Better Blogging

When I was younger and learning how to bake, one of the greatest thrills was to be able to share my (sometimes borderline edible) creations at family parties. If a recipe worked out particularly well, or looked particularly appealing, I would hear “You should take a picture of that!” It wasn’t a bad idea. The thought of keeping a record of my baking, something I could flip through long after the crumbs had disappeared, was actually very appealing. I had just the thing, I realized! A BINDER! My ingenious idea of taking photos and storing them in plastic sleeves à la Pokemon cards never really came to fruition (no camera, no smartphone, etc.) but the thought never really left my mind.

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Exhibit A: a food photography prototype. I spent a couple years playing around with taking (mostly bad) pictures of my food. Pictured here are three unbaked crumbles shot at a very weird angle. 

Fast forward fifteen years and now we live and breathe (and eat) on the internet. Blogs are now ubiquitous and binders, sadly, have been relegated to dusty office drawers. It took a few years for me to settle on the right concept, but when I finally did at the beginning of last year, La Retro Recipe was born. The only problem was that I knew absolutely nothing about blogging. Nothing. I scoured the internet aka the place where all the answers are supposed to be, but there didn’t seem to be a definitive guide on how to start a blog. This will not be a definitive guide either, but it’s information that I wish I would have had a year ago.

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Exhibit B: A slightly better attempt. Immediately after this picture was taken I dropped the vintage tablecloth on top of the chocolate ganache. 

A blog is like a table. The top of the table is your website, the thing people see, and (if you’ve made it right) it’s visually appealing and clean. What supports your table are the legs (yeah, I know this metaphor is dumb) and for me and my blog, those legs are recipe research and content, photography and styling, Instagram/promotion, and lastly, the back end of my blog i.e. writing, page setup, design, etc.

Let’s tackle these individually. Honestly they each could be posts of their own, and maybe I’ll do that some day, but for now we’ll do an overview.

1. Recipe Research & Content: One of the reasons that it took me so long to start a blog is because I was hung up on vision. I’m not a professional chef or recipe developer nor do I have the time/money/ambition that recipe developing requires. I look for inspiration in vintage recipes, advertisements, old cookbooks and will usually twist or adapt the recipe in a way that I think is useful or interesting. This “leg” is something that I’m always sort of passively working on, flipping through cookbooks before bed or collecting image ideas on Pinterest. I keep a notes list on my phone of things I want to make and whenever I feel stuck I just refer to the list.

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2. Photography & Styling: Photography is the subject that I found most intimidating in the beginning of this endeavor and, if I’m honest, it’s still the most overwhelming. There’s so much information out there on food photography that can help with the basics (YouTube is wonderful) but really it’s all about practice. Familiarize yourself with the basic ISO, Aperture, Shutter Speed stuff, find a good spot for soft, natural light and go to town. I started shooting with a Canon T2i but then I killed it so I upgraded to a Canon T6i. It was a big investment for me but I could have (not should have) spent easily two or three times what I did. I’m really happy with my new camera and having it encourages me to try and improve my photography. As far as styling goes, gather some backgrounds (DIY or storebought) and props (Salvation Army for life) and take inspiration from magazines, cookbooks, food blogs. I regularly have to remind myself that I am creating my own aesthetic and that it takes time.

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3. Instagram & Promotion: I have a love/hate relationship with Instagram. On the one hand, it provides the biggest opportunity for me to promote the content that I make for my blog. At its best, it’s a wonderful community for like-minded, food-loving people to share their creations and interact with one another. It can be a really fun and inspiring place to hang out. At its worst, Instagram is hell. A breeding ground for self-doubt, jealousy, and insecurity.  You could drive yourself crazy over-focusing on likes and followers. You are at the mercy of an algorithm that rewards success with more success. I realized quickly that I would need to set boundaries for myself so my current rules for Instagram are a) post three times a week b) try to spend 15-20 minutes a day liking and following other accounts and engaging with content that I like, then try and stay off of it c) don’t put too much emphasis on numbers. 

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4. Back End Blog: Thankfully, this is the easy part. It’s not that it wasn’t confusing or frustrating to set up because it definitely was, but when it’s up, it’s up and unless you want to make major changes, you’re basically good to go. I went back and forth considering a few different blog platforms but, in the end, I settled on WordPress and it’s served me pretty well over the past year. It has some cons (I would like more customizable themes, for example) but it’s fairly user-friendly and you’re able to bundle your domain with your plan so it’s nice to have everything in one place.

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The most essential thing that I learned about creating a blog is that, like most things in life, it is a balancing act. There are lots of iterations of the saying that goes “Work, Sleep, Social Life…Pick Two” and I find that holds true for blogging as well. If I’m in the middle of intense research and reference for a project, the photography might suffer. If I’m spending too much time on Instagram, the creative juices turn into molasses. Rather than be overwhelmed by it all, I try and do a lot of shifting back and forth, working on each “leg” of the blog bit by bit, and find myself improving slowly and steadily. I welcome the room for improvement.

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