#130: How to Take Photos Like a Pro

Learning how to take photos like a pro is worth your time because photography is such a big part of blogging and being an online entrepreneur.

The quality of your photos can make or break your content, especially when it comes to Pinterest and Google image search.Today I have Cheryl Norris from Bakes by Brown Sugar on the podcast to talk about how she learned to take stunning photos as a dessert blogger.

When I first saw Cheryl’s photos I could have sworn she was a professional photographer, so to learn that she was self-taught, was fascinating.

What she proves is that if you work at something and practice, you too can get good!

Cheryl also shares how she puts her engineering mind to work on recipe development as well.

How to Take Photos Like a Pro | The Blogger Genius Podcast

And Cheryl shares what it has been like for her to be in our Six-Week MiloTree Coaching Group. I think she really enjoyed growing her business in real time, in a systematic way, while being coached by David and me.

I think you’ll find Cheryl’s story inspiring, so please don’t miss this episode.

Show Notes:

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Host 0:04
Welcome to the Blogger Genius Podcast brought to you by MiloTree. Here’s your host, Jillian Leslie.

MiloTree Entrepreneur Coaching Group Starts August 4th

Jillian Leslie 0:11
Hello, everyone. Welcome back to the Blogger Genius. I’m really happy that you’re here. Before I get started, I wanted to announce that our next Coaching Group is starting August 4th.

If you want to take your blog or online business to the next level, or you’re just getting started and you really need some coaching and some direction please go look at MiloTree.com/group and you can read all about it. It’s a six-week program.

We show up live on Zoom as a group. David and I lead workshops where we go through step by step how to build an online business. We give you homework assignments, we look at your homework and give you feedback.

There’s a lot of personal attention and I think it gives you the fundamentals, you need to build a business and you build it in real time. So, these six weeks you’re building your business. Also, if you’re interested, please come get on a call with me.

if you go to MiloTree.com/meet, we can meet each other and we can just chat for a little bit and I can hear about your business, give you some pointers and some tips and see if it’s a good fit. I’d love to meet you again. MiloTree.com/meet.

Now for today’s episode, I have my friend Cheryl Norris on the show. And she is the blogger behind Bakes by Brown Sugar and she makes some of the most beautiful desserts. I want you to go check her out and see her photography.

I actually asked her on the podcast to talk about her photography, where she learned it how she does it. I mean, when I looked at her stuff, I thought gosh, I think this is professional.

So, she really breaks it down. And she also talks about her recipe development, which I find fascinating. So that’s interesting if you do food, even if you don’t do food, but you take photographs, I think this podcast is really cool has a lot of great takeaways.

So without further delay, here is my interview with Cheryl Norris. Cheryl, welcome to the show.

Cheryl Norris 2:28
Thank you. It’s great to be here.

Jillian Leslie 2:31
We have met because you are currently in our six weeks coaching group, which we’ll talk about later in the in the podcast. But the reason why I wanted you to come on the show is because you are a food blogger, you do desserts, and you take some of the most beautiful photos I’ve ever seen.

It looks like magazine quality photos. So first what I wanted you to share was your entrepreneurial journey and how you got baking and you have this interesting background. So yeah, will you share because I don’t even know your story.

How an Engineer Starts a Food Blog

Cheryl Norris 3:12
Okay. Thank you. Again. Thank you for having me. And that’s a great question. So how I got started, I’ve always loved baking. I have since I was a kid, my mom was a baker primarily pies, cookies and Bundt cakes.

And it was just something I was drawn to the first thing I ever remember baking was chocolate chip cookies when I was about seven or eight. I begged my mom to ask me now to let me make cookies. I really wanted to make chocolate chip cookies. And it’s just something I’ve always loved to do.

In terms of how the entrepreneurial journey starts, I actually never saw myself as an entrepreneur. And I would call myself that behind the scenes person. Kind of making things happen. So that’s been my sweet spot my happy spot. And I think I was an accidental entrepreneur.

Jillian Leslie 4:10
Wait, we have to talk about the fact that you are also an engineer.

Cheryl Norris 4:13
Engineer by day baker by night.

Jillian Leslie 4:15
You go to school. You’re a mechanical engineer?

Cheryl Norris 4:20

Jillian Leslie 4:21
In certain ways it feels far from baking. But it also seems like it relates because I think of baking as almost like formulas that you’re following much more than cooking.

Cheryl Norris 4:33
It is.

Jillian Leslie 4:34
It’s like chemical reactions when you’re baking.

Cheryl Norris 4:37
It is.

Jillian Leslie 4:38

Cheryl Norris 4:39
It definitely is.

Jillian Leslie 4:39
So, you’re an engineer, and then you love baking. You’re an engineer and then you think to yourself, I’m going to start a blog.

Cheryl Norris 4:49
It started with me just wanting to share my pictures on Instagram. Share what I was baking with other people, because when you finish a bake and you’re just so excited about how it looks, how it tastes. And I’m sharing the food with others.

I want to share the pictures to me it not only tasted good but it looks good so I’m really happy when a dessert comes out looking like you want it to look. So I started sharing pictures on Instagram. And from Instagram I discovered all these blogs and all these other bakers and I thought I want to do that.

I want to share pictures and recipes. So, I decided I was going to start a blog. And then once I started the blog, people were asking me, “Are you making any money yet? Are you making any money yet?” And I’m like, “I hadn’t thought about making money because I just wanted to share recipes and pictures.”

Jillian Leslie 5:42
And wait, how long ago was this? When did you actually start your blog?

Cheryl Norris 5:46
I launched it in October 2018.

Jillian Leslie 5:49

Cheryl Norris 5:51
So I’ve been blogging for over a year and a half.

Jillian Leslie 5:53
So, people are saying, “Are you making money?” And it’s like, what?

How to Start Thinking About Monetizing Your Food Blog

Cheryl Norris 5:57
Exactly. Yes, like I can make money. And so in everything I was looking up. I would Google stuff to just figure out how to run a blog. Just your basic information, kind of all the techie stuff like what plugins do I need? How do you make this thing work on your blog? And all these articles would come up?

Oh, how to monetize your blog. How to get sponsored content, and this was like, totally new stuff to me. And so, I launched it in October 2018. By January 2018. I decided, Okay, I’m going to start treating this as a business. And then it was like, Okay, how do I do that? I now know I want to do that.

How do I do that? How do I connect everything? How do I connect the blog, social media, Instagram, Pinterest? How do I make sense of all this interconnection between all of these different environments?

And so just learning how to do that, and just doing researching, but now I’m also just trying to put content on the blog. So it’s just this whole push pull thing, developing content, learning how to write, still practicing my photography.

And then just keeping up trying to understand how all these different pieces work and that’s part of the challenge of being a blogger is that you’re doing this on your own. So it’s like, who do I ask and you look up stuff and it’s just like, Okay, how do I know that this is this person’s advice is really going to work or it’s valid.

So yeah, just that whole challenge of doing all that and learning how to do all that.

Jillian Leslie 7:41
Got it. Okay. First of all, you’re working full time. And I know now it’s quarantine. So it’s a different world, but you would be working on your blog, I guess on weekends. When would you be baking? When you started creating content, how often would you put up a new blog post that kind of thing?

Cheryl Norris 8:00
So initially, I was probably doing about maybe three blog posts a month, about the time I started, I had a family member who became ill and I was helping to take care of them. I’d help provide care for them. And so it was trying to balance all that.

And I thought, am I going to have the energy to do the blog. But I kept doing the blog because I was passionate about it. And it was like my happy place. Even though it was that challenge. It was like, I’m happy doing this. And so initially, it was just two or three recipes a month.

And I was primarily baking on the weekends, testing out recipes. Initial recipes were things I had done in the past things I was very familiar with. But the interesting thing was even though I’d done these recipes before and they tasted great, it’s like as soon as I was saying, okay, we’re going to put this on the blog.

It’s like, now I’m having all kinds of issues with this recipe, things aren’t working things are setting up the way I want them to. And one of the things I want to do on my blog is that when I put a recipe out there, I want it to work. I need it to work in my kitchen, I need to taste good to me.

So, when I put it out, I can put it out with confidence and say, yes, this recipe works. The flavor combinations work, it all work. I don’t want to put something out and say, well, it probably would have been better if I had added this ingredient, but I’m going to put it out anyway. No, I want what I’m putting out is what I made in my kitchen. And this is what works.

How to Find What Makes You Unique

Jillian Leslie 9:44
Right. And what we’ve talked about, especially in our coaching group is this idea that you come at this with this engineering mind. You’re creating these beautiful and we haven’t even gotten to photography yet. You create these unbelievable recipes, but there’s like science behind it.

There are moving parts and that you want to be saying to your audience, trust me. I know how to think through this. I’m learning the science behind it, like, if you do this, you will get this result.

Cheryl Norris 10:18
Yes. And that’s and that’s what I’m trying to share with my readers. It’s been a journey. I recently said to someone, it took me about maybe about a year but I feel like I finally found my voice in writing. Because a lot of the blogs out there, they were sharing a lot of personal information.

And that seemed to be the popular thing. And I initially tried that, but it really wasn’t me. It wasn’t my natural sounding voice. Yes, I’m comfortable sharing like, Oh, this recipe like, it took me 10 times to get this. I was so frustrated or I kept getting interrupted by this.

That stuff sounds natural, but I finally figured out my natural voice was to share how I worked through this recipe, how to do certain elements of the recipe, how all the ingredients work together on the recipe. So it made sense to people who were reading it.

Going through the steps of, hey, make sure you do this, it’s important to have cold butter or it’s important for these ingredients to be room temperature. What’s room temperature? And so just going into the details of how that all works together.

Jillian Leslie 11:30
So it’s like you make beautiful things. And you also want to geek out?

Cheryl Norris 11:34

Jillian Leslie 11:35
Am I right?

Cheryl Norris 11:36
Yes. Yes. I’m definitely a baking science geek. Yes.

Jillian Leslie 11:39
Exactly. And I love that because David and I are also like, you can tell me what room temperature butter is and why I need it to be room temperature. Why I need my eggs to be warm. I am your girl like that speaks to me.

Versus Oh, hey, just put it together and look, you end up with this beautiful pie or this thing. I want to know why. I know then about why I want the warm butter and then I can take that into other recipes.

Cheryl Norris 12:09

Jillian Leslie 12:10
Here’s why.

Cheryl Norris 12:11

Jillian Leslie 12:11
I know the science. So I love that you are my geeky baking best friend.

Cheryl Norris 12:18
I’ll take that. Yeah, I like that.

Jillian Leslie 12:20
Okay, so let’s then talk about photography, because, honestly, I saw your blog, and I really thought to myself, I don’t understand how she takes such beautiful photos. She must be a professional photographer.

And it’s funny because in our coaching, one piece of feedback that I continue to have for you is, I want to rough you up, almost as a counterpoint to the fact that your photos look like they’re out of Bon Appetit.

And therefore, I want to be like, No, I want you to humanize it to say no, I really am just a weekend baker who loves baking, but I’m not professionally trained. So let’s talk about photography. How did you get into it? How did you learn about it? What are your tricks?

Because I want you to also be like the geeky photographer who’s going to tell me like, no, you need to set your f-stop at this, or you need this kind of background or whatever, because I feel like how you think about baking, it looks like you put that same mindset on photography.

Cheryl Norris 13:23
I actually have. I’ll tell you a little bit about that. I actually got into the photography. I’ve always loved to take pictures. Even as a kid my mom had those cameras. I know I’m dating myself, but it’s with the flashes that had four sides that you put on top of the camera and they popped and you’re throwing out these bulbs.

So, I got into the food photography. Again, going back to Instagram just wanting to share my pictures with others and I actually started with my iPhone. I started with the iPhone 5, taking pictures and posting them on Instagram.

And then when I decided I wanted to start a food blog, I said, Okay, I have to get a little bit more serious about the photography. So I pulled out my DSLR which I think was a T6 Rebel which by the way sells for about $60 on eBay today.

How to Take Photos Like a Pro

But my thought was, start with what I have, don’t go out and buy a whole bunch of new equipment which would be my advice to anybody who’s looking to get started. Start with what you have. And so, my goal was to just understand the different elements of food photography and how to do it right.

I just started practicing with back cameras, and at that point I was using a combination of my iPhone and my DSLR and just trying to understand how to use the camera. Do I use one of the programs? Do I use manual, ISO setting aperture, shutter speed?

Just trying to understand how those all work together. And I took tons and tons of pictures. I used to joke to people. I felt like I had to take 200 pictures to get like six good words for the blog.

Jillian Leslie 15:00
I feel that way all the time, my mother in law be like, ‘Oh my God, you take such beautiful pictures.” And I’m like, if you take as many pictures as I take, just by chance, one of them is going to be good.

Cheryl Norris 15:25
Yes, exactly. So just learning how to use the camera. I did eventually last year upgrade to a nicer camera because I felt I was ready because I felt like I understood enough of the basics of how I need to use the camera because if you don’t know how to use a camera, having an expensive camera is not going to make you a better photographer.

Jillian Leslie 15:48
What did you get? What is your new set up?

Cheryl Norris 15:53
My new setup is a Canon 6D.

Jillian Leslie 15:55

Cheryl Norris 15:56
And one of the things I also learned was that I needed a really good tripod. The first tripod I bought was a little cheap tripod was like 30 bucks and again I did that because I was like, Okay, I don’t know if I’m going to stick with this.

So I don’t want to put a whole lot of money up front and like $30 for a tripod, which by the way it fell apart I think after three months, because hey, it’s $30. It’s that level of investment. If you find that no, this isn’t for me, you haven’t put out a ton of money.

But then if you like okay, I am going to be more serious about this then you can go to that next step and get that really good tripod that’s going to stay steady. Because even the cheap tripod I had troubles with that it would have a lot of shake in it.

If I touch the camera too hard, it would shake and then I picture will be blurry. So that’s one of the reasons you want a really good steady tripod that’s going to set and not be wobbly and can do the things that you need to do.

So, yeah, I got the Canon 6D and once you understand the basics, all the features of a camera like that, they really do help you take better photos, but again, it’s understanding the basics that’ll get you there. If you don’t know how to use the camera again, your photos may not be where you want them to be.

Jillian Leslie 17:21
Now in terms of light, because one thing that I think is so beautiful about your photos is the way that you use light. So what are you doing and how did you learn that?

Cheryl Norris 17:36
I get a lot of research when I started my blog. I started in October so not a whole lot of daylight left.

Jillian Leslie 17:44
Where are you located?

Cheryl Norris 17:46
I’m in Portland, Oregon.

Jillian Leslie 17:47
Okay, yeah.

Cheryl Norris 17:48
By October, mid-October. I don’t know maybe like 12 to 3 on a Saturday. Or on a Sunday to take photos. So we need a lot trying to understand the difference between natural light, artificial light. So some of my early photos are me just trying to work with artificial light.

Which was to this day continues to be a struggle for me. I’m pretty fortunate in that in my house, one of the big windows faces the north side. And having that north facing light is just a gift. Because on the north side that light is naturally filtered.

So even on a bright sunny day, I’ve got trees near the house that help filter that light so it’s not a harsh light. And then as clouds move in and out, it just continues to filter that light. So I do have to pay attention to weather and things like that.

Because if you have a lot of variable weather, it can affect the light but yeah, I just happen to have an ideal setup or I have this big dining room window that faces the north side.

Jillian Leslie 19:01
So you don’t shoot with artificial light?

Cheryl Norris 19:06
No, I mostly I would say 95% of my photos are with natural light, I do have a light that I use sometimes to maybe bump up. Like it mimics that same Kelvin or temperature range of a natural light to maybe bump it up as it’s getting maybe getting later in the day and I really need to get this photo done.

So I bring it in just as a boost.

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How to Study Food Photography

Jillian Leslie 21:46
Did you take a course to learn about photography? Did you just read a ton of stuff about it? Your desserts are beautiful. Your compositions are beautiful. Is it that you just have this innate ability to just see a shot and take it?

Or you using your scientific mind to go oh, here, this isn’t going to go in the foreground, this is going to go in the background, how do you think about it?

Cheryl Norris 22:13
No, none of that was innate.

Jillian Leslie 22:15

Cheryl Norris 22:16
I’ll be honest about that. Actually, there’s an online course called Foodtography School, and so I signed up for that. Because that seemed to answer a lot of the questions I have, like how do you arrange your food? How do you do the editing? How do you get that? Because I like the light airy feeling that you get with food photography, they’re different styles.

And so I think one of those things is understanding what your style is. One of the things I did was create a mood board to help me understand what I liked in terms of the colors and the lighting so you see that reflected in my photos on my blog and on Instagram that style is what I like.

So I took that course just to learn more about food styling. Some of the basics of arranging your food, following all those different rules like the golden ratio, the golden triangle in terms of how you place your food.

Jillian Leslie 23:22
What is the golden ratio? Is that like third third thirds?

Cheryl Norris 23:26

Jillian Leslie 23:28
Like a grid?

Cheryl Norris 23:28
Yeah. And then there’s the other part of it where it follows the Fibonacci series. Did you ever see that Disney movie with Donald Duck in that math movie?

Jillian Leslie 23:45

Cheryl Norris 23:45
Okay. So that’s it. In that they’re talking about the Fibonacci series. So that’s part of that golden ratio.

Jillian Leslie 23:50

Cheryl Norris 23:51
Where you got that that circle that is kind of spiral?

Jillian Leslie 23:55
Okay. But I just have to say I can’t believe that we are talking about Fibonacci. You’re so speaking my language. I was like a geek myself, and somebody who loves math. So the fact that like you and I are on a podcast talking about Fibonacci sequence, series.

And that we’re talking about it in terms of food photography is just like blowing my mind. I love it. Okay, so keep going. So yes, the Fibonacci. it’s kind of like, for people who don’t know, it’s a series and It’s like zero plus one is one. And then you take the other two numbers one plus one.

Cheryl Norris 24:28

Jillian Leslie 24:28
And it’s just this series and you find it in nature. It’s like, almost like that. It’s like a spiral. And it weirdly shows up in nature. It shows up in math, of course, it shows up in investing. Like it’s just one of these natural laws. That is very powerful. So I didn’t know that you could use Fibonacci in photography, but go ahead.

Cheryl Norris 24:51
Yeah, and to your point that is natural. It’s that whole idea of the natural lines and where your eye ends up falling when you’re looking at a photo like in that existence. When you think about that line starting out and getting the tighter circle and then the center of that circle is where you want the viewers eye to land.

So everything else is just leading up to that. So, if you have a cake leading up to that cake, you’ve placed a cutting knife or a bowl of whipped cream.

Jillian Leslie 25:24

Cheryl Norris 25:25
Or along that line and then it just all leads to the center of that cake.

Jillian Leslie 25:31

Cheryl Norris 25:31
Or the center of that dish.

Jillian Leslie 25:33
Okay, so are you sitting here when you are taking photos going well, I want this here and the knife here. Is it innate now or is it you are literally going okay, here’s the journey that I want people’s eyes to follow.

Cheryl Norris 25:50
I’m still learning and practicing. What I’ve started doing is sketching out my photo the placement of everything starting near following those rules. There’s another blogger I found. It’s called the Food Photography Academy.

They’re totally different things, but they sound very familiar. One thing I like about her site is that she’s provided all these gridlines that you can download and use for sketching out all your placement. And it saves you a ton of time.

Maybe 5, 10, 15 minutes, just think about how you want to place everything and how it lines up with all the lines so that your viewers eye is drawn to the thing that you want them to be drawn to. So it could be that slice of cake, it could be the middle of the bowl with the soup.

Just thinking about how you want that photo to appear to the person who’s going to be viewing it and how it makes That food look appetizing.

Jillian Leslie 27:02
Got it. Because I want people after they listen to this podcast to go to your blog and see your photos, and I think maybe it is this stuff that makes it feel so professional. So, I’m not just like a mom who’s baking with two kids around and I’m just taking photos of my stuff.

There’s like intentionality to your photos that I pick up. I don’t even know why I resonate with them so much. But I do and I bet it’s because of Fibonacci.

Cheryl Norris 27:37
It does work. And I’ll be honest when I first started this, I didn’t know a lot of this stuff. I knew about the rule of thirds in terms of if you have a rectangular grid, and you divide up into thirds, and you want your food in one of those.

Jillian Leslie 27:51
Where the lines cross.

Cheryl Norris 27:53
Yeah, or to the left or to the right. We read from left to right, so following people’s natural tendency to go from left to right. I knew about that and I’ll be honest, a lot of my early photos that worked for me were by accident.

Just to that point, I took 200 photos and I found six like, Oh, I love these photos, they’re in focus the way I want them to be. The food placement looks great. I’m so happy with this and so I published it but now as I’m getting more into the rules.

Photography is becoming easier for me to set up the shots because that’s one of the things that I used to really struggle with. And I still do a little bit. I was doing a cake yesterday and it took me forever just to find that right placement of things.

And I took tons of pictures with this cake because I was just trying to figure out okay, where do I place the cake? Where do I place the bowl of berries? Where do I place the cutting knife? I was following the rules.

But just trying to figure out the right combination that just popped in, or as we like to say, oh, okay, that’s the money shot. That’s the hit shot. So it’s not that it always works for me but having those rules helps guide me and gives me a place to start.

And then from there I can play with the placement, the props, all those different things like that, but the rule is just like, where do I start? Where do I put the cake or where do I put that bowl of whipped cream? Where do I put that slice of pizza? Whatever it is, you’re happy with and you want to take a photo.

Jillian Leslie 29:41
Okay, so I love you because again, I feel like you’re very left brain and very right brain at the same time. And those seem to work really well for you. Meaning you like the structure, you like the rules and then you’re so creative with your desserts in your food.

I feel like it’s the perfect marriage of these two sides. Like how you were saying it’s my happy place my hunches, because this is your creative space. And as you’ve got these rules that you can then use, and you’re good at following directions and you’re good at rules, it gives you almost a playpen to play in.

Cheryl Norris 30:20
Yes. Specifically.

Jillian Leslie 30:20
But with very specific boundaries.

Cheryl Norris 30:24
No, that’s a good point. And because I know the rules once I understand the rules making a cake. One of the things I’ve learned to do is read a cake recipe now so when I go online, I read a cake recipe. I’m like, Ooh, that doesn’t sound like that’s going to work.

But it also frees me up when I’m working on a cake recipe, okay, I know the rules. And now I know what happens if I add extra liquid. Maybe I want a certain texture, or I know what happens if I add more sugar or less sugar or what happens if I add more fat whatever the case might be.

I’m following the rules but when I want to go outside the rules. Color outside the lines, I have a feeling for what’s going to happen as opposed to Oh, let me just throw in an extra stuff.

Jillian Leslie 31:13

Cheryl Norris 31:15
See, I know the cake is going to be denser. It’s going to be flattered. And that might be what I’m going for. But I know that going in.

Jillian Leslie 31:24
Okay, you say to yourself, like you just made these donuts that are insane. These chocolatey doughnuts. Can you explain what is the recipe?

Cheryl Norris 31:32
So it’s a yeast raised donut. So it’s a basic yeast raised flour, milk, yeast, eggs, spices, salt.

Jillian Leslie 31:43
Okay, it’s beautiful. It’s beautiful.

Cheryl Norris 31:45
Thank you. Oh you say the s’mores doughnuts. I’m sorry.

Jillian Leslie 31:48
S’mores donut. That’s it. Yes, I knew it’s chocolatey and stuff they’re beautiful. Okay, so you set out to go make a recipe. How much time do you spend researching? How many times do you make the recipe and how long does it take you to shoot the photos?

Cheryl Norris 31:52
Okay, so in that instance, with the yeast raised donuts, I had all these different recipes. I was researching recipes. And typically, what I do when I’m trying to figure out how to make a recipe or what works, I’ll go to different sources.

How to Take Photos Like a Pro | MiloTree.com

How to Develop New Baking Recipes

I have a lot of cookbooks, trusted resources. There are some online resources that I really trust. And I actually do a grid.

Jillian Leslie 32:25
Of course, you do. Yes, you’re my girl. Go ahead.

Cheryl Norris 32:30
So, I actually do a grid and I start writing down how much each of these different recipes, the amounts that they’re using in these different ingredients. Sometimes I’m trying to understand how this recipe works or why it works. I did that recipe four or five times.

Jillian Leslie 32:51

Cheryl Norris 32:52
Trying to figure out what’s the right amount of yeast. What’s the right amount of flour and one of the things if you’re recipe testing is not to change too many of the ingredients at one time.

Jillian Leslie 33:03
Okay, so then you make the donuts. So, how long would you say do you spend a whole day? You said you did it four or five times.

Cheryl Norris 33:11
Yeah. That probably took me about three to four weeks. Again, working during the day.

Jillian Leslie 33:19

Cheryl Norris 33:20
On the weekend. So that probably took me about three or four weeks to go through all the different versions.

Jillian Leslie 33:26

Cheryl Norris 33:27
In order to get my donut right.

Jillian Leslie 33:28
And then how long is your photoshoot?

Cheryl Norris 33:31
My photo shoot it’s at least an hour. It’s going to be at least an hour to just maybe two hours. And that’s just maybe working with props doing different things, depending on what I have like a cake. First, I’m taking pictures of the whole cake.

And then I’m cutting the cake and you got to cut the cake just right, and then set up again to show the cake slices. So, it’s at least an hour even when I think oh, this will only take me 30 minutes this is so easy.

This is just like cookies; it takes me at least an hour to two hours. And then if you add cleanup because I can start with a perfectly clean kitchen when I start my photoshoot and at the end of photoshoot, I don’t know how it happens my kitchen is a mess again.

So add on another hour for just like cleaning up the kitchen putting all the food away. So yeah, I would say easily one to three hours for a photoshoot.

Jillian Leslie 34:33
Now what about photo editing? What do you use for photo editing?

Cheryl Norris 34:37
I use Lightroom and I’m learning to use Photoshop. Photoshop is good when you want to remove something like oh, I can’t believe I left the tip of that fork in the picture. I can’t believe I missed that. So I mainly use Lightroom.

Jillian Leslie 34:53
Lightroom. Okay, and how long do you take editing your photos?

Cheryl Norris 34:59
I take oh golly, it depends sometimes I feel I get really lucky and I end up with all these amazing shots. So I’m trying to decide which shots to use so maybe an hour and a half. I’m getting quicker because I’m learning just more of the functionality of Lightroom.

So I typically, like to come away with eight photos for the blog, for Instagram, for Pinterest. So I say for me, it’s maybe an hour and a half just to go through my photos, find the photos and do the editing on them.

Jillian Leslie 35:38
Cool. Okay, gosh, so, each recipe then is a very big undertaking?

Cheryl Norris 35:45
Yeah, it is.

Jillian Leslie 35:46
Like it’s a labor of love.

Cheryl Norris 35:48
It is. And even the recipes I think are going to be simple. Like last year, I did a salted pecan brown sugar cookie. I thought, oh, this is going to be easy peasy. Because my original thought was, what if you made a chocolate chip cookie without the chocolate chips, and you just doubled the amount of nuts.

And so, the first thing I did was I just took out the chocolate chips, increase the amount of nuts. And I ended up making that recipe four times because each time while the cookie was good, my husband has given himself the title. Chief taste tester. So he was like, very good. He was like, it’s not quite there.

It’s a good cookie. And the third version, I had taken pictures. I was ready to post and I was just like, it’s not quite there. So I ended up doing a fourth version that finally was there. So yeah, sometimes there are recipes we’re like this tastes amazing.

I’ve made recipes where I’m taking pictures and everything and I go to taste it and it’s just like, yeah, this is not going to work.

Jillian Leslie 37:03
Really. Oh my gosh.

Cheryl Norris 37:04
Oh yeah. Well, like whole cakes, like a layer cake. I can’t taste it. And it looks like it’s working. It looks great, but then I go to taste it. I think it was oh yeah, I think was one of those first cakes I did at the beginning of the year. It was orange butter cake. And I ended up making that four times.

Jillian Leslie 37:30

Cheryl Norris 37:31
Because each time I thought I had the recipe, I think the third time when I first cut into the cake, I taken the pictures and I cut into the cake. And it tasted good like that first day. It tasted good. And then the second day I tasted it, it tasted dry.

So I ended up doing a fourth version that finally worked. Cookies are easy because I can taste that one cookie and tell it’s not right. I don’t go through the whole effort of taking photos and then figuring out it didn’t work.

Jillian Leslie 38:08
Wow. Wow. Okay, you are so dedicated. Now let’s talk just briefly, because you are in our coaching group, and it’s six weeks and David and I run this a couple times a year. How this has been for you and what the experience is like going through it and what your biggest takeaways are?

What you like the most and what your biggest takeaways have been in? Do you think it’s worth it like has it helped you in terms of growing your business?

How the MiloTree Entrepreneur Coaching Group Can Help You Grow Your Blog

Cheryl Norris 38:36
Okay. So, with regards to the coaching group, the MiloTree Coaching Group, I will say that that first phone call that you and I had, when I’d gotten an email about the coaching group and I was uncertain and you had said, Hey, in the email, you’d said, “Let’s schedule a meeting and talk about what the group can do for you.”

And then I think we were on the phone, maybe 40-45 minutes, just in that short conversation, you gave me a lot of good advice about my website, things I hadn’t considered before. Causing me to think about how others might see my website in a totally good way.

I thought, okay, I think she knows what she’s doing. So really that phone call, I think really made the difference because I got a feel for the direction you were heading because just in that phone call, I had with you. You got very detailed about some minor changes; I can make it to my website.

We talked a little bit more in detail about the coaching group about doing the technical analysis of the website. So I decided to go ahead and take the leap of faith and it really was based on that phone call. If we hadn’t talked, I probably wouldn’t have signed up.

So the coaching group has been excellent for me. Just in that first week after I signed up, and David went on the back end of my site to make some fixes that did wonders for my traffic. He found a conflict between the SEO plugin I was using and my recipe card that I was using, and he disabled one of the features in the SEO Software.

And all of a sudden, my posts were appearing higher in Google’s ranking. My recipe cards were appearing higher. Previously to that the only time I saw my recipe cards was when they were coming from another site that maybe I’d shared, recipe sharing site.

That’s primarily when they would appear. So of course, the traffic is going to that recipe sharing site and then maybe it comes to my site if someone does that extra click but now it’s appearing from my site. So I feel just that alone was worth the cost of the course.

No seriously I would have never known because the two plugins that were in conflict, they weren’t stopping each other from working. The plugins by themselves were working exactly as they should.

I just didn’t know that it was blocking Google from actually just seeing the information that it looks for when the whole algorithm and scrubbing websites for information. That just alone and I think the other thing has been helpful for me in the coaching group are the assignments, because it makes me accountable.

All these things I keep saying, Okay, I’m going to do this better. I’m going to do this. Being part of the coaching groups makes me accountable to actually get those things done within a time period, and I’m learning stuff as I go like learning a better way to write Pins.

Learning a better way to outline my posts as I’m preparing for them, like the Pomodoro method that we started that we talked about last time. I’d heard of that method before and it was one of those things, okay, okay, I’m going to do that I’m going to do that I just never seem to have time to do it.

But having that assignment to say, okay, do this and report back to the group on how it’s working. So just, again, being part of that group gives you a certain level of accountability to accomplish these things.

Jillian Leslie 42:37
Well, our intention is at some point you’re back to your house. And again, we have our continuing group, but really, it’s like six weeks of you do stuff so that you understand how to do it.

Cheryl Norris 42:48

Jillian Leslie 42:48
So when you leave you don’t go oh, yeah, I think that was in the course there. But it’s like, oh, no, I’ve actually gone through this and done it. So I know I’m starting to get muscle memory. Oh, this is how I do it. This is how I think about the intentionality of this post.

And as you know, my feedback for you has always been, I want to rough you up, I want people to totally get that, like you’ve got my back, and that you are doing the recipe four times, I can totally trust you. If I’m going to make s’mores donuts, I’m using your recipe.

Cheryl Norris 43:22
Thank you.

The Value of B- Work

Jillian Leslie 43:22
Because I know that you haven’t just thrown this together, but there is real work behind it. And so that’s always been my feedback. And then the other one is to recognize how the difference between perfection and getting something done.

Cheryl Norris 43:23

Jillian Leslie 43:32
So that you can put stuff out there. I always say, email me your post and I’ll tell you if it’s embarrassing, because my instinct is to always say, let’s get you moving, get people moving. So, I feel like you’ve taken that to heart.

Cheryl Norris 44:00
No, it really is beneficial because like one of the changes she had me made to my website was to put the recipe categories at the top of the menu bar. I was following what I saw on other sites where you have the home about the link to the recipe index.

And you said, “No, no, put your recipe categories across there, your cakes, your cookies and things like that”. Now, I have thought about that before like okay, that’s the change I’m going to make. Someday I’ll get to it.

But being part of this group, again, going back to that accountability and I guess the really good thing about the group is that in the six weeks, I’m actually moving my business forward. I’m not sitting in a series of lectures getting this theory and then okay, after the course I’ll go do it.

No, during the six weeks, I’m actually moving forward in my business. For lack of a better word. It’s not a waste of time, I’m actually accomplishing things that I know that I needed to accomplish. For whatever reason I wasn’t getting it done or maybe I knew I need to do that. I wasn’t sure how.

And so, having that resource, to ask is this the way you do it? Getting that feedback on how it’s working and I’ve seen an increase in my traffic. I’ve seen increase in the number of visitors but also just in the number of pageviews. People are on my site; they’re going through more of my recipes while they’re there.

Why Being in a Group with Other Bloggers is Beneficial

Jillian Leslie 45:40
And do you like that the people in the group are in different verticals?

Cheryl Norris 45:45
I do because it’s a different perspective, different way of looking at things but at the same time, the advice is, I can still apply to my site and how I’m running my business. Because when you’re talking to the different people in the group and you’re saying, “Hey, what are your most popular posts?”

Or, you’re talking about homeschooling. What are topics that are resonating with your readers? Or how do you zero in on that? Yeah, I’m not doing homeschooling but the whole idea of what’s resonating with my readers? What’s popular?

What are people clicking on that still applies to my site, it’s just a slightly different perspective. And then, of course, people are just coming with questions I hadn’t thought about or resources that I didn’t know were out there, but they knew about so they’re mentioning it in the coaching group.

So, it’s also really great from that perspective, just having that variety of experiences.

Jillian Leslie 46:46
Well, I’m glad that we love working with you. And as you see, we dig in and we look at your back-end and David’s there fixing stuff and we really care and it’s really fun for us to see you grow and to see you blossom. And to see you change. You are the person who loves the charts and graphs and stuff.

So it’s like if we can give you a framework to think about your business, I think for somebody like you that makes sense for you.

Cheryl Norris 47:16
Yeah, it does. What are the specific steps that I need to take to get this done? What are the outlines the ingredients of a really good post?

What Was it Like to Be on The Great American Baking Show?

Jillian Leslie 47:26
Absolutely. Okay. Now we have to talk about The Great American Baking Show. Just briefly, we have to talk about the fact that you were a contestant on the show. And that was when we got on the phone the first time because I had read that in your bio, I was like, Oh, we must talk about this.

So just briefly being somebody who’s been on a reality show, like a really nice reality show? What was that like?

Cheryl Norris 47:50
That was just an opportunity to a lifetime like literally. That exact thing won’t happen again and people have heard me before and they see my blog. I say this all the time it was the most stressful photo I’ve ever had. Because we get to practice the bakes at home.

The month of July is called baking boot camp and they send us the categories that we have to come up with recipes for so we’re practicing at home. You’re figuring out okay, what can I get done within the three, four or five hours that I’ve been given?

So you’re working that out, but then you get there and it’s just like, the pressure is like totally different. Four hours at home is nothing like four hours in the tent. Four hours in the tent goes by incredibly fast. One of the cakes that I did, I did them at home. It was like a little mini cake. I did it at home.

I forgot how much time we had but I was able to accomplish at home. It looks so pretty and then I’m in the tent and it’s just like, they announced baker’s you got 10 minutes left. I’m like, oh my God I don’t even have on my butter cream on it. Chris one of the other bakers he had the station right in front of me.

He turned around and helped me finish but it was like when it was all done and they look like a hot mess. Fortunately, the judges really love them. But it’s just like what happened to that time like at home this worked. And then when you’re in the tent, it’s just like four hours go by go by just incredibly fast.

Jillian Leslie 49:22

Cheryl Norris 49:23
And then the experience was great because everybody was so nice from the time my first in person audition, to the behind the scenes crew, to the culinary crew that did all our dishes and everything. Everyone was so nice and so supportive, so welcoming.

Yes, we’re here to do a show. Yes, we’re on schedule. But yeah, everyone was so nice. That was one of the things that made it a really great experience. Yes, I’m competing against the other bakers, but it’s really about how you do as an individual.

It’s not like a tennis game where you got to outsmart the other opponent. It really is just how you do in that moment and how it tastes. So, we were really friendly together, we would sit and chat all the time, go out to dinner, just do stuff together, outside of being on the set. So it was just a really great experience.

Jillian Leslie 50:38
I love that was the first thing I asked you when we got on the phone. I was like, oh my God, you’ve really been on the show like this. Well, okay. Cheryl, for people to reach out to you, to see your beautiful blog, can you tell people where to go and how to get in touch with you? That kind of thing.

Cheryl Norris 50:56
Yes. So for my blog, it’s at Bakes by Brown Sugar at www.bakesbybrownsugar.com and then I’m on Instagram @bakesbybrownsugar and then I’m on Pinterest also at bakesbybrownsugar and on my blog, you can reach out to me you can DM me on Instagram, or you can also connect with me through my blog.

Jillian Leslie 51:22
Oh, I love it. Well Cheryl, this has been such a pleasure and as soon as I saw your photos I said to David, “I need to interview her on the podcast.”

Cheryl Norris 51:30
Thank you.

Jillian Leslie 51:31
I’m so glad that you came on.

Cheryl Norris 51:33
This has been really great. This has been fun I like talking about baking. And photography unexpectedly became a passion of mine so I like talking about that too.

Jillian Leslie 51:43
I hope you got some good photography tips and recipe development tips. What I really appreciate is how thorough Cheryl is. And you can see how as part of her brand, she’s incorporating her engineering mind and in your own business, I think there’s a real important lesson there, which is, what is it?

I like to call it your special sauce. What is it about you that makes you unique? So, Cheryl takes beautiful photos and she makes beautiful desserts. But she has this additional layer, which is she’s got this scientific mind and she’s adding that to her recipes.

And therefore, gosh, if I have to make a beautiful treat, a beautiful dessert, I am going to Cheryl’s blog for that reason. So just think about that in your own business. I think there’s something really powerful about that. And again, this is the kind of stuff we teach in our coaching group.

If that’s interesting to you, please come get on a call with me. I really want to hear about your business. I want to hear where you are and where you’d like to be. And I’ll let you know how we can help you get there.

So, please head to MiloTree.com/meet so we can meet. And again MiloTree.com/meet. You can sign up for a time and we’ll just get on a call and I’ll see you here again next week.

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