Today I sit down with Elis Halenko, RD to talk about food styling and photography. Hit the play button below to start the episode now!
Season 3 Episode 46: Food Styling And Photography Ft. Elis Halenko, RD
Ready to hear from one of the most creative and lovely RDs in the biz? Today Elis shares her tips on how to excel at food styling & photography, and also reminds us why its good to inject FUN into your projects! It helps your work shine and will also draw in the right kind of clients that align with your values and nutrition mission.
You can get in touch with Elis here:
Did you miss last week’s episode of the Freelance Dietitian Podcast? Don’t worry, you can tune in here: One Year Anniversary For the FD Podcast
Sure. Hi Julia. Hi everyone. It’s so nice to be here. Thanks for having.
Before we started recording that we actually live geographically close to each other, and I couldn’t believe that our paths hadn’t crossed before, but that is the beauty of entrepreneurship is meeting new people. So I’m really excited to chat with you today. I wanted to ask you to open up the floor, what is your favorite part about being a dietitian?
Amazing. Thank you. Um, yeah, I just love how there are so many amazing alternative career opportunities now for dietitians, uh, that weren’t there before, that really allow us to make a bigger impact and help more people in creative ways. There’s also kind of like this amazing informality, I feel like now to job opportunities as well. Like you don’t need to have a job interview and sit down necessarily to meet people, make connections. And you also don’t need to have the traditional nine to five job anymore either.
So, for example, you can like, share your messaging on social media. You can get paid, you know, partnerships with brands and institutions that you really believe in. Um, and these are things you’re probably gonna be talking about and sharing about anyway. So it’s really like a win-win for everyone. Then the other thing I love about being a dietitian is really like the entrepreneurial path in general.
There was like a time where I was kind of in between entrepreneurial journeys and my husband was like, Why don’t you get a nine to five in between and just, you know, to bridge that gap? And I was like, No. Like I’m just gonna ride it out and we’ll figure this entrepreneurial thing out. Uh, so I truly love having total creative control as a dietitian in entrepreneurship as well.
Yeah. That’s awesome. And I forgot to ask, how long have you been practicing as an rd
It’s been about 10 years now and it’s pretty much always, I had like a little stint where I was working, like doing some clinical work. It was like maybe two years, but mostly it’s been an entrepreneur, uh, like freelancing and that sort of thing.
That’s so cool. And when you were back in school though, like before you graduated, did you know cuz entrepreneurship sounds to just be like your calling, Did you know when you graduated, that you would dive into it? Or like what happened there? I’m always curious to hear.
Oh my goodness, I, no, I think my trouble was that I didn’t know what I wanted to do. So what I ended up doing after graduating was I just kind of threw myself into any and all opportunities. I would make connections, I would network, I would go to a lot of food shows. I met a lot of people in the food industry through. And that’s kind of where this freelancing and consulting, uh, part of my career trajectory started.
Yeah, that’s so cool. It’s so interesting when you shed your students skin and then enter the real world. And for some people they end up working exactly where they thought they would. In other people, it’s like, whoa, pivot.
Yeah, a hundred percent.
And on the show and on the freelance dietitian brand, like we really value creativity and you are so creative, it just pours out of you and all of your content, your messaging, and I love it. I would love to hear you articulate maybe how you’re incorporating that into your RD practice.
Oh, amazing. Well, thanks so much. Yeah. I think it’s really important for dietitians, but like just all working professionals to tap into that creative side. For me, I have incorporated it as working as a private consultant for food brands via my content creation business. It’s now under a new name, so I have an Instagram handle, the Food Stylist rd.
My previous business, just for some context was called Heco Creative. The, um, but I actually sold that business in 2019, um, and kind of rebranded and continue doing the content creation on a smaller scale. It’s a little history there for you.
And then I was also like the VP of like a health and marketing company for a couple years. I also helped to create and develop like marketing strategies for the better for you arm of a PR agency. Uh, so yeah, so tapping into this creativity has really allowed me to directly impact the types of communication materials that I help create and produce for brands. I get to help them tell their story in fun and engaging ways.
Um, and actually, Just as an FYI too, like most of my career, I actually worked, um, as a ghost content creator as well, which means I produced content kind of behind the scenes. My name wasn’t necessarily attached to it. Uh, for companies like Ontario Pork or Sick Kids Hospital, it’s just like on their website or on their marketing materials. And I’ve only newly been kind of producing content as more of like an influencer in quotation works, uh, cause I don’t feel like one on my social media platform.
Yeah, so cool. So many different outlets there. And in terms of actually like teasing out the inspiration, are there just like elements of your day where you feel like the most creative or you see something maybe walking and it just inspires you? Like can you talk like, that stuff gives me goosebumps. I’d love to hear any of your moments like that.
The creative process, it’s what of those things where you wake up in the middle of the night and you’re like, that’s good, and you know, you are jotting down ideas. Or like you said, you’re walking in the park and you’re like, Just seeing nature or you’re at the grocery store and like the moment of inspiration just kind of happens. Here and there. It’s kind of unexpected and exciting.
And sometimes there’s creative blocks too, and I try not to let like push things, but if I have a creative block, then I’ll go on social media or you know, I’ll read through, like flip through like an artistic book or something like that, just to kind of like get the wheels turning.
I think I saw on your, I think it was Instagram and I saw that you posted like way back when as a teenager. You love the L cbo Megs. Yes,
Yes. Food and drink. That’s where it all began for me. I was like 16, definitely not drinking yet, but they were like my inspiration for just like their beautiful content and recipes.
I remember in high school and for American listeners in grade nine, like many of us have to do this career. And they asked me, I remember them asking me, What do you wanna do? And I said, I wanna be the editor at L CBO magazine. No. So when you posted that, I was just like, kindred spirit, Like I totally get it. It was like captivating and I was so young, I didn’t really know what booze was cuz I just wasn’t a big party gal. No shade to anybody who is.
Um, but just the colors, the imagery, the effic, like some of it feels like so sensual, like in a, just in the right way. And I. Like that’s where I wanted to end up in life, so. Yeah. And you’re doing it and it’s so cool.
I love that commonality too.
Yeah, they do a great job, Yeah, totally. And so that’s obviously a liquor mag. Do you have an ideal brand that you would love to work with? Cuz you’ve mentioned a few you’ve already been working for, and I know on other podcasts you’ve given more details there. So I’d love to hear who’s your dream?
For sure. Um, so I love to work with brands and businesses who have like kind of a mission beyond just like sharing like tasty food and that sort of thing. I think that brands who wanna promote like healthy communities and talk a lot about that, or brands that also wanna promote, uh, sustainable, healthier planets and that sort of thing, that really aligns with my values and I feel excited talking about them and sharing them and working for them. Because we’re like working towards this common goal. It’s really beautiful.
An example that I, another client that I worked for that kind of speaks to this was I, I did some work for msc. Okay. Um, and they helped to regulate sustainable fishing and regulate farmers to make sure, you know, Things are done well in the industry basically. I also worked for a healthy snack company that wanted to create more healthy snack options that were school safe. And she’s been in the business now, I think for 10 years, but 10 years ago there were not a lot of like, Um, I guess allergy friendly foods and that sort of thing are healthy snack options for kids, so that was really cool to have that partnership.
And then sometimes it’s just about energy. I don’t know if you’re like a big believer in energy or if your listeners are, but I just kind of feel like sometimes you just vibe and connect, um, on a different level. Like there’s been times where I’m writing an email or I’m on the phone call with a brand and I just feel like I’m talking to a friend, someone who really gets me and vice versa. So you just kind of clicked with them right away.
I remember someone sharing, uh, like a quote with me, um, when it comes to pitching to brand clients, that sort of thing. She was saying like, you can’t say the wrong thing to the right person. Mm-hmm. So I do think that like having an effective pitch script is great, but knowing who you are really helps to create that winning pitch script to begin with and helps you attract your dream clients basically.
Yeah, I love that. So positive. What a great way to frame that. Thank you for sharing that. And in terms of like crafting a pitch, and obviously you have a lot of experience in marketing now, what would you think are key marketing tools that like a newbie entering the entrepreneur scene should start to educate themselves on a bit sooner?
Mm, That’s a good one. Marketing tools. Um, or just
marketing concepts like some, Cause maybe for some context here, I’m realizing now that after a year and a half of kind of doing writing, which is a marketing, uh, Stick. Like I really wish at the beginning I had spent more time better understanding like consumer logic, the psychology about what they find appealing in an article. Those little marketing things that I’m like, Oh wow, I probably should have started with that. It would’ve made it easier.
really smart. Yeah. Um, well that’s a great way to put it. I. Like in, just in terms of seeing like what brands are asking for and where like the trends of content is going. I would say being, being familiar with like video content creation and also if you’re comfortable speaking into a camera, which I need to personally do more often, but just that face to face time because we’re, we’re so. In some ways we’re more connected because, you know, we have access to all the social media, but in some ways we’re more disconnected because now everything’s virtual.
Yeah. So seeing your face and having that bit of personality and that connection, I think really helps. Um, I would say that those are really great, like marketing tools, like comfortable with video, but also some face time virtually is great too.
Yeah, great points. And also exactly like you said, just logging in and seeing what’s trending, especially with your dream brands, like speaking their language basically.
Mm-hmm. Yeah. Yeah.
Okay. Um, I’m very curious now to just ask a little bit of silly questions just to get to know you a bit. Um, what would you describe as the most boring day ever?
Okay, So the most boring day ever for me would be I just log into my email account and I have like lots of emails that have nothing to do with what I love to do. Like, you know, just those administrative things where you’re filling out paperwork or accounting. I do not like accounting. It’s not my favorite thing. um, creating invoices, all that stuff. So the most boring day would just be like endless paperwork and emails. Um, I try to avoid that stuff as much as possible. Yeah. So I hire some help and yeah, I have a great team. I’m very lucky.
Yeah. Nice. Perfect. And I know you have several courses available to your website, which is awesome. I’m totally thinking about signing up for one. Um, and I noticed that you link out to your Etsy shop where you have these little. Amazing little clay like bowls and basically props to help with the photography. Can you talk about your experiences with Clay? I thought that was such a cool. Like welcome surprise when I was browsing your content.
Thank you. I appreciate that. Yeah, so the, so I have some history of working with Clay, like being younger, I was always artistic. I did like every art class I could, and so I’ve had a little bit of history there, but it obviously stopped when I went to university. I kind of took some time off and just focused on nutrition.
And then my pregnancy, I was like, I had this. Nesting phase where I needed to do things with my hands and I needed to be like tactile and stuff again. So I was like, pottery, that’s a great, like therapeutic kind of, uh, artistic thing to do. And then on top of that, like my personal experience as a food styles and food photographer was that I would struggle finding appropriate dish wears, you know, oftentimes are kind of big or they have no personality or they’re too reflective or shiny.
Um, if I did find a really nice rustic dish, it was super expensive, so I wanted do something that was like affordable, made for food photography. And kind of corrected all the dishware issues I had in the past. I know it sounds silly to say like I had dishware issues, but like saying it out loud, I’m like, Hmm,
no. I’m like, That is genius. Like what people would kill to have the perfect filter, the perfect item to make the photo pop. So this is brilliant. I’m in awe,
right? Yeah. So it was all about that, um, addressing those struggles. So I felt compelled to come up with a solution. I made my own and actually I also. At first it was just like, I’ll make a bowl here, I’ll make a plate here. Um, but then I decided, well, what’s like the ultimate solution? I’ll make like a food styling starter kit. So I have like kits where there’s two plates, two bowls, two pinch bowls, a kitchen like chef tweezers, linens, like all in like a pack. So that’s what we’re selling on the at Sea Shop now.
That is so cool. I love that. What a thoughtful add on.
Super fun and yeah, it is super fun. And I wanted to ask you too, cause I’m so curious what the setup is like. Okay, so how many dish wears do you own? Do you own a, I’m picturing like a full wall at one point of just inventory.
Yeah, I definitely got outta hand. I think I had like some at my parents’ place, like in their garage, but I forgot about and then I had to like restock on some items because, you know, I forgot that they were there. Now to date, um, I’ve edited down by the way, but I think I have like three solid boxes, like good size boxes of stuff, um, which is my edited list. I think at some point I had like eight boxes or 10 boxes. Something ridiculous.
Yeah. Amazing. It can, I’m sure it can just add up, especially as trends change, you just wanna stay up to date. Right? You want the cutest stuff. Yeah. Yeah. We can get outta control. Yeah. And I’m really curious too, just from a practical or logistics side, how long would a shoot take you? Like what would be an average project I guess, that you work on? Could you walk through some of the details there?
Yeah, for sure. So if I’m, I can give you an example of like a client where, I’ve worked on recently, um, maybe I’ll talk about food photography. Mm-hmm. So we did like three. Recipes and we did the steps in between. We captured a few photos of the steps in between for this client. I was working alongside a chef and I also had an assistant, so there’s three of us. We start our day, uh, probably around 10.
The chef starts earlier, so that by the time we’re there, like we’re setting up, it takes us a half an hour to set up our end, like from the food styling and food photography aspect of it. There’s dialogue in between. That happens, obviously with a chef before we even like meet together. Production day, but the day of, we’re pretty clear on what’s happening. Everyone has their role and I would say it’s about four or five hours, uh, to shoot three recipes with a team of three. So it’s not so bad.
Yeah. That’s amazing. That sounds like a good chunk of time where you can get into it and then not, not the entire day. Right. Unless that’s what you love, then that’s fine.
It’s true. I feel like the entire day it does happen and it’s very fun, especially if you’re working with other people, not just by yourself, Yeah. It’s exhausting, but very fun.
Yeah. Cool. And I’m wondering if you’ve identified right now any major gaps in the market that you could see RDS filling.
Yeah. Well, I think that there’s still so many opportunities for dietitians to experiment a little bit more in like content creation, social media, all of that. I think there’s more opportunity to be more fun. I know that sounds maybe silly too, but like just to be more entertaining and maybe make fun of yourself a little bit more than ever before as well. Just with some of these newer platforms like TikTok, which are entertainment focused. I would say that there’s still a really great market on Instagram, Pinterest, um, as well. I also think in terms of other gaps, I’ve noticed a lot of dietitians, um, exploring niche.
A lot more and serving specific patient populations. And that really lines up with specific food brands too. Say if you’re serving like a celiac market, and then you can line up and work with brands that are gluten free and that sort of thing. So there’s like, Uh, a win across the board for all those, you know, the brands in the audience that you serve.
I just think that there’s tons of unexplored territory still for content creation and uh, social media and I think that, Yeah, and I also, Sorry, one thing, one other thing to say is that like, You don’t have to quit your job. You don’t have to, You can still do your nine to five in order to explore and kind of dip your toe in some of these areas.
I think that’s the exciting thing, like your, the name of your podcast and your business freelance work. It doesn’t have to be, um, the only thing you do. It could be a compliment to other things that you’re doing. So I think that’s really an exciting part of it as well.
Yeah, totally. And do you have any words of encouragement for people who are like, so wanting to take the plunge but just can’t seem to push themselves off the.
I would say if it’s not fun for you, you’re not gonna do it. You’re not gonna be consistent. So if it terrifies you to get in front of the camera and do a dance, like, don’t do that Yeah, do something like work up to that potentially. But also there’s so many other things you could do. There’s not one way to, to share content or create content. So do what feels good and start, start small. It’s fine.
Yeah. Great advice. And I would love to ask you just a few questions maybe about the prices per projects, just so listeners can have an idea of what ballpark figures maybe of what they should be charging for a pretty basic package. I don’t even know the language. I’m just kind of leaning on you to explain it a little bit because I don’t work in that area. Or Well,
I would say that I personally, when I’m quoting, uh, brands, I always offer a range because it gives you a little bit more negotiating power. And I don’t want someone to look at my number and just be like, like if they’re, if they wanna pay me more, then sweet, you know, we can talk about the higher end, but I also don’t wanna go straight to low being low balled and that sort of thing.
So anyways, a range is kind of how I approach it. And, um, yeah, for food photography, I would say that my, like I try to sell a minimum. So it books a value for them and for me. And I would say that my starting package, um, is probably around, I did the three, I guess it was around $800.
Um, but it can go higher depending on what their needs are. Um, of course, that’s kind of like on the lower end, maybe 800 to 1500, let’s say for three photographs. And then video, I charge a lot more to put a thousand dollars per video. Um, and I also try to sell packages as well.
Yeah. Great. And how many projects do you normally take on at once?
I would say that I try to take on, um, No more than like six to eight projects a month. That gets to be quite a lot. Mm-hmm. Um, and sometimes I only work two projects a month and that feels great.
Yeah, absolutely. That’s the beauty of it. You ebb and flow based on how you’re feeling. That sounds great. And I, listeners love to know this and I did wanna ask it. Um, what kind of tech do you recommend, just for absolute basics, is iPhone enough just to start out, if you’re just dabbling, do you need a full DSLR camera? What do you think?
Yeah, so definitely a smartphone, especially if it’s any smartphone that’s been available the last three years, let’s say. It should be wonderful in terms of producing high quality, high resolution, content. I would recommend again, because we’re trending towards video content, definitely invest in a tripod that allows you to do the overhead shooting that’s very important for food videography and food content in general.
Trying to think if there’s anything that’s, those are the main things. Maybe investing in like one or two nice backgrounds, maybe a neutral prop, uh, like dishware set so that you kind of have. You know, at least one neutral set that kind of works with most dishes, basically. Most recipes. Yeah.
Awesome. And I just thought of one more question. It’s kind of backtracking a little bit. I I, do you charge for the cost of ingredients? Is that incorporated into your package for the photographs or do you bill them separately for that? Cause I’ve heard RDS do it both.
I bill them separately. Mm-hmm. I think maybe once in my life I’ve build it all together. Realized it doesn’t usually work out very well.
I’m glad I asked you cause I’ve heard it both and I’ve always wondered what is the best approach there.
Yeah. Yeah, I bill separately and I also often ask if they have like a budget for ingredients. Um, because sometimes I’ll recipe tests like two or three times and therefore I’m buying a lot more. So I like there’s some conversation about it. So it’s not like they receive a $300 bill for food at the end and are surprises.
Right. Yeah. Great point. And I have had a food photographer on the show before and I asked him this question and I want to ask you the same question. What’s the worst food to photo?
This question’s awesome. Um, obviously I kind of love it all, but I will share that the hardest food to photograph is probably ice cream. And for me in particular, certain desserts, because I’m not really an elegant baker, I’m kind of just a sloppy mess when it comes to like dessert and like baking.
So I have to prepare probably two or three renditions of the baked good. Um, and then I used to also really not like shooting. like, I’m just plain meat because it doesn’t look so pretty. It’s very brown. But I discussed some tips in my food standing course as well, and I developed, developed some strategies on how to make meat and brown, you know, heavy looking dishes look really good.
Do you wanna hear what the other photographer said?
Yes. Tell me.
Yeah, he said brown food, basically like the chili, even like brown cake he was saying on the camera. Looks 2d. He said, it was so hard to make it look through dimensional and delicious so
Right. Okay. So there’s overlap for sure.
I think. Yeah, I totally get that. There you go. Listeners, I’m getting good info here. So that brings us to the end of our interview. It was so awesome chatting with you. Did you wanna share any closing thoughts with listeners? Maybe, do you wanna pitch your course a little bit more?
Sure. So I have a new, uh, videography course. It’s made for dietitians and nutrition experts. And there I teach you how to create captivating videos, how to hook people, how to edit your videos, how to come up with interesting transitions, um, all of that. More information is provided. If you guys wanted to check out my website, I think the links are gonna be provided.
They will be. Yep. Podcast, right? Yeah. So you can check it out. Um, yeah, and I just wanted to say thank you so much for listening. Uh, please do give me a follow at the Food Stylist Rd and Snap Studio 55. Um, if you do have any questions, I love being social on social media, so if there’s any questions or if you wanna share with me your work and you want some feedback, by all means send me a DM and I’ll connect with you that way.
And I also just wanted to gush a little bit about you, Julia, and just say, What you do is amazing. I love it. Um, I love that you’re also a freelance, uh, writer and creating this amazing space via this podcast for other IDs craving like more fulfillment or variety in their, in their work life to do that. So thank you.
Thank you so much. That was so sweet. It was such a delight to meet you and chat with you. And definitely listeners, please reach out if you have questions and all of her links will be in the show notes. Thank you. Bye.