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Episode 112: Develop Killer Food Photography Skills With Jena Carlin

Blog Title: Little Rusted Ladle

Social Media:

Little Rusted Ladle on Facebook

Little Rusted Ladle on Instagram


Jena is a lifestyle and food photographer in the Midwest and the creative behind the acclaimed food blog, Little Rusted Ladle: a collection of recipes, personal interest narratives, food photography tips, and personal musings. Her work has been featured in Taste of Home, Kohls, Martha Stewart, and more.

Jena’s ultimate goal is to tell a story within the food… to capture a feeling to enjoy time and time again. Jena is fulfilled by capturing a tale to accompany a recipe or ingredient and brings out the heart of her work. Like photo essays, they not only capture the story within a still life recipe but also celebrate farmers that grow it, chefs and home cooks that prepare it, the communities that celebrate it, and the moments of friends and family around the table to experience it.

Notes from Episode #112: Honing Your Photography Skills

  • Fun fact: Jena purchased a (former) dairy farm from her dad and is going to be renovating it into a photo studio and renovating the farm house too. 
  • Jena majored in studio art for painting and minored in photography right out of high school. What she found was missing from her education was what came next, to make money though. 
  • Jena got an internship at Readers Digest who owned Taste of Home at the time. 
  • Jena’s eyes were opened to what art could be and how she could be a part of the process with her desire to be in an art world. At this internship, she walked in and saw photographers, set stylists, creative and art directors, editors, and in a working kitchen.
  • Jena went on to use her skills shooting wedding photography. Working under the pressure of shooting a wedding teaches you to handle anything regarding photography. By doing a wedding though you learn to become confident and grab pictures quickly and carefully. So it’ll prepare you for working under pressure, being able to pivot and be aware of details and tackle anything.
  • Practice Practice! Test out your ideas constantly. You’ll develop your own style and understand what it is you’ll love about food photography. Keep pushing forward with learning skills to hone your craft. You’ll start to attract clients that like your work. You’ll create work your clients love and you’ll start to love your clients. 
  • Work to develop your style in photography (which is a long process) but once you figure that out, just keep pushing forward. Others will be attracted to your work when you love your own work. 
  • Network with people that you work with or around in the industry. If you take a position where you’re working with others you admire and want  to learn from, be sure to talk with them, ask for feedback for why they did the things they did in their work so you learn from it. Start to anticipate others’ needs so you can assist them better. They will open up to you so you can learn from their journey. 
  • Don’t be shy about putting your work out there and ask for feedback. Don’t take the feedback as criticism, but instead put their advice into practice.
  • Word of mouth is a great way to find other work in the field you’re interested in. A connection can help you find a lead to a position. You can also Google businesses around you that you can work for. Check out Linked In. If there’s a studio near you, message people and find ways to connect with them with someone that’s a common friend. 
    • Be sure to examine: what’s your connection with the company? Always lead with a compliment when connecting. Then move into asking about an interview or asking to shadow someone. 
  • When you want to work with a client, you don’t want to just photograph a food piece, but photograph the brand and the pieces that they surround themselves with to incorporate that into your work so it helps them stand out and be recognized by the clientele. 
  • If you’re interested in working with restaurants or other local businesses in your area, an important thing to do is to visit the business multiple times before approaching them. Then reach out to a manager or owner. Let them know what you can deliver, leave a business card and stay active with these Brands by interacting with them online on socials and being where they are.
  • When you are surrounded by amazing people you will naturally be a better version of yourself. 
  • Jena had to start networking to build her own community because once she was out of the creative studio, she craved that energy and friendship she had there. She had to reach out on socials and went to retreats. 
  • Share with someone why you genuinely like someone’s work. Be real. They will respond!
  • Retreats have been a great way to invest in herself and her business.
  • Monetize food photography –
  • Keep an updated blog with current pictures and work you’ve done. 
    • Jena didn’t like ads because they weren’t visually appealing. But that took her out of the game and traffic didn’t grow. 
    • Jena didn’t think about the blog itself to make money and that hurt her. 
    • Jena didn’t train herself on SEO because it was boring (but it’s very very important to do!). If it’s not something you want to, focus on making a bunch of money so you can afford to pay someone else to do it if you don’t want to. 
    • Pinterest took a lot of time. Jena finally hired that out to take it off her plate. 
    • Jena finally hired Casey Markee too and got her site updated. 
    • Do more of what you love and find people to do the things you don’t love so you can keep in the game. 
  • Create the work that you love to create so that you get the lifestyle you want. 
  • Hosting a 28 person summit soon! Begins 7/7/20
    • FREE while it’s live! 
    • If you purchase a VIP pass, you can view the interviews for a year. 
  • Several people are offering bonus offerings that are available to VIP members only!

Helpful references from the episode:

MASTER THE ART OF FOOD PHOTOGRAPHY summit being held July 7-15! I would love to be able to promote it on the podcast! 🙂

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