A Post in the Life of a Food Blogger – Our Ten Steps
If you’re dabbling with the idea of starting a food blog of your own, the following information might excite or scare you :-). Either way, I thought it could be helpful to share what we’ve learned so far. In this post I’ll break down the steps we use to create a blog post. Keep in mind, this information doesn’t include any of the initial research, the website build and setup, ongoing site maintenance, website SEO, relationship building, and the endless photography, technology, and cooking tutorials we learn from.
The following information is about creating and sharing one post for the blog. Grab a coffee and a comfy seat, cause here we go…
1 – RECIPE CHOICES, RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT
Where does a post begin? Sometimes it’s a suggestion from Liz, or our kids, or friends. Sometimes a spark ignites while I’m strolling through the grocery store. Sometimes I visit my personal ‘you’ve got to try this one day’ list. Sometimes it’s inspiration from other food blogs or ‘food porn’ websites like FoodGawker, Taste Spotting or Pinterest. However, more often than not, my favourite source of inspiration is childhood memories of my mom’s cooking. It’s at these times that I pull out the notebook of handwritten recipes my mom made for me, which I refer to as my ‘book of traditions’. This inspiration makes me the happiest!
Once I know what I want to make, the next step is research. What are other folks making? What does their food look like? How does a certain technique work? Can I find all the ingredients locally? If it’s a recipe I’ve never made, I’ll find 5 or 6 recipes from other folks to get an idea of the foundational ingredients behind the recipe. Once I have the foundation, I consider additions, changes, and complementary ingredients that could make for an interesting and flavourful twist. Often, testing is involved until I get exactly what I’m after. Then I write down the ingredients and steps that make this recipe mine. I usually do this ‘old school’ with pen and paper and lots of scribbles.
Remember, changing a teaspoon of something here and there, or swapping out one or two ingredients doesn’t make it your recipe. We have about three recipes on our site that aren’t our own. For these types of recipes, we give the original author a heads-up that we intend to use their recipe. Then on our blog, we use our own picture, story, and we write out the recipe, but we give them full credit for the recipe and we link back to their website. In our opinion, it’s not ethical to take credit for someone else’s creativity.
2 – GROCERY SHOPPING
This seems like a given and you might be thinking to yourself, “can’t you just pickup ingredients when you do your regular groceries?”. Yes, in some cases, but sometimes the ingredients are a bit more difficult to find and you may have to drive to a few stores to get what you need. Okra is a perfect example. I went to quite a few stores to find okra for a recipe. Of course now that I don’t need it, I see it everywhere. :-). Regardless, plan for this step because you won’t be able to create your recipe without the ingredients.
3 – COOKING – TRIAL AND ERROR UNTIL YOU HAVE IT RIGHT
I have no formal training in the kitchen, nor do I claim to be any kind of expert. This means that sometimes I experience recipe failures. It could be from my lack of skills with a certain technique, or maybe a combination of ingredients didn’t taste as good as I’d thought it would. It can be frustrating, and time consuming, but it’s always an opportunity for me to learn.
What’s the saying? If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, again.” So it is true with recipe creations. If I want to make something work I’m persistent. I go back to the drawing board, make changes, and redo a recipe if it didn’t work out at first. It’s important to us that when we share a recipe on our blog, it doesn’t just look good in the photograph–it has to taste really good to us as well.
Sure, things don’t always work out. I’ve created recipes that never made it to the blog because we didn’t love the end result. Those experiences can be disappointing, but they’re experiences nonetheless, and I don’t get hung up on the fail. There’s no time for that and it doesn’t help to dwell on it. I move on. Having said that, let me tell you that it sure is satisfying when a recipe works out on the first attempt! Patience, experience, and ongoing learning are key.
4 – DOCUMENTING INGREDIENTS AND STEPS WHILE COOKING
This part can get tricky but it’s really important. It’s busy enough just cooking, now you have to throw in constant stops for writing. Even though I usually start with most of the ingredients jotted down already, there are many changes to ingredient quantities along the way. This is also when I write down every step, the timing of everything, and temperatures. If I don’t do this as I go, it’s very likely that I won’t remember later. Remember, your readers are going to follow your instructions and they should be able to create the same meal or dessert. If your recipe is missing ingredients or details in the instructions, your readers will be disappointed and you’ll lose credibility. That wouldn’t be good for your blog.
Sure, mistakes happen and maybe a reader will share feedback with you on a recipe. When that happens, acknowledge it, make the correction on the site right away, and thank your reader. It’s cool when your readers are engaged and willing to help you out like that. Nobody is an island–appreciate the support you get.
5 – PHOTOGRAPHY: PLATING, PROPS, COMPOSITION AND LIGHTING
Liz taking a photo of a veggie burger
Liz taking a photo of a veggie burger
This is totally Liz’s department. We’re both photography hobbyists, but when it comes to food photography, Liz has the ‘eye’. I’m comfortable with the technical side of the camera; I know what to do to reduce or increase light, to throw things out of focus, etc. I have a harder time creating the ‘it shot’. Liz has fun composing the food and props and turning ‘meh’ to ‘wow’. She’ll move things around, change lighting, add and remove props, add a splash of colour, and physically move herself around until she gets a shot she’s happy with. Even subtle changes can make a big difference. We usually use one end of our dining room table for our food photography. I’ve walked into the dining room and found Liz standing on the edge of the table… a little crazy… a little dangerous… but she gets the shot!
I want to point out that we don’t do anything fake to the food to make it look ‘perfect’. There are lots of food styling tricks that can enhance a food’s appearance, but we choose not to do that. All our food is edible. What you see in the shot is the food as it was made and as we ate it (after the shoot of course).
Final photo of the veggie burger
One photo shoot can typically have anywhere between 20 and 400 shots, depending on how many changes she makes along the way. 400 images sounds like a crazy amount, but it’s sometimes needed. For the blog, we always use at least one tall (portrait) shot and one square shot. In addition to that, if we’re working with a sponsored product or taking pictures for a partner, we need to rejig the composition and props to feature their product within the food setting. This means there could be lots of shots.
6 – PHOTO EDITING
This is my department. Once Liz is done with the shoot, I download all the pictures from the memory card to the MacBook and import all the images into Adobe Lightroom. I tag all the images at this stage with the date and keywords. Tagging is important because it allows me find images easily in the future if I need something from a past post. Once I have all the images onscreen I browse them quickly and rate my favourite ones. This step is important because I can quickly ween many photos down to a few photos. There’s no need to edit the images that won’t be used. Once I have the selection down to 5 or 6 options, Liz and I work out the final selection together. I can do it alone, but I value Liz’s creative input.
Once I’ve selected the final shots, this is when the actual editing happens. We shoot in raw, so this is my opportunity to adjust white balance, vibrance, contrast, exposure, paint light into dark spots, crop, etc. We try to shoot for the final product so that very little editing is required, but a little tweaking is usually needed. Once I’m happy with the images, I export them. Lightroom has been very helpful for the blog because it helps us do most of the image management and editing in one tool. After the images are exported, I open them in Photoshop for any final tweaks and to optimize them for the web. This step is needed to balance between image quality and file size. Images need to load fast on the blog and they need to look great.
7 – WRITING THE STORY
When we first started the blog, Liz did most of the writing. She still does some writing, but a lot of the story-telling has transitioned to me. I’ve discovered that I actually enjoy writing; talking through my connection to the recipes, especially since quite a few of the stories relate to the Azores and traditions I experienced while living there in my youth.
Once I’m done with my draft of a story Liz steps in to do the editing and revisions.
Story-telling is an important part of the blog post but it can be a challenge. It’s not like there’s a list of story topics to choose from for a post. We like to keep our stories honest and personal. We share stories about things happening in our day-to-day life, experiences with creating recipes or using cooking-related products, and stories about traditions rooted in our Portuguese heritage. In particular, I often share stories about the Azores, my upbringing on the Island of Pico, and the typical Island meals I was fortunate to enjoy. You really need to find your own groove and ‘voice’ to write stories that engage your readers.
8 – BEHIND THE SCENES… RECIPE, CATEGORIES, TAGS, IMAGES, TITLE AND DESCRIPTION
After the final product (food) is ready, the photos have been taken, and the story is written, you’d think it’s all ready to go. Not quite. This is the step where I work on the behind the scenes stuff that most people won’t care about and nobody actually ‘sees’. But this is really important because this work is what ultimately helps our post come up when someone searches for this type of food. This work is known as search engine optimization, or SEO.
I format the recipe in such a way that it not only displays nicely to readers, but also so that Google can easily ‘read’ the recipe and display our post in people’s Google search results. I tag the post with keywords related to the recipe we’re featuring. I categorize the recipe i.e. dinner, appetizer, meat, dessert, soup, etc. I make sure our images are all tagged so that anyone with vision loss who is using a reader will know what the images are. I also optimize the recipe title and description to help us be ‘found’ easily on the web.
9 – PUBLISH!
Yes… now we’re finally ready to publish the post! There’s literally a button called “publish”. Once I press that button, the post is live and ready for the world to see. Yay!
10 – CALLING ALL TRAFFIC… TIME TO GET SOCIAL!
So now that the recipe is published you have to get people to go to your site. You need to let people know there’s a new recipe on the site that they want to see and try. Once a post goes live, I have about 30 more minutes of work. Queue the social media…
Here’s a list of where we currently share our recipe once a post goes live:
Weekly Photos & Food emailed newsletter for our subscribers
Facebook (on our page plus 13 other active Facebook groups)
Pinterest (on my boards plus 28 very active group boards)
Flickr (on my account plus 30 other very active groups)
Note: all of our shares include a picture of the food to draw people to the blog.
11? – WHO’S DOING THE DISHES TODAY? 😉
Wait… I know I said 10 steps, but for us, we can’t forget this post blog post step 😉
Based on the 10 steps I’ve explained, and knowing that this is not our full-time job and that we have kids and busy schedules, you can probably appreciate why Liz and I have a goal of only two posts per week for our food blog. One food blog post requires a lot of time and effort! It’s work. The thing is, for us, it’s also a bunch of fun and that’s one of the main reasons we do this.
With each new post, I learn something new (a new dish or technique), Liz improves her photography skills, we’ve shared a memory or experience with our readers, and we’ve documented another recipe to share with the world. Sometimes we also get to partner with fantastic companies to try their products in our kitchen. It’s all good! For us, all our effort is worthwhile.
Now seriously… who’s doing the dishes?
WHAT’S YOUR NEXT STEP?
Whether you’re thinking of starting a food blog, or just reading our story because you want to have an understanding of how and why we do this, we hope you’ve enjoyed the behind the scenes of the Photos & Food blog. There are literally millions of blogs out there, and probably almost as many variations in workflows. We’re always learning and evolving. For now, this is the workflow that works for us.
Feel free to reach out to us if you’re looking to start a blog. We’re happy to share our learnings with you.
Now go visit some of our other posts for delicious recipes. Go on…cook up something yummy, and as we like to say, “eat well, friends”!