314: Creative Food Photography – How Kimberly Espinel Teaches and Inspires Food Photographers

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An image of hands holding a camera and the title of Kimberly Espinel's episode on the Food Blogger Pro Podcast, 'Creative Food Photography.'

This episode is sponsored by Clariti.

Welcome to episode 314 of The Food Blogger Pro Podcast! This week on the podcast, Bjork interviews Kimberly Espinel about how she has grown her business teaching food photographers how to find their unique style.

Last week on the podcast, Bjork chatted with Charli Prangley about how she grows her business, builds her team, and does the work she loves. To go back and listen to that episode, click here.

Creative Food Photography

When you’re just starting out as a food blogger, it can be hard to find your personal style. You might find yourself emulating the style of other creatives and struggle to find a rhythm that works best for you. And that’s where Kimberly comes in!

Kimberly is an award-winning food photographer, blogger, teacher, and author who helps food photographers find their unique style. She talks about how she grew her business, how she is able to create content that serves her community, and why she thinks focusing on your mindset is so important when working as a creative.

Her passion for her work shines through in this episode, and her story will leave you feeling inspired and motivated to continue creating meaningful content for your audience.

A quote from Kimberly Espinel's appearance on the Food Blogger Pro podcast that says, 'For me, where I'm stepping into my role as a teacher, is to really support people in finding their own, unique, creative style.'

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • Why she launched her podcast Eat, Capture, Share
  • Why she thinks creatives can be incredible businesspeople
  • What prompted her to launch her food blog
  • Why she decided to shift her content to food photography
  • What ikigai means
  • How she checks in on her business daily
  • Why she loves positive self-talk
  • Why focusing on your mindset is so important as a creative
  • How she teaches students to find their unique photography style
  • What a color story is
  • How she reaches out to brands
  • Why she thinks it’s important to create photos that your ideal customer is looking for
  • Why she loves creating online courses
  • How her Instagram Food Photography challenge works


About This Week’s Sponsor

We’re excited to announce that this week’s episode is sponsored by our sister site, Clariti!

With Clariti, you can easily organize your blog content for maximum growth. Create campaigns to add alt text to your posts, fix broken images, remove any broken links, and more, all within the Clariti app.

Sign up for the Clariti waitlist today to receive:

  • Early access to their $25/Month Forever pricing
  • Optimization ideas for your site content
  • An invitation to join their exclusive Slack community
  • And more!

You can learn more and sign up here.

If you have any comments, questions, or suggestions for interviews, be sure to email them to [email protected].

Food Blogger Pro logo with the words 'Join the Community' on a blue background

Transcript (click to expand):

Bjork Ostrom: This episode is sponsored by our sister site Clariti. You’ve heard me talk about it a few times now on the podcast, and it’s a tool that I’m really excited about. We’ve been spending a lot of time and energy thinking about how we can build Clariti as the go-to source, the tool for bloggers who want to learn how to organize, optimize, update their blog content in service of growth. That’s what we’re after. And we’re looking to build a tool to help bloggers do that. And it came out of some of the things that we were doing for Pinch of Yum. Clariti gives you insights into the way your content can be stronger and more valuable for your readers, either through automatic suggestions… It’s not really suggestions, it’s just information like, hey, the alt text is broken here, or alt text is missing. You need to go in and fix that. Or the links are broken, you need to fix those.

Bjork Ostrom: So not only does it help you optimize your library of blog content, maybe you have multiple hundreds of posts or, for some of us, even thousands. But once you do that, it’ll help increase your traffic, SEO ranking, revenue, but it also helps validate your updates with a direct integration with Google Analytics. So what we’re doing is we’re saying, hey, we want to, we want to tie all of this together. So we want bloggers to have the ability to not only understand their content, to see the hundreds or thousands of pieces of content that they have, to also see some areas they could improve that. Maybe there’s some things that are broken or missing that you could add.

Bjork Ostrom: We want to allow people to also create campaigns, so if you do have things that you want to improve, great. You can create a campaign around that and say, hey, these hundred pieces of content, we want to optimize these hundred pieces of content. You’d use in Clariti what’s called a campaign.

Bjork Ostrom: But we’ve also just released a new feature that integrates with Google Analytics. So now you can make a note, you say, hey, I made this update, and you can start to see what are the pieces of content and how have they performed over a certain period of time. So you can look back and say, over the past 30 days, is there any content on my site that has gotten zero page views? None of us want that, but maybe that’s a consideration around, should I have this piece of content on my site? Or should I treat this a little bit differently? If it’s just there and kind of taking up space, maybe I want to either republish it or just remove it. Some people do that with their content. They say, how do I filter out this content? Or maybe you want to look back and say, hey, over the past seven days, what’s the piece of content that’s been doing the best?

Bjork Ostrom: Or 30 days, what’s the best piece of content that’s been doing the best? Maybe I want to focus on some monetization efforts on that. Could I add a video to that piece of content that is going to earn higher ad revenue? So you have an ad player like through AdThrive or Mediavine, you create a video player and add that. It’s a great way to optimize revenue, to start to think strategically around some of those decisions. And we’re building Clariti as a tool to help people do that, ourselves included. So Clariti is C-L-A-R-I-T-I.com. And all of this happens automatically. So you set up your blog with a plugin that we have, you connect your Google Analytics, and all of your posts’ information appears within Clariti, it integrates with Google Analytics, and our goal is to make it as simple as possible to understand that.

Bjork Ostrom: And what we’re doing is we’re offering early access. We’re calling it 25 Forever Plan for Clariti. For anybody who wants to sign up early, be an early user, you can go to Clariti.com/food, F-O-O-D to sign up and get on that early access list. We’re doing the 25 Forever Plan for anybody who signs up early as a thank you to signing up early, and also as a way to say, hey, no matter what down the line, when we increase the prices, your account will not go up. It’s $25 forever. You’ll be locked in. Even if Clariti goes to a more expensive price, point, $50, $100, whatever it might be, as an early user, we will honor that 25 Forever Plan that you signed up for. So again, it’s Clariti.com/food. We’re excited about this. It’s going to be something that we’re focusing on, not only for ourselves to use for Pinch of Yum and the other sites that we have, but also for our users.

Bjork Ostrom: It’s one of the things that we love doing. We did that with WP Tasty as well, is building a tool, spending lots of time, money, energy, resources, building the thing that we use ourselves, in this case for Pinch of Yum and for the other sites, but then offering it up for other people to use in a way where you don’t have to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars building this thing. You only have to spend $25 a month if you sign up for the early access program. So Clariti.com/food is the best way to get there. Thank you to the Clariti team for sponsoring the Food Blogger Pro Podcast.

Bjork Ostrom: Hello, everybody. This is your host and you are listening to the Food Blogger Pro Podcast. My guess is that you know that you’re listening to the Food Blogger Pro Podcast. Just feels like something that I should say every time that we start.

Bjork Ostrom: Today’s interview is with Kimberly Espinel, and she is from The Little Plantation. Her focus is food photography. She actually wrote a book, Creative Food Photography. It’s a beautiful book, and we’re going to be talking about food photography, and actually going into the interview, I thought, hey, we’re just going to focus in on food photography 101, what gear do you need? What settings should you use? But what I found as we moved into the interview is that we actually started to talk a lot about creative business, and how as creators we can move into doing business confidently. And some of the mindsets and frameworks that we can think about as we venture into that world as creative people. Kimberly is going to be talking about some of the things that she’s learned, and also some of the things that she does with the students that she works with and how she helps them along.

Bjork Ostrom: So if you are a creative person, who’s interested in photography, building a business, and you want to do that well, you want to do both the creative and the business side really well, this is going to be a great interview. We’re excited to share it with you. So let’s go ahead and jump in. Kimberly, welcome to the podcast.

Kimberly Espinel: Hi, Bjork. I am super excited to be here. Thank you for having me.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, this is great. I always talk about this. It’s really wonderful when people come to the table, you have your mic, you have your sound insulation all around you. It’s awesome. You’ve done this before. So you have a podcast. Tell us a little bit about that as we get into things. What’s the focus for that, and how long have you been doing it?

Kimberly Espinel: Yes. So my podcast is called Eat Capture Share, and very similar to yours, it’s really aimed at food bloggers as well as food photographers. People who are really into the visuals of food, that’s the focus. But we look at the social media side and the marketing and the business side of things, as well as the creative. So it’s kind of like that. I started the podcast two and a half years ago now, and I felt there was a woman of color voice missing, that just took a very female perspective on both sides of the coin, the creative and also the business side of what it actually means to be a food photographer and food blogger.

Bjork Ostrom: When you work with students or in a workshop, and maybe it depends on what the actual workshop is about, do you find yourself talking more about the creative, or more about the business or is it like, it depends, and both are equally as important?

Kimberly Espinel: Yes. So I would say that the vast majority of students that come really come for the creative. I would say actually up until the pandemic, 85% of the things that I shared was more creative focused. But then the pandemic came, and what I noticed was that a lot of people were actually struggling to make ends meet. And also that as more and more of us are doing food photography and becoming food bloggers, that there were so many people teaching the creative side, and actually my gift is to share more of the business side, because it’s all good and well to know your camera and to know color theory and to be passionate about it, but then it’s a whole other ball game to actually make an income doing what you love. So I’ve shifted a little bit more towards that since the pandemic, and yeah, I feel like I’m stepping into what I’m called to teach.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s cool. I think of my dad, who does pottery, and he talks about his friends who also did pottery and ceramics, and some of those people in his network, they were doing it full time. And one of the things he would talk about is a lot of them also had this edge in business and operations, and it’s a really rare combination to be both an artist and also to understand business and operations.

Bjork Ostrom: I think of the work that… So Lindsay, my wife, Lindsay. You are vaguely familiar, I think, with the podcast so know our story. She does Pinch of Yum, and that’s the creative. And we have a team that we work with that does that. I do operations type stuff. That’s just kind of worked out that way.

Bjork Ostrom: For some people, they are creative, and they might not have somebody who is business-minded operations, or they might be business-minded and operations, but they don’t have somebody who they can work with to do the creative, and they don’t feel like they are the creative. I think of our friend who talks about left brain, right brain. I need to hire a left brain to help me. How much of it do you think is somebody learning those skills saying, “Hey, I feel like I am a creative. That’s what I love doing. And I know that I need to do the business stuff, so I’m going to learn it.” Versus, “I just need to hire somebody and they need to help me do it.” Do you have thoughts or opinions on that?

Kimberly Espinel: Yes. So, the best situation is that you hire for the areas where you’re weak in. So that could be business, it could be website development, it could be whatever the case may be. So that’s always the ideal scenario, but my audience, and I’m guessing a lot of your audience too, are at the beginning stages of their creative journey, where hiring out just isn’t quite within reach yet.

Bjork Ostrom: Realistic. Yep.

Kimberly Espinel: And so I think, I actually think it’s much more of a story that we’ve told ourselves. So we have that struggling creative, struggling artist. That that somehow has stuck with us. And then also, a lot of people go into creativities because they’re passionate about it. It’s not because they want to run a six-figure business. That’s not often the motivation. And somehow it feels that if you do pursue the financial side of things, you’re selling out or you’re not fully committed to your art or whatever.

Kimberly Espinel: I actually think that we’re in a really good position as creatives to be incredible business people. I believe that because I feel that business is about communication, and we communicate so much through our visuals. And it’s about thinking and problem-solving in a creative way. Like, how can I sell this, or how can I get to that brand? I think it’s fascinating. And I have to say, my background is, I was an adoption social worker for 15 years, so I did nothing business-related. And it’s not a language that I ever knew about. But I think once you crack that code, a whole new world opens up, and you can share your work with so many more people and have your work be so much more impactful that I would love us to shift the narrative and allow ourselves to be the business people that we can be.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. That is so cool. Really cool to hear your backstory. So Lindsay and I, if you were to put all of our siblings together, we’d have more adopted siblings than biological siblings. So adoption is a really big part of who we are in our families, and just such a wonderful thing. So thanks for your work in that realm.

Bjork Ostrom: When did you know that you wanted to make a switch, and how did you know the switch that you wanted to make was to this kind of hybrid world of food photography, food media, but then also creative business?

Kimberly Espinel: I would say my route to becoming a creative business owner, a food blogger, food photographer was really by a back street. That’s how I would say. Because I loved my job. I loved what I did. I saw myself doing that for the rest of my life. And then I gave birth to my son, and that really threw everything on its head, because as you will well know from having had siblings who have gone through the adoption process, it’s not as sort of job… I did adoption and fostering as well. It’s not a sort of job where you can go at 5:00 PM, see you later.

Kimberly Espinel: If you have a family who are struggling or a child who’s run away or whatever the case may be, it’s just not a clear cut nine to five. And then also, I live in London, in the UK, and the way that things are set up, it took me an hour to get to work. So it really meant that I wasn’t seeing my child for 12 hours a day. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Everybody finds a path that works for them, but that set up didn’t work for me. And so I realized that I wanted…

Bjork Ostrom: You had this realization, I love this thing, but it’s not working for me. And so then what?

Kimberly Espinel: Then what? Exactly. So I really did a lot of soul searching, and I was like, okay. I want a career that fits around the needs of my child. What am I passionate about? What would I like to do? So he was born in 2010. That was kind of when food blogs were emerging, when they’re becoming a thing, Joy the Baker and all the things. I read them, I marked them. I loved them. And I’ve always been passionate about food. So in fact, what I did is I decided to retrain as a nutritional therapist. So that’s what I did, and then I decided, let me start a food blog so that I can document. I switched to a plant-based diet, and then we document those recipes, start a food blog so that I can attract an audience. And by the time I graduated, I was getting paid work as a food blogger and as a stylist. Then I actually decided, you know what? This, I love this. So I went all in and that’s kind of how it all came to be.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, that’s really cool. One of the things that I love about that is, and one of the things that I think we often see, is people starting out saying, “Hey, I’m going to go the path of nutritional work.” You start to do that. And in deciding confidently that’s where you want to go, there is this other world that’s introduced to you. And that allows you to then have the opportunity to shift a little bit and to say, “Actually, this is where I want to go.” The point in that is encouraging people to not get too bogged down in saying, “What if I don’t pick the right thing?” But to be light on your feet and say, pick somewhere, but also be open to the subtle shifts and changes that might come as you learn more about yourself and your passion and your area of interest.

Bjork Ostrom: But along with that, you have to pay the bills. So what did it look like for you as a business owner to say, “I know that I’m interested in this, and here’s how I’m going to make this work from a financial perspective?” Were there decisions you had to make along the way? Did you say, “You know what, I’d really love to do this, but it’s not working, so I’m going to do this thing that is more financially viable.” You knew the creative, so what did the business side look of it and the decisions along the way with that?

Kimberly Espinel: Yes. So when I started my nutrition studies, I moved from working full-time to part-time. So I still had my adoption work. I had that income stream, so to say, and I also have a partner who worked full-time. Yeah, but as the blog was developing and gaining momentum, I started getting approached by brands for sponsored content, and I styled a cookbook and lots of little, little jobs came to be, so that, by the time I graduated, I had proof of concept. I had an income stream. It was nothing to write home about, wasn’t as though I won the lottery or anything, but…

Bjork Ostrom: But we say, if you can make a dollar, you can make two. And so if have a thousand dollar month, you’re like, “Wait, if I do this a little bit different and change this and do more of this, then maybe this could work.”

Kimberly Espinel: Exactly. So that’s exactly that. I was just like, “You know what? This is possible.” So what I did is I gave myself a year. I said, “You know what, let me give myself a year. I’ve got enough in savings. I can do this.” So I just gave myself a year.

Kimberly Espinel: And then the other thing, to piggyback onto what you said before, is I also looked at my blog stats and I looked at the content that was performing really well and the content that wasn’t resonating. And ironically, when I wrote about nutrition, people weren’t that interested to hear that from me. But when I wrote content around food photography, I had lots of blog hits. Then I also had somebody randomly contact me saying, “I’m going to be in London for a couple of days. Will you teach me food photography?” And I’d never considered that. Then she came and she paid and I was like, wait a minute. All of these pieces are telling me something. So I shifted my content more towards food photography, and that’s really when things took off, as it were.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. It’s interesting. It feels like a really good example of having your ear to the ground and saying, what are the little movements and changes that I see happening around my business and the content that I’m creating? And there’s this combination of stick-to-it-ness, especially in the world of publishing, of content, and creative work, you have to commit to the thing for a long period of time. But to contrast that, you also have to be willing to change to the needs of people. There has to be this intersection of what you’re interested in doing and directionally where you’re going, with what do people need and what will they pay for, whether it’s a sponsored content, whether it’s a workshop, and finding that balance between those.

Bjork Ostrom: So do you have any advice for people who are at that point, where they’re trying to find, what am I good at, what am I interested in, and what do people actually need and what will they pay for and finding that intersection?

Kimberly Espinel: It’s called ikigai or something like that. There’s that Japanese-

Bjork Ostrom: I’m not familiar with that.

Kimberly Espinel: Yeah. There’s a Japanese term for it. I don’t want to butcher it, but I think I’ll maybe if we can put it in the shownotes — it’s these three circles and where they all collide is the… I think the one part that a lot of food bloggers at the start of that journey skip is the tuning into what your audience wants. And that can either be, very obviously you can see the posts that people comment on on Instagram, especially, or the stuff that’s pinned more on Pinterest. But I do like to dig deep into two other areas. So one is blog stats or an Instagram, you also have insights. So I tend to do that at the end of the month. I kind of look at my Instagram stories, my posts, the newsletters I send out that have the best open rates.

Kimberly Espinel: And I try and see is there a common denominator, and then really hone in on that. And then also very boring, but very necessary is actually look at my spreadsheets. Look at where is my income coming from? Did I have a client who booked me for food photography? Can I contact him or her again and see if we can work together again? Or is there a preset that I sold that’s selling really well? Can I push it to the front of the blog? All those little things, that I do take out time at the end of the month to do the review, and I feel it’s made a huge difference. Where I didn’t do that at the start I didn’t do. I was just like, I’m just going to post anything. So there is some thought process and some intentionality behind to make growth happen.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. I think sometimes what we can do is we can get so heads down that we just churn out stuff. We get in production mode. We photograph, we do video, we write blog posts, we do social, we respond to everybody, whatever it is. And I think the act of reflecting and analyzing sometimes doesn’t feel like work, but I think of the analogy of, if you have eight hours to cut down a tree, you sharpen your ax for seven and you cut for one. I think there’s something to be said about that. Maybe that’s not the exact spread of time, but even for some people to say, well, just take at least an hour to sharpen your ax.

Bjork Ostrom: Especially with knowledge work, it feels like some of the work of knowledge work is just thinking about work, which seems a little bit like work inception. But what does that look like for you? Do you schedule that time? Do you say, “Every Friday at the end of the month, I’m going to do this.” Or is that just naturally a way that you operate now where you take out your spreadsheet and you say, “For the previous month, here’s how much work came in and what areas. What can I do more of? What can I do less of?”

Kimberly Espinel: Yeah. So, Bjork, I don’t know if you want to cut this out, but I can just tell that you’re excited about talking about this. Like this is the stuff that you love…

Bjork Ostrom: Great. We’ll leave it in. That’s your coaching ability to glean insight on this, which is awesome.

Kimberly Espinel: This is the geeky stuff. This is the geeky stuff, but this is where it all happens. So I’m obsessed with journals and productivity. I have three journals, and one of them… Again, maybe we can put the link in the show notes. I love it, because it has at the front, it has your goals. So for me, I always have an income goal that I set for the year. And then it has your daily goals and your priorities around that. And so I really try and tie those to, if my income goal is X, Y, Z, what can I do today to move the needle forward? I got to look at my stuff.

Kimberly Espinel: I do that daily. I check my income daily. I do my accounts. And part, I also think that helps my mindset. So if I feel like I’ve just lost a client, or I did a discovery call with a student and they didn’t book, sometimes we can feel down, but then I go back and actually no. Somebody bought my presets today. It’s a little boost, and I think we need that when we’re working for ourselves, to know that we’re moving forward. But I check daily, and then I check at the end of the month because of the accounts that I do. So it’s a daily thing, just a checking in, and just… Because I think if I see that there’s something that’s happening in my business, it just makes me feel like there’s abundance. And then just at the end of the month, so I can rejig things. It’s very boring, but I do it daily. Yes.

Bjork Ostrom: And so is that you manually going in and saying, “Okay, here’s where I sell presets. Here’s where they’re available. I sell them through Gumroad.” Or whatever service. Copy that, paste it in to the spreadsheet, and then just repeat that? Is that essentially what that process looks like?

Kimberly Espinel: Yes, essentially.

Bjork Ostrom: Then to reflect on that and to look and say, “Great, this is going well, this isn’t going well.” Or it’s more introspectively saying, “This is working well for me.” So even in these moments that aren’t going well, that you have traction, you have positive stuff happening.

Bjork Ostrom: So you have this spreadsheet, and you do that on a daily basis. You enter this stuff in. Can you talk about how much time does that take? Is that like 15 minutes? Is it an hour? Is it two minutes?

Kimberly Espinel: I have to say, for me, I don’t have to do it, because I have an accountant. I have to say, I’m now at the stage where I have an accountant. But I do it, as I said, because for me it’s about feeling like there’s abundance. It shifts something in my mind. I find it helpful. And then the same way, if I have a month where my sales aren’t so great, so where the business side is, then I don’t need to freak out. But then I feel like I have some sort of power, that it isn’t all outside my control. That I can say, “Okay, last month we did this in revenue. And this month we did half. What shifted, what changed? Did I send out fewer newsletters? Did I do fewer blog posts? Did I lose a client, or whatever it is?” It gives me the sense that I’m in control of my destiny.

Kimberly Espinel: Again, when you work for yourself and you don’t have a boss telling you how amazing you are, it gives me power. I found it empowering. So I will take out whatever, half an hour in the morning to plan my day, to do my spreadsheets, to do all the things, because it fuels me for the rest of them and it gives me direction, because if not, what I find is I could use that start of the day to scroll on Instagram or… It is so seductive. It’s so wonderful. But that anchors me, if that makes sense.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. That’s great. Yeah. I think a lot about people who talk about the first half-hour, hour of your day being your… It’s kind of setting the direction for the day. And one way you could do that is to scroll through Instagram or to pop open your email and just kind of browse through that. But to say, “Hey, what’s important for the business? Well, in this case, revenue. Where are the places where that’s coming from? Great. Here’s where it’s coming from. How does that inform the decisions I’m going to make today in terms of what I do and work on? Great.”

Bjork Ostrom: It reminds me a lot of when we would do monthly recap reports for Pinch of Yum and say, hey, here are the things that worked or the things that didn’t work. But that rhythm for me was really helpful as a forced exercise to reflect on what we were doing, what we weren’t doing, what was working, what wasn’t working. And it’s something that I miss about doing those. We could replicate it, but we haven’t. So it’s something that makes a lot of sense.

Bjork Ostrom: The piece that I’m curious about that you talked about before was this idea of treating… Any time that you have an issue or a problem that you come up against, instead of thinking, “Oh, this is a business problem. I don’t do business. I need some help with this.” Instead, saying, “Hey, this is a creative problem. This is a problem that I can come up with a creative solution for.” I think that mindset of curiosity, the mindset of creativity as it relates to a problem. Maybe it’s not a business problem, maybe it’s a puzzle, and you get to figure out the puzzle. How do you do that? What does that look like for you as you’ve come up against… You gave the example of, hey, revenue was half this month than what it was before. Instead of being like, “Ah, this is the worst.” How do you stay light on your feet and be creative in regards to that as a problem that you can approach creatively?

Kimberly Espinel: Yes. I’m going to say something before that, and it might seem a little left field, but I hope it’s connected. And I say this again because I’m listening to what I hear my audience tell me on Instagram Stories. So another thing that I do is I, and again, this, I hope it makes sense. This comes because I’m an immigrant, I’m a woman, I’m a woman over 40, I’m a brown woman. So there’s always a lot of negativity that I’ve experienced. So what I’ve always done, is I’ve always had really positive self-talk. So I always say, “I’m an amazing photographer. I’m an amazing teacher.” I tell myself that just to give myself strength, and I notice that a lot of people have a lot of negative self-talk. I’m not good enough.

Kimberly Espinel: “Oh, I’m not really a food photographer. All these clients said no, because what I offer isn’t amazing.” I don’t get into that. All I have to say is, so if there is a day where I’m not earning enough, I don’t think, “Oh my God, I’m crap. I don’t know what I’m doing, or I’m not good enough.” I think there’s something that isn’t working with my marketing or how I’m communicating this offer that I need to figure out. I need to figure out how, because what I offer, I feel, is the best I can offer. I feel I give it my all. I know that can be transformational.

Kimberly Espinel: So I know there’s nothing necessarily wrong with the offer that I’m putting on the table. There’s something else that’s not right. And I need to figure that out. Is it because my copy isn’t right? Did I not use the right photo? Was it the timing? I love the challenge of that. I love the challenge of that. But I think the foundation is that I believe in what I have to offer. And I think that it is really helpful when you’re stepping into a space, like we do as food photographers and food bloggers, that is crowded. It’s so easy to look left and right and think, she’s so much better. And so and so, their food photography classes… you can get into that. I try not to get into that. I try to go in with, I can do this. There’s just something that is awry, and I need to put my finger on it and sort it out. I don’t know if that makes.

Bjork Ostrom: It’s incredibly powerful. What I heard you saying, or at least a piece of it, is to not look inward and say, “What is wrong about me that this didn’t work?” But to say externally, “I know that what I’m doing is good. I know that it’s impactful. I know that the work that I’m doing is excellent.” So if there is some hiccup along the way where that’s not fully getting communicated, let’s look at that. Maybe it’s the copy, and the copy needs to be changed to do a better job explaining that. Essentially, looking at the external things and saying, “How do I give as clear visibility inward to what I’m doing, which I know is excellent and wonderful and worthy… ” Of whatever it is that you’re doing, being hired, paying for. As opposed to saying, “Shoot, how do I fix myself?” Is that a little bit of what you’re saying?

Kimberly Espinel: A hundred percent. And I’m saying that because a lot of creatives, that’s almost in our DNA, doubt themselves. I see this so much. People who create incredible work, stuff we want to lick the screen. It’s so gorgeous. And they’re so tough on themselves. And so that is why I also want to model that, because I want them to see… I think as food bloggers and food photographers, we bring so much joy into the world. What we do is so amazing, right? We get these ingredients and then we create something that’s beautiful. I don’t know how much you’re into the food photography side of things, but I remember the two or three food bloggers whose work I just fell in love with, where I was like, “Oh my God, I want to do that.” I want us to know the power of what we do, and I don’t want us to ever forget. I want people to know they’re doing amazing things. They’re making brands lives better. They’re creating incredible content. Their work is worthy. And I need to model that in order to teach that, if that makes sense.

Bjork Ostrom: Totally. How much do you feel like the conversations that you’re having with photographers, creators, how much of it is mindset kind of reflecting on who you are, how you work versus, hey, here’s how you get better at shooting in manual, like really tactical?

Kimberly Espinel: I would say the audience that I’m now cultivating is moving more towards the latter, because people can just go on YouTube, and when we started, none of that existed, and now it’s just at the fingertips. But also there comes a point where you figure manual out, you crack that nut, so to say. And then the next stage is about really positioning yourself and distinguishing yourself. And that actually requires mindset, but also introspection in the same way that all that we’ve discussed about. How is your photography different? How are you going to stand out? How are you going to get noticed? How are you going to stop comparing yourself and imitating what has already been done to really fine-tune your own voice? That’s really the work that I’m doing much more now than quote unquote, just manual mode. Which is important, super important. But I think that for me, where I’m stepping into my role as a teacher is to really support people in finding their own unique, creative style.

Bjork Ostrom: What does that transformation look like? Where are people on that journey, usually? If you were to boil it down to, and then what does it look like once you’re on the other side? Are you ever on the other side?

Kimberly Espinel: Well, I think it’s a lifelong journey for sure, but I do think there’s steps that are noticeably… Transformational steps that everyone can see. So I think a lot of the times when students come to me, they’ve watched the YouTube videos and they’ve done all the things, and what they’re ending up is they’re creating images that look generic. That look a little bit like what everybody else is doing. So what I do-

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. They’re really good, but they’re really similar to… I use the analogy all the time of songwriting, and it’s like, oh, that’s a really good song, but it kind of sounds like, Seal, Kissed by a Rose or whatever. It’s like, wait, this is the same melody.

Kimberly Espinel: Part of why that happens is because a lot of the times we are very external, which is normal. That’s how we’re set up as humans. We have our eyes at the front of our face. And we’re spending so much time on social media, so we’re consuming lot of content, and it’s very hard not to get influenced by that. In fact, when you’re at the start, it’s very natural to want to imitate and emulate the people that you admire. But then there comes a stage where we actually have to do the introspective work and to think about what is my unique gift, and how can I bring that to the fore? And that consists, for example, in looking at, I always say, look at your color story.

Kimberly Espinel: So are you on the cool spectrum? Are you on the warm spectrum? Do you find that you’re moving towards using analog colors or complementary colors, or how are you expressing colors for example? And that is one part of how you start creating your own look and your own feel. What I do is I ask people to play with different ways of working with color, for example, so cool and warm, and then different ways of combining colors and to write down which one do you like best? Which one got you really excited? Which image? Because it gives you lots of indicators of where you are.

Kimberly Espinel: And the same with editing, the same with light work. All these things can be manipulated and controlled and changed in such a way that it allows you to create a signature look that something will see your image and it’ll go, that’s Lindsey, that’s Kimberly. And I can really see that transformation. I also can see how people feel more confident in playing more boldly with color and really having a go at editing. There’s a messy phase in the middle where you’re trying stuff out, but then when you come out the other end, it feels really good.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. But I would imagine one of the fears, if I put myself in that position, is a lot of the reasons why I think we emulate certain people is because they have been successful. And there’s a safety in saying, this person did it this way, and they were successful doing that. So there’s a relative amount of safety in me doing it this way, because that’s how this person did it. That could be applied to photography, operations, best practices, whatever it might be, business or creative. So how do people feel confident in creating their own look, style, brand, knowing that they might not have examples of that being successful in the world?

Kimberly Espinel: So I think one is, you don’t necessarily have to share everything. You can do a lot of the things behind the scenes and only share something that you feel really confident with. I also think it’s nice to be part of a creative community of people who cheer you on, maybe who give you feedback. My courses, for example, we have Facebook groups, but you don’t even need that. You could have a community on Instagram, maybe a DM group, or a friend that you connect with.

Kimberly Espinel: But then also, I think, the other side of this comfort is where the magic happens. It’s part of the process, and sticking with a set formula, I think A, becomes boring very quickly, but B, I don’t think you can ever be as good as the person that you’re emulating. I just think there’s this… Yeah. There’s magic at the other side of trying and failing and trying and failing. And that’s where you want to get to.

Bjork Ostrom: I think about this with podcasting and I listen to certain podcasters and I’m like, oh my gosh, I love the way that they podcast, they interview. I think of a couple of different people who are really confrontational, edgy. I love listening to that. I know that’s not going to be me. So if I try and emulate it, I could put those jeans on, they’re not going to fit very well.

Bjork Ostrom: And I would imagine the same thing with photography. One of the things that you’re trying to do is emulate when it’s something that fits into who you are and matches what you’re about, in service of becoming the maximum version of who you are as a creator. How do you max it out, 100%. This is perfect alignment in my style, how I want to show myself and present myself to the world. It might have little elements of those people who have inspired you, but really it is you a hundred percent. Is that kind of what you’re trying to get through in that transformation?

Kimberly Espinel: Yes. Exactly. And I think one way that can be helpful in stopping yourself from emulating certain people, if you notice that you’re doing that, is either mute them for a little while and/or also start following work of people that are totally different than you, so that… There’s three creators who I really, really feel inspired by, and they’re all so different. And so there’s a little element of each of them that really resonates that I’ve pooled to create my own look. And I think that versus just following everybody who does exactly the same kind of visual storytelling as me, that probably wouldn’t have led to the style that I have now.

Bjork Ostrom: Who are those people that you appreciate, or just a couple of them?

Kimberly Espinel: Somebody called Gabriel Cabrera, he’s a Mexican Canadian food photographer who does a lot of really abstract artificial light colors, it’s neon green. It’s crazy. I love it. And I love colors, so I admire work like that. And then the other one’s Luisa Brimble. She does a lot of very natural, very unstyled and very homely. Like it feels homely. And that’s something I love to convey in my photography, is the sense of belonging and just a down-to-earthness. And then the one is Aran Goyoaga or Canelle Vanille. She does, a little bit moody, darker shadows, but still… and that’s very much me as well. So they’re so different. And yet each one of them has totally influenced the photographer that I am today.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. It’s not exactly the same, but there’s a little bit of overlap. So you can find inspiration without feeling like this person is doing very similar work to what I’m doing, which I think, yeah, that’s great. So let’s say you get to that point, you’re kind of in this early stages, you get the technical expertise, which then allows you to use that technical expertise to refine your style. I think it’s kind of hard to refine your style if you haven’t refined the tool set that’s going to allow you to do that. Understanding your camera, understanding basics of styling, maybe some of the basics of composition, things like that.

Bjork Ostrom: So you go through these general stages, technical, style or brand refinement. And then you get to the other side. How do you translate that into a business, if that’s the thing that you want to do? For some people, they can stop there and feel really good about it. I’m a creator, I’ve refined what I do, I feel really good about it. But some people then want to take that and say, great, I want to use this in the marketplace to create an income in some way. How do you go about doing that in the world of photography?

Kimberly Espinel: A couple of ways. One would be… I’m very much a pro having a blog. I know it’s not quite as trendy anymore, but working on SEO and just thinking about what would my ideal customer be Googling? And making sure that you meet those needs and then it should show-

Bjork Ostrom: Do you have an example of that?

Kimberly Espinel: Yeah, for example, I have a portfolio page, and I’ve used all my keywords and tagged all my photos so that if somebody were to type in “London food photographer”, then it would lead very nicely to my portfolio page and also show examples of kind of work that I’ve done.

Kimberly Espinel: And then I do think posting regularly on Instagram, Pinterest, those kinds of places is really powerful. Just the way that things are now, posting just once or twice a week is very hard, but you need to post more regularly and make sure that you use all the hashtags, again, that people would be looking for. And also reaching out to brands. If they’re brands that you can see are working with other food photographers or food bloggers, being cheeky and DM-ing them or emailing them. I’ve struck gold that way and it’s worked for me, so I can definitely recommend it.

Bjork Ostrom: Can you share specifically what that looks like, and walk people through, there was a brand, you were interested in working with them, you saw that they had worked with other food photographers, you messaged them, and something came from that. How do you do that? How would people go through the process of making that work and any advice that you have for folks?

Kimberly Espinel: Yes. A good example I can share is another food photographer who I am friendly with, I saw that she was doing, I think it was a campaign with KitchenAid, I want to say. And so I DMed her. I mean, this is somebody I knew, I have to say, so I wasn’t fangirling or anything. And I said, “Listen, I noticed that you work with KitchenAid. I’d love to work with them. Are you happy to share the contact that you use?” And she’s like, “Yeah, of course.” And so then I DMed that contact, like, “Listen, my name is Kimberly. I saw that you worked with so-and-so. If you’re ever doing a campaign and looking for vegan food bloggers or whatever, do consider me.” And then they did. And yeah. So yeah, that’s how I…

Bjork Ostrom: A personal, warm connection. If there’s something to be said about, it’s like the basic premise of LinkedIn, “Hey, you know this person who knows this person, can you make the connection here?” And it’s manual and it takes work. And it’s not something that scales, but the idea is kind of relationship-based connections and that takes time. But it’s also impactful. So I love that. Yeah. That’s great.

Bjork Ostrom: Are there other ways that you’ve seen students or people that you work with find success as a creator, whether it be sponsored content, doing direct work with clients like, “Hey, I’m going to do a shoot at a restaurant, or for a brand.” Other ways that you see people having success for things that should be considered in the world of photography or creative media around food?

Kimberly Espinel: Yeah. What I always advise people to do is to create the content that their ideal customer would be looking for. So for me, for example, I love working with plant-based and vegan brands. If I look at the content that they love, it very much aligns with my style. It’s a lot of rich, deep colors to kind of emphasize the plant-based aspect. So I’m not going to use muted tones. I’m going to double down on that. So really looking at what would appeal to my ideal customer. And I also think if you’re at the very, very start of your journey, I know this is an unpopular opinion, but if you’re at the very start of your journey, you don’t have a portfolio yet, you don’t have experience yet, I think there’s nothing wrong with reaching out either to a brand or to a restaurant and saying, “Listen, I’d love to get some experience. Would you like some photos and doing some quote unquote, work for free?” Just to build up your portfolio, to build up your confidence, to build up some experience. And sometimes I’ve seen that happen too, is those free things can then turn into paid work as well. But then again, it goes back to thinking, problem-solving that business side to make it work.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. There’s a story from somebody who attended a workshop that we did, an online workshop. I’m trying to think. This was a few years ago. But I said the same thing. I’m like, hey, I’m totally okay with working for free. We did it. You don’t want to work for free in the sense where I think there’s a lot of negative connotations around working for free when a brand comes to you and says like, “Hey, we’ll do this in exchange for exposure.” Like, that’s one thing. But if you’re in the early stages, it’s like interning. And it’s like, I interned. I know a lot of people who interned now have very successful careers. As you’re getting started, you need something to put in your portfolio and say, “Hey, I created this thing for this brand. Here’s what it looked like.”

Bjork Ostrom: You can do that whether it’s you practicing without an official relationship with the brand, and just posting branded photos, or you could reach out to a brand and say, I’m interested in doing this. Would you be interested if I do it for free? And some would say yes, some might say no. In this case, the person did that. I think she actually did it in a post, talked about a brand that she loved, and then after, shared it with them and said, “Hey, if you ever need food photography help, would love to offer my services.” And they’re like, “Actually, that’d be awesome.” And it was like, oh, cool. It worked.

Bjork Ostrom: The follow-up to me after was like, “How much should I charge?” I was like, “Oh my gosh, that’s another conversation.” But yeah, I think that’s a great point, and something that should be considered if you’re in the early stages. Just don’t stay there too long. Eventually get to the point where you feel comfortable charging for your services.

Bjork Ostrom: I’m curious to hear, as we come to the end here, you have a lot of different places that you’ve created product services. You work with students, you do workshops, you have your book. What have you found to be most impactful from a business growth perspective?

Kimberly Espinel: Oh. I would say two things. One is, I love my digital products because, it takes a lot of work upfront to create them, but they are passive income streams. They’re things that I sell, to use the stereotypical things I sell in my sleep. I do love that. For me, the most lucrative is actually my food photography works. I have a handful of recurring clients that I create monthly content for. So that’s quite lucrative. And then finally, my online courses are much more profitable than my in-person workshops. And that’s just because there’s much more overhead in running in-person workshops.

Bjork Ostrom: Space. Yeah.

Kimberly Espinel: Yeah, exactly. The food. And it also takes more admin time to arrange everything. Where’s everybody staying, accommodation, all those things. But online courses just means you can serve more people. And, again, there’s that upfront cost of creating it, but once you’ve created it, it’s an amazing income stream. So yeah, those are kind of my three things.

Bjork Ostrom: And kind of as a lead-in, as we close out. I’m sure there are people who, whether it’s a course, whether it’s a workshop, whether it’s working with your coaching or your book, a lot of options, we’ll link to those in the show notes. How can people reach out and connect with you, work with you, and would there be a process, like, “Hey, start by signing up for the email list.” Or “Start by buying the book and going through that.” Or is it ala carte in regards to where people are on their journey, in regards to what it looks like to work with you?

Kimberly Espinel: Yes. The two best ways, I would say, is number one, I run an Instagram food photography challenge called Eat Capture Share. I’ve been running that for four years, and more than 3000 people sign up to it every season. And it is free. And what it does, it goes back to something we talked about before, is, it really… For one, I share a lot of my teaching with participants, and there’s also an Instagram Live show where we do teaching as well. So there’s a lot of value that you get for free just from that in terms of your learning.

Kimberly Espinel: But the second thing it does, and I think that’s a side effect I hadn’t anticipated, is a lot of really strong friendships are built, because for three weeks, you’re with this group of people who feel just as passionate about food photography as you do, and you set these really challenging tasks, and everybody’s cheering you on and commenting and following you. There’s just these really strong bonds that are built through that. So that is the best, and my most popular offering for sure. And that’s for everybody, beginners to professionals.

Kimberly Espinel: But I think for people who know their manual mode, who’ve done all the things, watched all the YouTube videos, then I would say the next part is my book, because it’s really about finding your style and finding your creative voice, and doing that introspective work. I think I shared my heart in that book and I really believe in it. I really feel that it’s transformational. And those are the two things, the two most powerful things I think I could mention.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. That’s awesome. And it’s beautiful. It’s really well done. And so not only is it impactful in terms of the content, but also it’s a book you could set out and people who don’t do food photography could look through and I think really enjoy looking through it. So it’s a beautiful creation in and of itself and also impactful.

Bjork Ostrom: Kimberly, thanks for coming on the podcast, for talking through this stuff. Really fun for me to connect with you, and we’ll be sure to link up all of that stuff in the show notes so people can check that out as well. And you have your podcast. Maybe we can end with that in terms of where people can check that out and subscribe, because everybody listening to this, they’re going to be podcast people. So where do people go for that?

Kimberly Espinel: Yes, it’s called Eat Capture Share. We’re now in season six, starting again in late August. And as I mentioned before, we cover food photography, food blogging, the business side of things, and yeah. I’d love people to tune in.

Bjork Ostrom: Cool. We’ll link to that as well. Kimberly, thanks for coming on.

Kimberly Espinel: Thank you so much for having me.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s a wrap for this episode. Another big thank you to Kimberly for coming on and sharing her insights. As always, make sure to check out the show notes. There’s a ton of resources that we include, and I know most people probably listen to this when they’re driving in their car or working out or doing dishes. That’s kind of my podcast listening list. Those are the times when I’m most likely to listen to a podcast, but if that’s true for you, maybe make a mental note or an actual note on your phone to go to foodbloggerpro.com/podcast. And that’s where you’re going to see all of the different podcasts that we have. You can search for older episodes. It’s something that not a lot of people do, but it’s a great resource. If you want to dig deeper, if it’s an area that you’re interested in, or an area that you want to learn a little bit more about, that’s the best place to go. foodbloggerpro.com/podcast.

Bjork Ostrom: The best place to go if you’re interested in becoming a Food Blogger Pro member is foodbloggerpro.com/membership. If you haven’t ever checked it out, the good thing is you can do that in a relatively risk-free way, because we have a 60-day money-back guarantee. So if you get in and 31 days down the line, you’re like, “Wait a minute, maybe this isn’t what I thought it was.” You can just reach out we’ll process a refund for you. So it is low pressure, but potential high reward if you dig in, if you go through the content, if you engage in the forums. And that’s why we exist, is because we want to have an influence and an impact on people who are creators online in the food space.

Bjork Ostrom: And if that’s you, Food Blogger Pro is a great place in a great community for you to spend time in. And that’s really the key, is you have to invest in order to get out of it. We want to help accelerate any learning and traction that you have with your business. So again, that’s foodbloggerpro.com/membership. You can check that out.

Bjork Ostrom: And if you haven’t yet, go ahead and subscribe to the podcast in whatever app you listen to podcasts, there should be a subscribe, or I think Apple is actually calling it follow now, because I think for a long time, people got confused and thought if they hit subscribe, then they’d have to pay for it. But following along with the podcast is free. So go ahead and do that in whatever app that you use.

Bjork Ostrom: Thanks for listening. We hope you enjoyed the episode. We’ll be back with a new episode next week. Until then, make it a great week. Thanks.

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