Today’s guest post comes from Carolyn Shvetz whom I became acquainted with through Social Media Club Columbia. She is the granddaughter of Maurice Bessinger, the widely-known former owner of Piggie Park and it’s famous yellow barbeque sauce. Carolyn and her family are working to bring the family business into a new century now that grandpa is retired with her web savvy and artistic skills leading the way! She’s got an everything-at-once kind of job that seems to be typical of most 20-somethings these days, except her career has a hot twist, like getting (having??) to hang out near 500+ degree BBQ pits on a regular basis! -April

Since the age of 14, I’ve worked as a waitress, cashier, sandwich maker, line cook, food prepper, drive thru order-taker, assistant manager, manager, caterer, basically everything possible within my family’s small business at Maurice’s Piggie Park®. After graduating with a college degree in Graphic Design, I took over the artwork and design needs of the restaurant. The business had been floating along without much strong advertising design for a while, so tackling the advertising needs was a challenge, and the past resources of photography looked outdated, unappetizing, and were practically uneditable files, so it quickly became a huge priority for me to work on getting some new food shots.

After all, our restaurant’s focus is on our unique pit-cooked barbecued meats and how else to better communicate that than with a gorgeous photo of a delicious sauce-dripping meaty barbecue sandwich? (Side note – meats are probably one of the most difficult food photography subjects).

Throwing back to my two college photography classes, I tackled the job. I did a food photo shoot, and then another, and then another, and every time the photos got better and better and finally now, I have great photo resources to work with in my advertising designs. We also launched our new website in November 2012 and I had to shoot, process, and edit the product photos for our nationwide Flying Pig Express® shipping, including our Southern Gold® BBQ Sauces in all the varieties of flavors and sizes, as well as our pit-cooked bbq meats and hash (imagine trying to photograph hash… It’s delicious but man it is not photogenic!).

Next on my list of photo resources to re-shoot is a Tailgate set-up and then Holiday Hams & Turkeys.
Every photo shoot attempt would get better and better; it took multiple experiences to figure out the best camera settings, the best lighting situations, the best food styling, and the best atmosphere set up. Here’s one of my first photo shoots attempts – bad lighting, bad set up – blah.

Like my parents always said, Practice, Practice, Practice! My two cents to add to that is: Be Inspired, Be Inspired, Be Inspired! Design and photography are fields where you have to constantly be feeding yourself with examples and inspiration. The more you see, the better you’ll be. In my college days, the motto was “keep a sketchbook.” Today, it’s “make a pinboard” which is so much more practical and handy. Thank you once again, Pinterest!
So, when April tweeted about the Food Photography Class, I jumped at the opportunity to get a refresher course of basic photography skills and more inspiration for food photography. Caroline was a great teacher and wow, her blog photos are phenomenal. Seriously, take a look and be inspired. You can tell she has practiced practiced practiced and done her inspiration research to get to the level her food blog is at today.

The biggest lessons I learned from the Food Photography Class were LIGHTING and STAGING. The lighting issue was something I had dealt with before with my first couple of photo shoots in the restaurant away from natural light and the shots did not turn out very good. My later shoots near windows captured that better natural light and made a big impact. And STAGING, wow, Caroline is an expert at this! As an HGTV junkie, of course I understood the purpose of staging and atmosphere for a home, so duh, why should food be any different? There’s a big difference between a photo of BBQ on a plate versus a whole meal setup where the viewer can imagine sitting down with that plate in front of them, picking up the fork, adding bbq sauce, drinking the glass of tea. A few of my favorite bits of her great advice for food photography staging: add fabric, like placemats and napkins – gives warmth and comfort. add utensils, completes the meal experience, also shows scale within the photo. show ingredients, gives variety and color within the photo, also a great natural element.
Since the class, I have re-taken a few product photos for the website, including our new Sauce Sampler pack, where I added in the human element I loved in an inspiration photo, as well as a new shipping variety pack, the BBQ Meats Sampler.

I’ve also done a few photo shoots simply to use for social media posts, like this July 4 shoot used in social media like this, and this Tailgating shoot ready to be launched in the coming weeks.

My advice: Any learning opportunities you find that you are somewhat interested in, TAKE THEM! As much of an introvert and homebody as I am, learning new things is something you will never once regret. When I finally took the initiative to go to Social Media Club of Columbia based on Rick Caffeinated‘s invitation, I’ve NEVER looked back and thought “wish I hadn’t wasted my time there.” There is ALWAYS something to learn! I didn’t know quite what to expect or if I would learn anything at the Food Photography class but sure enough, yep I did learn so much beneficial tips to apply to my advertising and social media experiences at Piggie Park! I hope we have another food photography session again soon, what do y’all think? 🙂

Twitter: @CarolynShvetz
Instagram: @CarolynShvetz
Twitter: @PiggiePark
Instagram: @PiggiePark