In episode 194, we chat with Samantha Milner at RecipeThis about being the approachable “girl next door” to users, working on a quality blog posts and not worrying if your photography isn’t perfect.
We cover why you should definitely focus on quality SOMEWHERE, experiment with ingredient photos on Pinterest and be honest, real and focus on your user.
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Bio Samantha Milner is a six figure food blogger over at RecipeThis.com with her chef husband Dominic. Together they focus on cooking with kitchen gadgets such as the air fryer, instant pot, bread machine, slow cooker, soup maker and blender.
- User experience means that some of your audience might not be able to read your posts or watch them clearly or at all. The speed of a video might make it difficult to follow along. So it’s good to provide information to your audience in multiple formats.
- The iphone can produce good photos and videos, especially if you’re aren’t a professional photographer and want to just get started.
- Using iphone allows you to use their easy editing apps too.
- Your audience will respond to the “girl next door” type of photos and quality of content in your post – making cooking relevant.
- Don’t underestimate the value of process shots. They are valuable on Facebook as well as Pinterest.
- Try changing your pins to include a raw food shot and a complete photo shot. You can also use process shots in a pin.
- Facebook audience can appreciate the step by step process as well as Pinterest users.
- Sharing roundups of others recipes that fit your niche is a great way to network with bloggers and garner interest to your blog, especially if photography isn’t grabbing them from your blog.
- Know your audience and what they want to be successful in the kitchen.
Samantha likes the quotes:
“You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink.”
“Stand out from the crowd.”
Want To Learn More?
Listen as Veronika Grove shares in episode 111 how to create food videos.
Click for full text.
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What is up food bloggers? Welcome to Eat Blog Talk. This podcast is for you, food bloggers, wanting value and clarity to help you find greater success in your business. Today, I am going to have a conversation with Samantha Milner from recipethis.com and we are going to chat about food blogging success without perfect photography. Samantha is a six-figure food blogger over at recipethis.com with her chef husband Dominic. They focus on cooking with kitchen gadgets, such as the air fryer, Instant Pot, bread machine, slow cooker, soup maker and blender. Samantha. I am super excited to talk to you today about photography and everything else. Some web accessibility we’ll throw in there, but first we want to hear your fun fact.
My fun fact would be in the summer of 2018, I said to my husband, for the same price that it would cost for two weeks at Disney World. I said, I bet I can do us eight weeks traveling around Europe in a tent. We did eight beautiful European countries in a tent. Thanks to PR knowledge, I managed to get the tent and all the camping gear for free. And we did all of our cooking during those eight weeks in the Instant Pot pressure cooker.
Gosh, that is an amazing story and super inspiring. With a little bit of knowledge, you can definitely take traveling a long way, right? So that’s super, super cool. I’m kind of jealous, actually. Cool. Thanks for sharing that, Samantha. Today we’re going to talk about photography, how it doesn’t need to be perfect. You are a shining example of this, and I am notorious for saying that photography does need to be good in order to find success. I say that all the time. So I am open to hearing your take and I am really excited to dive into that. But first I just want to touch on your story, because you are a partially sighted food blogger and you have obviously found success, food blogging. So I would love just to hear a little bit about your story and also what your take is on the whole web accessibility topic.
Well, I originally started my first food blog back in 2009, before they were trendy and before a lot of people jumped on the food blogging bandwagon. My husband, as you’ve mentioned this is a chef, was a chef, and we enjoyed it. But at the time our business model was website flipping. So we were building up blogs and then selling them for profit. So that was our first taste of it. We’d also had a kitchen gadget site that specialized in reviewing bread machines, soup machines, et cetera. We did lots and lots of different sites, managed sites for clients and realized that what we liked the most was kitchen gadgets and food blogging. So eventually in 2015 we came back full circle. Regarding my eyesight, my mum when she was in childbirth with me, there were complications and I had a stroke during childbirth and this affected the path of the brain that does your eyesight and also gave me epilepsy.
So I’ve always worked online because nobody wants you in the real world when you’re passionately sighted, because they just don’t. It’s so hard to find a job. I seeked online work because I couldn’t get one in the real world. As a pastorally sighted blogger, it’s not that difficult. I think the biggest difficulty was recently myself and my husband were needing to upgrade our laptops. I think we ended up on the fourth one before it was suitable for me because I think the first one, the screen was way too bright and it was setting off my epilepsy. The second one he bought me the screen was too small for me, for when I’m increasing the font size to the accessibility that I need. It just became this long winded thing just to get a laptop. But apart from that, on a day-to-day basis, I’m not that bad.
From a web accessibility point of view, for myself, what I find a nightmare is on a lot of sites, you are now told to make your font size really big to be able to earn more from Mediavine and AdThrive and whatnot, or my site font is already too big. So quite often this knocks a lot of the texts off the screen, but the biggest issue I have, which is more because I’ve got epilepsy, is that when I’m viewing a page, I can’t handle GIFs. How often do you see a GIF on a site? If I’m subscribed to a newsletter and send me a GIF, I will unsubscribe because it’s just too much of a health risk for me to send a few emails with them in.
That is something I never would think about. I appreciate your perspective so much because we just get used to living life as we are, and as we know it, so I really appreciate you bringing this perspective to the table because I don’t think most people think of that. Thank you for sharing that. I really appreciate all of that.
Well, I met this wonderful lady, met her in Nashville in the United States, and she is completely blind and she’s an avid user of the Instant Pot. That’s how I met her because she became one of our subscribers and the friendships have grown over the years. What always inspired me about her is that she actually teaches other people to use the Instant Pot. Yet there’s so many people that have still got the Instant Pot sat in the box and a blind person is there showing other blind people how to use it. That always fascinates me. The one feedback she always gave me when it came to accessibility, but she sends me really, really long emails, which is obviously using audio to be able to achieve that. She always says to me that the worst thing is the fast YouTube videos. So we’re talking about the recipe videos we have with just the hands and pans and the music. That is her nightmare because with the music playing, she has no idea what’s going on. You know, so I’ve recently started doing YouTube videos and I’m making sure that I’m really, really descriptive so that people that are partially sighted or blind can listen along and still follow the recipes.
Oh, I love hearing that too. That is actually a change I made in my own videos. We’re not creating a ton of videos right now, but we went from doing the music and hands and pans to voice over so that something substantial is actually being said about the recipe. I’ll just give kind of tips about the pan I’m using or ingredients or something, because I had that in my mind. What if someone can’t see this and Oh, it says music playing. Okay, great. But what else is going on? So another great perspective. So thanks for sharing that.
I must admit, I’d never thought about that all those years ago until she said it to me, so it’s not something that’s really in your mind.
Until someone brings that to your attention and then you’re like, Oh, and then you start to think about things a little bit differently. So thank you for sharing all of that Samantha .super awesome stuff there and very inspiring. I would love to talk to you about photography. I’m so curious to hear your take on this because you have a different perspective than I do about photography, but I’m always willing to see other points of view. So first of all, what do you use to take the photos for your blog?
I currently use an iPhone 11 Pro Max. I’ve been using that for, I think about a year now and my husband has just purchased the iPhone 12. So now when we do videos, we felt that one was not enough. You know what it’s like, you want to do the front angle and he wants to do the hands and pans. So his 12 is the one now that does my face in the videos. Then my 11 Pro Max is the one that’s attached to the tripod. But before that I was using just the iPhone7, but right back when I started Recipe This, I was under the opinion like everybody else, that you have to have top-notch photography, otherwise nobody’s ever going to be interested in your recipes. Well, I did that. I hired someone to take photos for me. I would show them my recipe, give them the details.
Then they would produce the photos for me. I found out later that they were just actually using stock photos. So I have a massive bunch of stock photos on my site from when I started in 2015, through to the end of 2017, which is a real bummer. Then we started taking our own photos in the beginning of 2018. We started off like most people where we got ourselves a digital camera. I couldn’t tell you what it was. I just knew it was a Canon and my husband would take the photos and I just wanted to do the photos and they just didn’t feel right. I said to my husband, can we switch to the iPhone instead? Because the iPhone doesn’t take terrible pictures either. So we thought we’ll give that a go instead. We moved to using iPhones, I think in 2019.
We found that in the beginning, obviously the photos were much better than what we’re producing now. What we’ve actually found is that we get a much higher social share now. People prefer the kind of the girl next door, they’re wanting the home cooked photos rather than the Gordon Ramsey, which I’m not knocking anybody. That’s fantastic at food photography here, but you know, a lot of the time people just want something quick and easy. Because of my niche that I’m in the Instant Pot and the air fryer, people are more interested in seeing it coming together in the Instant Pot and the air fryer rather than four or five different featured images or hero shots of the food. I found that I’ve got a lot of feedback and people prefer it that way.
That’s really interesting. So quality needs to be a part of the equation on some level. I believe that. So if you are not focusing on photography quality, are you just putting all of your focus on the actual process and the recipe and the way that people can recreate your recipe in a quality way?
Yes. I’m all about user experience. That’s my number one girl. I’m focusing on having the best recipes, having the best writes up on the post, being the person that my readers can come to whenever they need me, whenever they need help with a recipe. It’s just done really well that way. I still get a great Pinterest traffic, great Google traffic, great Facebook traffic. I’ve not focused on photography as much as some others do. I focused on the quality of the recipe for good writing, good customer support, rather than just the photography. Some of our pictures are a lot better than others. There’s some of them that look really bad and then there’s others, I’m thinking to herself, you cannot tell the difference between that and a digital camera on some of them. But that also comes down to the fact that we live in a very old house. It’s got one very high up window. It’s very dark in there. Even our digital camera photos that we took work great on the lights. The other thing is, with our cameras we can use all the iPhone editing apps and it makes us a lot quicker in the process of getting the photos ready and the recipe ready and getting it to our reader quicker.
Tell me about your Pinterest thoughts and your strategy because Pinterest is an entirely visual platform and the recipe. Isn’t the first thing that people are seeing. So they don’t know your recipe’s quality. So if your photos aren’t quality, like you said that some of them were not, some of them are, if you have a photo on Pinterest that is not, how do you explain that you’re pulling people in and through to your site?
I think a lot of it is because for us, we are, we’re very original. It’s where the ones that seem to create new things in the Instant Pot and air fry niche. Then we get a lot of copycats after that. So often on Pinterest, because ours was the first, it’s getting lots of shares before other people have even created it. We’re not in a position where we’re competing with lots of people as much at first. So we’re getting the traction and sometimes it’s just the fact that people love to say on Pinterest the before and after. One of our popular pins on Pinterest is for air fryer steak. It’s got a top image, a bottom image and the text in between. The before images showed it raw, going in the air fryer and the bottom image is it cooked up so people can imagine what the food’s going to be like. They can visualize what the end result is going to be for them. They can say that it’s easy to achieve for themselves if they’re an air fry beginner.
Yeah. That makes sense. I like that. I like how you described that, and then you mentioned creating new things and you guys do a lot of original recipes that maybe aren’t scattered all over Pinterest already. Can you give me some examples about that? Also, how do you come up with your recipe ideas?
I’ve been using the air fryer now for almost 10 years. It’ll be 10 years next month since we got our first. So we’ve had a lot more practice than most have had with it. I’m just cooking something in the kitchen I’m thinking to myself. Oh, that would be great. Before I know it, I’ve kind of done another recipe for something else. Like last weekend, I was supposed to be going in the kitchen to do two recipes. I left with eight. I don’t know how that happened. I just kind of thought, Oh, I’m going to do this. I’m going to do that. It’s like my brain’s overloaded with ideas. I just can’t really explain it. For some of the recipes I did first, I was the first to do Instant Pot meatloaf and come on, how many of them has there been now? I was the first to do air fryer corn on the cob. That’s a great example because that picture was probably one of the worst I’ve ever done and it was taken on my iPhone and I’ve just got all these new editing apps and I was trying them all out. I’d made the corn on the cob too bright, think kind of over saturated, it got bright orange, it looked absolutely ridiculous. You know, it brings in 30,000 visitors a month from Pinterest? Yeah. Then another one that we did, which we were the first to do, which lots of people have done, which I will say now before telling you the recipe name, they actually just looked sick on a plate. It just looks disgusting. It was really, really bad. I don’t know what I was thinking about. I think that went out in 2018 and that was for Instant Pot beef tips and gravy. You know, it’s just the way that the gravy is landing on top of the mashed potatoes. It just looks really bad. Not necessarily the photography part of it. I’m really bad at food styling as well. I really do suck at food styling. That’s my second highest pin on Pinterest for traffic.
That’s crazy, but that’s a testament to what you’re saying. What are your thoughts about doing a roundup post? So compiling information from other bloggers that you then circulate through Pinterest?
That was that’s actually my most successful pin, is a round I did. It was called 101 Instant Pot recipes for beginners. I now even have an affiliate program for it. That the Instant Pot bloggers are promoted. When I originally started it, the idea was that I suck at photography, if I can get a lot of different bloggers in on it and use their amazing photography as a way to get Pinterest traffic, rather than relying on your own rubbish photography then it would be a great way to grow. I’m thinking at the time we just hit about 150,000 page views a month back then. It was going to be, in my idea, great growth. Instant Pot had just taken off at the time. So it was the top dog that everybody was talking about.
I’m talking about the beginning of 2017. What I did is I featured a lot of different bloggers, different level bloggers, kind of new beginners that would get in a similar traffic to myself, to those that were getting over a million page views a month. What I did is I found lots of amazing photos and then some that were at my level and a little bit in between. I made sure that every image was pinned on Pinterest. I also shared them on Pinterest groups at the time. I emailed out everybody that I featured and they all shared it. I was very lucky because the bigger bloggers shared it too. So that gave me a brilliant quick viral pen. I think in the space of 60 days it had 300,000 shares. It just went crazy.
That’s amazing. So how did, what’s your process for that? Do you reach out to bloggers ahead of time? Do you just do it and then tell them after?
I reached out cause obviously you’re asking for people’s permission to use the photos. So I reached out first, I kind of planned the areas that I wanted to cover because obviously I was doing a big Roundup. So I kind of planned that I wanted to do lots of chicken, potatoes, eggs, and so on for my different H2 headings. Then I looked for everyone that I wanted to include. Then I preliminarily wrote in my word documents, who was included and I highlighted them all in pink that I was waiting for permission to include. As soon as I got the permission back, I took the pink off to know that they were okay to be used. I also had a spreadsheet and that had their name, email address, social media handles and that kind of thing.
I made sure each of them got a personal email from myself when the Roundup went live and I encouraged them to share it on Pinterest and Facebook. We also got a lot of shares on Facebook as well. A lot of those bloggers that featured us and made the effort, we then made sure that next time we were doing a round up, they got priority to be included because you want to build up that kind of list so that when you’re doing a round up, you’re getting the shares from other people, rather than just worrying that nobody’s going to share it that you featured. That’s how I did it. I think at the time, because I didn’t have that many instant pot recipes myself, I think of the 101, 30 of them were my own and the rest of them were all reached out from other people.
All right. Thank you for talking through that. That’s really helpful. I think this is a very smart strategy. You touched a little bit before on your before and after photos and how people respond to that. What do you think about using step-by-step photos, process shots for Pinterest pins?
I find that what I tend to do is I tend to do three main pins that I put on Pinterest these days. My featured one that’s at the top of my post. That’s got the title of the recipe and then what you call a hero shot. Then I have a foreign one that includes the four main steps of the recipe. Then right at the bottom of my post, I have what I call a skinny, which is a before and after. Even though I always share all three, each time I bring out a new recipe, I always find that the one that gets the most shares is the step-by-step.
Interesting. I’m looking at your Pinterest account right now and just looking to see how you do some of that. So you find that the ones with all of the step-by-step are definitely the most fruitful.
Yes. I think that people are now getting more clued up on what food blogs are and what they like about them. I get so many emails back saying, thank you for the step-by-step and they hate it when it’s just a different angle, the same finished dish throughout, and that they want the step-by-step so that they can understand how to do the recipe.
It makes it more approachable. I mean, like you said earlier, it was like I don’t remember exactly your wording, but this highly curated photo isn’t super approachable for everybody. But if you see a raw piece of meat on a cutting board with some vegetables that you just chopped, that is something that people can relate to because that is what’s happening in their kitchen.
Yes. I think that if your niche is more aimed towards the dinner parties crowd, or five-star hotel kind of food, I think their photography does need to be absolutely amazing. But I think for the average home cook, they don’t really need or want that. It wants to be able to get dinner on the table quickly. The working mom that’s just got 20 minutes to cook dinner and the Instant Pot, she wants to know how much liquid to add the pasta and what it looks like in the Instant Pot, not a wonderful pretty bowl of macaroni cheese at the end. She wants that kind of thing. We have a much older audience mainly. We have a lot of 80 something year olds that are retired. Often widowed, often with arthritis, don’t have long to stand up and the light, the fact that we can show them how to quickly get dinner cooked in the air fryer, and then they’re off their feet and relaxing again.
Oh, that’s, I love that you have that audience. I’ve never heard anyone say that before, but that makes total sense to me how you need to just provide all of those steps, including the steps in the photos. I want to hear how you got featured on the Kitchn. There’s a story behind this. Can you share with us?
Yes, I can. I love their site so it really made me smile. I hate it when I say recipes in my industry that I feel are hiding the fact that it’s harder to do than what is suggested or that that’s just using finished photos. You’re not seeing the effort that goes into the dish, or if the dish is obtainable for the average home home cook. So I’ve noticed that there’d been a few mentions for air fry popcorn, and some of my readers have said, can I do this? So I said to my husband, Dominic, cause I thought it was better coming from a chef. Make us some air fryer popcorn please, darling. So he did, and we all stood round the air fry, watching and thinking this isn’t going to be good. We took all the photos, the popcorn actually tasted amazing.
Then what I also did is I took pictures of the inside of the air fryer and published them on the same post to share that there were a few of the popcorn bits stuck to the vents of the air fryer. Obviously it was a quick clean and the air fryer was fine and it didn’t blow up or anything like this. But I noticed that on the other air fryer sites that fit your popcorn, they haven’t disclosed this fact. I think it’s quite scary that you could end up with the food blowing off and whatnot. So in that post, I actually have a section on the recipe that says, behind the scenes pictures of what inside the air fryer looks like after you do the air fry popcorn. The kitchn picked up on this and they published a post on different ways to cook popcorn and they linked back to ours and mentioned how risky it can actually be an air fryer and said about our pictures that we had to see. So it was nice to show that not everything is perfectly cooked in the air fryer. These are a few things that are really not aimed at the air fry beginner.
I love that story. That’s such a cool story. You were being real, you were showing exactly what happened, where maybe some other bloggers would think, I’m not going to mention that. Maybe on purpose or not on purpose even, but yeah, that’s really cool that the Kitchn picked up on that and included your article. So very, very cool. You have this thought, this belief Samantha, that you just need to be better than your competition. I kind of agree with that. Let’s hear what you have to say about it though.
Well, I’ve always thought this but it was when somebody was talking to me about averages and how if we’re just above average, then we’ve got a career. You don’t have to be the best in the class to be good at math, for example. What I’ve noticed is that if I was a gourmet food blogger, I wouldn’t survive because if everybody’s photos are perfect in that niche, but I tell you the air fry niche and I have to admit, there’s a lot of terrible photos. There’s some that are a lot worse than my own. There’s a lot of them that actually copied my photography style. I’m like, well, I’m not good at photography and you’re copying on me. You know? For example, I started this thing where, when I was cooking Instant Pot vegetables, I would do a fork shot because I got a complaint once saying that broccoli can’t possibly be cooked in that timeframe.
So I took a picture of it on a fork when I updated the post, just to prove that it was. Then I started doing that whenever I did Instant Pot vegetables and people loved it because they could then see how it was cooked. The fork test is what a lot of us do in the kitchen. Anyways. Then when we’re boiling vegetables, I start doing that. Then the big copycats of that. I also noticed that as long as you are above average, you’ve got a fantastic chance for growth because there’s a lot of readers out there and want something simple and straightforward that’s easy for them to follow along at home. As long as you are better, above average, like if you were at school, you would be happy with a B rather rather than a C. You’d be satisfied with that. Photography is just one small element of food blogging; the writing is important, the quality of the recipes is important. I’m married to a chef. I’ve got a chef helping me cook these recipes and that seems to carry a lot more clout than say being better at photography.
I see your point. I mean, when you use the grade analogy in school, getting a B is fine when you’re comparing it to getting a C. Even getting a C is fine when you’re comparing getting it to a D. As long as you’re putting your quality elsewhere. So you’re making sure that your recipes are quality and that you’re delivering them in an honorable way. I totally see your point with all of this and clearly you’ve made it work so it can happen. Did you have any last thoughts on all of this? I would love to hear anything else you have to say or maybe just like some last takeaways for food bloggers who are in the boat of not having perfect, great, lovely mouthwatering photos, maybe encourage them or give some advice.
Well, the thing is the reason why I wanted to talk about it in the first place is I hear that many people that want to start as a food blogger but they say, I can’t do it because I’ll never be able to take great photos. It proves that you don’t need to have great photos. Just take a look on Pinterest and you’ll see a lot that is not what I would call A star quality. As long as you could manage a C quality or above, then you’re going to do fine. I think when I started, it was very much big on foodgawker and places like that for submitting your photos as well. That’s not as important now. You’ve got Tik TOK now where people are putting out really silly work quality videos, and there’s a real market there for the girl next door that people can relate to.
I totally hear you. This has been really eye opening for me, Samantha I’ve really appreciated all of this. Just kind of reframing the way I think about that. Because as you know, I have a different opinion about Pinterest specifically, and I always tell people, if you want traction on Pinterest, you’ve got to up your photography game, but you have put a few little strategies into the mix here that have me thinking. So the step-by-step thing, being more approachable, just maybe lowering yourself to the level that your audience is so that they don’t feel like they never possibly make that photo. So I appreciate all of this.
The same rule with Pinterest can actually apply to Facebook as well. We’ve moved on Facebook to step-by-step photos and page in our group. We found that that has multiplied the reach on our Facebook shares and things as well. So I think people are moving more and more towards wanting the step-by-step photos and to understand the process a lot more.
Super interesting. Thank you, Samantha. Thanks for sharing all about your journey and also what has worked for you and also providing a different perspective for me and for other food bloggers. So I really appreciate your time today. Do you have a favorite quote or words of inspiration to share with us as we wrap up?
You know, you said that and I’m thinking to myself, I’ve got lots of favorite quotes. How do I choose one? My husband, if he was listening, would be saying you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. I use that one quite a lot. I also use another one quite a lot, which is to make sure that you stand out from the crowd. That was always my line when I worked in internet marketing. I believe both of them are very similar. A lot of people that are thinking about food blogging will be thinking I can’t do it now because of this, or I can’t implement that because my photography is not good enough. Well just remember all this information helps out there for you. My photography is better than it was two years ago, but it’s still not perfect. You can just get in, get involved. It’s an amazing thing that we’re all creating with our food blogs.
Such wise and encouraging words. I love that. So Samantha, we will put together a show notes page for you just writing out everything we’ve talked about. We’ll also provide a transcript for the episode. If anyone wants to peek at that, you can go to eatblogtalk.com/recipethis. Samantha, remind everyone where they can find you online and on Instagram and all of that.
I’m probably about the only food blogger that’s not on Instagram, but you would find me on Pinterest at /recipethisblog. I’m on Twitter at recipe_this. You can find me on facebook facebook.com/recipethis.
Awesome. Well, thank you again so much for being here, Samantha, and thank you for listening today, food bloggers. I will see you next time.
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