Meet the Experience Life team, and get a behind-the-scenes look at how the magazine comes together each month.

Posts Tagged Behind the Scenes

Experience Life Magazine

Behind the Scenes: Iron Chef

  • An overview of the scene at Terry Brennan’s studio before our “Iron Chef” Confident Cook shoot.

    Read the article.

  • The Apple Tarte-Tatin cools on top of the stove, while onions sauté in the background.

    Get the recipe.

  • Terry changes the camera angle while Lydia adjusts the apples in the Apple Tarte-Tartin shot seen on page 50.

    Get the recipe.

  • Betsy plates the Apple Tarte-Tatin seen on page 50.

    Get the recipe.

  • Betsy checks her handiwork, while Lydia and Terry view images on-screen.

  • The Frittata Provençal cools on the stovetop.

    Get the recipe.

  • Brussels sprouts await inclusion in the Whole-Roasted Chicken recipe.

    Get the recipe.

  • A different perspective on the shot of the four dishes seen on page 48.

    Get the recipes.

  • Betsy (and her awesome apron) styling the plate of Corn Spoon Bread seen on page 49.

    Get the recipe.

  • The camera and lighting setup for the shot of Corn Spoon Bread seen on page 49.

    Get the recipe.

  • Betsy selects greens to accompany the Frittata Provençal seen on page 49.

    Get the recipe.

  • Betsy arranges the ingredients in our Sausage, Lentils, and Greens Skillet Meal.

    Get the recipe.

Here are some behind-the-scenes photos from our November edition of Confident Cook, featuring Betsy Nelson’s suggestions for cooking with cast-iron cookware. It was fun to see how photographer Terry Brennan utilized the beautiful natural light in his studio to highlight the texture and color of cast-iron. I hope my photos illustrate how much work goes into every single shot.

Experience Life Magazine

Behind the Scenes: Autumn Jewels

  • Betsy arranges raw Brussels sprouts for the opening shot on pages 46 and 47 of the October issue.

  • The braised Brussels sprouts seen on page 47.

  • Every shot is carefully checked on Terry’s monitor. Position, props, focus, styling, and lighting are all tweaked until perfected.

  • A sampling of the many tablecloths Terry keeps on hand in his studio.

  • Lydia positions the jar of kimchi seen on page 50. Get the recipe!

  • Betsy stirs the sautéed Brussels sprouts seen in the photo on page 47.

  • Not to give too many of Betsy’s secrets away, but this is how they make grill marks for food photo shoots.

  • Terry rechecks the shot while Betsy arranges Brussels sprouts kimchi around the flank steak on page 50.

  • One of the challenges of a food shoot is keeping everything fresh-looking. Betsy keeps tiny bottles of oil and natural juices at the ready to help.

  • Betsy’s recipes are always nearby for quick reference.

  • Raw Brussels sprout leaves and bacon await preparation.

  • Brussels sprouts receive camera-ready grill marks for the recipe on page 47.

If you (like me) are a fan of Brussels sprouts, I hope you have the chance to check out “Autumn Jewels,” our October edition of Confident Cook. In it, That Food Girl Betsy Nelson suggests lots of easy ways to enjoy this fall staple. As usual, creative director Lydia Anderson and food photographer extraordinaire Terry Brennan were on hand to bring Betsy’s recipes to life.


Experience Life Magazine

Illustration Creation: New-Job Jitters

Sketches for "New-Job Jitters"

Sketches for “New-Job Jitters”

As a (semi-)recent addition to the Experience Life team, I remember how I felt when I started my new job. Every workplace culture is different, and I wondered: Would I fit in? Would I feel pressure to start going to the gym again? Would my co-workers judge me by what I brought to the office for lunch?

Thankfully, all my worries were for nothing, as the EL team made me feel like family immediately: turns out they are a very nonjudgmental group of people. But when I read the article “New-Job Jitters,” I recalled those anxious feelings, and I knew Ellen Weinstein would be the perfect artist to capture them. Her sketches all did a great job of conceptualizing the idea (above), but it was the image of the man gazing down into the pool that really drew us in (below). The way he is so precariously positioned at the end of the diving board aptly provides the tension necessary to express that emotion. We played with a couple color revisions before going with the final version (below bottom).

Thanks to Ellen for contributing her talents to EL this month!

Final art and revision for "New-Job Jitters"

Final art and revision for “New-Job Jitters”

Experience Life Magazine

Behind the Scenes: Christian Ponder Cover Shoot

  • Stylist Pam Brand brought more than enough wardrobe options for Ponder to consider.

  • Experience Life Creative Director Lydia Anderson talks through her ideas for the cover with Ponder.

  • Jim and his crew moved everything outside to shoot the inside spread for Ponder’s cover story.

  • Lydia and Jim review the outdoor shots, looking at the finer details: lighting, shadows, wardrobe, pose, etc.

  • It takes a village to get everything just right for the outdoor shots.

  • After a quick wardrobe change, stylist Pam Brand adjusts Ponder’s shirt cuffs.

  • Jim demonstrates how he wants Ponder to stand for the next series of shots.

  • Ponder emulates Jim’s pose for the next series of photos.

  • Back inside the studio, stylist Pam Brand adjusts Ponder’s shirt before they begin they actual cover shoot.

  • Jim discusses the next series of shots with Ponder.

  • Christian, ready on the set (it was one of these shots that we used for the September 2013 cover).

  • The guys on set were more than happy to toss the ball back and forth with an NFL quarterback.

  • Post-cover shoot, Ponder sat down for his interview for our Behind the Scenes video.

  • After the shoot, Ponder sat down with Experience Life senior editor Courtney Opdahl for the video interview.

It takes a lot of people to make our cover shoots a success, and it was no different the day we photographed Minnesota Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder back in April. Experience Life Creative Director Lydia Anderson was the creative force behind the whole operation, and photographer Jim Gallop was a blast to work with as always. Stylist Pam Brand helped Ponder look his best, and Jim’s team of assistants were always there to make adjustments to the lighting as needed.

Thanks to everybody, especially Ponder, for making this another successful day!

Experience Life Magazine

Behind the Scenes at the Kettlebell-Workout Video

Recently, we filmed the instructional demonstration for our upcoming “Kettlebells for Everyone” story, which comes out in the December issue.

Dec13_WO_KBvideo2The coach, Fawn Friday, RKC, was incredibly helpful and clear. I’ve been using kettlebells in my workouts for the past three years, but I learned something new.

Like this trick to mastering the hip hinge, a movement that’s crucial to proper kettlebell-workout form: Use a dowel to make sure you are keeping your back straight, so the work truly comes from the hips and not the lower back, which will just lead to injury. I usually only know my form is suffer after my workout, when my back feels achy. But no more with this trick!

Friday walked us through each exercise and offered helpful suggestions and modifiers for beginners or advanced kettlebell users.


She specializes in kettlebell workouts at her gym in St. Paul, Minn., and shared with us some of her client feedback: No matter how athletic you think you are, kettlebells will give you a run for your money. Even the lighter weights give you quite a workout: Your heart starts racing within a few reps of the kettlebell swing. I can only imagine how intense her classes are! A reverse lunge like this one below is all the more difficult as you brace your core and keep the kettlebell in rack position:


Dec13_WO_KBvideo4_LBFFWatch for our video — shot by the talented Steve Flynn of Good Looking Films, who also shot and edited our two Show Me How videos on Medicine-Ball Slams and the Under-the-Hurdle Drill — when it’s on our site on November 15. And, of course, you won’t want to miss the always delightful Laine Bergeson, a senior editor here at Experience Life, as she learns proper kettlebell form from Friday.







Experience Life Magazine

Illustration Creation: The Antidote


Oliver Burkeman’s book, The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking (Faber & Faber, 2013), suggests that there is a “negative path to happiness,” and that we can find it without forcing it via self-help books and so-called “positive” thinking.

It’s a difficult concept to grasp, so I knew the art for this article needed to be simple and direct, and would require some out-of-the-box thinking, which is why I thought of Pete Ryan. His illustrations are always whip-smart, and he offers me a wide array of options (above are only 9 of the 14 different ideas he sent). The final art (below) turned out exactly as I’d hoped. Thanks, Pete!


Experience Life Magazine

Behind the Scenes: Sweet Beets

  • Golden beets washed and ready for roasting

  • Red beets ready to be photographed for the opening image on page 44

  • Lydia’s rough layout and Betsy’s sample photos she takes in her home kitchen

  • Terry sets up the shot of juiced beets on page 45

  • Lovely beet greens washed and ready to be sauteed

  • Betsy plays with the most fun beets of all, Chioggia

  • Betsy slices beets for the Beet Carpaccio on page 48

  • Steamed beets get shined up with oil for the shot on page 45

  • Beautiful beets awaiting preparation

  • Pegi adds beet purée to the beet and carrot soup seen on page 47

  • Betsy styles the beet carpaccio seen on page 48

  • Betsy and Pegi prepare the Roasted-Beet Pizza on page 47

What’s great about being a fairly recent addition to the Experience Life team (going on a year and a half now) is that I still have so much to learn about healthy eating. Every Confident Cook article still informs me just as much as it does our readers. At the photo shoot for “Sweet Beets” (from our July/August issue), Betsy Nelson taught me a few things I didn’t know about one of my absolute favorite veggies. One is that beet greens are actually more packed with nutrition than their more familiar bottoms. But if you aren’t going to use the tops, she also taught me that they should be cut off before storing your beets, as they will leach moisture from them. Seems like simple stuff, but for me, the simple things I’ve learned working at the magazine have been life-changing. Thanks as always to Betsy, and to Terry Brennan for helping make our article about beets beautiful!

Experience Life Magazine

Behind the Scenes: Bok Choy

  • Betsy gets chopping

  • Raw bok choy awaiting preparation

  • Each serving dish is chosen with care

  • Betsy adds grill marks to the grilled bok choy seen on page 47

  • The opening shot on page 46

  • Terry and Lydia set up the opening shot of raw bok choy seen on page 46

  • Roasted bok choy, seen on page 47

  • Betsy and Lydia at Command Central (a.k.a. Terry’s kitchen island)

  • Stir-fried bok choy (left) and braised bok choy (right), both seen on page 47

  • Betsy finishes the grilled bok choy seen on page 47

  • Lydia reviews her layout, while Terry sets up the next shot

  • Betsy braises the bok choy seen on page 47

  • Betsy styles the bok choy stir fry seen on page 49

  • Lydia and Terry are able to drop the photos they’ve just taken into Lydia’s layout to make sure they are perfect

  • Betsy rolls bok choy spring rolls, seen on page 50

Every Confident Cook photo shoot is a collaboration between Art Director Lydia Anderson, Photographer Terry Brennan, and Food Stylist/Recipe Creator Betsy Nelson. An additional part of Betsy’s job is our Master Grocery-Getter. She searches far and wide for the gorgeous fresh produce featured in Confident Cook. After the shoot, there is frequently produce leftover, so I often get the chance to try new ingredients at home. I’ve never cooked with bok choy, so it was a totally new experience for me. I ended up trying it roasted, and also chopped up raw in my salad. Yum!

(And by the way, that’s me holding the different sizes of bok choy on page 48. Lydia is always roping me into doing stuff like this).

Experience Life Magazine

Behind the Scenes: Little Fish

  • Canned fish ready to be used in recipe developer and food stylist Betsy Nelson’s recipes.

  • Art director Lydia Anderson and photographer Terry Brennan choose every element that will appear in the shots with care, including dishes and flatware.

  • Betsy takes preliminary photos of the recipes in her kitchen at home to give us a preview of how they will appear in the final photographs.

  • Crackers ready to be plated with the Olive and Anchovy spread.

  • Betsy sets up a shot, while Terry and Lydia discuss the previous shots.

  • Betsy paints the small fish with olive oil so they catch the light in the photos.

  • Betsy, Lydia, and Terry collaborate.

  • Freshly chopped dill.

  • Betsy adds chopped fresh dill to the Sardine Potato Cakes.

  • Lydia drops the preliminary shots into her rough layout while Terry looks on.

  • Betsy styles the tossed pasta dish. Get the recipe.

  • Terry works on the shot while Lydia looks on.

  • Lydia jokes with Terry as he attempts to set up the fork at the perfect angle.

  • The final tossed pasta dish setup. Get the recipe in our Quick & Easy slideshow.


I have to admit, I was a bit skeptical when I heard we’d be featuring small, oily fish in our May edition of Confident Cook. I am normally a huge fan of anything that swims, but had some preconceived notions about what canned fish is good for (e.g. cat food). So I was pleasantly surprised when I saw the many easy ways that Betsy Nelson incorporated these healthy (and surprisingly tasty) little creatures into her recipes. Who knew they were so versatile? As usual, Terry Brennan made them look beautiful as well.


Experience Life Magazine

Illustration Creation: Loving What Is


Sketches for the article “Loving What Is.”

As I said in an earlier post, the first thing I decide before commissioning an illustration is whether it should be conceptual, literal, emotional or decorative. Adam Niklewicz is one of my go-to artists for conceptual illustrations, especially when I need a topic stripped down to its essential elements.

For the article “Loving What Is,” I needed an image to convey the idea of accepting our lives as they are, rather than what we think they could or should be. In addition to sending him the article, I nudged him in a general direction — as I often do — by tossing out the phrase “staying calm in a chaotic world.” Adam gave me some great sketches that all relate to that idea (above).

We loved the one with the guy under the umbrella, and only asked that Adam change the figure so that he is reaching his hand out, to indicate that he is evaluating the situation (below left). The final art (below right) had just the optimistic tone we were looking for.

Thanks to Adam for providing us with another lovely image!


Revised sketch and final art for the article “Loving What Is.”


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