It’s been a couple of weeks now, since Mr. Allie and I returned from Seattle and the food blogger’s paradise that was the Independent Food Bloggers Conference. The whole thing was such an overwhelmingly positive experience, that I really needed to take a little time to gather my thoughts on what all I’ve taken away from it, and how to sum the whole business up into a cohesive post.
I had been wanting to go to a blogging conference for a while, my main motivation being to LEARN. The business of blogging is big, and it involves so many different aspects. It’s really not enough to just be a creative person with good ideas (although that is definitely a prerequisite!). You also need to be social media savvy, and tech savvy, and a great photographer, you need to understand SEO (search engine optimization), web design, be a compelling writer, and a marketing whiz. When I started blogging, most of these things were completely foreign to me, and even now, I often feel lost in a big, scary place I know very little about.
I knew that a blogging conference could be really instrumental in helping me to learn the blogging ropes, and IFBC definitely filled that need.
I’ve seen from your comments that many of you wish that you could also attend a conference, and, I know that I was very lucky (thanks to my father-in-law for gifting us the airfare, to my mom for looking after my kiddos, and to all the sponsors of IFBC for keeping the cost so low) to have been able to attend. Travel can be expensive, and a big time investment, and, for many of us, it’s just not feasible. So, I’d like to share a little of what I learned with you, so that hopefully you all can benefit a bit from my time in Seattle.
What I Learned at my First Blogger Conference
1) Be social! I arrived late on the scene. I missed the wine tasting at Chateau St. Michelle Winery on Thursday, and the Welcome luncheon provided by Chipotle on Friday. I tiptoed into a packed conference room mere moments before the legendary Dorie Greenspan took the stage for the keynote speech. Needless to say, my feathers were seriously ruffled, and I was completely overwhelmed (did I mention that I didn’t know a single soul?). My shyness totally got the better of me and I hid myself in a corner. But by the next morning, I realized that I was missing a big opportunity, and one of the main reasons I had wanted to go in the first place! To meet other bloggers, network, and make friends. The first face I saw that morning was Alice Choi’s (of Hip Foodie Mom), someone I had admired from afar for a long time. My knees were knocking, but I stuck my hand out and introduced myself. Best. Decision. Ever. She couldn’t have been sweeter. She totally took me under her wing, and introduced me to her whole crew. They were all so smart and fun and I had a great time talking shop and getting advice from them. And they made sure to save a seat for me at every session and event for the rest of the weekend. Even though we’re spread out all across the continent, we’ve promised to keep in touch, and blogging makes that easy. Going to IFBC taught me that we are in it together, we can and should help each other out, for the greater good of blogging as an industry, because we all have so much in common, and because it’s fun!
Don’t be intimidated or afraid to reach out to any of these rockstar bloggers. They may be crazy talented, but they’re also totally down to earth and super helpful, and I’m so happy to have connected with them:
- Hip Foodie Mom
- Gotta Get Baked
- The Urban Mrs.
- Sweet Lab
- Food Wanderings
- Camera in Tow
- That Skinny Chick Can Bake
- Chow Studios
- Damn Delicious
Bottom line: the blogging community is awesome. Engage yourself. Comment on other blogs (the above list is a great starting point!). Ask questions. And answer your own comments, every one! Build relationships. I use a plugin called “Comment Reply Notification,” to ensure that those who comment on my blog see my reply in their email inbox. It’s a great way to connect, and get a dialog going. I’m so happy to have made so many great friends through blogging. 🙂
2) Step up your photography game. I knew ZERO about photography when I started blogging. I was an art and architecture major in college. I can draw! I’m actually pretty decent at it. I always relied heavily on that, in my professional and creative life. I never thought I needed to mess around with techy stuff like cameras and lenses. Well, guess what? When you can take a pretty picture, people want to click on your blog and read what you have to say. It’s an incredible tool, and I wised up to that pretty quickly.
Andrew Scrivani gave a couple of really informative talks about food photography. Some of it was over my head, or maybe I should say “out of my realm,” (He’s a professional photographer, and while he does have a blog, it’s not his main focus. His main focus is photographing food for the New York Times [maybe you’ve heard of it???]), but I did still take a lot away from it. Here are some of my favorite photography tips from Scrivani:
- Creating Desire: Capture a mood, connect to a memory, appreciate the beauty of the subject, and build anticipation. You want your reader to want that food, so badly they can almost taste it, and have a sense of anticipation for that first bite. Grab them with your first image, and they’ll be yours for the rest of the post (and hopefully every one thereafter!).
- Lighting: Natural light is best, preferably from a Southwestern facing window. Try to capture the gradation, from bright highlights to deep shadows. The trend in food photography is transitioning away from bright, blown-out imagery, to a moodier, more masculine vibe. Use a sheet of white cardboard as a reflector/fill card, if your setup looks too shadowy, and a thin sheet or scrim to diffuse sunlight if it’s too harsh.
- Propping: Smaller props allow the food to take the spotlight. Duller finishes photograph better than shiny or reflective ones. Look for tarnished silver, salt-glazed pottery, textural backgrounds, and neutral colors, so that the food becomes the main focus.
- Capturing Detail: A macro lens will allow you to catch more detail on close-up shots. <–I gotta get me one of these. Right now I only shoot with a nifty-fifty, but I’m anxious to start experimenting with different lenses.
- Post-Processing, aka Editing: Scrivani recommends shooting in RAW format, something I am slightly familiar with, but have not yet gotten into. It allows more creative freedom for the artist, but it takes up more space on your memory card and requires specialized software to be able to view and edit the files. I’m hoping to start learning the RAW ropes, and I’d love to get on the Adobe Lightroom bandwagon. I think it will open up a lot of new possibilities for me (I currently use PicMonkey, which is easy for beginners, and free, but I think I’ve outgrown it), and help me to better tag and organize my photos. Speaking of which- delete outtakes! This is something I have not been doing, even though it’s perfectly logical. Why hang on to old pics? If they weren’t good enough for your blog, they’re really of no use to you. Duh.
3) Take a Taste! I missed out on a lot of the food and drink at this conference, because it was a priority for me to spend time with Mr. Allie exploring Seattle. But next time, we are totally paying for him to be an attendee. IFBC provides every single meal to the conference-goers, the food is amazing, and there’s tons of it. The cost of admission pays for itself by day one. IFBC hooks you up, with the best restaurants and food Seattle has to offer. Plus, tons of snacks and swag to bring home with you. Plan on checking your bag on the way home, so you can enjoy all the wine, juices, smoothies, and sodas you can jam in there.
As a food blogger, you want to be up on the current trends. The focus at IFBC was definitely on high quality, organic, vegan, nutritionally-dense, and non-GMO products. I got to try some amazing foods while I was there, and I’m listing my favorites below. If you see any of these products at your local market, do not hesitate to pick them up. They are Allie tested and approved 😉
- Annie’s Homegrown Berry Patch Fruit Snacks
- Brookside Dark Chocolate Covered Acai and Blueberries
- Manuka Doctor Bio Active 10+ Manuka Honey
- Fever-Tree Mixers
- Happy Squeeze Twist Smoothies with Supergrain Salba
- Chateau Ste. Michelle Wines
- Shanley Farms Finger Limes
- Lagrima Vanilla Extract
- Dry Soda Co. Soft Drinks
- Scharffen Berger Chocolate
- Natures Path Organic Love Crunch Granola
- Cosmos Creations Baked Corn Snacks
All in all, I’d say IFBC was a pretty great experience. There was even so much more than what I’ve shared here; these were really just the highlights for me. You can read more about this year’s conference here.
And if you’re thinking about maybe attending a blogger conference, and you’re looking to make some great friends, learn a lot, and experience some amazing foods, IFBC 2014 is your jam. They’re holding it in Seattle again next year, at the Westin Hotel (I believe they give a reduced rate for conference attendees- ask.), and they’re expecting to sell out of all 500 available spots. The cost is $95 if you agree to write three blog posts about it. Not too bad, considering everything they’re offering.
Hope to see you there!