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Live Chat with Toni Miller - CookieCon 2020 Instructor

    Surprise! I told you last month that we were wrapping up our CookieCon Speakers Series . . . but, lucky for you, I lied! As it turns out, the wonderfully creative Toni Miller of The Sprinkle Factory (and CookieCon 2020 Core Presenter) will be joining us for this live chat!

    Live Chat Banner - Toni Miller

    I've long been enamored with Toni's delightful and colorful Instagram page. (If you haven't yet seen it, you should!) It's bright, cheery, expertly photographed, and, most important, purposeful to the point that it's garnered her a sizable following (24K at last count!)!

    At CookieCon, Toni will be teaching a crash course in cookie photography, where she'll quash the misconception that you need a bunch of expensive equipment and lights to present your work at its best. Of course, we'll want to explore this topic in our chat too, but I'm also extremely curious to hear her thoughts about social media strategy, and more about her new venture, The Sprinkle Factory Library! Any other (cookie-related) topics are also fair game, as always!

    Read on to learn more about Toni, and to start formulating your questions for the chat.

    But, first, a few important housekeeping notes . . .

    Chat Guidelines

    (1) Feel free to enter advance questions now by following the instructions at the top of this chat page. (As always, it's super helpful for questions to be logged early, so our guests are able to prepare answers beforehand and to field more questions during live chat time.)

    (2) Please note that any advance questions will reveal one at a time, in the order received, only after the chat goes live. Do not expect questions or answers to appear immediately.

    (3) Last but not least, as with all of these chats, you have a special opportunity to see inside the minds of some extremely talented decorators, so I encourage you to do your homework before jumping on the chat. Again, please review Toni's bio and other information below.

    Toni CroppedToni Miller is the baker and treat designer at The Sprinkle Factory (TSF) blog and Instagram page, published author, and founder of TSF Library, a digital subscription service for cookiers. Over her ten years as a baker and decorator, she’s captured the hearts of fellow decorators and cookie enthusiasts across the web with her distinct style of colorful, fun, and punny cookies. If a plate of salad cookies or a giant spoonful of cereal cookies doesn’t capture your attention, her bright storytelling dessert photography with a side of sprinkles will do the trick!

    Outside of the cookie studio, Toni is happily married to her high school sweetheart, who currently serves in the US military. Together, they have four sweet mess-makers ranging from toddler to tween, with a set of twins in the mix. When they are not traveling the world together, they are sneaking into the studio to flood a few extra cookies!

    To learn more about Toni, check out her website and Instagram page.

    Photos and cookie credits: Toni Miller

Hi, Toni! It's so great to have you here today, especially so close on the heels of your CookieCon Core Instructor gig. I hope you've had a chance to decompress a bit!
Welcome to everyone joining us as well! Thanks for being here! Please remember that this chat is YOUR chat. I am only here to moderate it, not to ask questions - so please start teeing up your questions for Toni!

Also, remember that Toni's bio and other background material can be found under the "i" icon at the top of this chat room; that info is great fuel for questions!
BUT . . . before we jump into your questions, I have a few housekeeping notes.

First, questions are answered in the order received, but they will not post to the public/viewable area of the chat until Toni reads and answers them. We'll work through questions that were logged in advance first; then start working on questions asked live during the chat.

That said, please be patient and do not re-post the same question. It may take some time to answer your question, depending on where it sits in the queue. But I will personally make sure every question gets answered before we're through.
Hey there! Thank you so much for having me. I’m excited to chat with you all today!
Likewise! So excited to have you here!
To break the ice and to familiarize you with some of Toni's work (if you don't know it already), I'm going to post a few of Toni's über-charming cookie pics, starting first with these burger and salad photos!
Now, for that salad . . .
Just delightful! But, there's more . . .
And one more . . . for now, that is!
Love these
At CookieCon, Toni taught a crash course in cookie photography that quashed the notion that you need a bunch of expensive equipment and lights to show your cookies at their best. That being said . . .

TONI: Can you please share with us your top 3 tips for showing cookies at their best on social media?
JULIA: I love this question!

#1. Strive to let your photos tell a consistent story! Think of your photos as pictures in a storybook that tell the story of your cookie brand which likeminded people/customers can “read” - engage with and relate to!

#2. Create a set of small photo rules to follow for your brand's photos to help with that consistent storyline and brand recognition. (Plus this makes creating photos much faster!)

#3. Don’t cheap out on the caption! A photo may be worth a thousand words . . . but people still want the words! After looking at a beautiful photo in a magazine what’s the next thing we do? Check the text for the full explanation. When posting on social media, it's worth the small time investment to make sure you're posting a great caption that further welcomes them into the story that your cookies, photos, and overall brand is telling . . . and if you’re really good inviting them to interact!
Good points. As an immediate followup, can you share with us your personal photo rules, just to give us a clearer idea of what you mean?
All - this is a live question, so it will take a bit longer for Toni to type in the answer. Hang tight!
JULIA: Sure! Two of my photo rules are: 1. Always add something white - like a small glass dish or plate. And 2. Add texture - sprinkles, crinkle paper, a soft prop...
Why something white?
Hi, Julia! Hi, Toni! I love the crayons and I love that you also created the boxes!
JULIA: It’s just a look I prefer. The combination of the solid color background and white props starts to create a consistent look. The same thing could be done
Welcome, Manu! I love all of her photos - so bright and cheery!
I would have guessed your rules were: (1) shoot from overhead; (2) always use vibrant color; (3) throw in sprinkles for good measure! LOL.
MANU: Thank you! Creating the boxes is also another way to help tell the story! Crayon cookies are cute, but you package them in a familiar box and suddenly you feel like you went straight to Kindergarten again!
Back to some advance questions . . .
Hi, Toni, My name is Pat. Thank you for chatting with us today. My question is when I look at most cookies pages, the pictures are beautiful. They look like they're taken from far away and you can't see the flaws. What is the trick?
PCOLONNA: I use a camera stand when creating my photos to get a nice wide overhead look, which may be creating the faraway effect you're talking about. I don’t think there’s a real trick to hiding flaws. For most cookiers, I think that as they grow in their skill (their flaws are still there but less common!), they get really good at cleaning up mistakes and adapting the design if needed. If I have the occasional crater or flaw/break, I may be able to hide it under the edge of another cookie etc. . . . but for the most part, I just try to keep it real. The flaws are there . . . you might just be overlooking them! In my CookieCon cookies/photos, a few of them broke during travel. I don’t think anybody even noticed the cracks!
JULIA: Those rules apply as well! I have about 4-5. Also, I have a rule to occasionally - break the rules lol! Just to try something new and possibly find a new rule!
TONI: Your cookie photos are so evenly and well lit. How do you light and shoot them? How do you eliminate pesky shadows and make your photos so vibrant even when shooting on dark days? Do you rely on only natural light, or do you supplement with other lights, for instance?
JULIA: Believe it or not, I shoot all of my cookies in natural sunlight - yes, even on days where the sun doesn’t want to come out and play. Over the years as I strived to take better cookie photos, I developed a cookie photo “recipe” which I call Cookieography - the exact recipe I taught at CookieCon!

In this recipe, I teach what I consider the core ingredients of my cookie photo recipe, but then more importantly how to put the ingredients together to create great cookie photos every single time - yes, even in the rain! It’s really a matter of understanding a few basic settings, a little equipment, and how to put them together.

As for shadows - I always say shadows are our friend! I lessen them with the use of a simple white foamboard to reflect light and then soften in editing if need be. But we don’t want to remove all shadows, as shadows create depth and texture!
Others, any questions? We are out of advance questions now.
I could ask Toni questions all day, but this is your chat!
Thank you. Do you use any editing programs like Photoshop, etc.?
Julia, I would love to know your questions to Toni! I don't know what I don't know! I DO know that her pictures are gorgeous!!
Thanks, Debbie. I'll ask mine eventually, but want to give others a chance to ask away first.
PCOLONNA: I use Lightroom! I strive to create the best photo right out of the camera naturally. But then I move it into Lightroom to do a few little edits - just like packaging a cookie!
Have you ever used a lightbox? I live in northern Canada and, in the winter, it's dark a lot of the time.
DEEBIE GEORGE: Awe thanks!
Toni - Did you see the lightbox question (2 up)? You might also explain what one is for those who might not know.
RENATA CARSON: I am not a fan of using a light box. The first reason is with my cookieography recipe - as cookie conners learned! You actually have wayyyyy more light then you realize you just need to learn how to make your camera (even phone!) SEE that light. Second when shooting with artificial light is a must (after sunset) I recommend a shadow box instead. When using artificial light we want to mimic the sun as much as possible. Light boxes do not do a great job of that - and are most often more money!
But don't some light boxes come equipped with light bulbs that mimic natural light?
JULIE: A light box is an enclosed structure often a square, that as lights attached to it at some part made for “easy” product photography. A shadow box is a large “Umbrella” on a stand with a light inside.
JULIA: The temp of the lights in the box may be close to natural sunlight (5,000k) but the LOOK of the light is not the same. It’s small,close, and hard.
Not photo related, but I wanted to congratulate Toni for releasing her Library. What a great project! Also I was so impressed by the fact that you printed a cookie cutter in your car on your way to CookieCon!
JULIA: A large overhead shadow box creates a large light source (like the sun!) which creates softer shadows...and allow light to fall on the cookies also like the sun.
I wouldn't mind investing in camera for a "photo station" - what would you recommend that is designed for this type of photography that won't break the bank?
MANU: Thank you! The Library has been such an incredible adventure. And yes, we sure did print a cutter in the car! I’m still surprised it turned out!
A shadow box sounds like the way to go here. I've been experimenting with supplemental light sources, as it is often very dark here.
DEBBIE: I first recommend using Lightroom mobile app on your phone. You can use the camera in that app and switch the “pro” which gives you options similar to a DSLR! From there, I recommend starting with and entry DSLR - Canon rebel T6 or T7 is great! Around 300-400 and most likely you wont grow out of that.
To add onto Pat's question: Can you tell us the equipment you shoot with, from camera to anything to alter/control light (foamboards, etc.). For instance, do you shoot with a phone or with a digital camera?
JULIA: You can use all sorts of light sources to create different artistic feelings/looks. But I like to have cookiers start out with a shadow box to create a natural sun look first...then they can adjust and find a style they like better if needed.
JULIA: Sure! I use a Canon 80D - a horizontal camera stand, and a cheap white foam board! Since I do shoot on a stand I also use a tether cord and live shoot on my computer screen. Then I can easily adjust any settings and see the shot right on my computer!
JULIA: But I want to stress that you really don’t NEED a pro camera. Often a newer phone will do the trick. The key is to learn the settings! If anybody is interested in this and didn’t get a chance to take the cookie con class we will be releasing COOKIEOGRAPHY and an ecourse soon!
Do you shoot fully manually (as far as adjusting shutter speed, F stop, etc.) or do you go automatic?
JULIA: ALWAYS manual. Even if I am using my cell phone (with Lightroom!) This allows me to suck in allllll the light possible.
I think we're all interested to learn more about the easier ways. Your tethered setup is probably more than most people will want to do.
WOW. Do you have a picture of your set up? That sounds amazing. I would love to set up something like that in my cookie room.
DEBBIE: Give me a moment and I’ll post a photo of the setup
As an example...this sloth photo was shot after 5PM ona cloudy rainy day. NO lights. Just by a window. It’s REALLY about the settings and understanding them.
Thanks, Toni. When you get back, there are questions from Pat and Manu in the queue. I'd also love for you to elaborate on how to work an iPhone with the Lightroom mobile app, as this feels like a more doable thing for most of us.
Here is a photo of my ACTUAL setup.
Nice! Thanks!
So you remotely trigger to avoid camera shake?
Yippeeee!! Thank you so much! I really appreciate the guidance here. There is no sense in spending hours creating beautiful cookies if one can't show off her work!
Beautiful studio, plenty of light!
Yes, she's starting with lots of great natural light!
I asked a question about about whether you're triggering remotely to avoid camera shake? Looks like you are, but wasn't sure. Did you see that question?
Pat's question is up next.
MANU: I shot these photos in natural light, but don’t be scared by that! As a military family I’ve taken my cookie photos in house all around the world and I don’t always have a well lit studio. And I don’t always shoot when the sun is this great. Remember the sloths were after 5PM!
JULIA: I shoot tethered for several reasons one of which to avoid camera shake, but more importantly to be able to adjust ANY settings I want right on the screen. Most importantly SHUTTER SPEED <- the secret sauce to cookieography!
What is the best way to use your iPhone for pictures? Any special settings or filters?
Related to Pat's question, can you elaborate on how you use an iPhone with the Lightroom mobile app?
PCOLONNA: My favorite is to download Lightroom mobile and use the camera option in that app. Switch it to “pro” just beside the shutter and suddenly you have manual options just like on a DSLR!
Interesting . . . will have to try that!
Is one shadow box enough or do you need to have two opposite sources of light?
JULIA: You will then have the option to adjust your shutter speed and ISO etc. Without buying a fancy new camera!
MANU: For cookies, one should absolutely be enough! The one I recommended at cookie con was 40.00 on amazon total package
I have a fancy DSLR, but I am having more trouble controlling it than my iPhone11, to be honest. My new iPhone photos tend to be much better; just low res, which isn't great for print purposes.
So you alluded to your cookie “recipe” – Cookieography, you called it. But could you tell us more specifically what the key ingredients of that recipe are? What technical things do you do to ensure “great cookie photos every single time”? Or do we need to wait for your e-course for this?
Any questions from others? I am out of ones in the queue.
JULIA: That’s the key between the two. At cookie con I encouraged students to think about what they were using the photos for. If using just for social media your good to go on a iPhone. For print purposes I recommend to move into a DSLR. Which is why I shoot with a DSLR - also because I started so long ago flip phone cameras were not quite usable!
Debbie - I see your question. It will post next.
I hear you. I am an old-timer.
Toni, Did you see my question above about Cookieography? I think you may have missed it.
Here it is again: JULIA M. USHERMODERATOR10:41 AM So you alluded to your cookie “recipe” – Cookieography, you called it. But could you tell us more specifically what the key ingredients of that recipe are? What technical things do you do to ensure “great cookie photos every single time”? Or do we need to wait for your e-course for this?
JULIA: Thank you I did miss this! I consider the key ingredients: STYLING, EQUIPMENT, CAMERA SETTINGS, LIGHTING, AND EDITING.
And when will your course be available for more info on all of the above?
Once we understand the roll each of these ingredients play and how they work, we can strategically put them together for one easy to follow photo recipe! Which I take you through step by step!
Also, this question from Debbie, which is related to sources.
Do you have a link for the other items like the stand, the foam, any cords, etc? This is so very helpful.
We haven’t put out an official date yet, but we are leaning towards to end of March!
DEBBIE: Actually I do! Here is the link I shared at cookie con with the equipment I use and/or recommend depending on your setup (camera/phone sun/artificial):
I think I need to get my DSLR on a stand and remote-trigger it. My foamboard setup is similar to yours, but I've been doing everything handheld, and my photos are sometimes soft because of camera shake/shutter speed.
Thanks for sharing that link!
You can count me in on that ecourse! I really appreciate this education very much. Please add me to your list of people to invite! Thank you.
JULIA: That is your key problem! And what I did for YEARSSSSS. Until I started to really learn the few “cookie crucial settings” and then it all literally clicked!
Yes, count me in too. Photos are what I struggle most with - not the styling so much; just controlling the light and focus.
DEBBIE: Thank you! I look forward to teaching you Cookieography. It’s really a process I developed over the past ten years, and I’m soooo giddy to finally be able to put it out there!
JULIA: It’s such a struggle for most which is why I love teaching it so much.
We've got about 8 minutes left in the chat, so if you have any lingering questions, please fire away!
It is hard, because after spending hours and hours making a piece, I don't feel I can spend hours and hours capturing it in photo form.
At cookie con...on the last class at 6PM...the shades were closed, the overhead lights were off, and we had a little leftover natural sunlight filtering through. I thought...let’s REALLY push the boundaries. You could hear a pin drop! But sure enough...with 100 students watching...WE GOT THE SHOT! I think they got the best Cookieography value over all lol!
I just don't have the time for so much trial and error. I need more mastery of the equipment/process so I don't have to take hundreds of photos to get a few decent ones.
JULIA: YES! And one of the things I bring up right away is you don’t have to be a photographer to create great cookie photos OR take a long time. You you believe it if I told you I spend no more then 5 minutes taking my photos?
I completely agree with you, Julia.
That's why I want to set up a little space in the cookie room so all I have to do is aim, adjust settings and shoot!
I don't believe that . . . it would take me more than 5 minutes to set the cookies on the plate!
JULIA: Styling may take a few more minutes but the actual photos...five minutes max.
I also have tall 3-D pieces, so I am often fussing with getting different angles on them to show the dimensionality. Top down usually does not work; some combo of angles tells a better story for me.
Here’s a photo I took again after 5PM, no lights....when my kids were literally waiting in the car to go to the gymnastics party they needed these cookies for!
So adorable - you've definitely got the photo process mastered.
Then I need your class, Toni!
JULIA: You can still follow my same process, you just adjust your camera angle and backdrop!
How will we know when the course is out? Do you have a list where we can sign up?
These are so adorable. I can't wait for your class.
Sadly I haven’t got to that yet BUT I do have a overall email list for my website (it’s on the front page) and I will announce there as well as INSTAGRAM!
DEBBIE: Thank you! I’m so excited to release it! This has been requested for so long, I’m so glad to finally release it and feel like we’ve got it down perfect for you all!
Okay, I'll be on the lookout. If you want to announce it here on Cookie Connection, I would encourage you to do that too. You can use the forums section to do that. Also open to including a link/ad somewhere on the site, as I think it will be a terrific resource to many here. Just let me know if you want to explore either of these options!
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