[EDITOR'S NOTE: Hi, all. As I hope you saw here, I introduced you to the marvelous Sweet Side Gig a few weeks ago. In case you missed that post, Sweet Side Gig is a six-week course and online community masterminded by Michelle Green, of The Business of Baking fame, and Sharon Wee, world-renowned cake decorator. It's essentially a program designed to help part-timers in sweets use their time more effectively and make more money doing what they love. Because I believe this course could benefit many of you, I signed up Cookie Connection for the Sweet Side Gig affiliate program, which means that, if you register for the course using any of the links on this site, Cookie Connection will earn a small referral fee. Win-win for all, I think!
But enough of me explaining the virtues of Sweet Side Gig! Sometimes it's easier to appreciate the value of something if you can witness it in action . . . and so I leave you with the following post written by Michelle Green in response to some of the concerns you all raised in our recent photo-taking survey. You'll find lots of no-nonsense, practical business advice below, just as you will in her Sweet Side Gig course. So read on, and enjoy. And thanks to @Michelle Green for taking the time to contribute directly to our site in this way! ~JMU]
While many of us are great when we're behind a piping bag (or under the light of a projector), we struggle when it comes to taking photos of our work. Customers often buy with their eyes first, so it's important that we show off our work in the best way possible. In an increasingly visual world (hello, Instagram, I'm looking at you . . .), we really need to make sure our photos reflect the level of work that we do - and the better those photos look, the more our customers are inclined to want what we're offering. More people looking = more people buying = more money in the bank.
Here are some simple, effective ways to improve the quality of your photos:
1) Good lighting matters a LOT. If you're taking your photos in a dark room with shadows, those colours you spent ages mixing aren't going to pop, and, instead of looking yummy, your cookies are going to look a little sad. This problem is easily solvable! For very little money, you can invest in a light box or ring light. (Amazon and eBay are great sources for these items.) Using either tool will help to ensure an even source of bright light and no more shadows! I've seen plenty of people make light boxes too - all it takes is some white foam core and masking tape. Bright, clear light makes everything look better and more appealing, and you can capture it pretty easily.
2) Wait, what's hiding back there? A clean, consistent background is the best way to ensure that customers' eyes are drawn to your product, rather than to what's behind it. No messy, distracting backgrounds, please! Again, a nice background can be found pretty cheaply - consider a solid colour fabric (no wrinkles!), a sheet of wallpaper, scrapbook paper, or foam core, or spend a little more and buy a proper photo backdrop. The same is true if you are doing cookie platters - pick a simple, clean platter to use rather than one that distracts from the cookies themselves. A great example of an Instagram cookie account that uses simple, clean backgrounds is this one by Holly Fox.
3) You don't need a fancy camera. These days, phones work just as well and often have as many features as fancy cameras. The problem is that most of us don't know how to use those features. I learned how to use the camera on my phone via YouTube videos - a few really simple adjustments made my photos WAY better. Get Googling! For example, a search for "using the camera on an iPhone 8" gets you a whole lot of free tutorials from which to choose. Once you learn how to drive your phone and about all of its great features, you'll be able to take your photos from blah to gorgeous.
4) Take lots of photos from different viewpoints - up-close detail shots as well as wider images. Take photos of single cookies and grouped cookies too. The beauty of digital photography is that it isn't going to cost you a ton to take a lot of photos, and having a selection from which to choose not only gives you more opportunity for content, it also gives you the freedom to choose the best of the best. Don't go totally bonkers over this, though . . . you want a nice selection, but you don't want to spend all day agonising over which photo to pick.
5) It's not just about the cookies! You can photograph things other than finished product, so that your customers have something a little different to look at. Think about piping bags filled with beautiful colours, works in progress, undecorated cookies, a few cutters on a benchtop, some of your other tools and toys, pictures of someone enjoying your treats . . . there's more to see in a cookie business than cookies! Have fun with it. Our customers often like to see the "behind-the-scenes" stuff, so give them a bit of that.
6) Play with layout. If you always do a 3x3 grid of cookies right in the middle of the photo, mix it up a little. Maybe try a 4x4 grid, or lines of cookies right across the entire frame, or an "artful mess" of them stacked up. While you can keep the layout consistent, you can also get consistency from backgrounds, colour scheme, etc., so it's okay to play around with the placement of the product to see what looks best.
7) If you don't love it, don't share it. This point is really important. If you make orders you don't enjoy doing or in themes that don't make you happy, or that you don't intend to offer in the future, you don't need to share those things! Save your social media posts, website photos, and newsletter images for products you want people to order. Often people see something and think, "Oh, I'd like that!", when they hadn't previously thought about that thing. So share those gorgeous photos of the kinds of orders you'd like to make more of. Don't post a photo of something you hated doing and then get upset when a bunch of people want that exact thing!
8) Resist the urge to complicate things. You can't "fix" a bad photo by adding a weird filter or effect on top of it. Yes, editing can help a lot, but too often these days I'm seeing all kinds of weird effects (starbursts, bokeh dots, strange focal points, etc.) that, again, just distract from the product rather than enhance it. Clean, simple, bright, and beautiful is the way to go - no need for gimmicks here.
9) Consider outsourcing your photography! If you don't think your photos are good, find a friend or colleague who has skills in this area. Again, a little bit of investment can go a long way, especially when it comes to website photos, where it's better to have 10 to 15 great photos than a whole lot of terrible ones.
10) Props - love them or leave them? Given the size and complexity of cookies, personally I'm not a huge fan of props in photographs. I think they (like an untidy background) can distract from the product. That being said, if you love props and want to use them, make sure they are clean, simple, and complement the product. For example, don't use brightly coloured and patterned napkins if you are showing off romantic, elegant wedding cookies. Choose wisely!
Having great photos of your work is important for so many reasons. When you don't have a storefront for people to visit, your digital world IS your storefront. Your website, social media accounts, newsletters . . . these platforms are all the ways people get to know you and your products. And, hopefully, your photos in these places will then entice prospective customers to place orders. You don't need to spend a fortune or be a famous photographer to make this all work. But do invest a little money and a little time learning, and you'll have plenty of photos that make you proud.
Michelle Green is the author of The Business of Baking, the blog that inspires, motivates, and educates bakers and decorators to pursue their sweet business goals. Along with Sharon Wee, she is also the co-founder and co-operator of Sweet Side Gig, a six-week course and online community designed to help part-timers work smarter, not harder, and earn more from their side gigs in cookies, cakes, and other sweets.
Photo credit: Michelle Green
Note: This article expresses the views of the author, and not necessarily those of this site, its owners, its administrators, or its employees. To read more Cookie Connection business posts, click here or here.