Photographing for Pageviews with Stephanie Keeping and Melodee Fiske: Mediavine On Air Episode 21

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As a food blogger, there’s one key ingredient to your success: taking delicious photos of your recipes.

But how do you do that with the seemingly endless competition and incredibly complex Google algorithm?

In this episode of Mediavine On-Air, Stephanie Keeping and Melodee Fiske of Pretty Focused break down their system of taking amazing photos that drives pageviews and expands their audience. Using real life examples and statistics on how a few principles for their photos greatly increased their popularity, this episode is great for food bloggers that are just starting out or trying to recalculate their business.

Make sure to listen to the full episode and let us know what you think!

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Transcript

[MUSIC PLAYING] JENNY GUY: Hey, everybody. Welcome. Hello. Say hi. Welcome to another episode. Sorry, we were in here just totally getting down–

MELODEE FISKE: I love it.

[LAUGHTER]

JENNY GUY: –during the intro. And we were adding each other through the– yeah, I mean, if you can’t start with a little dance party, I think you’re doing something wrong.

MELODEE FISKE: Just go home. Just go home if you’re not going to dance.

JENNY GUY: True that. That’s very true. Well, welcome to another Mediavine Summer of Live. I’m your host, Jenny Guy. And as we saw from that beautiful intro, it is summer. But regardless of how we feel about it, summer is just flying by.

So my first question for you guys, and for my guests, is, how are you making the most of it? How are you enjoying summer? I have personally been on a bruschetta kick. And there’s nothing like summer produce. And in my humble opinion, cooking is the most fun around the holidays and summertime.

So I made some with tomato, basil, and red onion. And it was dinner. I broiled my bread with Trader Joe’s garlic olive oil. And then I drizzled with my homemade balsamic syrup. And I was like– I was feeling very–

MELODEE FISKE: Summer.

JENNY GUY: I felt very– yes. I felt summer. The pictures were very colorful. Of course I had to take pictures.

STEPHANIE KEEPING: Yeah.

MELODEE FISKE: Right.

JENNY GUY: I mean, because if–

MELODEE FISKE: What else would you do?

JENNY GUY: Why would I make food if I wasn’t going to take pictures of it? Eating is–

MELODEE FISKE: Photos, or it didn’t happen.

[LAUGHTER]

JENNY GUY: Exactly, exactly. So I mean, what’s the point of life if you’re not capturing– it’s dumb.

MELODEE FISKE: Exactly.

JENNY GUY: Why would I go to a restaurant if I wasn’t– yeah, it’s silly. But for publishers, social media is a terrific way to showcase their content and grow their followings. But the question is, how do you create a compelling image that actually brings people in, makes them click? And you guys, my guests are here to help. Let us meet them.

So, Stephanie Keeping and Melodee Fiske were moms who wanted to stay at home with their kids. A kitchen, a camera, and a computer helped them do it. Melodee, a former teacher, had two little kids, loved her job, and still wanted to be able to contribute financially to her family. As a hobby photographer for several years, starting her own thriving home-based photography business seemed like the answer.

Stephanie was in a similar boat. She’d quit her corporate job and was building a blog, Spaceships and Laser Beams, so she could stay home with her young son. But she was burning the candle at both ends as she balanced photography, growing page views, and building brand sponsorships and social following, giving an amen to all of my content creators out there.

STEPHANIE KEEPING: Yeah.

JENNY GUY: Feel it. Mhm.

MELODEE FISKE: Yeah.

JENNY GUY: Melodee felt burned out working as a wedding and portrait photographer and wanted to work more with bloggers and influencers to establish her business on her terms, which is what we all want, photographing food and crafts on her schedule while exercising her own creative side in the process. With the ever-growing demands of social media– algorithm, hello– bloggers like Stephanie often look for content creators like Melodee to help lighten their workload. So a partnership was born.

Based on the things Stephanie saw in the blogging world and Melodee’s background as an educator, Melodee perfected a system for content creation based on what bloggers, influencers, and website publishers actually needed. Here comes the jaw-drop part. Get ready. The strategies they developed together increased Stephanie’s blog readership by about two million people per month in just one year.

STEPHANIE KEEPING: Yeah.

JENNY GUY: Again–

MELODEE FISKE: Boom.

JENNY GUY: –two million people per month, one year. Hoo!

MELODEE FISKE: Just go ahead and pick up that microphone.

[LAUGHTER]

JENNY GUY: That’s right. It’s a drop.

MELODEE FISKE: That was a drop. That’s crazy.

JENNY GUY: And on top of all of that, that’s during COVID, y’all.

STEPHANIE KEEPING: It survived.

JENNY GUY: And it stuck around, right?

MELODEE FISKE: Even more so, we survived COVID. It didn’t drop. It’s continued to grow, yeah, which is big, right? That’s the fear. That was the fear–

JENNY GUY: Oh, yeah.

STEPHANIE KEEPING: –yeah, that people would go back to life and leave. [LAUGHS] So–

[INTERPOSING VOICES]

JENNY GUY: And it’s amazing that they stayed. And yeah, they just keep coming. And that system became the foundation for Pretty Focused, which is your program that teaches women how to master food photography and build thriving businesses–

MELODEE FISKE: Yes.

JENNY GUY: –as content creators.

STEPHANIE KEEPING: Right.

MELODEE FISKE: Yes.

STEPHANIE KEEPING: Yes, you are the greatest hype man I’ve ever had.

[LAUGHTER]

MELODEE FISKE: I know. If I could take you with me everywhere–

STEPHANIE KEEPING: I feel so good about myself.

MELODEE FISKE: –I go–

[LAUGHTER]

JENNY GUY: Well, you guys make it– I mean, you could have, Bill– or what’s the guy from– Ben Stein from Ferris Bueller, where he does the (MONOTONOUSLY) two million page views. And it wouldn’t matter how you said it, it would still be quite compelling.

So they are going to talk about photographing for page views and teach us how to go viral. So if you have questions for either of them, Stephanie or Melodee, drop them in the comments. I will talk to them after the presentation. I’m going to drop in the presentation now for them and let them take it away.

STEPHANIE KEEPING: Awesome. Let’s start. I thought I would do a Google snapshot of our journey. So what everyone’s seeing are basically the page views for the last two years for Spaceships and Laser Beams.

I’ve taken out numbers. And the reason why I don’t talk about numbers when I do this kind of thing is because for people who are just beginning their journey, the numbers can seem insurmountable. And there’s like, well, but…for people who are way bigger than me, they’ll discount me.

So I find the exact numbers become a focal point, but to know that the difference is in the millions. So that’s what I would say to anyone asking. And if there are specific questions, I can answer it.

So this all started in December 2019. And at the time, Mediavine, I will give you guys a ton of credit here. You guys were doing a great job. And RPMs were really increasing for bloggers.

And so I had really had more of a monetization strategy that was focused on sponsorship. And it was always 50% of my income. I had strong page views. But I definitely wanted more, as RPMs made it really attractive to monetize with page views.

And so I decided– it was around December ’19– I was, at the time, mostly blogging about boys’ birthday parties and doing some sponsored work that was around recipes. I decided to become a food blogger [LAUGHS] because food bloggers get massive– there’s massive competition but also massive page views. And everyone eats. [LAUGHS] Right?

So there’s a lot of pieces of that pie available out there even though there’s a lot of competition. So what you’re going to see here is kind of our journey over the last two years. So what happened, if anyone’s looking closely in here, they’re going to see, I think it was about in March of 2020– or March of 2019, sorry– I changed my URL structure in hopes of future-proofing my site.

I would not ever recommend that to anyone. I’m glad that I did it. But I could never recommend. It was an immediate 25% drop in search. And hits kept getting bigger.

So you’re going to see there that there was a struggle bus period of, I don’t know, eight months, where I just continued to get hit by Google. And I say here my sanity was hanging on by a thread. But at the same time, because of the things Melodee and I were doing and the things we were implementing, that we started to gain social traffic and were able to compensate for the Google losses and hit our traffic goals.

Then COVID hit. I mean, it’s amazing traffic time. I don’t ever know how much I can take credit for that versus everyone was home and googling recipes. So I kind of always de-mark that and leave it out of it.

But I wanted to put in there, one year past lockdown, except for the COVID anniversary, the lockdown anniversary, we’ve been up year over year. Basically the last 30 days were a 20% increase over last year. And if you were to look versus 2018, it’s millions in the difference.

So I wanted to say that this is, I think, a sound strategy that can really pay dividends. I truly believe. I mean, I think the proof is there. And we’ve had people who have followed what we said and grown exponentially, as well.

So this is kind of the journey we had. And that was that we really started to look at strategy, right? So we started to say that we wanted to become more strategic in how we select and create recipes as well as how we style and photograph those recipes.

And the reason that we do this is because I want to photograph something so that I believe everything we post on the blog has the opportunity to go viral. That’s because I want to make money from page views. And to do that in any significant way, you need volume.

So the first part of this whole thing is the strategy before you shoot. And what we like to do is create a plan where the end result is that someone can look at a photo and look at it and know what that recipe tastes like, know what it smells like, know what the textures are from just looking at the photo.

And that is how we grow page views through photography. And it all starts with research– planning a shot list, researching the recipe, and doing some really important things before we even take out our cameras. And so Melodee had an example of that that she wanted to go through on the next slide.

MELODEE FISKE: Yeah, so a lot of times, unfortunately, we learn the hard way. And so I have to tell you this story of this recipe right here. Actually, when Stephanie saw these photos in here, she was like, oh, man. I almost broke you with that one. But–

STEPHANIE KEEPING: [LAUGHS]

MELODEE FISKE: –this was so pivotal for us that I have to share it because it was our aha moment. So there was a time when Stephanie asked me to photograph a meatball sub for a sponsor. And I was super proud [LAUGHS] of how much cheese I layered on to it. I was like, ooh, who doesn’t love a cheesy sub?

It’s going to have awesome cheese pull– so cheesy. So I submitted the photos to her. And she was like, (HESITANTLY) no. No, no. [LAUGHS] She’s like, this isn’t a meatball sub.

And I’m like, what are you talking about? Look at all the cheese. There’s lots of– there’s lots of cheese. There’s too much cheese covering the meatballs. OK, Stephanie, you’re right. It doesn’t even look like a meatball sub.

It looks like a sausage– it could be a sausage sandwich, like a hot dog, the way the bun is opened. Or my favorite comment– I just held up this picture to somebody who has never seen it before. I was like, what is this? And she was like, oh, a baked potato. It’s not a baked potato. It’s not a baked potato.

So Stephanie took to Google searching for a meatball sub. And she sent me the photos. And this was really the first time she and I had hero hacked together. So this was our pivotable– pivotable– I can’t say that word today– pivotal moment, one that changed how we would approach sessions from then on, see, because we have an idea of what we think that it could or should look like, maybe based on family preferences.

Like, my husband loves cheese. So I was like, I’m going to give him a cheesy sub. And he’s going to love it. And Stephanie’s going to love it. The brand’s going to love it. But I was wrong on almost all accounts.

So [LAUGHS] it’s not necessarily that we learned what America would recognize as– or what our audience would recognize as a meatball sub. As you saw, somebody looked and thought that it was a baked potato.

And so that first photo over on the left, this is not a viral photo because we can’t even tell what it is. But the second photo, well, the second photo is one the brand actually put money behind to promote because they loved it so much. This right here is the difference between planning and researching before your session.

OK, so now before every session, we have to have a plan. Planning your sessions saves time. Boy, did it save time because right at dusk, I’m losing all the light. I have to go back in and rephotograph that meatball sub again, hoping that I get my photos right. So then I’ve lost time because I had to photograph it again.

And so planning your session, it allows you to stop hoping that you get the shot that you can use. And you can be confident that you do get the shot. And it allows you to compete because you have the right amount of content.

Planning gives you a huge variety of images that you need because you need a variety to use across all different social channels, OK? So a big part of planning is doing that market research, like the example that I gave. Stephanie went straight to the source– Google. What does a meatball sandwich look like to America?

So we actually coined the phrase “hero hacking.” And when we hero hack, we’re looking for the types of photos that people are responding to. And if you want to go on to the next slide, too. What types of images does Google look like? What type of images do people prefer to pin on Pinterest?

So things that we’re looking for Stephanie’s going to tell you in a minute. But I’m looking for the types of ingredients that are being used, dishes that are being used. Not all casseroles belong in a cast iron skillet, right? So we want to make sure our dishes make sense for the recipe that we’re using.

We want to make sure our garnishes make sense, that it’s something that home cooks are going to have. Otherwise they’re going to be intimidated and not be able to make it. We’re going to be able to create a shot list. And we’re looking at different camera angles.

But I do want to emphasize this is something that we are being inspired by. We’re looking at what people are responding to. We’re not copying off of the photos. So, Stephanie, why don’t you take us over and show us what it looks like to hero hack, briefly.

STEPHANIE KEEPING: OK, the number-one rule of hero hacking is to Google the keyword. And I can’t tell you how those two minutes of your life can save you a world of work. And so basically, like Melodee said, Google tells you what America thinks this recipe should be, right?

So what you’re going to do when you Google it, you’re going to look in the– we call it the tray. I don’t think Google calls it the tray, but the bank of recipes. We look in the SERP list that goes below it. We look in the Image search. And we’re starting to take notes.

We also search Pinterest for additional ideas. And what we’re doing is trying to really get a sense of all those things that Melodee said so that we can create images that are going to compete with the best of the best and eliminate the guesswork, right?

So this is, like, the curious case of the Jell-O poke cake. So in the top middle, there, is our photo, which we were like, let’s do a Jell-O poke cake. And we shot it. And I tried it a million different ways. And nothing ever took off. And I’m like, what’s wrong? It looks like everybody else’s.

I even tried some of my friends– because this is a super common recipe– some of my friends. And theirs took off. But mine wasn’t. So any time that we see something that isn’t working, we’re thinking, OK, is it the wrong season or the wrong timing? Is it the wrong platform? Like, sometimes things just work on Pinterest. They don’t work on Facebook, or vice versa.

Or if the answers to those things are no, we ask ourselves, did we make a mistake? And in this case, we could see that we made a mistake. And the reason I know this is because of hero hacking.

So you’re going to see here our photo’s at the top. Then at the bottom, there are the Google results plus two images of people’s that I share that actually did well. And I’m wondering if anyone wants to put in the comments what they think we did wrong.

But basically it’s so clear to me now. I’ve X-ed out the photos that don’t count. So everything here has one thing in common that ours doesn’t. And so that is that it’s on an angle. So the slice is pointing towards you. And I think, Melodee, you gave me a really good example. It’s like, that’s how you would eat it. You would eat it from the side. Its angles are pointing towards you.

And so what are we doing? We put it on the list to re-shoot and get that viral image because it’s so important. And we’ve done this time and time again.

And to be able to compete– we’re not copying. We’re doing our own recipe, our own photos. But we’re just turning the plate because the research has said that’s what works. That is what resonates with people.

MELODEE FISKE: Yep.

STEPHANIE KEEPING: So I wanted to give now the next example, is how we work through the process so that people could kind of see it and relate it to their own blog. So this is a post that’s been on my blog since the dawn of time. And it used to do really well. But it doesn’t compete anymore. You can look at the photos and see why.

But there are some things about it that this post used to go viral. This was, like, a 2015 record. You know, it was just one of those posts. It just doesn’t compete today.

And what works for it are thick layers and it being sliced. And it used to do really well. But it’s dropped off. So we got it reshot. And I think it’s the case with a lot of bloggers. And you get something reshot, and the new photos don’t do as well as the old photos. So that’s in the next slide.

So the next slide shows you what doesn’t work. And so there are three kinds of pictures that we found out don’t work for this recipe– overhead, thin layers, and not freezing it. So that’s the next slide. Jenny.

So these don’t work. These all bombed. So what we had to do is go back to the drawing board and really think about what we needed for this recipe. So if you go to the next slide, when we were looking at similar posts, we knew we hadn’t made a mistake, that it wasn’t a timing issue or a platform issue. I can share a pumpkin in July and get it to go viral. This was definitely a photographic issue.

So we knew that, with similar posts, what works well is a bite shot. So we developed a plan for the new session. And that’s on the next slide. And there were three things we wanted to focus on.

So these three things were that we wanted to adjust the recipe because the reshot one, an option is to put it in two pies. That just doesn’t look well for photographing. So we needed to make sure that we had a recipe that worked in the biggest pie shell possible so that we could get thick layers. And my people don’t make their own pie crusts. [LAUGHS] So it had to be a premade pie shell. That’s another thing.

We knew we wanted to freeze the pie because we needed those layers to be cleanly cut and the pie to stand tall so then it could defrost while it was being shot. And we knew we needed to get a bite shot because you can see from the last slide all of those pictures are bite shots. And they all went viral for similar recipes.

So the next slide is the heroes that we ended up with. And so these were kind of our choices. And so we had to pick one that we wanted to be the first face of the recipe. So we ended up picking– it’s on the next slide– is this bite shot. But it’s not just a bite shot. It actually has a bite shot with a fork, which I think reinforced the layers twice– super thick layers and close-cropped.

And I wanted to give the results of that. So this has been shared a lot. But this is one Facebook share. So this had about an 18 million reach. It had 240,000 shares. And it had 267,000 link clicks. And if anyone can do the math on that, it’s a nice payday.

MELODEE FISKE: So awesome.

STEPHANIE KEEPING: Yeah, and we’ll share it again this year. And hopefully it’ll take off again this year.

MELODEE FISKE: Yeah.

STEPHANIE KEEPING: So this is just really in the power of research and photography, what you’re seeing here. And I think if people take a little time ahead of time, I think they can see how to incorporate it into their own workflow and really develop some game changers.

So I think the first start of that is in really understanding the type of photos that go viral. And so we kind of have a brand, or a photo brand, of the type and style we use. And it’s actually one we teach our students, too, because we want to teach them what works.

When we hire photographers, we’re saying, OK, here’s how you have to shoot. You need it to be kitchen and not editorial, right? It needs to be accessible. It needs to look like someone’s rich friend’s kitchen, not a magazine shoot.

We want a white background. I typically don’t like stark white. I like a marble or a white grain board to give it some home and depth and take it out of that editorial. But I like it being white because I want the food to be the star of the show.

So I want bright food. So we ensure that the food is shot and edited, I would call it saturated but realistic. So we want it true to color–

MELODEE FISKE: Yeah.

STEPHANIE KEEPING: –but really bright and pop. And I would say the most important thing– all of those other things could be discounted. If you’re just wanting the most important thing, it’s that last thing. It has to look yummy.

If we get the most beautiful photos in the world but there are none that look yummy, that post does not go live. I can take shots that are less in quality– Melodee does not want to hear this, by the way– but [LAUGHS] you can get people to click on bad iPhone photos that are yummy versus beautiful editorial shots that look dry, that look not yummy.

MELODEE FISKE: Mhm, mhm.

STEPHANIE KEEPING: So if you’re making your money as a food blogger, being yummy is the most important thing. I think the other things help elevate your blog, bring in readership, and all those things. I would not discount them. And I don’t want blurry iPhone photos on my blog. But at the end of the day, it has to look yummy.

And there are some keys to getting your work to look like this every time. So Melodee’s going to go through some practical tips that we hope will help people.

MELODEE FISKE: Yeah, so let’s start with camera gear. And I saw in the comments–I was perusing those– that some people were asking about lenses and stuff. So I shoot with a Canon Mark III. Actually, right now I shoot with a Canon Mark IV.

My two go-to lenses, you guys– I like to keep things super simple and approachable. My go-tos that I’m always using are my 50 1.2 and my 100 2.8.

I will tell you the jump from the 50 1.8 to the 1.2 is worth it. The colors in that 1.2 alone, I feel like, just take you to a whole new level. Whenever I first put that on my camera and I took a picture and I saw the colors, I was like, [GASPS] oh, my gosh. This is amazing.

I just felt like it’s a whole other level. And so the colors on the 1.2 are beautiful. The Canon 100 2.8, this allows you to get nice and close to the food. This is great for heroes. This is great for those bite shots that Stephanie was showing us.

It just allows you to get close. It makes the food look big. So these are my go-to lenses. I also use an ExpoDisc. I’m going to show you what that looks like in a minute.

Of course I’ve got SD cards. I have a tripod. But you guys, I’m a free-hand shooter. I know a lot of people like it mounted. They like it tethered. They like tripods. And I’m like, I just like free-hand. So I’m a free-hand shooter.

I use Lightroom for post-processing. And of course I edit on a laptop or a computer. I would recommend this over an iPad or a Chromebook. It makes a difference.

So now let’s talk a little bit about the styling supplies that you need. So like Stephanie was saying, she likes that light background. She likes a lot of neutrals because it really allows the food to be the star so we’re getting some really bright and colorful food images.

So I like to start with neutral plates and bowls. I like brushed silverware instead of the shiny because I’m sure you don’t want to see yourself in the reflection of the spoons.

I have a photo– it’s forever burned in my mind just like those meatball photos– of me in a hot-pink shirt standing over a pot of delicious chicken and dumplings. And there I am in a hot-pink shirt. I’m so sorry, Stephanie.

STEPHANIE KEEPING: [LAUGHS]

MELODEE FISKE: So I always like to use linens. I love linens because it adds a different texture. It adds movement. It adds some more depth.

I like the earthiness of the wooden serving spoons, even little wooden bowls, little pinch bowls. Neutral baking dishes, neutral mixing bowls because, again, like I talked about before, is you really want to make sure that you use the appropriate dish for the recipe.

And so Stephanie and I, we’ve had this– I’m sure you can relate– the comment of, I don’t have– what did they say– I don’t have a 9″ by 13.” But I have a 13″ by 9″. Will that work for this recipe? And so whenever you’re getting questions like that, you realize how important it is. Having the appropriate dishes for that recipe is so important.

STEPHANIE KEEPING: We had a tuna casserole that was photographed in a round casserole dish. It did nothing. And if anyone knows my blog, tuna casserole should be a winner.

And we took the exact same recipe, just put it in a regular rectangle. And it did well. It’s like, people picture the recipe how they pictured it. And that round casserole dish was before we hero hacked.

MELODEE FISKE: Yeah.

STEPHANIE KEEPING: And that was when we realized we had made a mistake. And the difference was the casserole dish, nothing else.

MELODEE FISKE: Yeah. It’s amazing, these–

STEPHANIE KEEPING: It’s shocking, right? Yeah.

MELODEE FISKE: It is shocking, these details, that you wouldn’t think, you know? So that’s why going and seeing what Google likes, what Google is putting up to the front, pushing to the front, and seeing what people are responding to.

So let’s talk about a home-studio setup because I photograph in my house. Right behind me is my table. So the items that you need for that home-studio setup is a portable table, styling boards. You’ll see in that photo, that is a vinyl styling board. But I really like the thick boards. I love those. I’ve got marble.

I tend to have the lighter, more neutral tones. Some of our students, they go for the darker. They’ll go for different ones. I love that Stephanie and I are on the same page. I use reflectors. I have a stepstool because shorty-short getting those overhead shots definitely needs some help getting up there.

I use stands to hold up my reflectors. And then a natural light source. I am a free-hand shooter. And I shoot with natural light. But I’m also in sunny Phoenix, Arizona. So [LAUGHS] that helps. The sun is on my side.

So I want to give you guys two tips to create pin-worthy photos with the gear you already have now because, believe it or not, that’s a question we get asked a lot of is, well, I’ve got a Rebel T3i or a Rebel T6. And can I create those beautiful images with the gear that I have now? Or do I need to upgrade now?

And so first of all, I want to say that no matter what gear you have, light is foundational– always. Light is foundational. And so I want to show you how I set up that portable table and the styling boards to my window.

So first of all, I set up my board parallel to a south-facing window. I have a big south-facing window. So that allows me the most shooting time during the day. This one, I will say, is a west-facing window. And it allows me to photograph in the afternoon, which is actually usually whenever I photograph anyway.

So I have a reflector on the opposite side of the window and at the back of the board. And that helps me create a light trap OK? It keeps all of that light concentrated on the board. And that light’s going to flood my camera. My camera’s going to love that, OK?

Because this is a west-facing window, sometimes during the day, towards the end, I have that direct light coming in. And this is where my diffuser comes into play.

I will put a diffuser in the window between the light and my board. And then it diffuses all of that harsh light. And it creates this beautiful soft light. And actually it’s my favorite type of light to photograph in. So I love this.

Now I want to show you– speaking of, is my gear good enough; can I do this with my gear– I want to show you how important light is because I have two setups right here of one with an $800 setup. I have a Canon 60D– 6-0 D– and an 18 to 55 millimeter lens, you guys, on one photo. On the other photo, I’m either using my Mark III or my Mark IV. And I’m using my Canon 50 1.2. So either way, it’s like a $3,500 setup versus an $800 setup.

OK, this is how important light is. So if you go to the next slide, you’ll see which one it is. And Stephanie has figured it out now because we’ve talked about this so much. She’s seen this photo.

STEPHANIE KEEPING: Yeah.

MELODEE FISKE: But you’ll see the photo on the left is an $800 setup. The photo on the right is a $3,500 setup. You’re going to have to zoom in to those photos pretty darn close to see that difference.

You guys, light is foundational. So you can use that gear that you have now to create these bright and colorful images. OK, now, my second tip I have for you– light, super important. Number two is to use an ExpoDisc. And this little lifesaver will save your life.

[LAUGHTER]

It is. Like, I have a couple of them laying around here. And I do not leave home without this. I do not shoot without this. This thing– well, when I go to the grocery store, I leave it at home.

But if I’m going shooting anywhere, I have this thing because our digital cameras are amazing. They are wonderful. But they cannot determine what white looks like in every setting. And so we have to help it. And we have to create– this helps create a custom white balance. It helps your camera know what white is supposed to look like in every setting.

Now, some of you might use Kelvin and say, well, I just use Kelvin. And I adjust it. And that’s great. What Kelvin does is Kelvin will adjust the yellows and the blues. The ExpoDisc is actually calibrated on the color spectrum. And not only will it account for the blues and the yellows but the greens and the pinks, as well. So the colors on your photo are more rounded.

I want to show you a before and after with auto-white balance and using the ExpoDisc. With an ExpoDisc, there is no editing. That photo is straight off of camera.

The goal is always to get our photos looking pretty darn perfect straight off of camera because we’re photographers, right? I don’t like to spend hours editing photos. And making sure that I’ve got my light dialed in, I’m using the best light, and I’m using my ExpoDisc– because using an ExpoDisc does require the best light– I am able to get photos like this right off of camera.

This makes such a big difference whenever it comes to our productivity and how much time we’re spending behind a camera. So those are my two tips. Those are my secret weapons, is making sure I’ve got good light and making sure that I am using an ExpoDisc to get my photos right in camera.

STEPHANIE KEEPING: I love that. Oh, my gosh. We’re like, who does the selling?

[LAUGHS]

MELODEE FISKE: I know, and tag team.

[INTERPOSING VOICES]

STEPHANIE KEEPING: –really awkward. So I will say, if anyone’s interested in joining us or wondering how the heck can I look and improve my photography, we want to say there’s two options. One is the do-it-yourself option.

So we’re in the middle of an enrollment session right now. I think we have 13 spaces left-ish, somewhere around there. And we have tiers, so if you just wanted photography versus if you wanted coaching and all the other things.

So if anyone wants to go, they can go to prettyfocused.com/sales-page and check out what we offer in terms of coaching. And if you just want to join our waitlist or be on our email list, you can do that there on our website, as well.

The other option is if you want to go the Stephanie Keeping path of having people do– [LAUGHS] things for you. We also– we train people to be food photographers for bloggers, basically because it came out of a need for my own blog.

And if you go to prettyfocused.com/grads, you’re going to find there a directory of our graduates. So these are people who’ve gone through– they’ve taken the training. But not only did they take the training, they were tested. And they had to pass a rigorous portfolio process. And they’re all people who are independent businesspeople and photographers who you can hire.

Or you can go to our Buyers’ Club, which is a Facebook group, and lurk or post a job in there or see what people have for sale. And that’s another option. So I would love to have people join us either way. It’d be amazing. Oh, yes! Oh, my gosh. We’re the worst salespeople ever.

[LAUGHTER]

JENNY GUY: I’ve got you. I’ve got you, Stephanie.

STEPHANIE KEEPING: Yeah. [LAUGHS] I forgot, but we’re offering– please don’t tell anyone [LAUGHS]– we’re offering a 10% off–

[INTERPOSING VOICES]

MELODEE FISKE: Yep, just the people who are here.

STEPHANIE KEEPING: Yeah, just the people who are here and the people on the Mediavine email list–

MELODEE FISKE: Yes.

STEPHANIE KEEPING: –which if you’re a Tier 3 person, that’s going to save you hundreds of dollars. So you can take a look at the pricing, put in SUMMER10, and get a discount. And I will say– (SARCASTICALLY) and there’s more, but– [LAUGHS] for anyone who’s wondering if it’s worth it or what to do, it’s broken into tiers.

So the Tier 1, what I would say to people, you could use the coupon, buy Tier 1. And the Tier 1 is photography only. If you feel like you want extra coaching or you want community, you want feedback, you want all those things, you can upgrade at any time.

We’re not– [LAUGHS] so we just tell people you just pay the difference. And we’ll work with you so that you can upgrade to the tier to get the coaching if you decide afterwards. It’s not a big deal at all. So people can kind of dip their toe in. And there’s a 30-day money-back guarantee. There’s– like, the worst– [LAUGHS]

JENNY GUY: No, not at all. You guys are great. I have to say that we’re having, guys– and not to worry, audience. We are going to share that presentation with you in the comments as soon as we’re done.

If you have additional questions– I have a few that people have been asking throughout that I’m going to put to them. But before I even get started, I want to say that myself and my entire team are messaging each other saying how frickin’ hungry we are right now–

[LAUGHS]

–because we’ve been looking at the pictures. And we’re all like, I want the cookie. No, I want the pumpkin. I want that– yes, all of it. All of the things. We were feeling very, very tantalized by the images.

STEPHANIE KEEPING: I love it.

JENNY GUY: So thank you so much. OK, we had a question a long time ago from Kippi, And she said, Stephanie, “what do you mean by URL structure change?”

STEPHANIE KEEPING: Oh, god. OK, so don’t do this unless– don’t be like me unless–

JENNY GUY: We actually have a blog post about this on the Mediavine website.

STEPHANIE KEEPING: Yes, so don’t do this unless you can afford to lose Google traffic. This was a calculated risk that still hurts today. But I’m OK with it.

So I just want to put that out there. You need to know going in, if you do this, you’re going to lose traffic, hands down. Mediavine will tell you, I will tell you, everyone will tell you, you need to be OK with losing money. OK, with that out of the way–

JENNY GUY: And not just from traffic, it’s also from our advertisers because it is an entirely new URL that you are introducing to– it’s a new website.

STEPHANIE KEEPING: Yeah, so for me, I did not re– so some people do an entirely new–

JENNY GUY: Oh, OK, yes.

STEPHANIE KEEPING: Yeah, so people who are contemplating changing their blog name after years of blogging, don’t do it. I’m just going to say that. Don’t do it. Rebrand. Make a new logo. Get it out of your system. Don’t do it.

But what I did, [LAUGHS] which is also horrible, but I’m OK with it, is I had a URL structure that was like, blog. Then it had the category. It had some stuff in there.

So what it meant was it was creating duplicate URLs for multiple posts if they were in multiple categories. It was from, like, the early days of blogging when no one knew anything, that type of thing.

JENNY GUY: Yes, totally.

STEPHANIE KEEPING: And I made the decision to just eat the frog and do it. And so it has been multiple years of dealing with this. So I would say if you want to do something like that, you need to calculate the money you’re going to lose and be OK with it. So that’s what I mean. I don’t want people to think– like, it’s a thing.

JENNY GUY: No, and it’s perfectly transparent. We appreciate it. Kippi just said, “oh, my god. I just did this.”

STEPHANIE KEEPING: Oh.

JENNY GUY: Uh-oh. OK.

STEPHANIE KEEPING: OK, well–

JENNY GUY: You guys might need to collab afterwards and discuss.

STEPHANIE KEEPING: Yeah, just message. I remember Kippi from BTI. So totally just message me if you need to.

JENNY GUY: We also are getting some compliments on your Mediavine teal eyeshadow, which I–

STEPHANIE KEEPING: I know.

[INTERPOSING VOICES]

JENNY GUY: –have to say, heck yeah.

STEPHANIE KEEPING: –such a coincidence. But now I’m going to pretend like I’m just a cheerleader. [LAUGHS]

JENNY GUY: My team was like, we love your teal sweater. It’s green. But you know, I’ll take it. It was planned. And I loved it.

STEPHANIE KEEPING: Yeah.

JENNY GUY: OK, Sarah said, “Wow! So do you choose your recipes based on whether or not the food is “photographable?”

STEPHANIE KEEPING: Not necessarily.

JENNY GUY: OK.

STEPHANIE KEEPING: No, because, I mean, I have lots of casseroles and brown food. What I would say, I choose recipes that I think my audience will love first, not that I think Google will love. The reason I do that is because you saw the struggle bus of Google in my analytics.

So I need to make money now. [LAUGHS] I can’t wait two years, right? I’m the sole provider for my family and for the people who work for me. So I need to make money now.

So I make sure that my audience, whether it’s social, email, those things, love it first. And then I hope that by going viral, that I get backlinks on all those things and Google catches up. So that’s the number-one consideration, is that I think it’s something that my audience will love and that it will go viral on social.

But in that photographable thing, what I try to do is make sure that every single recipe we photograph is the most yummy it can be for that recipe. So if it’s tuna casserole, which– or if it’s like a strawberry cake, whatever it is, there has to be yummy shots in there.

So that’s, I think, the difference, where you’re going to see– I might not necessarily pick all the beautiful food. But it needs to look yummy. And so that is the number-one thing when I’m telling my team. I’m like, OK, that’s pretty. But it doesn’t look yummy.

So we need to have shots that look yummy. We do tutorial-based photography. And that’s what we teach. And that’s what I do on my own blog. We also do ingredient shots in step-by-step photos. But for me and my job of getting page views to the site, I’m really concerned about the heroes and that they look yummy. So that’s– yeah.

JENNY GUY: I also love the– I mean, nobody is going to sit here and say– even as beautiful as they were, nobody’s going to go, you know the most beautiful food? It’s a meatball sub. Or it’s a tuna noodle casserole. You’re just not. You’re not going to walk in and be like, it’s going to be beautiful like a lattice apple pie.

You’re not going to get the same thing. It’s just not going to be that. But I love that you’re taking foods that– because I still want to eat a meatball sub and a tuna noodle casserole. I like to eat those things. So making it as good as it can be, love that.

STEPHANIE KEEPING: Yes. And I mean, realistically, for any food blog, what are your number-one posts going to be? Like, chili, meatloaf, right?

I mean, I think most Mediavine publishers are an American audience. You’re going to want the things that America eats on your blog. And they’re not beautiful things. The big page views are in dinners and brown food. So we’re just trying to make that thing yummiest it can possibly be.

So I said it in the presentation– it’s not mine, I actually took it from another– the best, best, best advice I ever got from a blogger, who is infinitely more successful than I am, is that when you look at a photo– and I’m going to say this again for the people in the back because it’s so important– you need to be able to taste that dish from your photos. And if you can’t, go photograph it again. It will be the difference in getting people to your blog and not.

They need to look at it. And if there’s a mix of crunchy and sweet, they need to know that. They just have to be like, oh, my god, that looks so good. Click. Oh, my god, that looks so good, Mom. Make this for me. Whatever they’re doing, right, that needs to happen.

And you can only invoke that emotion if it looks yummy, if you want page views. I mean, right? That’s really what most of us want here, I think, is for people to visit.

JENNY GUY: Well, I mean, yeah. I think you can take– and I also loved that, Stephanie, you talking about how you are taking it from, it’s not just the food that you want to eat or want to make. You’re wanting to serve your audience because you are serving your pocketbook and the people who work for you. So it’s very much a business decision.

STEPHANIE KEEPING: Yeah, absolutely.

JENNY GUY: Love hearing that. OK, so we’re unfortunately out of time. But I want to ask one more thing. I’m going to let you guys think about it. I want answers from both of you before we say goodbye.

But I absolutely appreciate it and it fed my soul that one of the slides specifically said, be inspired. Do not copy another photographer’s images or style, which, like, as I said, heck yeah. We’re all about it. Don’t copy.

But with that, could you tell us how to find the line between inspiration and copying and a couple of resources of where to go that isn’t just Google? Maybe where you guys get inspired. How did you find your signature look?

So if you’ll think about that for a second. I asked about 17 questions in that one. So you’re welcome. I’ll be right back in a second. Guys, I’m going to make a quick announcement, that we are back with a Summer of Live next week. It will be Wednesday, July 29, 3:00 PM Eastern.

Amy Flanigan of Belly Full will be here. And we are going to do– the topic is “TikTok, You Don’t Stop– Expanding Your Brand With Short, Funny Videos.” I am old and have not been on TikTok. So I’m very excited to learn from her. Here we go.

MELODEE FISKE: That’s awesome.

JENNY GUY: And from Stephanie and Melodee, we have learned so much. People are saying, love it. So excited to learn the info. We are going to share that slide presentation in the comments so people can get in touch with you after the presentation. But who would like to go first with my plethora of questions?

STEPHANIE KEEPING: Yeah. OK, so I think it can happen. I just want to say it can happen. Sometimes it happens where you look at something a little too close, right? It can happen. But to try to prevent it, you’re going to not– you’re going to make a list, right?

So when you’re going through and you’re looking at all the sources, you’re going to be like, I need a shot that’s an overhead shot of the casserole dish. I need a shot where a spoon is being scooped out. I need a shot where it’s a slice of pie that’s on a plate that’s front on. So you’re making a list. So then you’re not grabbing pictures and like, I’m gonna copy–

JENNY GUY: OK.

STEPHANIE KEEPING: –that one. I’m going to copy– so you’re making a word list. And then you’re pulling in your linens, your look, all of those things. So hopefully as you transition through, you’re not going to copy.

I would say if you get to the end, hopefully you’ve done your due diligence and it isn’t. I’m going to say, you make a judgment call of, is this too close, it needs to be reshot? Or is it just inspired and I should link to that blogger? Those types of things. So I think there’s several issues there.

But I think it’s about making just a checklist of the things you need and planning. It’s not about taking someone’s photo and having it there and saying, I need to duplicate that photo. That’s the difference, I think. And then giving credit where credit is due if needed.

MELODEE FISKE: Yeah.

STEPHANIE KEEPING: And Melodee probably has better. [LAUGHS]

MELODEE FISKE: No, I think that’s great. And I think, too, it’s– because we have a whole session-planning guide that has a whole list of heroes to get so you’re not just getting– like, I’ve gone to blogs. I don’t know the name of the blog. I can just remember my experience there. It was, like, a close-up of a frosted chocolate cupcake, far back of the same setup of the chocolate-frosted cupcake, and then a little bit higher angle of the chocolate-frosted cupcake.

And I was like, as a reader, let me tell you, bloggers. I was like, give me more. I know what that looks like frosted. Tell me more about the story. And I just get so frustrated. I’m like, I’m going to go find another recipe. I need more. And so I don’t even know where I was going with that. But–

STEPHANIE KEEPING: [LAUGHS]

MELODEE FISKE: So we have that checklist. So we’re getting more than just that one hero, right? We need a variety because, like I said, we’re not just using it in the blog post. You’re using it on Pinterest. You’re using it on Instagram. You’re using it on Facebook. You’re using these images everywhere to push traffic to your blog.

So we are compiling a list. And I think it’s also important that you don’t just hone in on one photo because that’s– [LAUGHS] when you just hone in on one photo, that’s where that happens. So whenever you’re looking over a huge variety of images– looking at Google. You are looking at Pinterest. You’re even looking at Instagram just to see what people really like on Instagram.

But I have a whole list of– or a stack of magazines that I’ll buy, like the Taste of Home, chicken edition, right? And I’m flipping through that magazine. And I’m looking for inspiration in the magazine, you know?

I’m looking for inspiration everywhere that I am, everywhere that I look because I want to know how to better photograph, especially those foods that are ugly. So give me a Taste of Home, like, casserole edition– I’m sure they have it somewhere– just to be able to make sure you’re getting all of those.

STEPHANIE KEEPING: Yeah.

MELODEE FISKE: Does that make–

[INTERPOSING VOICES]

JENNY GUY: Oh, totally.

STEPHANIE KEEPING: Yeah, and I think you can look at, like, the poke cake we need to re-photograph. It’s not one image I’m saying we need to copy. It’s, we need to turn the damn plate, right? That’s the–

MELODEE FISKE: Right. It’s–

[INTERPOSING VOICES]

STEPHANIE KEEPING: Yeah.

MELODEE FISKE: A lot of times it’s the angle.

STEPHANIE KEEPING: Yeah.

MELODEE FISKE: It’s the angle. And so whenever you start– when you use the same plate, when you use the same linen, whenever you use the same recipe, there’s so much that goes, you know–

STEPHANIE KEEPING: Yeah.

MELODEE FISKE: You have to really try, I feel like, to copy a photo exactly.

STEPHANIE KEEPING: Yeah, for sure.

JENNY GUY: I mean, if all else fails from this episode, please take with you, “turn the damn plate.”

[LAUGHTER]

Just go with that. That’s if you take nothing else. Ladies, you have been an absolute treat. Audience, thank you for joining us. Have a wonderful weekend. And we’ll see you next time.

STEPHANIE KEEPING: Bye.

MELODEE FISKE: Bye.

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