Welcome to episode 330 of The Food Blogger Pro Podcast! This week on the podcast, Bjork interviews Ana Zelić from Ana’s Baking Chronicles about how she strategically improved her food photography skills over time and got her first cookbook deal.
Last week on the podcast, Bjork chatted with Andrea Balogun from Balogun Strategy & Design about how to craft an effective social media strategy. To go back and listen to that episode, click here.
Honing Your Craft
Ana is a food blogger, food photographer, and soon-to-be author, and she’s here on the podcast today to talk about her food photography journey!
Her debut cookbook “The Cake Chronicles” comes out November 30th, and in this episode, she shares why she doubled down on improving her photography skills, what tools she uses when shooting photos, how she got her cookbook deal, and what she learned going through the cookbook writing process.
It’s a really great interview, and we know you’ll feel so inspired after hearing Ana’s story!
In this episode, you’ll learn:
- How Ana started sharing food content online
- Why she decided to blog in English
- Why she shifted her focus to blogging rather than just sharing on Instagram
- How she grew her blog while working a full-time job
- How she got a cookbook deal
- How she developed her food photography skills
- What artificial lighting tools she uses for her photography
- Why she loves shooting tethered
- What she learned going through the cookbook writing process
- Ana’s Baking Chronicles
- Preorder Ana’s book, The Cake Chronicles!
- The Bite Shot
- Foodtography School
- Broma Bakery
- Growth University
- Artificial Academy
- Adobe Lightroom
- Capture One
- Follow Ana on Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest
- Check out the Food Blogger Pro YouTube channel (and subscribe while you’re there!)
If you have any comments, questions, or suggestions for interviews, be sure to email them to [email protected].
Transcript (click to expand):
Bjork Ostrom: Hello. You’re listening to The Food Blogger Pro Podcast. this is Bjork. Today we’re going to be talking to Ana from Ana’s Baking Chronicles, and she’s going to be talking about her journey into blogging full-time, what that was like and the kind of stress around doing multiple things at once. How she had to pull that off. She’s going to be talking about doing her master’s degree, doing a cookbook. She was working full-time at her dad’s business, which was in a very involved position. And then also working on her side, building her Instagram following to almost 45,000 followers and how she was able to manage all of these things. That’s a portion of what we’re going to be talking about. She’s also going to be sharing photography and how she documents such beautiful photographs and the significance of photography for capturing attention. And a great example of that is somebody coming to your site, seeing beautiful photography and thinking this person could document and create a cookbook, which she’s going to be talking about what that journey was like for her. So she’s an extremely talented content creator, very talented photographer, and we’re going to be digging into all of those things and trying to pull out some little pieces for you, the podcast listener that you can apply to your work, whether that be kind of the day to day in and out daily grind, or whether that be your art, your photography, your videography, whatever it might be. It’s going to be a great conversation. So let’s go ahead and jump in Ana, welcome to the podcast.
Ana Zelić: Hi, thank you for having me.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, It’s going to be a great conversation. We’re going to be talking about a few different things. One of the things that I’m most interested in hearing about with your story is something that whenever we do these podcasts, we have a little preamble. We have a little conversation, then we hit record and we record it again. But I want to touch on some of the things that we actually talked on before we hit record. First of all, want to hear a little bit about your story because within the year, you’ve transitioned to focusing on your blog, your Instagram account, and writing a cookbook and doing that full time. So before you were doing that, what was your focus? What did your days look like? And then we’ll talk about what the transition was after that.
Ana Zelić: Well, I’ve actually had quite a few transitions before this one. My biggest one was actually transitioning from a full-time student to a full-time adult who has a job. And I got the job. I started working for my dad right after I graduated. So that was also kind of stressful. But then…
Bjork Ostrom: Was it stressful because of the work or was it stressful you’re working in a family business with your dad? Or maybe both?
Ana Zelić: Both. It was both because it was literally a month after I graduated so I didn’t have much free time to focus on the blog. And I really, I just started my blog three months before I graduated. So it was all very fresh.
Bjork Ostrom: Did you know at the time you… Hey, I want to start this blog and I want to build this into a profession? Or was it kind of a side hobby or what was it?
Ana Zelić: Definitely not. I mean, I actually started a blog after one creation website, food website contacted me and asked, oh, if I have a blog because I posted my cakes on Instagram and after that, I got that idea on, maybe I could make a blog. But-
Bjork Ostrom: And how long had you been building your Instagram account at that point?
Ana Zelić: At that point it was April or May 2018. I maybe had like 200, 400 followers. Really nothing. It was just a high side hobby for me while I was finishing my school. And after that I really started focusing more on that because I always liked baking and everything. And then I made my blog it took me a full month because I didn’t know anything about WordPress domains and everything like that.
Bjork Ostrom: Everybody can relate. There’s so much to learn.
Ana Zelić: Yeah. And it’s taken me like a full month to actually like push my site live. But one thing that I did know was that I really wanted to write in English. So even though I didn’t know at the time that I had like this opportunity to maybe make that my profession, every choice that I made, I kind of make sure that if I ever go to that point, I’m like I had a good start.
Bjork Ostrom: Interesting. Smart of you to say, Hey, I’m going to start this and I’m not going to view it as my profession right away, but I want to leave the door open, if it should find success in a certain way, so that foundationally, I have the ability to kind of scale and build. And was the idea with writing in English that you wanted to focus on the US market for sponsor content or advertising, or was it more of just reach in general? What was kind of the thought process with that a hard decision or not?
Ana Zelić: Honestly, it was an easy decision and it’s kind of not based on any of what you said, because a lot of the things regarding the baking, especially cakes sure, I’ve actually learned in English. So a lot of terms and the baking vocabulary that I knew was actually in English. And I just felt this a sort of freedom of writing in a foreign language. It’s not like I’m to totally vulnerable. It’s I have this mask of a foreign language.
Bjork Ostrom: Interesting.
Ana Zelić: And then of course the second reason is, I mean, everyone speaks in English so if eventually if I made this into a job, then the reach would be wider.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. That’s great. And that has happened you’ve mentioned having 200, 400 follow followers on Instagram and now I think almost 45,000, is that sound right?
Ana Zelić: Yeah.
Bjork Ostrom: And growing your blog and also doing a cookbook deal. So you did talked about the transition of going from kind of student to working full time and I remember that transition myself when out of school. I was like, oh my gosh, I show up at 8:00 and then I’m just here until 5:00. It feels such a weird transition compared to what it’s like as a student, when your schedule isn’t, you still have long days, but it’s not the same.
Ana Zelić: Strict. Yeah.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, what was it that you were doing with your dad in terms of business and what did your job look like in that role?
Ana Zelić: Oh, I mean, I started like any regular junior. I mean, there wasn’t any sort of method to exam in the beginning. They really wanted me to get to know the base processes. They are IT firm. So they do the software and stuff. So my goal is to make sure to collect all the information, so the developers can make the best app possible because I graduated in economics. And their goal kind of with me he told me that later on was to navigate toward a finance of the firm and then everything later on. But I couldn’t let go of my blog so it was hard because my blog was just more creative and more challenging for me than staying in an office. I mean, if I didn’t have the blog, maybe I would’ve been more in interested in that field, in that work, but I feel like I’m destined to do some more creative work and just office research work.
Bjork Ostrom: Sure. And Instagram account and the blog, Ana’s Baking Chronicles. I want to make sure to mention that. At what point did you know that a cookbook deal was going to happen and had you made the decision to transition into focusing on your blog and your Instagram account before that? Or was it after the deal and you were like, okay, I know this is going to be focus for me. I need to have the space and time to do it. It’s really hard to keep up a blog, Instagram account, write a cookbook, and to work a full-time job.
Ana Zelić: Yeah. Cookbook deal was not a planned at all. It was actually a shock to me, and it came after I made the decision to focus more on the blog. And so 2019, yeah, the summer or autumn, I kind of started pushing more and more content focusing on my Instagram, on the blog, on building traffic, because at that point or what I’ve said until that point, I didn’t really know anything like keyword research. I didn’t do anything. So most of my traffic was actually luck. I think I picked very like lucky keywords that ended up ranking first. And then after that point, I just I knew about Mediavine and stuff so I really focused on just growing my traffic while working. So there were times when I would take images at 6:00 AM, just before work. It was challenging.
Bjork Ostrom: The time that you had it’s your early mornings, lunch break, late at night.
Ana Zelić: Yeah.
Bjork Ostrom: Very relatable.
Ana Zelić: And then I think it was March last year, I got this email and at first I thought it was a scam. It was a scam. Who would ask me to like write a book. At that point it seemed kind of incredible. And then I googled the publisher and then I realized, oh, they are real. And I actually have one of their books and then I was just shocked, positively.
Bjork Ostrom: What was that process like in terms of going through a cookbook deal, creating the content for it? And any advice that you’d give for people who are in a similar position, either looking to do a cookbook deal or people who are still early on, but want to set up a foundation of success so somebody might reach out to them and say in a similar way. My guess is there is something that stuck out about the content that you were creating that made people think, hey, there might be potential for a cookbook deal here. So any advice that you’d have for people either about the process itself, or potentially how to create content that might catch the eye of a publisher?
Ana Zelić: Well, I think one of the main reasons was maybe my of photography at the time. I was also very focused on just developing my photography skills. So I think that since I knew how to present my food in a nice way, that might have caught the eye of the publisher as well. But I don’t have like any, I feel real advice, except that I just feel that if you’re doing what you feel is right, and what you want to do and if you just put all of yourself else in it, I feel like there will come a time when your hard work will be recognized. At some point
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. It takes a lot of it, right? It’s hours and hours and there’s the concept of 10,000 hours. This idea of 10,000 hours is what you need to become kind of an next or a master in a certain category. And that’s a lot. It’s like a full-time job for five years is 2000 hours a year, five years, 10,000 hours. But to your point, I think if you are getting better, if you are doing good work, and if you’re putting that work into the world, there’s a really good chance that people are going to come across that and recognize that as good work. In terms of your photography journey, what did that look like in terms of where you started? Did you have any ideas about photography or no best practices? And then how did you quickly learn in order to get to a place where a publisher can look at it and be like, oh my gosh, this is great photography. We should work with this.
Ana Zelić: Yeah. Well, I started very early on learning about photography even before I started kind of posting on Instagram and before my blog, because I’m a kind of person that I really need to learn as much of the basics, as impossible, before I venture into something. Part of it is because I don’t want to majorly embarrass myself, but I do have perfectionism issues definitely. So I actually started learning on my own. Joanie Simon, actually, I started watching her videos in the late 2017 and she taught me how to use a camera in manual mode before I even got the camera, because I really…
Bjork Ostrom: You were way ahead of it. You don’t even have the camera and you’re learning how to use it.
Ana Zelić: No, it’s the way I am. I just thought if I learn a lot about it, maybe then I will knew, okay, no, this is for me. Or I really want to do this, or this is the camera that I want to get. I need like a base of information and then I can build on. And then I started myself learning and shooting, and then I saw it was just summer, I think 2018, Foodtography School was having a sale. It’s from that’s a Broma Bakery course. But at the time I was just finishing my school. I didn’t really have any money. And so one major point for me with when I got my job, half of my first paycheque went into that course. So, yeah, I kept making these in investment decisions when I thought they were right. Even though I didn’t quite know I really want to do this, but I feel like underneath it all, subconsciously I kind of did know that this is what I want to do.
Bjork Ostrom: It’s one of the recurring things that we hear people talk a lot about is investing in education. They just like, I want to learn this thing. I want to get better. I’m going to go through a food photography class course. I know Lindsay has done multiple in-person photography classes where you just block out the time and you say, I want to learn about this. Most recently, I’m going through a course and it’s like Food Blogger Pro, but except for Food Blogger Pro it’s like Growth University, that’s what it’s called. So it’s all about software and SaaS in growing software businesses. And it’s really fun to learn. And I think sometimes I forget how great it is to learn. I’ve been away from school probably longer than you have. And so it’s fun for me to get back into that, but it’s a really common and theme that we hear on the podcast is people saying, I had this thing that I wanted to learn. I wanted to get better at it. And there’s options to your point talking about some YouTube classes and content and that you can go through and occasionally courses you can go through as well. For you, what do you feel like were the biggest takeaways? I heard you talk about manual old mode, how to control your camera so you’re not just shooting an automatic and really adjusting aperture and the shutter speed-
Ana Zelić: Shutter speed. I saw everything.
Bjork Ostrom: I saw, yeah. What were the other pieces that you felt like were helpful in your photography journey to help you understand how to take better photos?
Ana Zelić: Well, shortly after photography school, I actually enrolled into Artificial Lighting course from Joanie, because it was winter then and was I was working online. Just, I couldn’t squeeze everything that I wanted to shoot over the weekend. So I quickly realized this is what I want to know. So one of the, I think biggest takeaways from my photography is definitely learning how to manipulate light because oftentimes it’s light that makes a great photography. I mean, of course you, you do need composition also editing skills. I feel like there are some people who feel like editing is like photoshopping in a negative way, but it’s not. It’s just camera doesn’t see what you see. Camera sees in her own ways. But I want to use that camera to make my own vision and I just need editing to make that happen.
Bjork Ostrom: You use Lightroom or Photoshop? What is your preferred tool to edit in?
Ana Zelić: My preferred it’s a Lightroom. I mean, it’s much easier and intuitive than Photoshop. I did started learning Photoshop last year because I needed to do some composites for my book, but I’m not really still like Photoshop savvy like I am in Lightroom. I would say, definitely lightning. Sorry.
Bjork Ostrom: Sure. That makes sense for sure. At the end, the significance of lighting and the impact that light can have on a final image. What do you use for your artificial light? Do you have like a set of lights that you really like? What does that setup look like?
Ana Zelić: I actually still have the flash that I bought when I enrolled in the course two and a half years ago, actually more, almost three. It’s just like a mid-range Godox, but I do have two or three softboxes. I have a really big one. I Think it’s 47-inch, one. And then I have some smaller ones when I want to recreate like a small window and stuff like that.
Bjork Ostrom: And Is that the idea with the softboxes? So if anybody were to see me, you’d see over my right shoulder I have actual window, but that potentially could just be a fake window with a big softbox and nobody would really know. Is it kind of the same idea where you’re essentially replicating what a window would look like when doing a shoot?
Ana Zelić: Yeah. Sometimes I would just physically move the light, maybe slightly in front over the food, but to still be a sidelight so that there’s that shadow. A window would naturally create on the back. And yeah, I love to play with light and shadows. I feel like when people want to create light and airy images, they often shut down shadows totally and I feel no. You need some contrary contrast, it’s still light. It’s still airy, but you need that three-dimensionality to really make the image pop.
Bjork Ostrom: So you have a big softbox. It’s kind of like a light. Do you have a reflector on the other side or do you put another kind of less powerful soft box? And then how does the flash play into it as well?
Ana Zelić: So I only use one source of light, one flash. I don’t have any other. I do have a reflector that I will use occasionally, but I won’t put it totally next to the food because I still want to keep some of that shadowed. But there are times when I just don’t use reflector because I want to make some drama when I want to make it’s a really sunny summer day. But, I mean, you only really need one light and then you can use whatever you have at home to block some of that light or reflect some of that light.
Bjork Ostrom: That’s great. So when you say a flash, is the softbox the flash? Is that’s what is that what’s flashing or the soft box always on and then you have another flash somewhere else?
Ana Zelić: Inside that softbox you have a flash unit. So that flash unit is, how do you say it? It exists on its own. It’s unit for itself. And then I have three softboxes of different side sizes that I put onto the light stand and then that flash just flashes the light onto that softbox, which then disperses the light onto the screen.
Bjork Ostrom: Got it. So you have one light source?
Ana Zelić: Yeah.
Bjork Ostrom: And then you can switch out the type of softbox, depending on what you want the light to look like. So, what is interesting, you only need one light source if you’re only going to have the light coming from one direction and so you were saying before, you might want to have it look like a small window, in which case you’ll put that flash behind a smaller softbox, or if you want it really to be dispersed in kind of diffused in a big area, then you’re going to put the larger softbox.
Ana Zelić: A large one. Yeah.
Bjork Ostrom: That makes sense. In terms of styling, I feel that’s another really important piece of photography that people don’t often talk about. Is there anything that you’ve learned about styling that has been helpful in regards to capturing a photo in the way that you want it to look like?
Ana Zelić: Definitely. I mean the photography school has taught me a lot of basics that I kind of see on some of the images, but I didn’t know how to name it such as layering technique or just composition techniques in general and stuff. So yeah, the course has taught me a lot. So once you start kind of using those bits that you learn, you’ll just at one point you’ll stop thinking about it and you’ll just do. You’ll just not naturally know I want to create a curve or I want to make some layers to create some of the dimension in the image and stuff.
Bjork Ostrom: It’s almost like house building where I could go and look at a wall that’s been framed up and I could see, okay, I understand that to be a two by four. I understand that to be a nail. I understand chip rock, but then what it takes is somebody explaining it and saying, here’s actually how you assemble that. Here’s some tips on how to do that well. And then you can take it and say, great, I’m going to like do it exactly you’ve done it a few times, but once you get good enough, you can start to say, okay, I know best practices. Here’s what I’m going to do that’s a little bit creative. I’m going to do create a little corner here that’s unique in terms of how the drywall goes on or whatever it might be. I don’t actually have any clue on how to build a house, but it feels like that’s one of the things that, to your point naming something, does is it allows you to understand what the tool is and then for you as a creator, you have that in your kind of tool belt that then you can refer to and give back to.
Ana Zelić: I love that. Yeah.
Bjork Ostrom: And I think a lot of times as creators, that’s one of the primary benefits we get from watching other people do their skill; is to see, oh, here’s how you assemble that. Here’s how you create that. What do think in terms of the start to finish process? What do you think are the most important tools for you as a photographer? My guess is Lightroom. Are there other things that you use that are, whether it be a gadget or software, that you use that help you with your photography?
Ana Zelić: Well, since I started shooting my book, so about a year ago, I really ventured into tethering. By that point I was just shooting blind or just on the, on the small LCD screen. But I think seeing my scene on a big screen definitely helps because instead of just clicking that shutter hundred times, you just need to click it two to three times because this is what I need my scene to look. So I use actually Capture One for the tethering because I shoot with Helicon, or as would in the US say, Nikon. So their software is not very good so I do use Capture One, which also has the ability to edit images like Lightroom. So I would say, in the past year that tethering, has really helped improve my comp composition, my choice of colors and stuff, because I could see what I was creating. And I also started just thinking it more through.
Bjork Ostrom: Sure. So Capture One is a tethering software. So you run that on your computer and then… Can you talk through the actual. This will be you tapping into your IT previous life, your IT work. But can you talk through actually how that all works. And then what screen are you using to do the tethering?
Ana Zelić: So Capture One, I think is primarily photo editing app just Lightroom, but it has that ability to connect your camera via HDMI or whatever cable you have. So you can connect your camera to your computer, and then you just enter capture one and then the app application should recognize your camera. And then you should just hit live view. There’s a little button and suddenly your computer screen is showing your camera’s LCD screen.
Bjork Ostrom: Got it. It’s almost like-
Ana Zelić: Sorry. And then you can also change the ISO, the shutter speed and the aperture directly on Your computer on that app. So you basically don’t need to use your camera. It just serves you to show the image on the computer.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. It’s almost then the back of the camera becomes this huge screen and you’re able to kind of control and manipulate that. Are you shooting off of a tripod usually as well?
Ana Zelić: For that, yeah. For that I’m using actually a C-stand when I do a flat lays. So, yeah I will actually mostly use tethering when I do flat lays, but actually when I did my cover image of my book, I did shoot on a tripod because I really wanted to capture the smoke and the canton candles and I took 15 images or so with that.
Bjork Ostrom: So speaking of, your book’s coming out soon. Can you talk about one thing that you learned in the process of doing cookbook? What was your takeaway? We kind of touched on that a little bit, but this will be kind of, as we wrap up here, another touch point. Is that something you would do again? Was it harder than you thought, easier than you thought? What was that process look? How did you manage doing that and keeping your blog up?
Ana Zelić: Well, to answer your last question, I didn’t really sure manage to do that and keep my blog alive. I mean, that is just how it worked for me. I know that some people maybe have better. They just better manage their time or I don’t know. For me, I feel I underestimated it a bit, the whole book process thing or I just thought that I would be quicker but I just couldn’t be because my book is half of them is layer cakes and you do need quite a bit of time to make a layer cake. Just for it to chill to make the buttercream to solidify, decorated in the right way and not to mention all the testing prior to the final version. So even if it was a bit hard, I’m really grateful for that opportunity because I’ve seen firsthand how to work with a publisher, how the deadlines work, how to work with a designer team, how to create cover. There are all these small little processes that you just pick up on and I also learned how to write better recipes instructions, which will be beneficial for my blog.
Bjork Ostrom: What’s an example of that? How did you change in terms of the recipe writing from start to finish?
Ana Zelić: I mean, I didn’t change that much. I was always trying to be very descriptive and very detailed but for one, I learned that when you write your ingredients, in the bowl put the flower balloon. That you should always mention the, you need that article. You shouldn’t just try to put flower. Put the flower, put the baking powder and stuff. So I just maybe picked up some of the expressions because I’m good with basic ones. But when I tried to explain some decorating techniques, then my editor really came in handy because she knew how to translate better what I really wanted to say and explain.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, it’s interesting because I think in our conversation, there’s kind of two ways of education. One is the previous way you described, which is information gathering, learning how to shoot manual before you get your camera. It’s really having as much information as possible and then moving forwards. And the other one is you probably never, would’ve been fully prepared to the point where you would’ve said, okay, I have everything I need to write a cookbook. So you just do it and a lot of the learning comes from doing it, moving into it.
Ana Zelić: Yeah, definitely.
Bjork Ostrom: And I’ve seen that. I can think of countless ways where over the last five, 10 years that’s been true for us as well. How do you do a podcast? Well, you just kind of start and you put the pieces together as you do it, or how do you hire somebody to be a part of your team? Well, you kind of say, what do I need to figure out next in order to move this along? You’d figure out that little thing and you keep moving forward with it and I think that’s inspiring to hear you really to do both of those things when you can to think, to prepare to research. But then also to say, I’m just going to dive in. And in this process of doing it, I’ll learn a lot from it, which it seems was the case. So when does it come out? How can people buy it? And we want to make sure that you get a chance to give it a shout-out. And then what is the name? Thanks.
Ana Zelić: So the name is actually game on my blog name so it’s The Cake Chronicles and it should come out November 30th in North America and for the rest of the world there will probably be a small delay due to the shipping time and just the pandemic and everything.
Bjork Ostrom: Weird operation logistics world we’re living in now.
Ana Zelić: Current global events, that’s what I call it. But yeah, I just so far so good that everything is going, according to plan, I’m also finished with a small bonus ebook for all pre-orders. I’m just waiting for my editor to just confirm it. I really wanted to give some extra to the people who support me and yeah, you can buy it on Amazon. I actually have a whole page dedicated on my blog with all the links and information on how to buy it.
Bjork Ostrom: That’s cool. We’ll link to that in the show notes and big congratulations to being on the side of it. I’m sure it’s fun to be talking about it as opposed to just working on it.
Ana Zelić: So definitely, yes.
Bjork Ostrom: It’s ready.
Ana Zelić: This is the fun part.
Bjork Ostrom: Okay, right. Ana, if people want to follow along with what you’re up to. Where’s the best place to find you?
Ana Zelić: Yeah. Currently, on my Instagram, you can find me at @anasbakingchronicles or my blog anasbakingchronicles.com but you can always also shoot me an email. I’m pretty good at replying. I think so.
Bjork Ostrom: Awesome. Hey, thanks so much for coming and sharing your story. We really appreciate it.
Ana Zelić: Thank you so much for having me. I really had a nice time. So thanks.
Bjork Ostrom: It’s a wrap for this episode. Thanks so much for tuning in as a reminder, just go ahead and hit subscribe or follow if you haven’t already in your podcast app of choice, Spotify, the Apple Podcast app, or you could just go to foodbloggerpro.com/podcast. We will always put up the episodes there and some people to actually just read through them. So we have the show notes accompanying every podcast episode and that also includes the transcript. So if you just to sit and read as opposed to listen, you can do that as well when we have that available on foodbloggerpro.com/podcast, as well lots of other elements. So go ahead and explore. Dive in there. The Food Blogger Pro team does an incredible job rounding up all the different places that we are around the web, putting it in one spot and making that available to you and that’s foodbloggerpro.com. Thanks so much for tuning in. Our hope with this is that we can help you get a tiny bit better every day forever that’s why we exist, and that’s why we show up here each and every week. We’ll be back here next Tuesday. See you then.