting category underneath that which is flash photography.
Bjork Ostrom: Can you talk about why flash photography is important and why you said, “Hey, this is so important that I’m going to create a course around this because I want to teach people about this.” It seems like this secret category of food photography.
Joanie Simon: The super top secret world. Yeah. Because I think that in food photography especially the natural light, because it’s treated like a king, and that we’re all running around at very specific hours to make sure we’re capturing the light just the way we want it in the right window. I’m just too much of a control freak for that, and so I knew that I needed artificial light, but that distinction between continuous light sources and flashed, is with flash the way that it works, you just have a greater degree of control over, especially your ambient lighting.
Joanie Simon: For me, for example, I live in Arizona, the valley of the sun. It is always sunny here, but the sun is almost too intense to a degree. It’s very hard to wrangle and make it look soft and appealing in the way that I visually want to express my food photography. And so, flash you have the ability to manipulate it through the things like soft boxes and various other tools like that, but it’s complicated subjects, that’s why there’s a whole course dedicated to it. But the idea that flash behaves in a way that is outside of your ambient light so that if I’m shooting, for example, I was at a restaurant yesterday and restaurants are notorious for terrible orangy overhead lights, which just are not flattering to food, but I need to make some images for a magazine spread.
Joanie Simon: So what do we do? Well, fortunately, I’ve got flash so I can shoot under these orange lights and be able to cancel that out by utilizing a faster shutter speed. So like at 1/200th of a second, if you were to take a shot of anything, you may not be able to see that if you’re taking that image indoors, it would just be a black image. But flash is independent from our shutter speed, which is the big secret magic trick to why flash photography is so absolutely wonderful for control, so that I can create my own lighting, I can cancel out any nasty orange lights or if I’m out on a patio that’s too bright and I need to control the sun, I can do that with the camera settings and utilizing flash.
Joanie Simon: It really simplifies the lighting scenario because a lot of times, especially too, when we’re working with a continuous artificial light source, part of the issues that I was running into because I went out, like everybody, went out and got the little ego lights and then I got some other LED lights and then I got these other lights, but the images to me just still looked flat and they looked muddy and they didn’t have this vibrant pop and the sharpness that I wanted. I was like, Maybe it’s my lens, maybe it’s my camera." You go and you buy all these things.
Joanie Simon: And then eventually, a photographer friend of mine said, “You know, Joanie, just try flash, you might be surprised.” Of course I went into it kicking and screaming because I’m like, “I have to learn how to do this, this is different, this is not the way that I know how to shoot and it seems so complicated.” But I went out and bought all of $120 worth of flash equipment, and suddenly I’m like, “Oh my gosh, these are the images that I had in my mind, this is the … ” Because it just simplifies the lighting in the sense that we’re no longer dealing with problematic ambient light or difficult lighting scenarios, we were creating very pure and simple light in that sense.
Joanie Simon: And what’s nicer food photography is that from an aesthetic perspective, we’re trying to replicate the look of just a window, like a window in a kitchen, a single window. So we’re mostly only dealing with a single light source too, it’s not like when you imagine these elaborate lighting setups that you think of, like on commercial sets, that’s not the kind of images that we’re creating. And so it’s quite simple, but there’s just a lot of education there. And so I really wanted to simplify that and deliver that in a high quality manner.
Joanie Simon: And so I knew I couldn’t do it in a 20 minute YouTube video and do flash photography justice, that’s why I created an in depth online course that at the same time is short enough that most people binge it in the course of a Saturday afternoon and then by Sunday they’re like, “Oh my gosh! why did I not know this was there?” And I just get so excited right along with them because I’m like, “I know! Right.”
Bjork Ostrom: That’s really interesting. It makes a lot of sense when you think of especially, shooting indoors and we have these, we’re in Minnesota, so the opposite of Arizona, we have these great short days, which then forces you to think about, “Okay, if I can’t access natural light in that same way, what does that look like?” A lot of times people think artificial light not necessarily flash right away. The way you’re saying is, even with artificial light, a lot of times you’re still dealing with the other light around you, especially if you’re doing a restaurant shoot for instance.
Bjork Ostrom: And one of the things that I thought was so interesting that you said is, the idea of flash canceling out that other light. Can you explain that concept a little bit? How that works in that flash is able to kind of deal with that ambient light in a way that just artificial light wouldn’t be able to?
Joanie Simon: When you think about a flash, when you use the flash on your camera, the one that’s built-in, that flash happens in an instant, like it’s so fast. And so that light, we think about the way that a camera captures light when the shutter is opening, and it’s the two curtains and dropping across the sensor and it’s creating that opening which is allowing for, of course the exposure of the image, but it’s also allowing a certain amount of light in. So if we have a slower shutter speed, 1/30th of a second, or even one second, but that’s letting a lot more light in to the camera, whereas if you’re at a faster shutter speed, that little opening is very small and zips right past the sensor, but exposes the image.
Joanie Simon: Well, even at a fast shutter speed, it’s not faster than the flash, the flash is happening faster than that shutter is opening and closing, if that makes sense. So the shutter which were used to being something that controls our exposure is no longer in charge of the entire exposure, it’s only in charge of that ambient exposure. So we can dial in a faster shutter speed, kill the ambient exposure, and rely just on the flash to capture, to create that lighting because that flash, it’s not being regulated by the shutter speed. It’s really, you’re dealing now with two different exposures, and I’ve got some, it’s one of those mind bending like, “Whoa.”
Joanie Simon: And for me too, as somebody who’s not necessarily science and technology, like in terms of math and physics and things, I go, “Oh, it’s a hurting my brain.” For those people who are maybe listening to this right now go like, “She is talking a different language that makes no sense.” The GODOX has some very tangible visual examples of how you can just see by manipulating your shutter speed in conjunction with the flash, how that greatly impacts your image and simplifies that lighting situation. And once you get through that, then the flash world opens up to you.
Bjork Ostrom: That’s awesome. And I know that people are going to be thinking this because this is a question we often get whenever we talk about this type of stuff, but it’s the gear question, and I know that people are going to say, “Hey, that’s awesome.” How do I take the first few steps? Obviously, like you said, especially in a podcast, it’s hard to explain this.
Joanie Simon: I want to just show them.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. That’s right. But if you were to say to somebody, “Hey, here’s what you need, to just take the first few steps.” Do you want to start experimenting with flash for your food photography? What are the pieces that they’re going to need? And maybe you can talk about the entry level things and then what you use as well, because I’m guessing like the camera you use isn’t maybe the entry level camera that somebody would buy if they’re first starting out.
Joanie Simon: Right. As far as where you need to start, and I’m happy to send you a link to it. It’s just free website, just the link with just the parts and pieces, because that is definitely like the overwhelming part of it, like, “How do I decide between all these lights?” So where I generally recommend people start out because you may not fall in love with flash quite to the degree that I personally have, but it’s still, I think such a very valuable tool to have. And so just starting out, I say start inexpensive, you don’t need to go spend an arm and a leg on this.
Joanie Simon: You can get an inexpensive speed light, speed lights you folks might have seen before, like a wedding photographer has that little light that’s attached to the top of the camera into the hot shoe, it’s just that little piece. So it’s a speed light, so you can get a speed light and then a trigger, because as food photographers, we don’t want the light coming from the camera, we want it coming from another direction, whether that’s like coming from the side or the light coming in from behind, so having some trigger then to communicate with the flash to go off remotely.
Joanie Simon: And so you get the flash, you get the trigger and then some stand and bracket to position that flash on, so that we can have our setup on the table and have our camera where we’re going to shoot it and then be able to position that light wherever we want the light entering in the scene from. Pretty much like the basic, that’s just the speed light, a trigger, a bracket and a light stand. And then as you experiment with it and get used to it, then you’re going to want to add something like a soft box or some other modifier. Modifier being the general term for anything that’s going to manipulate and change that light.
Joanie Simon: Because if you just throw the light from the flash, it’s going to look really hard and harsh, and you’re going to have those really intense lines that you think of when you usually fire a flash on your camera, you go, “That is not flattering.” And so going into the entire world of soft boxes and modifiers, but some of that is particular to your specific taste, because some people do like that bon appétit look right where they’re going through the harder, more intense shadows as opposed to people who want the super light and airy and ethereal.
Joanie Simon: Part of that is in the education as far as what’s really the difference between the modifiers, how do we manipulate the light and the way that we want it. And I make sure to address all of that because my intent with education always, no matter what format it’s in, is to make sure that I’m not just making people who are making images like, granted, we all make our own unique images, but I want to put the tools in people’s hands so that they can create then the images they have in their mind, because I love to see the variety and the creativity and the difference of the dark and moody and the light and airy. And yeah, those are the basic tools.
Joanie Simon: Now as far as people who really get into it, then they go, “Oh, okay, well, now I see that I want something maybe more powerful because I’m shooting really large setups or I’m shooting for eight hours a day,” which sometimes I’ll do. And so you want something that’s going to be a little more heavy duty. And so then you start looking at things like studio strobes, which also sounds a little overwhelming and crazy, but like I utilize a Amano light. It’s really a great device, it stands in the same position that you would put the speed bite, but it’s got an ability to … it’s got like a battery pack. And so it can last for an entire eight to 10 hour shoot, very powerful.
Joanie Simon: Like if I’m going to do a whole overhead of a whole table, I can light larger spaces with that. If I’m doing a kitchen shoot with a shaft, affords a lot of flexibility and it’s also got a faster cycle time. So we talk about like when that flash fires, it takes a lot of power for a unit to fire that intensive burst of light. And so with this more advanced studio strobes, you’ve got something that can fire the flash more quickly between. So if you’re doing those high action shots like we see people do with the slashes in crashes like they’re throwing milk across the room or they’re throwing wineglasses together, that you’ve got something that can pop off a lot of shot simultaneously, like one right after another, whereas you’re going to run into limitations of firsts with less expensive gear.
Joanie Simon: My recommendation to anybody just starting out who’s like, “I want to dip my toe in the pool and see how this looks,” for less than $200, you can get the light and all those basic starter things.
Bjork Ostrom: It’s interesting even I think that idea of taking the light that you traditionally mount on top of the DSLR, taking that off and then putting it on a separate trigger, it’s like, oh, that’s actually cool to think about, you separate that out, you create this, essentially like you would through artificial light, but instead of just this light that’s always on and shining, it’s flash. And so, you can redirect it, you can place it where you want and then with the trigger, as far as I understand it, you press down, it takes a photograph, but instead of the flash being on top, it’s wherever you positioned it, and so you can start to play then with sidelight or backlight and just to be really intentional with the angling of that, and then obviously set in reflectors or things like that.
Bjork Ostrom: So you can start to see how you can be really intentional with structuring that. Is there a specific, like with that entry level light, is there a specific brand that you like or a version of that brand?
Joanie Simon: Yeah. Most entry level ones are going to be fine, the one that I typically recommend and actually the one for the course, what I demo is all like standard basic. I’m using a crop-sensor camera, I’m using a nifty fifty lens. I’m not using more sophisticated super expensive gear. The Yongnuo, it’s kind of wacky name, I don’t even know if I’m pronouncing it right, but yeah, the Yongnuo.
Bjork Ostrom: It’s one of those, where it’s like you see it 100 times and then you’re on a podcast and you have to say it and you’re like, “How do you pronounce that.”
Joanie Simon: Yongnuo, they have the 560-IV,, which is pretty popular model of speed light, and then I’d have to look it up, but yeah, there’s another trigger that goes with it. It’s very basic, super easy and it’s not a ton of settings, not a ton of buttons. So if you’re worried and feeling like you’re going to be overwhelmed, it’s a great place to start, and should last you for a good long time. And then if you’re looking, though you can step up, then another actually inexpensive brand too is GODOX, G-O-D-O-X. They make great products as well. And actually all of my studio strobe equipment is all GODOX, and I’ve been super duper happy with that.
Joanie Simon: But then of course, the different camera manufacturers also make their own proprietary flashes and equipment as well, but you will find an additional price tag with those, but some people do prefer those and you’ll have some additional bells and whistles that come with those, things like a modeling light, which is the ability for the flash because of course, you can’t really see where the shadows and highlights are going to fall on your scene until you take a test shot and fire the flash. But a lot of those more advanced units will have the ability for a modeling light, which is a continuous light that is coming out of the same place where the flash will come, so that you can compose your scene, understand how the light’s going to behave and then fire the flash. So that is one of those bonus features.
Bjork Ostrom: That’s great. Last thing that I’m actually just curious personally to hear about is, you have your kitchen studio. So you’ve set this studio that’s not your actual kitchen, right? So this is a shoot studio. And I think a lot of people are interested in that concept of setting up a place where it’s a dedicated place for them to do photography or video or media of any type. What did you learn in setting that up and how does that function on a day to day basis for you within the business?
Joanie Simon: Yeah. Well, it’s not as glamorous as it sounds. I think a lot of people thought, “Oh, it’s a kitchen studio.” And then when people actually come here they go, “That’s it?”
Bjork Ostrom: It’s the magic of a set, right?
Joanie Simon: Exactly. It’s a magic of television. We actually bought everything used, which I would highly recommend. There’s a local like reclaimed, building and supply store that’s here in Phoenix that I utilized and got … I took my father-in-law with me and he is like a hardcore negotiator. And so it was like $600 and you talk to them down to 400. So we’ve got these super cheap. We did have to-
Bjork Ostrom: It’s good to have these people in your area.
Joanie Simon: I know. I was like, oh, I felt really embarrassed because I am not a haggler at all, I’m not good at that, but he … So we got a really good deal on those. We did refinish them and repainted the hardware because they were probably built in the 1950s, so they’re pretty old, but I didn’t need them to be super functional and then we’ve got to use cooktop and use oven and microwave, which they didn’t promise would work, but we’re like, “Well, it doesn’t really matter if it doesn’t work,” but lo and behold, we got it home and they actually do work. And then counter-top, we just got some laminate counter-top from Home Depot.
Joanie Simon: It was about, I forget exactly, I recorded it somewhere, but for about $2,000, I was able to create a fake kitchen that looks great. And it’s really wonderful too then in working with, I also do video for clients, and so when we need to do like hands and pans video or some sort of cooking video, that it looks like it’s an actual kitchen, and that there’s a cook-top there. It’s really fun. I think that it’s a great asset to have, but it’s certainly not something you have to have in order to have a productive business.
Joanie Simon: But yeah, it’s been fun and I’ve recently been toying with doing more of my Bite Shot photography videos in there because before I was like, “Oh, that’s only for cooking videos,” and you kind of make these weird little rules in your head. But I was like, “No, it’s really actually quite lovely, you get in there and do it.”
Bjork Ostrom: I should break that rule that I created for myself.
Joanie Simon: Right. I know it’s weird rules, but I think that the key is having enough counter top space and a large kitchen island. If you’re going to go for it, make sure you’ve got enough room on the kitchen island.
Bjork Ostrom: That’s great. We’re currently in the process, we have this. Lindsey described it as like Dunder Mifflin office space that we’re moving into, and we’re trying to figure out exactly what the kitchen will look like. So it’s always good to get some feedback from people who have done that. So we’re coming to the end here, Joanie. Really great interview, both from your story and then also kind of some of the tactical stuff on the photography side. I know a lot of people are going to be curious on how they can follow along, both with your YouTube and also check out your courses and the content that you’ve created there. So can you share a little bit about where people can find you and follow along with what you’re up to?
Joanie Simon: You bet. So the home base for everything, like all roads lead back to or out from a joaniesimon.com. So that’s a good sort of landing spot. But I do post to Instagram nearly every other day and a lot of what I include there are behind the scenes shots of, “Here’s the final image and then here’s the distraction and insanity and not so cute behind the scenes,” which people seem to enjoy and is a good sort of motivator for a lot of folks I think on the day to day. YouTube is YouTube.com/TheBiteShot. That’s where I do my weekly, it’s every Thursday, 7:00 AM Pacific Standard Time.
Joanie Simon: YouTube tutorials on any variety of something relevant to the topic of food photography. So like coming up, we’ve got one all about getting the ultimate cheese pole. It’s super important for food photographers. Just helpful little tips and tricks and tactics and demonstrations of that. And the courses that are all linked through joaniesimon.com, or you can go to the biteshot.com. So both of those destinations will work.
Bjork Ostrom: Awesome. And we’ll be sure to link to those in the show notes as well.
Joanie Simon: Awesome.
Bjork Ostrom: Joanie, thanks so much for coming on the podcast. So great to connect.
Joanie Simon: Oh, it’s my pleasure.
Alexa Peduzzi: And that is that, my friend. Thank you so much for tuning into this week’s episode of the Food Blogger Pro podcast with Joanie Simon. But before you go, it’s time to share the review of the week and this reviewer comes from iTunes, and it’s from Betsy Wallace from the podcast, The Dinner Sisters. It says, “Bjork, simple, calm, guidance and encouragement is a breath of fresh air in the business podcasting space. I appreciate the show’s niche focus on the online food space while also keeping an eye more broadly on the larger world of online business. I produce and cohost a weekly food podcasts, The Dinner Sisters with my sister.”
Alexa Peduzzi: “Each week, we cook and review three recipes from popular food blogs, so while we aren’t bloggers ourselves, we always find the interviews and content highly relevant and valuable. We’re both avid listeners and both chat back and forth each week about takeaways we can use in developing our own show and business. Thank you so much for producing such a fantastic show. We look forward to it every week.” Thank you Betsy so much for listening and for your kind words about the show. Good luck with your food podcast. And that does it for us this week, friends, we’ll see you here next week same time, same place. And from all of us here at FBP HQ, make it a great week.
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