Welcome to Behind the Scenes with Lucie Beck. A blog where behind the scenes knowledge is shared by various photographers around the world. We are all connected by our passion for food and photography. This weeks guest: Jella Bertell from @vaimomatskuu.
Can you introduce yourself?
My name is Jella Bertell and I’m a Finnish art teacher, food blogger and food photographer from Helsinki.
How did you start with food photography and how did you learn?
I started writing a food blog in 2013. At the time I didn’t have any specific equipment, just a tablet that I used for everything. As the popularity of my blog grew, I started to get requests for sponsored content. After I’d lost one deal due to the poor quality of my photos, my passion for food photography really sparked! I purchased a cheap entry-level digital camera and a nifty-fifty lens, and started watching tutorials on the Internet.
I studied photography as a part of my MA, but it was before the era of digital cameras, and I had forgotten most of what I knew anyway… Participating in the Instagram food photography challenges of Kimberly Espinel turned out to be a major motivator for me. Her challenges helped me develop my own style and advance in leaps with my food photography skills.
Could you describe your style?
My style is quite dark and moody. Since I’m constantly in contact with visual arts in my day job as an art teacher, artists of all fields influence my photographs. I love to experiment with different concepts, materials and techniques, incorporating my profession with what I create.
Do you have special tips about food photography & blogging?
If you have a full time job apart from being a food blogger / photographer and want to post regularly, I recommend creating content in bursts when you have the time. I aim to have at least five blog posts ready to publish in my drafts! That has helped tremendously with staying consistent with my posts, even when my workdays are at their busiest.
However, during the pandemic this system of mine has stopped working. My work takes up so much time now that I’ve used up my stash of drafts a looooong time ago! Hopefully I’ll have time to fix the situation soon!
How do you nurture your creativity?
My creativity thrives in extremities: either in a hurry or with a narrow brief, or when I have all the time and creative freedom in the world. Some of my personal favorites were created very quickly, with stubborn determination fueled up by creative problem solving. If I have a strong creative vision in my mind, I won’t let anything stop me from capturing it!
But, I also love to take my time, set up elaborate scenes, and play with my camera for hours. If I’m tired and exhausted, there’s no point in trying to create anything. That’s when a full break is needed. The intense need to create will start to build up again when I’ve rested enough!
Which photographers and/or artists inspire you?
I’m drawn to art that evokes a sense of mystery. I love everything that’s dramatic and intense. I get my inspiration from art history, contemporary art, and popular culture. I’m equally inspired by Baroque still lives, Surrealist parlor games, Giorgio de Chirico’s and Edward Hopper’s empty cities, Bill Viola, Veruschka von Lehndorff, Peter Greenaway, The Sandman comics, Narnia, J.R.R. Tolkien, The Magnetic Fields, Twin Peaks, and RuPaul’s Drag Race. The list goes on and on, and it’s made of layers upon layers of experiences that have left their traces on me over the years.
There are also countless creatives on Instagram that I admire and respect for their unique style and talent. These include Suzanne Saroff, Vanessa K. Rees, Aimee Twigger, Betty Shin Binon, Gabriel Cabrera, Doan Ly, Carl Ostberg, Valentina Hortus, Eva Elijas and Courtney Whitman among others!
Would you like to improve your foodphotography?
What is the important skill of a (food)photographer?
A food photographer has to evoke also other senses than just vision. You’re communicating a taste, scent, texture, temperature, but also setting a mood, bringing forth memories, sparking a desire to cook, to share a meal, to experience something new, familiar, exciting, comforting…
How do you continue to learn as (food)photographer and/or blogger?
I aim to regularly take myself out of my comfort zone and try something new. Allowing myself to be playful and simply enjoy the creative process is very important to me, regardless of the results! Not everything has to be functional or have a purpose. Being efficient all the time is no fun! I find that experimenting intuitively without a fixed idea in mind can often lead to surprising results.
How do clients find you? What is your ideal client?
I have an agency that represents me here in Finland, and they connect me with most of my clients. Clients also contact me directly. Usually they find me either through Instagram or my website.
How much time do you spend on social media and which channels do you use the most?
I am a 100% Instagram girl! I can spend up to 3 hours per day (gasp!) just scrolling and connecting with other creatives online, chatting in DM’s and looking through what others have created. However, after years of daily posting I’ve started to skip more and more days – there are just not enough hours in a day to be as active online as I used to be. I do also have a Facebook page and a Pinterest account, but I update mainly when I’ve posted something new on my website. That’s it!
How do you make sure you find a balance between leisure/home and work?
I’ve had my share of struggles with the work/life balance. I’m passionate about my work as an art teacher; I’m passionate about food, about my blog, and about photography. I’m also passionately in love with my husband and I have many meaningful relationships I cherish. All passions combined, I never seem to have enough time for any of them!
It may sound rather mundane, but organizing my time with the help of a bullet journal (with zero fancy decorations, I use it just to prioritize my tasks) really helps me visualize my days and keep my schedule realistic.
Do you have good tips regarding blogging?
Honestly, I’m not sure if I do. My blog was never made with success or monetizing in mind – there are no ads, banners, or affiliate links for instance, just my rambles and recipes! I’m writing my blog in a way that feels good, makes sense to me, and motivates me. I do hope that what I have to say will inspire and bring joy also to the kitchens on the other side of the screen! That being said, my recipes are often on the experimental side. They can be complex, require rare ingredients, or simply take a lot of time to make. But luckily, my readers keep on coming back!
Every blogger should of course keep SEO in mind and try to maintain some kind of structure in writing. And so do I, especially when I’m writing a sponsored post. But regardless of the content, my main goal is to share my passion for food on my website. I want people to enjoy their time in my space, learn something new perhaps, and to be inspired by what they read and see!
Would you like to improve your foodphotography?
Where do you make your photos, at home or in a studio?
I create my photos at home, mainly in my little studio corner. I’m sharing the room with a piano, my husband’s records, his DJ table and all the laundry… It’s a small space but the light is beautiful and I’ve made it work. Sometimes I venture elsewhere in our small apartment, and during the summer time I often shoot at our balcony or outdoors.
What tools in a photography setting can’t be missed?
I make do with as little as I can, but I couldn’t work without a reflector, white bounce cards, black foam boards, and clamps to keep things where I want them to be.
I’m also in love with my collection of vinyl backgrounds – they take up very little space and clean up super fast! I’ve made some of them for myself, and some have been bought from Myluciebackdrops , for instance!
How do you prepare a photography & styling set?
If I’m shooting at home for myself, I don’t usually plan very much. I always have a style and mood in mind, and I trust my experience and intuition. I tend to fix and refine things on the go – the flow will always take me to a place I’m happy with. I’ll sit down and plan the shoot in more detail only if I’m doing client work, or if I’m trying to get a lot of things done in one day.
My clients often give me creative freedom with styling, but I always try to match my scenes within the brand’s existing aesthetic. Since I mainly photograph at home, my ”styling set” is everywhere around me. A lot of my props aren’t really props at all – they’re things I’ve inherited or been gifted, and they are in use in our everyday life.
I love to incorporate flowers, plants, and natural elements in my scenes, so I’ll often hop outside to pick up random twigs and greens from the forest. It starts right outside our front door!
Which light do you work prefer (daylight/artificial)?
I used to work with natural light alone, but living in Finland makes it quite difficult! For half of the year the sunlight is a rare commodity. That’s why I eventually started using artificial light; speedlight with a softbox to be exact. Nowadays I’m mainly shooting with artificial light during winter, natural light during summer.
What is your dream…..?
I dream of having my own studio space to play with! Currently I have to pack away my things when I’m not using them, since they take up too much space from the room. If I had my own studio room, I could take on more artistic, adventurous, experimental, and ambitious projects and really go all in with the ideas I have! It would give me more artistic freedom …and calm down the clutter in our home, haha!
How do you see yourself in about 5 years..?
In five years I’ll likely be doing what I do now: working as an art teacher, writing a food blog, and enjoying photography. I don’t want food blogging and photography to become my only source of income; I want to be able to select my projects and clients without the pressure of making ends meet. But who knows… maybe by then I’ve written a cookbook? Maybe I’m living in a home with that coveted studio space? Maybe I’ve had an art exhibition? Who knows … one can dream!