154: 5 Tips to Improve Your Food Photography with Rachel Korinek

Welcome to episode 154 of the Food Blogger Pro podcast! This week on the podcast, Bjork chat with Rachel Korinek from Two Loves Studio about improving your food photography with five powerful tips.

Last week on the podcast, Bjork talked with Kevin Waldron about being an effective business owner and achieving the life you want. To go back and listen to that episode, click here.

5 Tips to Improve Your Food Photography

Spend five seconds on Rachel’s photography site, Two Loves Studio, and you’ll know that she knows photography.

Rachel understands the important role food photography plays in the growth of any kind of food-based business. The saying, “Eat with your eyes” is much more true when your colors look real-to-life, your composition is authentic, and your prop choices make sense.

From lighting to editing to color theory, Rachel explains these principles in detail on her blog, and she’s here today to share five important tips that can improve your food photography.

In this episode, Rachel shares:

  • Why still life photography is difficult
  • What a food stylist does
  • Why it’s helpful to work with a team
  • Why textured backgrounds are helpful
  • How to capture shadows
  • What negative fill is and how to work with diffused light
  • Why layering is important in still life photography
  • What color theory is
  • The tools she recommends to have on hand

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Bjork Ostrom: In this episode, I share a handy dandy photography tip, and we talk to Rachel Korinek from Two Loves Studio about five things that you can be doing to level up your food photography game. (Singing)

Bjork Ostrom: Hey there, everybody. This is your Bjork Ostrom coming to you from St. Paul, Minnesota, home of the … Can you guess the baseball name? Not the Minnesota Twins. The St. Paul Saints, the minor league team here in St. Paul. If you ever come to Minnesota, you got to make it out to a St. Paul Saints game, just so you can see the little pig that delivers the baseballs to the ump. It’s actually not a little pig. It’s a huge pig. Partly owned by Bill Murray, fun fact. That is the baseball team, not the pig, although maybe the pig comes with the baseball team.

Bjork Ostrom: Anyways, that’s not what we’re talking about on the podcast today. We are actually talking about photography. But before we do that, I wanted to share with you a little tasty tip. The Tasty Tip comes to you each week care of WP Tasty, which is the WordPress plugin site that we operate kind of as the sister site to Food Blogger Pro. The idea being, for WP Tasty, we wanted to make available for other people the plugins that we are using for our own sites, and we have three right now.

Bjork Ostrom: One is called Tasty Recipes. For anybody that has a food blog, it allows you to mark up your recipes in a way that Google and Pinterest and search engines can understand them as recipes and display them appropriately. We also have Tasty Pins, which allows you to optimize your images for SEO and Pinterest. We won’t go in depth into explaining that, but if you want to check it out, you can check out the Tasty Pins page on WP Tasty. Really important for anybody that wants to be intentional about their search traffic and their Pinterest traffic. And then we have Tasty Links, which allows you to automatically create a link. Could be an affiliate link, it could be a link to your page by including a keyword. So, maybe if you wanted to link to a spatula, anytime you mention spatula, you could put that as the keyword and then link to that with the affiliate link of your choice. It even allows you to automatically add a little disclosure to it as well.

Bjork Ostrom: So, those three plugins are the plugs that we offer over on WP Tasty, and each week WP Tasty, quote, unquote, “sponsors” a little Tasty Tip on the podcast, which today, the Tasty Tip is about photography, because that’s what we’re gonna be talking about. The simple and quick Tasty Tip is this: the Tasty Tip has to do with protecting your camera, and it’s really easy to do that.

Bjork Ostrom: If you ever lose your camera, you wanna make sure that people have a way to find you and return that. You could add a little tag to it that has your name and your information and which might get in the way. You could put it as a label. You could print out a little sticky label that you put on the bottom, but then your information is displayed everywhere you go. But you could also, and this is something that I would recommend you think about doing, write down your information on a little 3×5 note card, take a picture of it, and then this is the important thing, make sure that you lock that picture so it can’t be deleted, and that way the picture will always be displayed on that camera.

Bjork Ostrom: If anybody opens up and they look through the photos on your camera, that will always be displayed as your information in case you ever lose your camera. Now, that also means that you have to have the card still in the camera, but it’s just a simple little thing that is really easy to do and might come in handy some day if you ever lose your camera.

Bjork Ostrom: So, that’s the Tasty Tip for today, and it is very fitting, because we’re gonna be talking about photography with Rachel from Two Loves Studio and Rachel’s gonna be sharing five important things that she’s learned over the past years as she has built her photography practice as a professional food photographer. We haven’t had a food photography podcast for a while, so I wanted to make sure that we did this, and there’s gonna be some great takeaways. So, you can get out your note pad. You can jot down some of these actionable items that Rachel’s gonna be talking about. So, let’s go ahead and jump into the interview. Rachel, welcome to the podcast.

Rachel Korinek: Thanks so much for having me. I love the Food Blogger Pro community, so it’s awesome to be here.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, for sure. Now, the first thing that people are gonna wonder. It’s a podcast, and you have an accent, and people often say that about me, and they’re like, “You’re from Fargo.”

Rachel Korinek: Oh really?

Bjork Ostrom: And I’m like, “Not Fargo, Minnesota, but close.”

Bjork Ostrom: Tell us a little bit about your background and where you’re calling in from today.

Rachel Korinek: Yeah, so I’m actually calling in from Vancouver, Canada, but as you can see, I probably don’t sound like a Canadian. I’m actually an Aussie, an Aussie professional food photographer. Now, I recently just moved to Vancouver at the start of 2018, but prior to that, I was in Melbourne for five years working with clients in magazines down there. So, born and bred Australian, but married a Canadian, so I feel like I’m a bit at home here in North America.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, for sure. That’s awesome, and we were chatting a little bit about that. We were at a conference, Everything Food, and you had mentioned that you recently made the move. So, we’re gonna be talking a lot about photography, but one of the things I’m interested in right off the bat, with your professional background as a photographer as it relates to building a business, you’re in a spot. I’m guessing you know people. You’re connected. What was that like to make the move and transplant into another place? Did you have to rebuild your clients? Were they remote clients that you’re shooting for in your own studio and then sending them images anyways? What was that like?

Rachel Korinek: Yeah, so I think, well first off, my husband got a job which was like his dream job that we was working towards for five years. So, when he got it, I was thinking I’ve got to support him, but there was this part of me inside that was like, “Oh my gosh. I’m building my business. I feel like I’m gonna have to start from scratch again.” So, I’d say it’s a little bit of both. There’s definitely clients that I’ve had to pass onto other photographers in Australia, because it’s work on the ground at their studio, or they would send me products. It’s really difficult to send heavy packages across the world to get them shot by me, so I definitely had some clients that I no longer have, but I’ve passed them on to some photographers that I was mentoring down there, which is really awesome, I think, to open that spot up.

Rachel Korinek: In terms of social media and the internet, I have had clients from all over the world, so I can definitely still take some with me, but I think it’s a little bit of making new connections here, building up a business more in Vancouver and North America. So, I think that also it’s okay as well, because you don’t want to be stale as a professional. You always want to be pushing boundaries and making new connections, and diving into a new market, I think, at this point in my career, I’m really ready for. So, we’ll see what happens.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s great. That’s awesome, and Vancouver’s a great city to do that in as well, so it’s a great spot for that. What was the job that your husband got, just out of curiosity?

Rachel Korinek: He works for Lululemon, so he’s a campaign photographer for their head office here. So, he was the Australian, New Zealand brand photographer down there. It’s such a bigger market up here, so he had goals to come over here and do something different, so he’d been working on that for a long time. So, it’s exciting that he’s finally getting to do that.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, you guys are a family of photographers. That’s awesome.

Rachel Korinek: I know. Isn’t that cool?

Bjork Ostrom: Is that how you met?

Rachel Korinek: Well, no, actually, it’s a bit of a random story, but he was the one that inspired me to do photography. Yeah, it’s really cool.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s great. So, we’re gonna be diving onto that. Specifically, we’re gonna be talking about five different things that are really important for photographers, specifically food photography to know and understand. But, before we get to far into that, I want to hear a little bit about your story. You touched on it just a little bit there, but when did you start shooting food photography, and how has your career developed? What is your focus now?

Rachel Korinek: Yeah, I started back in 2012, which, really, I mean it’s six years, but It feels like a lifetime ago. So, in 2012 was when I picked up my first DSLR camera, and I started two blogs. As you do when you start a blog, you think you need to start. So, I just started to … I was blogging about things that made me happy, about hobbies. I had all kinds of things, but I found I was really gravitating towards cooking food and shooting it. So, it just started from there, and I thought I would document my process of starting food photography to push myself to put my work out there and create content all the time. So, that’s how I started.

Rachel Korinek: I was lucky that I got in before Instagram was a big thing, so I wouldn’t say there was as much access in food photography as there is now, so I started to get clients very early on, and I was able to work part time and do my freelance, so I could build up my skills in that area. I think I’m luck in that I found something I’m really passionate about. I mean, there’s lots of niches of photography that are amazing, but when you find that something that there’s that fire burning inside of you, you’re really willing to go the distance to put in the time and energy it takes to create still life, which is a super hard niche of photography to get into.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, and for those that aren’t familiar, when you say, “still life,” what do you mean by that and why is it difficult?

Rachel Korinek: Well, still life could be … Food photography is a type of still life. It’s anything where we’re creating the scene. So, we’re responsible for placing everything, for sourcing everything. It’s where when you have landscape or street photography, you’re capturing what’s in front of you, and you have to move yourself around to get the best angle, but still life, we have this vision in our head that we have to fully create with props and food, backgrounds, light, all those types of things. So, there’s a lot of things going on as you can imagine.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, and the interesting thing is that it is a profession that’s molded into … It was previously multiple different professions, and in some ways, it’s shaped and morphed and molded into one single professional. You used to have people that were stylists and photographers and lighting, and you’d have all these individual roles, and more and more, those are starting to get rolled up. So, do you consider yourself also a stylist, or when you go out and do a shoot, is there somebody else that’s doing the styling?

Rachel Korinek: Yeah, I think that’s a tricky one, because I think there’s a differentiation between stylists and food stylists. So, for a food stylist, you really have to have a lot of knowledge in terms of cooking and not necessarily … We’re not talking about 80s McDonald’s fake food photography, but there is things to be said about cooking a turkey and how you approach that so it’s still plump, but not dry. There’s all those sorts of things that go into it, so I wouldn’t consider myself a food stylist. I would say that I do styling, but it depends on what the job is. So, I know where my skillset lies, when I need to get somebody else in to work on a specific job.

Rachel Korinek: And it’s really great to work with a team, because I get to focus on the photography. The composition happens at two stages. So, the styling level, but then how you’re composing the camera, so I can focus on that, editing, lighting, and it’s really great to work with a team, because everyone is working for their strengths.

Bjork Ostrom: Yes, and that’s one of the things, even just in general with business that we’ve found. As much as possible, if you can have somebody focusing on one thing, it’s really beneficial. Interesting reality for a lot of the people listening in the podcast, I would assume that as the individual creator, a little bit different, they’re shooting for their blog, so it doesn’t make sense to hire a stylist. But, when you do a shoot with a budget, with a brand, it’s gonna make sense for them to be efficient and to really focus in and to have those different people doing those different roles.

Bjork Ostrom: And I think important for people to remember that are listening to this, and this is one of the great things about doing an interview with you is that it’s this reminder of all of these different things that exist in this world, this world being food, recipe development, content creation as it relates to food. And a lot of people that listen to this podcast aren’t necessarily food people or they aren’t in that niche, but just how many little subcategories there are.

Rachel Korinek: Yeah, there’s a lot.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, so you don’t have to think, “Okay, this is exactly what it looks like.” You can be creative in thinking about what are the things I’m most passionate about, and where can I really dig deep and focus in on?

Bjork Ostrom: Go ahead.

Rachel Korinek: Well, I was gonna say I think it’s awesome that you can work out what that is for you and then craft your business around that. There are times where clients will expect you to do everything, but I think you can really stand your ground and say, “If you want quality work, if you want the stuff that you are really excited about, this is what I do, and this is what I need to getting in order to produce that quality work.”

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, for sure. So, let’s jump in here. We have five different things that we’re gonna talk about from a photography perspective, and these would be important considerations for food photographers. Is there a better way that you could say that? What would you say these five things are?

Rachel Korinek: Yeah, I’d say food photographers definitely, and when we tend to find, when we’re Googling how to improve food photography, we think improve is I’m a beginner, and I’m trying to improve it. So, these tips are also anyone at any level. Even for myself, I find shooting for a client, and I want to improve the shot, these are the things I would go through. So, it’s not necessarily just for beginners. These are the things that I really see that make a difference no matter what stage of photography you’re in.

Bjork Ostrom: Awesome, great. So, even if you’ve been doing this for a long time, these are important things to look at, to shake up, to reconsider, and we can jump into those. Before we do that, I want to say this, and hopefully we can talk more about it at the end. You also have a free photography course. So, we’ll link to that in the show notes. Otherwise, you can go to twolovesstudio.com, and there’s information on that. So, if you want to go deeper on it, that’s available, and we’re gonna hit some really important stuff here as well, and then we’ll talk a little bit more about that at the end.

Rachel Korinek: Yeah, exciting.

Bjork Ostrom: So, the first thing that you talk about is textured backgrounds, and I think people will know backgrounds in general, but tell me about textured backgrounds and why those are so important.

Rachel Korinek: So, yeah, texture is really important in any sort of photography, I think, and the reason being is that a photograph is two-dimensional. So, for food photography, how do we get the audience that we’re targeting, how do we get them to connect with our photo? How do we evoke emotion? So, one of the ways is to add texture to the image, so it looks more 3-D. So, with backgrounds, they’re the backbone of our shot. They can really make or break an image. Textured backgrounds aren’t the easiest thing to acquire, and sometimes I think when you’re starting to acquire backgrounds, you tend to just find things that are flat or have a matte finish. Texture is anything that has some grit to it. That might be plaster or sand grains, or even multiple layers of paint can have a texture. So, it’s when you’re looking at it, it’s something you can see. It’s not flat. You can tell there’s some patterns and shapes within it is what I would consider a textured background.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, I think of this time when Lindsay and I, we lived in the Philippines.

Bjork Ostrom: I think of this time when Lindsay and I, we lived in the Philippines for a year, and we went to this market, and it was this loud and crowded market. There was hundreds of people, and she was trying to find a background for food photography, because we didn’t travel with our backgrounds to the Philippines. So, we were navigating this crowd, and we found this table maker and he had made these tables, and they were super affordable, but the one that Lindsay saw was the super old, decrepit falling apart table that he was selling the tables on. He wasn’t displaying it, because it was so old, and it was us trying to communicate to him-

Rachel Korinek: That that’s what you wanted.

Bjork Ostrom: Not speaking Cebuano, him not speaking English, being like, “That’s the table we want, not the new one,” because I think it had some of that texture that you’re talking about.

Rachel Korinek: It’s all the way, too, and really beautiful pieces. They just happen organically. It’s difficult to make them as well, but with Instagram, there’s so many background places that are emerging and competitive as well. So, you can get canvas ones or wood. There’s even really good vinyl that you can start getting at. Even though to run your hand across it, it would feel smooth, there is this appearance of texture. So, I would say texture just really allows us to turn that two-dimensional image into something that our viewer is gonna connect with.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s great. So, for those that want to find what you’d consider to be a good textured background, would there be some go-to places that you would recommend, places that you really like? Or would you say, “Hey, in order to have it be really awesome, you should make it on your own.” What would your recommendation be?

Rachel Korinek: I think it depends on your skillset. So, there are some tutorials out there how you can create textured looks with paint: Bea Lubas, if you check her out on Instagram, she did a guest post on my blog, and she does this tutorial where it’s four or five different colors of paint. You choose similar hues, and then you just dab them around, and that can work really effectively. The biggest thing, I think, with creating backgrounds is the first one or two times that you do it, you’re not gonna be awesome at it, so it’s a matter of just keep … You can go layer upon layer upon layer. So, you just wait for it to dry, and you try again.

Rachel Korinek: So, if you have the time to do that, I think you can really create some cool things. You can throw sand in there, or you can get plaster and add paint to plaster and play around with it. But at the same time, if it’s something you aren’t good at, and it takes a lot of time away from where your main focus is, it might be better to get some off. You can get great vinyls off Amazon orders. I’ve got a whole bunch from food styling backgrounds on Instagram, and Ginny has done a lot custom things for me, which is really cool, too. You can send them a photo, and they’re much better at making it than I am.

Bjork Ostrom: Awesome. That’s great. I’ll say this for any Food Blogger Pro members. If you’re a member of Food Blogger Pro, we have a discount to a company called Erickson Surfaces, and they have a huge variety of different backgrounds, so you can explore this.

Rachel Korinek: Yeah, that’s a perfect example of textured backgrounds.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, and I’m looking at one. It’s this expose paint, and it’s chipped off, and it looks like something that maybe you’d find in a barn if you go in and are searching through the wood that’s been in there for years. So, great. That’s really helpful and I think an important consideration. The last question about the backgrounds, when you’re shooting, are you also putting some type of background at the end? So, I’m imagining a little of like an L shape. Are you putting up a board at the end of the background in order to do shots at a 45-degree angle?

Rachel Korinek: Yeah, you can definitely do that. I guess it depends on just a couple of factors like the height of the table that I’m shooting on, the angle and lens combination. If you have a really large background, sometimes you don’t need the L-frame, because the background is just continuing in the frame. But if you’re doing a straight on shot, you will have to get something that will look like an L-frame, which is an interesting point when you think about texture. When you have an L-frame, you don’t want a background that’s too busy. So, we still want to have that texture there, but we want to make sure that it’s not competing with our main subject. So, that’s really interesting. Yeah, good thing to think about.

Bjork Ostrom: Cool. The next thing you talk about here is this idea of capturing shadows. Can you talk about shy shadows are important and how you can capture those?

Rachel Korinek: Yeah, I love shadows. So, I mean, I think it’s been about 18 months now, but I said to myself, “My goal in shooting,” I think I said, “for the next six months is to really explore and capture shadows.” I’m just totally in love with it that I’ve just continued to do it.

Rachel Korinek: So, I think what we’ve got to remember with photography is that we don’t have light without shadows, and they both come hand in hand. Being a self-taught photographer and teaching a lot of students, and I did this myself, when you start to teach yourself, you want to add more light and more light and more light. You get to this point where you just have too much light, and we have no shadows. So, shadows are important for revealing dimension, but also that texture that we’re talking about. They help to reveal the form of our shapes, of our dishes. We see the texture in there, so that is another key aspect of making that connection for our viewer and turning that two-dimensional image into a three-dimensional image.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, one of the things you said was that it’s possible to have too much light. How do you know if you have too much light? Is that something that’s just a look and feel kind of thing? What is your recommendation for people?

Rachel Korinek: So, I think we need to remember that we’re talking about food photography here. So, with weddings and portraits, people don’t want to see the texture on their face. They want it to be really smooth. So, in niches like that, we see really airy subjects with not a lot of shadow, but for food, it is different. We want to make sure that we are capturing shadows in order to tell our viewer what’s happening in the frame.

Rachel Korinek: Someone once said to me that you can always tell what the light is doing by watching your shadow. So, if you do manage to have too much light, there’s too much fill. You’re using a lot of reflectors, and you don’t have shadows. Your images will feel very flat, and you’ll look at them, and you won’t make a strong connection as much as an image as a little bit of shadow. So, I think there just gets to a point in everyone’s journey where we are so focused on manipulating natural light and exploring that we get to a point where we don’t have any shadows anymore. So, you got to come back a little bit, but I think that’s okay, because you’re still working out what your style is, and natural light is always changing. So, it’s always something that you have to reassess.

Bjork Ostrom: So, when it comes to the shadows, I would imagine that there’s multiple different ways that you can manipulate the light, and this could probably be an entire podcast episode on its own. But, one thing I can imagine people doing is going super extreme and saying, “Okay, I need to have shadows. Therefore, I’m going to put the light here, and I’m just gonna cast this mega shadow.”

Bjork Ostrom: The other extreme is a super flat image that’s really, really light. How do you land somewhere in the middle where you still have shadows, but in a way that’s not overdone?

Rachel Korinek: Yeah, well, I mean as humans, we like to simplify everything, and I find a lot of times, we have two boxes. So, we’d have bright and airy or dark and moody, and you’ve got to fit into one of those categories. But, there’s a whole bunch of categories in the middle. You could just have bright, or you could have bright and moody. You could have dark, but not a lot of shadow. So, I would say to bring it back to the point where you have shadows, you want to try and diffuse your light less. You may even get closer to the window and not use a diffuser at all.

Rachel Korinek: One really great thing to use is what’s called negative fill. So, that would be a black foam board that you would place on the opposite side of the light, and that’s just gonna soak up some of that light so we’re not reflecting it back onto our scene. It’s a really easy way just to get a little bit more shadow. So, when I say more shadow, think about the depth of shadow. You can have a show, but it can be very diffused and transitional, but it could also be deeper and darker as well. So, just playing around with some negative fill, close to your food or further way just to see how the depth of that shadow changes the image is a really great thing to do.

Bjork Ostrom: Cool, and there’s two things you mentioned there that I think would be good to clarify. One was a diffused light. Could you talk about what it means to diffuse your light?

Rachel Korinek: Yeah, so if you think about a window. Light’s coming through there. If you had baking paper. It would be a really great example. You can stick baking paper over the window, and that would be diffusing your light. Also, a white sheet. You can also buy professional diffusers, but anything the light’s coming through and is diffusing onto the scene.

Bjork Ostrom: Got it, and when would you do that?

Rachel Korinek: I would say you really want to think about what you’re shooting. What sort of food, what sort of emotion, what sort of story are you trying to tell? So, if you diffuse, you typically get soft light. So, that’s when we have soft shadows that transition. They’re a little bit lighter. So, any kind of … A breakfast scene or a summer scene usually has diffused light that’s really soft. We’re focusing on the colors, things like that.

Bjork Ostrom: Got it. And then the other thing that you said was a negative fill, which is something I’ve never heard about. Usually, fill would be you have a white board that reflects back, but you’re saying in this case, it’s black. How does that work?

Rachel Korinek: Yeah, so when we think about fill, we’re basically, we’re filling our scene with more light. So, when we have a white reflector or a white bounce card, the light is hitting that and coming back onto our scene and filling our shadows. With negative fill, we want to avoid that bounce back onto our scene. So, by putting a black card opposite to the light, the light is being absorbed in a way and isn’t bouncing back onto our scene. So, that’s a really good way to make sure that we’re not totally killing the shadows on our scene.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, that’s great. Really interesting. Okay, number three, you talk about always using layers. What is a layer and why should we use these?

Rachel Korinek: Yeah, so I think layering in any still life is super important. Layering is one of, I would say, the most popular lessons that I teach in some of my master classes, like my Composition Essentials. So, basically for me, how I think about it is layers of interest when we’re building our scene. So, that could be what garnishes are we focusing on to put on our dish. Or, if we’re baking a pie, how are we making sure that the top of the pie is interesting? Are we doing a lattice work, or are we using a little cookie cutter to create a little symbol in the middle? So, I like to look at it as the things that we’re actively thinking about in order to create interest in the scene so the viewer comes and thinks, “Wow, this is amazing.”

Rachel Korinek: I like to think three or four layers of interest is what we should aim for on our set. So, layers to me is food, but also props.

Bjork Ostrom: Got it. So, let’s walk through and do a made up shoot. So, let’s say that I come to you, and I’m a chocolate chip cookie company. The only thing I have right now is a chocolate chip cookie, and I want it to look awesome. How would you go about in a situation like that layering for that shoot?

Rachel Korinek: I think that’s a great example, because it is a flat subject, and we tend to struggle with flat subjects. So, cookies, there’s a number of things you could do. You could potentially have a little box that you could stack the cookies inside. So, the box would be one layer. You could put baking paper in there. If you able to with any sweet goods, sprinkle some sort of powdered sugar on top. That could be another area of interest. You could also maybe stack the cookies themselves, or they could sit on a little cake stand. So, thinking about how you can bring props to just create more than the cookies. If you’re able to have any sort of gooey chocolate that you can put on the top, just so there’s that additional thing that we’re looking at in the image.

Bjork Ostrom: Got it. This will be a shoot that maybe you’ll be able to do some day. I recently did a Pinch of Yum Instagram Takeover, and I talked about one of my favorite cookie recipes growing up. It was called Three Ingredient Cookies, and I would buy a bag of Chips Ahoy cookies, and I would take a paper napkin. I would get it wet, and I would put it on it, and then I’d microwave it, and then I would take it out, and they would be like freshly baked. They wouldn’t be. It would be terrible.

Rachel Korinek: But it had that appearance. I love it.

Bjork Ostrom: I was able to share that quote, unquote, “recipe” with the Pinch of Yum Instagram followers, and I doubt that it will be one of the most popular recipes ever, but maybe if I do a photography shoot, that will be what I shoot for cookies.

Rachel Korinek: Yeah, I think that would be interesting.

Bjork Ostrom: So, the idea being with layers that you are trying to give the photograph more story, more personality, more to look at. Why is it important to have layers?

Rachel Korinek: So, I think it comes back to context and dimension in the image and because we really want to evoke emotions within in our viewer. We want to make sure that we have all those little pieces of detail that makes a larger story. So, I had the pie. I’m trying to think of the best example that I have. I think I used this chocolate cake that I cook, and it’s a beautiful cake. God, it tastes amazing, but it is very ugly, and it ends up once you take it out of the oven, it always ends up sinking. So, we just shot that as it is, it’s just a big brown sort of mess.

Rachel Korinek: So, there’s less story there. There’s less feeling, but as soon as we take that and we might put it in a textured cake tin. We might sprinkle some icing, too, over the top. We might allow the cracks to be a little bit deeper, so that we’re looking and cutting a slice out. We can start to see all these little details and personalities and facets of the food that we can start to make a story with, and it just completely transforms it from the brown blob to something that I can see the inside. I can see the cracks. I can see how the icing sugar is on everything. I can imagine a little bit more to eat that particular food.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense, and with any photograph as much as possible, you want to surround that with the context in the story for that photograph, whether it’s food or an athlete or a model or whoever it would be.

Rachel Korinek: Yeah, definitely, and that’s why I like to call them layers of interest, just so if you really think about that interest. Like, “How many interesting things do I have around my subject” is a good way to think about it.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s great. Awesome. So, number four, color theory. This sounds like an intimidating thing, especially if you’re not an art student. So, why is it important to understand color theory as it relates to food photography?

Rachel Korinek: Yeah, with food …

Bjork Ostrom: … theory as it relates to food photography.

Rachel Korinek: Yeah. Food, I think, in order for us to really connect with it, color plays such an important role. I think I was speaking about this at the conference actually. The example was a strawberry. Our brain knows what a strawberry looks like, what color it should be, so if we see anything that kind of differentiates from that, if it’s brown or if it’s yellow, we sort of don’t want to eat it. Making sure that we’re getting really strong colors in our image is just such a simple thing that we can do to bring them to the next level.

Rachel Korinek: Color theory might sound intimidating, but it’s actually really quite easy. There’s a number of different pairings within color theory. The easiest and the one that I like to use the most is called complementary colors. Basically, in color theory, we have a color wheel, and it has all of the colors in it, and so complementary colors is just a way of pairing two colors together that are on the opposite sides of the color wheel.

Rachel Korinek: A great example would be blue and orange, which is a really easy one to work with in food photography because a lot of baked goods kind of sit in that sort of orange area. Being able to take your baked goods, pairing them with maybe a background that has a blue hue or a blue linen in there will … It’s just going to allow the image to be more aesthetically pleasing. There’s a little bit of design theory behind that but, basically, if you take those sorts of complementary color pairings, it really sort of guides you as to what colors to pick to go with your food.

Bjork Ostrom: That makes sense. Let’s use the complementary colors example. Do you have those kind of memorized in your head, or do you literally have a color wheel that you can look off to the side and say, “Okay. If I know that I’m shooting this strawberry, period,” then you can look can say, “Okay, what’s the complementary color to that?” and then grab a board or a towel or something like that that goes along with that?

Rachel Korinek: Yeah. I would say I definitely know some go-to ones that I tend to use all the time. There are more complex, a lot more advanced pairings that I probably would need to get a color wheel out with. There’s a ton of free resources for color wheels, even if you just look on Google Images and you can see what’s across from one another. I think I tend to like to use the orange and blue one a lot because it just really works for me, but if you find something that is sort of working for you or you have those sorts of props, you’ll just sort of remember those color pairings.

Bjork Ostrom: Got it, and so you know, “Hey, if I’m going to do a baked good that …” use the cookie example again that’s kind of yellowish, not orange necessarily, but it’s kind of in that range, then you can say, “Okay. I know that blue would probably be a color that goes really well with this, as opposed to brown or red,” or whatever it might be.

Rachel Korinek: Yeah. There’s a lot of color pairings. For people that are listening to this, take these things with a grain of salt. Just because the complementary colors say blue and orange, if you want to use something else, go for it. It’s just if you’re feeling like you’re getting stuck or … because we can have too many colors in an image, so what am I aiming for? It’s just a really nice way to help you just pick props, I think, works best.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. It’s nice to have some guidelines that you can use to start but not necessarily rules that can’t be broken.

Rachel Korinek: Yeah. The orange and blue one, I think that’s really simple, especially for bakers out there, so yeah, I’d love to see them trying that one.

Bjork Ostrom: Great. Then, number five, we talk about focusing on the details of the food. Why is this something important for food photographers to understand?

Rachel Korinek: Going back to still life, we are responsible for creating that entire scene from nothing. There’s so much going on in food photography, what our food is doing, how we’re cooking it, how we’re styling it. Then you’ve got how we’re manipulating the light, how we’re going to edit it, how we’re taking out our camera settings. There’s so much going on that, at the basic level, we can sometimes forget about those little details in our food because we’re so busy with the other how many things what we need to do.

Rachel Korinek: I like to think about it in two ways. We have our overall scene, but then we have the smaller micro area, which is our food, so really focusing on the small details that we have there. That could maybe tie back into sort of layering. What garnishes are we using? What kind of latticework are we putting on our pie that’s going to make it a little but more interesting? How are we sprinkling … We might be sprinkling chia seeds on our little bliss bowls or something like that, so just thinking at the food detail. Have we done enough to make sure that that really shines?

Rachel Korinek: My style of photography is … I like to call it food portraiture, so really focusing on minimalist props so that I’m really … have strong sort of food styling as much as I can, so making sure the food is really the hero. I think that comes down to making sure that we’re looking at the little details in our dishes and making sure that they’re as strong as they can be.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s great. To do a quick little recap here, we talked about the importance of textured backgrounds, the importance of capturing shadows, using layers, number three, number four color theory, and then five, focusing on the details of the food. I think those are really great actionable things for people.

Rachel Korinek: Definitely.

Bjork Ostrom: As we’re coming to a close here, let’s take a little bit of time here to speak to the person that is in the beginning stages. Maybe they’re in their first year. Maybe they’ve been doing this for a while but just feel like they’re kind of in a rut with photography. What would your advice be to those people in order to kind of break through to that next level? How do you continually improve as a photographer?

Rachel Korinek: Yeah. I think that’s part of the journey. There’s this idea that, when you get to be a professional, you don’t have creative blocks, or you don’t have days where you hate photography, or we don’t get in ruts. It’s just not true. We’re human beings at the end of the day, and we’re doing the best that we can, but every time you get to the next level … We’re always shooting for what’s next. With photography, there’s always something new to learn, so you definitely get in creative ruts, or when you’re really pushing boundaries and learning a new skill, there’s definitely times where you’re just not getting results.

Rachel Korinek: I’d say that the most successful photographers probably just keep pushing through. Just when you face something that is challenging, just remembering to yourself that, “I’m learning a new skill. I’m not going to be great at it right now, but if I keep going, I’m going to get better at it.” Then you just get to the next point where you have the next thing that you’re trying to get better at. I definitely know what it feels like to be there, and I think we all go through that, so just knowing that it’s normal and part of the process, I think, is really important.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, and it’s a good reminder because I think sometimes what can happen is, from the outside, we can look and see other people, and we can think that, hey, they have it all set, and they know what they’re doing, and they never are frustrated, and everything they create is beautiful. We’re looking at the highlight reel for many, many people.

Rachel Korinek: Yeah, for sure.

Bjork Ostrom: What we don’t see is that kind of constant struggle and effort that happens behind the scenes and those bad days that happen, because very rarely do people document those, even though it’s so, so, so common…

Rachel Korinek: Yeah, definitely.

Bjork Ostrom: I think that’s a great thing to call attention to. Were you going to say something else?

Rachel Korinek: Well, I guess, for me, moving to Vancouver, I sold a lot of the things that I had. I sold gear, I sold props, so I’ve got to a place where I’m starting again with all that stuff. The light is different here in Vancouver, and things are opposite, so a north-facing window is not as good as it is in Australia. I mean I’m in a space now where I’m learning new things. I’m acquiring different props. I’m kind of trying to work out what the light looks like, what my space looks like. I don’t have the ideal shooting setup because we move, but those things just happen. I just wanted to share that with people because, sometimes, when you look at my Instagram feed or my portfolio, you think that everything is organized and I’ve kind of made it, but you just keep pushing yourself. There’s always areas where things don’t go well or you’re rebuilding, so it definitely happens.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s great. That actually ties into you had mentioned kind of having to sell a lot of your stuff. I’m guessing you kept a handful of the most important things. One of the things I know people love talking about and hearing about are the pieces of equipment, the photography gear. I think all photographers know that-

Rachel Korinek: Yes, they do.

Bjork Ostrom: … it’s not the gear that makes the photograph.

Rachel Korinek: No.

Bjork Ostrom: We love talking about it, so can you share some of the things that you love most? I know that you have a page on your site where you talk about the things that you really like and the gear that you use, but what are the things that are most important or most helpful for you as a photographer?

Rachel Korinek: I would say my favorite lens is … I shoot Nikon, so I’ve got an 85/1.8, and I just love that lens. It’s actually super light as well, so it’s really good for overhead shots, but it’s a narrow focal length, and it’s considered a portrait lens, so I like to shoot with that because it helps me get my sort of minimalist style. There’s less in the frame. That is not a typical food photography lens, but it’s kind of my go-to, so I really like that one just for creating my sort of style.

Rachel Korinek: I would say I couldn’t live without a tripod either. Even when I’m shooting artificial light, in order to get really crisp, sharp photos … I don’t have the steadiest hands in the world, so a tripod definitely makes things easier. Then, if you are creating a big scene, it just helps that you can have the camera set up. You have your hands free to move things around. Those two pieces of gear, I would say.

Rachel Korinek: Also crucial in having a shoot that goes well and feels more joyful than more work, being able to tether, as well, to the computer will really help your composition. If you’re not doing that already, you can definitely do that in programs like Lightroom. You can get a cable for about 50 bucks, a Tether Tools cable, and it just will transform your images. I love to be able to do that because I also can’t rely on the back of the camera to see if things are in focus, and it just helps you see the whole story and pick up those little details that really make strong images. Those three things, I would say, are crucial to getting my sort of style.

Rachel Korinek: I don’t know that I have any props, at this point, that I couldn’t live without. I think I got rid of 99% of mine in Australia. I wanted to start again from a clean slate knowing my style’s changed and just invest in a few more simple pieces. I’m kind of working on a prop capsule at the moment, which I know people get excited about.

Bjork Ostrom: Yes, for sure. That’s great.

Rachel Korinek: Maybe another podcast episode.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, that’s awesome. Great. As we’re wrapping up here, one of the things I want to make sure that you have some time to talk about is, for those that want to learn more, you have some courses available, a free course, and you also have some master classes. Can you talk about what those are and how people can learn more about those? We’ll link to them in the show notes as well.

Rachel Korinek: Yeah. I have a seven-day free email course, which just goes through some really powerful tips that will actually make a difference, so I do like to share as much of my knowledge to beginners as possible. Then I have two master classes, so they’re online. One is Lightroom Magic. It’s the editing secrets to create food photography that you’re proud of. Then the other one is Composition Essentials, so that is how to step up your styling and compose next-level images.

Rachel Korinek: I like to teach master classes, basically, so that you can learn a subject really in depth and become a master in that area. With photography, there’s so many things that we need to learn that I like to focus on all of them in depth, and you would just go through from one subject to another. I think that’s how you end up getting work that really shines. If you take a course and it’s just kind of the basic levels, you won’t progress. If you’re really interested in composition, learning about all the tools and theories is really important.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. That’s great. Like I said, we’ll link to those in the show notes. That’s part of the process is continually learning and stretching yourself, which is great.

Rachel Korinek: It is. Yeah, there’s always something to learn with photography, so that’s why I say it’s a journey not a destination.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. That’s great. All right, that’s a wrap. Last thing, where can people follow along with what you’re up to? We talked about your courses, but I would love to hear social media and then your site as well. Where can people learn a little bit more about you and follow along with what you’re doing?

Rachel Korinek: Yeah. My site is twolovesstudio.com. I blog all things teaching food photography over there, so you can head over to the site and check out some of the articles. Also, on Instagram is where I spend a lot of time, maybe too much, so twolovesstudio, you can find me on Instagram. I do lives. I do photo challenges, Q&As. I recently just got Story Highlights, which is really exciting, so I’m sharing a whole bunch of resources, settings, Q&As, a whole bunch of fun things, so I hope you come and join me.

Bjork Ostrom: Awesome. That’s great, Rachel. Thank so much for coming on the podcast.

Rachel Korinek: That’s awesome. I hope to see you guys there.

Alexa Peduzzi: Hey, wonderful listeners. Alexa here bringing you the review of the week, and this one comes from Julie from julieseatsandtreats.com. It says, “I look forward to each new podcast. So much great information, I always leave feeling inspired and refreshed. Keep up that great work.” Thank you, Julie, and thank you all for listening and tuning in this week. We so appreciate our Food Blogger Pro podcast family. From all of us here at FBP HQ, make it a great week.

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    1. Hey Aaron! Thanks for listening to my episode. So glad to hear the part about textured backgrounds was helpful. That small tip will really change your images for the better. Pumped you’re taking the free course. Let me know what your favourite lesson is.

  1. Great interview with Rachel! I have done both of her courses and they are one of the best courses I have taken! They took my food photography to a whole new level! I discovered my style and learned so much! This interview was a great refresher! Thanks Rachel and Bjork! -Ester