Staying Inspired, Building Community, and Taking Sweet iPhone Photography with blogger Lily Diamond

One of the perks of working at Skillcrush is the opportunity to meet inspiring women doing work in so many different fields. Today I am excited to introduce Lily Diamond, a food blogger and writer who grew up on the lush island of Maui and now resides in LA. She’s the creative presence behind Kale & Caramel, a blog featuring local, seasonal, and deliciously simple recipes—with often surprising flavor combinations.

I asked Lily about launching her blog, what keeps her inspired, and her approach to food styling and photography. As a fellow food blogger, I especially loved learning about how Lily fosters a food community around Kale & Caramel and sticks to a brand identity that her readers can identify with.

And Lily’s iPhone photography tips are an inspiration to anyone who mistakenly thinks they need a DSLR to capture beautiful blog images. (Read more about taking stellar smartphone photos for your blog here!)

10 years ago, I never would have imagined that blogging would be such a powerful force in building communities, businesses, and brands. Still, getting into blogging can be intimidating – you have to establish a voice and a focus, and then there are the visual elements, like photography and styling. Whatever kind of blogging you do (or want to dive into), Lily provides some invaluable insights into what it takes to stay inspired and establish a blog you’re proud of.

Tell us a little about yourself:

I’m a writer, editor and food blogger living in LA—by way of San Francisco, New Haven, Michigan, France, and Maui (where I grew up). The other day someone remarked that I must really like to move; ironically, I don’t! I love homemaking maybe even more than I love kale, I’ve just yet to find the right place to nest for good. I’ve been in LA just over a year now.

How did you get inspired to start Kale & Caramel? How long have you been posting on Kale & Caramel?

I created Kale & Caramel (K&C) in 2012, after several years of close friends insisting that I needed to start a food blog. As K&C expanded, I realized how rewarding it was to help people discover their kitchens as a space for fun and exploration, rather than stress.

For me, that’s about giving people permission to be creative and intuitive with food, which begins with knowing where your food comes from and reconnecting with food sourcing through local, seasonal eating. It’s also about interacting with ingredients through all five senses and enjoying the sensuality of food in the process.

Lily Diamond, Blood Orange & Fennel Salad with Oil-Cured Olives

Lily Diamond, Blood Orange & Fennel Salad with Oil-Cured Olives

Can you tell us about your creative process?

My creative process (both writing and photographing) begins with a desire to see the beauty of the thing as intimately and clearly as possible.

I grew up with serious garden bounty on Maui—honestly an embarrassment of fruit and veggie riches—and parents who talked to the plants in our garden as they weeded. (I know, I know…) My mom was an aromatherapist and loved to concoct all kinds of potions, and I learned early on the magic of measuring, smelling and, in the kitchen, tasting. So from my—clearly hippy-influenced—beginnings, I had a sense of the importance of listening to each ingredient, getting to know its angles and ideal taste and scent and textural pairings. This also planted in me an inclination for food that is close to the earth, fresh, flavorful, bright, aromatic, and simple yet delicious.

I get really excited about knowing things in this way, in drawing out their specific beauty. That’s ultimately what guides my creative process.

How would you describe your approach to photography for Kale & Caramel?

First, I want to make it clear that I don’t have any professional training in photographic technique. However, I do love the art of taking a shot, setting up a beautiful mise en place, assessing the lighting, and I’ve come to identify maybe a couple tiny drops in what I know is an oceanic science of photography.

Second, I only photograph with my iPhone, which clearly has its limitations. But it’s the tool I’ve chosen for the moment, and I’ve become weirdly attached to both its strengths and its challenges.

My approach really came from being a visual student of other food photographers who inspire me on Instagram and on their own blogs—Aran Goyoaga of Canelle et Vanille, Erin Gleeson of The Forest Feast, Julie Lee of Julie’s Kitchen, Mimi Thorisson, Linda Lomelino, Kathleen Korb, Eva Kosmas Flores, and Andrea Gentl among others.

All these women see food in a way that is inextricable from art. Every ingredient is part of a color and texture palette interwoven to create a masterpiece. Their photos actually change the way I see what they’re shooting, both in their composition and the deliciousness of their subject matter.

Lily Diamond, The Summer Weekend Cleanser: Pink Grapefruit, Mint & Spinach

Lily Diamond, The Summer Weekend Cleanser: Pink Grapefruit, Mint & Spinach

What do you look for in a great food photo? What do you keep in mind when setting up a food “scene”?

As I started to study the photos of these bloggers and photographers, I realized there were a few critical components that really made a photo: White (or any blank) space, composition, and an acknowledgment of process in the composition itself.

When I’m setting up a shot, I often experiment with two or three different angles until I hit a sweet spot. A lot of it has to do with discovering how a particular food likes to be seen. And as much as I’d like to say that’s a matter of exercising go-go-gadget plant whispering powers from my childhood, it’s actually about angle and texture.

Composition and process are interrelated, in that some of my favorite shots show different stages of a dish’s completeness. For example, a cantaloupe lime ginger mint juice that shows the juice and its ingredients in both whole and cut forms. From there, it’s a matter of arranging items less as ingredients and more as components of the piece of art I’m creating.

I’ll also take this moment to admit that my friends and family regularly enjoy the very meta activity of photographing the ridiculous look of determined, pursed-lip focus that comes over me while I shoot.

Lily Diamond, Goat Cheese Tartines Two Ways: Blueberry Rosemary and Fig & Thyme

Lily Diamond, Goat Cheese Tartines Two Ways: Blueberry Rosemary and Fig & Thyme

Which apps or programs do you use for taking and editing photos on your phone?

VSCOcam and Instagram.

What 3 tips do you have for others interested in shooting iPhone photography for a blog?

1) This sounds so simple, but I see a lot of bloggers taking photos with dirty lenses. Use a soft cloth to clean your lens every time before you shoot. It makes a huge difference.

2) Study the photos that you like, and experiment to bring out similar qualities in your own photos. Play with angles to maximize the color, texture, and “readability” of what you’re photographing.

3) Emphasize white (or blank) space, so the eye can rest and move easily within the photo. Conversely, don’t be afraid of mess—process is interesting! Remember that you’re telling a story.

What is an unexpected skill or insight you’ve learned or gained through blogging?

What a galvanizing force beauty can be for gathering community. I love that a vibrant photo can inspire someone to be more intuitive, creative, and healthy in their own kitchen—and in their lives. As K&C has grown, it’s also connected me with so many other amazing craftspeople, creatives, and artists. I adore that part.

How does blogging at Kale & Caramel tie into other aspects of your life and career?

Doing content development, writing and editing for other lifestyle and wellness brands while building Kale & Caramel, I have a heightened sensitivity to the importance of maintaining brand identity. Staying on the pulse of what the K&C community responds to and feeds off of motivates me when I go to cook, shoot, or write a post, and equally when I go to help a company connect more powerfully with their distinct audience.

Food for me is beauty, soul, and community. I feel so grateful that this creative impulse might move others to live more deliciously and wholesomely—with all senses awake—in the process.

Hungry for more? Check out Kale & Caramel and follow K&C on Instagram.