Spotlight On: Salt Worth Creative

Did you know that the #CookItCrew is not only made up of amazing influencers, but also talented content creators too? Today, we’re spotlighting Salt Worth Creative, an LA-based full-service creative studio run by husband and wife duo, Haley Davis and Ryan Norton. Salt Worth Creative focuses on creating content for all things food, from recipe development to food styling to photography and videography. We sat down with Haley and Ryan to learn more about their passion for food photography, their creative process, and how their relationship has grown since starting a business together.

Hi Haley and Ryan! First things first, can you introduce yourselves and your business?

Haley: I’m Haley and this is my husband, Ryan. I was originally an influencer/content creator doing all the work alone. When I met Ryan, he was a chef who really wanted to get out of the restaurant game. So I pitched him the idea of working with me and he luckily liked it! Together we started a company called Salt Worth Creative, which is basically a content creation studio for all things food. Ryan does all of our recipe development and food styling, and I focus on photography and videography.

What’s the story behind the name Salt Worth Creative?

Haley: We spent a long time trying to think of names. We were playing around with punny, food related names, then the idea of being “worth your salt” came to us. We felt like that resonated because you know, we feel like we make content that’s worth people’s salt. Like it’s worth your time, worth your money

So that’s where it came from. It was also the name that we both liked the most and we felt like we could live with for a while, haha!

How did you get into photography, and what drew you specifically to food photography?

Haley: I actually started doing photography when I was seven years old! I was a photographer’s assistant. I got paid like $7 an hour, which was huge money for a seven year old. She shot on film, so I would load her film camera and help her with all of her portraits and stuff. I did my science fair project on shutter speed in lens aperture that year. I thought I was so cool.

I went to film school for college. I was originally studying acting, but my degree is sort of all encompassing, so I had to take a bit of photography classes too. I got my first DSLR in college and loved playing around with it. And then, I don’t know, food just sort of happened. I’ve always loved food and loved being in the kitchen, so it felt natural to me. People can be really fussy to shoot. Food doesn’t talk back and I love that.

Can you tell us a little more about your creative process? Where do you get your inspiration from?

Haley: I think our creative process is very collaborative between the two of us. We both pride ourselves on being very adaptable, so we really like to shapeshift with our clients.The core of our creative process will start with the two of us brainstorming together. Then Ryan would be the one to dive in and develop the recipes. I’m always there to taste test!

Ryan: For me, the creative process depends on who we’re creating for. My inspiration comes from my background in restaurants and culinary school, so my recipe development is a bit more complicated than what “normal people” are looking for. It’s been a bit of a learning curve trying to simplify things for the audience that brands are trying to target. 

Haley: Yeah. He’s very talented. 

Haley: So then the visual creative direction is my realm. It’s something I really love doing, like creating vision boards and all of that stuff for shoots. The actual shooting process has been a fun, creative evolution because I used to be quite controlling, but I’ve learned that we work so much better together when Ryan does the styling and I do the photography. Everything flows together.

Since you are both full-time content creators now, what’s the most important thing you’ve learned in making a big change in your career?

Ryan: The most important thing for me is just trying not to overthink things. It’s a lot different than recipe development for restaurants. I used to tend to go into long processes and it’s just not the place. Generally making things simpler is the most important thing I’ve learned. 

Haley: Having come from the influencer side of things and moving over to ghost content work, I feel like the biggest thing I’ve learned is perspective. On the influencer side, a brand is looking for your perspective and on the ghost content side, they’re looking for their perspective.

So you really kind have to humble yourself before the brand’s vision and more often you have to kill your darlings than you would on the influencer side. That’s been like a learning curve, but I think there’s something magic about that kind of creativity too. It’s just been a shift in the way I get to explore my own creative vision.

The filtered world of social media often hides a lot of the hard work and hustle behind-the-scenes, especially when it comes to food photography. What is the reality that goes into creating beautiful images of food?

Ryan: From a styling perspective, textures and thinking about height. If you sit down at a restaurant and get a plate of food, it’s not necessarily going to transfer to the camera as well as like you see it right in front of you. So just thinking about perspective, and how to make the food look better on camera. Like making sure things that don’t look dry or whatever. And lighting! Good lighting is huge. 

Haley: Yeah. I think people underestimate how much goes into one single shot. There’s a lot of prep work that goes into food photos. Sourcing all of the props, buying all of the ingredients, developing the recipe – one photo can take a month of prep work before even starting photographing. And then the photo itself could take days. There’s just so much that goes into it.

We shot a cover of a magazine and we were featuring a real ice cream product, so we couldn’t use fake ice cream. It took us two days and ultimately the composition of three different shots to get the photo because ice cream is so volatile! Between the hot lights and having to get the perfect scoop and the perfect stack, it took a lot of work. I think people look at the final picture and they’re like, “Oh, that’s beautiful”, but they wouldn’t know it was two full days of work and three different photos put together.

I know you guys recently got married (congrats, by the way!) How has working together changed your relationship? What are the pros and cons of having a business as a husband/wife team?

Ryan: I don’t think our relationship has “changed”. We’ve had to work on our professional relationship, because as Haley said before, she had complete control over everything now it’s a more collaborative effort. But honestly, we started working together maybe two months after we met, and then two months after that, the pandemic hit. So this is kind of how it’s been since the beginning of our relationship. It’s been a natural progression.

Haley: I think there’s a lot of pros of working together as husband and wife. We work together very well. I am a creative controlling person and I like things in a very specific way. There are not a lot of people that I meet and trust and respect enough to cosign my name with. I don’t trust or respect anyone more than I trust and respect Ryan, so working together has been easy. I know that he’s going to work as hard as I’m going to work. 

Cons? I agree with Ryan, I would say our professional relationship is the hardest part of our relationship. It’s been a learning curve. It takes a lot of communication and we’ve both had to adapt to be able to work together in a smoother way. But ultimately, that’s a great thing, because we’re working together better and the work we produce is better.

What is your favorite photograph that you have taken or your favorite piece of content you’ve produced?

Ryan: Maybe this is just because it’s the most recent, but we did a test shoot recently with oysters and I colored Boba tapioca pearls pink for the Pearl on the oyster. I like that shot a lot. It looks really cool. Also, there was a frangipane cake that I made for Fisher Almond Flour. That was really, really good.

Haley: Favorite photograph? Ooh, I don’t think I can answer this. I’m always excited about the most recent thing we did and then I forget about everything I’ve ever done before that, haha!

Obviously food photography is something you two are both very passionate about. What advice do you have for someone who hasn’t found their passion yet?

Ryan: It’s cliche, but keep trying different things. And stick to those things. You’re not going to be good at something right away, but it’s important to keep trying. Challenge yourself and keep going.

Haley: I have two pieces of advice. One, I love what I do, but I don’t necessarily believe that everyone needs to be passionate about their work. I think it’s very fair to have a job and find passion on the side. 

I don’t know if it’s right for everyone to say things like, “quit your day job and pursue your passions”, because that might be horrible advice to someone. If you’re trying new things and happen to find something you’re passionate about, it doesn’t necessarily have to become your life. It can just be like a new thing that brings you joy.

Two: even if you’re very passionate about something, it doesn’t mean it’s not very hard work. I think the phrase “if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life”, is BS. Work is work and it’s gonna be hard even if you love it.

What has been the greatest memory from this whole journey of starting a business together?

Ryan: My favorite memory is the cookbook we recently shot. It was our second cookbook for a friend. The first cookbook we shot for her, it was just the three of us in her house. This time, we shot it at our house. We hired a prop stylist and she brought an assistant, so it was like, a full on production.It was crazy. We shot 53 recipes over seven days, all in a row. It was awesome. We all really gelled well together and we made a lot of great images.

Haley: I agree with that. That was the first time we had a lot of people working out of our home studio, and it was amazing. We could all focus on what we were supposed to do, rather than doing a bunch of jobs at once. It was so much easier than doing it all ourselves.

Your #1 photography tip?

Haley: The quality of your camera lens is more important than your camera body. I would sooner invest in nice lenses than a nice camera body. So if you’re looking to upgrade or have nicer, crisper images, the lens is the place to look. I shoot with a Canon, which has a nice line of EF lenses. Carl Zeiss lenses are also incredible.

What’s next for Salt Worth Creative?

Ryan: We would love a studio. We want to be a full production house.

Haley: Yeah. We would love a space with a prep kitchen, a shooting kitchen, and prop storage. Just everything all in one place.

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