Behind the Scenes – How I Monetize This Blog

Hello, hello my web friends! I’m back with another behind the scenes post and this time it’s a behind the scenes of food blogging rather than food photography.

I’ve gotten several questions recently about whether I get anything out of this blog other than the fun of creating it and the fun of connecting with other food and photography lovers and the answer is yes, this blog does produce money and I thought I’d write a post for you that explains how.

So if you want to learn about blog monetization because you’re thinking about starting a blog yourself or if you maybe just find it interesting to look behind the curtain of an online business this post is for you. For all of you who come here strictly for the recipes and photography, I’ll be back with more of that next week! :)

So, let’s get to it. I make money with this blog in four different ways:

Blog Monetization


1) Photo Licensing Sales. I sell licenses to all of my photos to photo buyers (magazine editors mostly) who want to use them in their publications. Buyers can either use the buy button that I have underneath each photo or they contact me and I e-mail them the photo along with an invoice. 

Selling photo licenses


2) Affiliate Sales. I am an Amazon affiliate (also sometimes called associate). What that means is this: when you click on a link on this blog that directs to an Amazon product page (like the equipment links on my FAQ page) and if you then buy something (anything) on Amazon during the next 24 hours I get a commission of a few percent. The cost to you is the same and, of course, this is anonymous, I can see what was bought but not who bought it.

I also have an Amazon link in my sidebar and that link works in the same way. If you click on that sidebar link you’ll be taken to the Amazon homepage and when you buy something there within 24 hours of clicking on the link, I’ll get the commission.

Thank you all so much for using that link, I really appreciate your support!! <3

Amazon Affiliate Link


3) Product Sales. By product I mean the eBook and the two Photoshop video courses that I’ve created and that I am currently selling. You can find them in my sidebar or on my store page. I am planning on producing more of my own products in the future but for now I have those three. 

The Spice Train Products


4) Business Advertisement. My blog is an advertisement for my food photography business (granted that’s an indirect way of monetization). The blog is basically a living portfolio where I showcase my photos and that can lead to food photography assignment work. I have a static portfolio website as well but because the blog constantly gets “refreshed” I find it to be very useful as a tool that attracts the attention of potential clients.


Now, what I currently don’t do is run network ads. Network ads are advertisements that are served by a network and they appear in the sidebar of a blog, in the header or footer or sometimes in the middle of a blog post or on top of a photo. A blogger who runs network ads gets paid to do so by the ad network.

The reason why I don’t run network ads is two-fold: 1) they slow down the load time of a blog tremendously. And, more importantly 2) the blog owner (me) has almost no control over what ad is being shown. I don’t want to advertise for companies and products (or even persons, such as political candidates) that I don’t like and that’s the main reason why I removed all network ads from The Spice Train about a year or so ago. I haven’t missed them and I’m sure you haven’t either. ;)

And that is it! I hope some of you find this information useful or at least interesting. :) I’ll see you back here with another recipe next week!

Prop Talk – Furniture

Hey everyone! I’ve got another prop talk today. (Quick explanation for those new to this blog: every now and then I write a post about my favorite props and other behind-the-scenes stuff and this is one of those posts. To see previous prop talks hit the Behind the Scenes tab in the menu at the top).

The Spice Train Prop Talk Furniture

This post is about using furniture as a prop. I’m talking about your own furniture that you already have in your house – tables, chairs or, as in my example here, a nightstand (pictured above). Using your furniture in your food photos may seem obvious but I want to bring it up because I find that it’s not always easy to see the obvious, isn’t it? At least I think so. I had my nightstand for quite some time before I realized how great it worked in food photos.

As you can see the surface of this piece of furniture has a beautiful thick, routered edge that I find adds interest and elegance to a food photo. (By the way, I’m sure you’re noticing that I ironed the pillow cases before taking the photo – I did that just for you, first time in my life I ironed linens. :)) I have used this nightstand as a surface in several food photos and it worked great every time (two examples are below). It is quite heavy and not easy to grab onto so it’s a bit of a pain to move it back and forth between the bedroom and the studio but that’s how it is – no pain, no gain, right?

So, the morale of this post is this: walk around the house and take a critical look at everything you see, from the countertop in your bathroom (which might be difficult to light) to the front stoop, and see if you can find a gem that could become your next favorite food photo surface. And if you find anything, let me know in the comments, I would love to hear about it! :)

Ginger Bramble Cocktail Recipe

From post Ginger Bramble New Year’s Cocktail.

Apple Tarts with Chai Spiced Custard Sauce

From post Apple Tarts with Chai Spiced Custard Sauce.



Behind the Scenes – Stock Photography Business Q&A

The Stock Photography Business

Hello my web friends!

Many, many, many of you are asking me about stock photography and I thought it would be easiest to write you a post about it. So if you’re interested in the stock photo business, pour yourself a nice espresso drink, pull up a chair and get yourself comfortable because I’m about to bombard you with information.

I have been a stock photographer since 2009 and I am licensing my food photos to buyers either directly (i.e. a buyer purchases a license directly from me) or through stock photo agencies (i.e. a buyer purchases a license for one of my photos from an agency that I have a contract with).

There are many things to know and consider when licensing photos as stock and I’ve put together the main points below. I hope they are helpful, clear and answer the questions you have, but if not, please let me know in the comments. I’ll be happy to continue the conversation about this topic. :)


What are stock photos? Stock photos are photos that are available for buyers to license and use. In other words, instead of hiring a photographer and asking him to create a specific photo the buyer finds an already existing photo and purchases a license that allows him to use that photo.

How does a stock photo sale work? When a buyer purchases a stock photo she doesn’t buy the actual photo, instead she buys a license to the photo and that license allows her to use that photo. The copyright to the photo stays with the photographer.

What types of licenses can a buyer purchase? There are two main types of stock photo licenses, one is called rights-managed (RM) and the other royalty-free (RF). (Royalty-free is a misnomer because it doesn’t mean free (as in no cost)).

What is a rights-managed license? When a buyer purchases a rights-managed license he pays a one-time fee for a specific use of the image. The important word here is “specific.” The buyer has to specify where, when and for how long he is going to use the image. Should he decide to use the same image again for another use later, he will have to buy another license.

The buyer determines the specific terms of the rights-managed license. For example, he may want to use the image exclusively for 12 months in North America. That means that the photographer cannot sell another license to the same photo to a different buyer who wants to use the photo in North America during those 12 months. (He can sell other licenses after the 12 months are over. He can also sell a license for usage in, say, Australia during the 12 month).

The main reason why buyers sometimes want to buy rights-managed licenses is because they want to make sure that the image they buy a license for doesn’t show up all over the place because other buyers (including competitors) have bought a license to the image as well.

What is a royalty-free license? When a buyer purchases a royalty-free license she pays a one-time fee and can use the image for as many projects as she wants and doesn’t have to tell the photographer what she is using the image for. At the same time the photographer can sell licenses to that same image over and over again to as many other buyers as he wants and when he wants. The buyers don’t know where and how the image has been used by other buyers.

Rights-managed versus royalty-free from a blogger’s standpoint: In my view, the only licensing type that makes sense to sell for a blogger is royalty-free. A photo that has been published on a blog has most likely been shared on social media sites and other aggregator sites, such as Buzzfeed, Huffington Post, etc., with or without the photographer’s knowledge. That makes it impractical to sell a rights-managed license (unless the buyer doesn’t request any restrictions on the usage of the photo). That is one of the reasons why I offer all my photos for royalty-free licensing only.      

What is a stock photo agency? A stock photo agency is a company that licenses photos to buyers. The agency has contracts with many photographers, who submit their photos to the agency. The agency handles all transactions, does all the marketing and advertising and in returns keeps a percentage of each sale.

There are a number of stock photo agencies out there, targeting everything from low-budget to high-end markets. If you want to check them out, here are a few examples of some well-known stock photo agencies (I have contracts with some of them):

How do I get a contract with a stock photo agency? To get a contract with a stock photo agency simply look up the application process for the agency you want to work with and apply. The application generally involves sending a link to a portfolio and submitting a few high-resolution sample images. 


Prop Talk – Tableware

Hey everyone! I’m back with another prop talk. (Quick explanation in case you’re new to this blog: every now and then I write a post about my favorite props and other behind-the-scenes stuff and this is one of those posts. To see previous prop talks hit the Behind the Scenes tab in the menu at the top).

This prop talk is about where I find the tableware – dishes, bowls, glasses etc. – that I use in my photos. Several of you have asked me about that so I thought I’d put together a post.


I buy the majority of my glasses at Crate & Barrel. I find that C&B has by far the largest selection of affordable glassware so their website is my first stop whenever I need glass. One of the nice things about many C&B glasses is that they have very thin walls and therefore look elegant and beautiful in photos. Thick-walled glasses can appear a bit clunky so I try to stay away from them. Below are two examples of C&B glasses that I have used in photos:

Hazelnut Trifle with Pumpkin Spice

From post Hazelnut Pumpkin Spice Trifles.

Black Forest Eton Mess Recipe

From post Black Forest Eton Mess.



Finding good dishware is trickier than finding glass, there is no one-stop shop that carries everything and I have several stores on my list that I check out on every prop-shopping trip. At the top of my list is World Market. WM tends to have a lot of good Asian-style dishes, bowls etc. (such as the bowl that holds the edamame beans below) as well as some unique things for the kitchen, including the white ceramic cutting board you see in the apple crisp photo below.

Edamame Beans

Delicious stovetop apple crisp with rum-soaked raisins. Ready in 20 minutes!

From post Stovetop Apple Crisp with Rum Raisins.


Heath Ceramics

I have three Heath Ceramics Coupe Line Dessert Bowls (aqua/chocolate brown, persimmon/French gray, and peridot/linen). These are perfect bowls for food photography and I’ve used all three numerous times. Three examples are below. (The small brown plate underneath the bowl in the pulled pork photo is the Heath bread and butter plate in chocolate brown).

Star Anise Poached Pears

From post Star Anise Poached Pears.

Mexican Pulled Pork

From post Spicy Pulled Pork.

Other chain stores I sometimes buy props at are Pier 1 ImportsWilliams SonomaWest Elm, Pottery Barn and Bed, Bath & Beyond. I’ve also found some nice and unique tableware on and I visit local, non-chain kitchen stores wherever I go. For example, I found the textured plate underneath the lettuce cups below in a kitchen store called The Peppercorn in Boulder, CO.

Shrimp Lettuce Cups

From post Shrimp Lettuce Cups.

And that is pretty much a comprehensive list. Hope you find it helpful! :)




Photoshop for Food Bloggers – A Complete 60-Minute Video Course

Hey Everyone!

I’ve got exciting  news; I’ve made a video course on how to use Photoshop.

You may have noticed that I no longer run any network ads on this site, instead I make this blog work by creating and selling products that I think will be useful and helpful to you. This course is one of those products.

If you’re a food blogger looking to learn how to use Photoshop, this course will teach you everything you need to know, all the way from opening your photo in Photoshop to saving the final version, ready to upload to your blog.

I’ve made a short promo video to tell you what all is in the course. You can play it here:

The course consists of 11 individual tutorials (listed below) that you will be able to download after purchase (you will be given a separate download link for each individual tutorial):

PS for Food Bloggers Table of Contents

This is a course that you pay a one-time fee for, then you download it and then you own it. Once you have purchased and downloaded the course it will reside on your own computer(s).

Add to Cart Button

I hope you enjoy it! Thank you so much for reading and watching. :)



Food Photography Behind the Scenes eBook!

My food photography eBook is here and I could not be more excited about it!! Many of you have asked me for behind-the-scenes photos and info about my “bright food, dark shadows” photos and I have all that and more in this book.

Learn how to take dark, dramatic food photos from this eBook!

What is this eBook about?

This eBook takes you behind the scenes and teaches you how to create dramatic food photos that showcase bright, colorful food in dark and rustic settings. It’s a detailed look at how to create this particular style of photography.

It doesn’t matter whether you use natural light or an artificial light source, such as the Lowel Ego Digital Imaging Fluorescent Light or a strobe. I show you how to use each of them, step-by-step and with clear behind-the-scenes photos.

Add to Cart
What’s inside? I start this 71-page book with an overview of the food photography process in general and then dive into three separate case studies in which I explain in detail how I created the three food photos you see on the book page below. I lit one photo with one Hensel Integra Pro Plus 500 strobe, one with a Lowel Ego Digital Imaging Fluorescent Light, and one with window light.  

Food Photography Behind the Scenes Bright Food Dark Shadows In this BookI walk you through each shoot from start to finish. Each case study begins with a description of my conceptual and artistic thought process with respect to styling and lighting. Then I document the practical steps I took to set up the scene, style the food, and light the set. I tell you exactly what I did and show you clear behind-the-scenes photos for each setup. Lastly I walk you through the editing process and show you what I did to each photo during post-processing.

I hope you enjoy it! Thank you so much for making The Spice Train such a fun and rewarding journey for me.

–nicole Add to Cart


Food Photography Behind the Scenes eBook Announcement and Giveaway!

The giveaway has ended, thank you all for entering! Congratulations to the two winners, Janette of and Traci of!

Hello my web friends! I have a very exciting announce to make: I have written a behind-the-scenes eBook about how I take my dark food photos and will release it next week!!

Food Photography Behind the Scenes Bright Food Dark Shadows eBook

The book focuses on how to create food photos that show bright, colorful food in dark and rustic settings. It’s a detailed look behind the scenes that teaches you how to create this particular style of photography. It doesn’t matter what lighting equipment you have, I walk you through three separate case study photos, each shot with a different light source (a strobe, a Lowel Ego Digital Imaging Fluorescent Light and window light).

To celebrate the release I am giving away two FREE copies of the book. All you have to do is leave a comment to this post by Sunday. (Say anything you like, from a simple hello to what you love or hate about The Spice Train :)). I’ll select two winners at random and will send the book out to them upon its release next week.

Good luck and thank you all for being here and making this whole blogging thing so much fun!



Food Photography – Behind the Scenes | Lighting Through a Doorframe

Hello hello everyone! I’m going to do something different today and share a look behind the scenes with you. I’m hoping this post will be helpful for those of you who would like to simulate the look of a large softbox or a window with an artificial light source.

Below is the shot I’m going to talk about. What I did for this macaron photo is shine a light (I used a strobe) through a narrow, indoor doorframe. I use this technique now and then and find that it works well.

Salted Caramel Macarons

All right, let’s take a look at what went on behind the scenes. This is what the set looked like:

Food Photography Behind the Scenes-1 |

All the behind-the-scenes photos are fairly dark because I keep the room dark so that I can only see the light of the strobe and can prepare my set accordingly. My camera is on a tripod and connected to my iMac with a long USB cable, I have Lightroom open and am shooting tethered.

I have a piece of white felt on the table, which helps make the fabric on top look soft and pillowy, a trick I learned from this fantastic book a few years ago: Food Styling for Photographers. On the felt is a napkin (the exact same one that is also hanging in the back as the background), on that napkin is another napkin, a piece of paper, the cookies and the milk bottle and glass. To the left of the macarons are two square styrofoam blocks that act as reflectors and fill in some of the shadows.

Here’s a slightly closer look:

Food Photography Behind the Scenes-2 |

Behind the set is a napkin that is hanging from a clothes rack that I bought at Target a while ago. I asked Dan to cut down the vertical metal rods for me (they were about 6 feet tall originally) so that I could use this contraption as a movable background holder. I like to do that because I like the look of hanging fabric as a background but you could also pin fabric directly to the wall behind your set.

Now to the light. Here is another angle of the set:

Food Photography Behind the Scenes-3 |

To diffuse the light I have a white curtain hanging on a tension rod in my indoor doorframe. (The frame leads into a fairly dark hallway). Behind the doorframe sits my strobe with its modeling light (see notes) turned on so that you can see it. No light modifiers of any sort are attached to the strobe. Too much light was spilling onto the background of the set (in other words onto the hanging napkin) so I clamped a piece of black cardboard onto the rack to block the light in that area of the set. The doorframe keeps the light contained and directional and the overall scene looks (at least to me) like light coming through a window. (In case anyone is interested in my camera settings, they were: ISO 100, f/3.2, 1/125 on my Nikon D600 with a 105mm macro lens).

I used to use this setup every day for a few months some time ago but it became a bit of a pain since the door I was lighting through was also the door through which I had to exit and enter the room. I eventually got tired of it and bought my large softbox (Hensel Ultra IV Softbox – 35×58″ (90x150cm)), which gives me very similar results. But, if you have a light and no large softbox, it’s an option!

Anyway, that’s really all there was to it! What do you think? Do you like the light? Does anyone else use this technique? Let me know, I can’t wait to hear read your thoughts! :)

Notes: What is a modeling light? I figure some of you may not be familiar with the concept of a modeling light so I’ll quickly explain what that is. So, a strobe unit actually houses two different light sources: 1) the flash that will fire very briefly and very brightly at the same time the shutter is released and 2) a “regular,” continuous light, which is called the modeling light. The flash is what illuminates the actual photo but the modeling light is what illuminates the scenes during setup, before the photo is taken. The modeling light’s purpose is to let the photographer see how the light from the flash will fall onto the set, where the highlights, shadows and reflections will be. Because of that the modeling light is a HUGE help in setting up the set, without it the photographer would literally and metaphorically be working in the dark.