The Captivating Life is one year old today! I actually didn't even realize that until late last night. I can barely remember my friends' birthdays half the time, let alone my blog's birthday. In light of the special occasion, I wanted to reflect a bit on where the blog came from, where it has gone in a year, and what I have learned.
The reason I realized that today was my blogiversary is because I have been doing some reflecting about my blog over the last few days. I was looking at my old posts and the...shall we say, amateur photography. Some of those old pictures (and some of the not-so-old pictures) made me cringe a bit. I know my photography has gotten better as of late, but I want to improve even more. I want those pictures where you want to just reach into the computer and grab the food that the blogger has photographed because it looks so amazing.
Anyway, I am rambling. (Sorry.) As I was saying, I was looking at old pictures that I wasn't crazy about, so I started looking up more resources on food photography and revisiting the resources I had originally read when I was first starting out. (A list of resources on photography, blog design, and blogging in general can be found here.) In doing that, I came across a super helpful post by Sally at Sally's Baking Addiction about food photography. Turns out it was part of a blog series that she wrote in celebration of her one year blogiversary. She posted about her own journey, tips for connecting with your readers, content, and all sorts of good stuff.
All of that to say that I have been thinking about my blogging journey, so it seemed really fitting that I could post about my reflections on my blog's first birthday.
I started this blog in large part due to Pinterest. It sounds funny, but it's true. Through Pinterest, I discovered so many blogs with neat DIY project ideas, gorgeous home renovation reveals, and decorating tips. I was inspired to spruce up our house, which for the most part is quite simple, thrown together, and/or from IKEA. I've never been particularly handy or crafty, but I wanted our house to express our personalities more, so I figured it would be a good time to learn.
However, as I started blogging with the intention of documenting my lessons on improving my home in general, my blog became oriented more towards cooking. I have always loved to cook, but have never really put the time into improving my skills much. It was one of the things I wanted to improve upon. It's a passion that has really become stronger as I have blogged, and the content of my blog has reflected that. I didn't set out with the intention of creating a food blog, but that is pretty much what The Captivating Life has become - a food blog with bits of gardening and other homey topics sprinkled in here and there.
That realization sent me into a bit of a tizzy about the blog. Should I rename it? Should I cut out posts that aren't food-related? Then I figured, the point is to have fun and to document my journey as I learn more, not just about food, but about whatever strikes my fancy - gardening (which I also love, but am not as skilled at as I am at cooking) and decorating (because I still really want to spruce up this house). So I am going to blog about whatever strikes my fancy. However, it probably means that what strikes my fancy will probably most often be food. (Story of my life.)
I have learned so much about photography in a year, but I also recognize that there is still so much room to improve. I find photography fascinating. It started partly out of necessity. If you blog about food, you'd better have good pictures, otherwise people aren't going to want to make what you are cooking, no matter how delicious it actually is.
I think that principle would apply to anything you're blogging about, really. I think when it comes to blogs, while content is of course important, pictures are what pull people in. I wanted to take better pictures, so I looked up resources online, and there are plenty. I have a simple digital point and shoot, but you might be surprised at what you can improve in your photography just by knowing your camera's functions, as well as a few basic lessons. I also have an old digital SLR that I'm trying to learn to use in manual mode. Challenging but fun!
Lesson 1: Lighting
The first and most helpful lesson I learned was not to use flash. Ever. It looks terrible. I used to always use flash. Natural lighting is best, but if you can't have that, use good artificial lighting and fix the terrible orangey tint that it gives pictures with your white balance setting and some good editing, if necessary. (Keep reading if you don't know how to do that.)
I have relatively poor natural lighting in my house due to several large shady trees, so unless I'm taking pictures in the middle of the day, my pictures can be pretty dark. My kitchen has unfortunately placed and weak artificial lighting, so changing my white balance and editing still often doesn't make for a good picture. I usually try to do my cooking and picture-taking during the day whenever I can and I've become focused enough on my photography that if I make something and none of the pictures turn out the way I like them, I just won't post it. That wasn't always the case.
Above is a before and after example of the difference that white balance can make to your pictures. In the top picture, you can tell that it was taken in artificial lighting because everything looks orange. In the bottom picture, the colour is corrected through the white balance function on my camera so it's a lot brighter. It still doesn't look as good as a picture taken in natural light, but it's definitely better than the top picture. Turning off my flash and fixing the white balance are super easy things to do, and they can make a world of difference.
Lesson 2: Editing
Before I started this blog, I never edited pictures. I never would have even thought about it. But now I edit them all the time - mostly to correct my photographs for the less than optimal lighting conditions that they were taken in. It's always easier to take as good a photograph as you can up front, but even if you don't, it's fixable to some extent. While editing is never going to make a bad photograph wonderful, it can make a mediocre photograph better.
I don't use anything fancy. This blog doesn't make money - right now it's just for fun! - so I use PicMonkey, which is a free online editing tool that is pretty basic but does the major things that I need. With it, I can crop my photos, correct the exposure and colour, and watermark them.
Here's a quick example. The top photograph is one that I had posted when I blogged about my quickie bruschetta grilled cheese sandwiches. I don't know if I knew about white balance at the time that I took that picture, but if I did, for shame! This was one of the pictures I looked at a few days ago and shook my head at. While the white balance isn't the only problem with the picture (you can't see much besides the bread - bad styling!), I can at least fix the white balance through editing.
The bottom picture has been edited by brightening up the photograph, and correcting the white balance. If you aren't familiar with editing pictures, I'd suggest checking out PicMonkey or Fotoflexer, another free online editing program, and playing around with the settings.
Most of the settings in the programs are pretty simple, but the one that helped me out the most once I learned what it was for was the "Neutral Picker" function under "Colors" on PicMonkey. You click that, and then click an area of your picture that is supposed to be white (or light gray, apparently, though I always look for white) and the program removes the tint on your photograph that shouldn't be there. In the picture above, I clicked on the right hand portion of the plate, where it should be bright white, and it corrected the orange tint.
I'm not going to go into an in-depth discussion of photo editing - though that might be a post I might try to tackle later as I feel more comfortable with functions beyond the more basic ones - but I would highly recommend any new bloggers to look into this if you are trying to improve the look of your photography. I think I'm going to go through my old photos and edit the ones that I clearly didn't edit (or edit well) the first time around. (I'm nitpicky like that.)
As I mentioned, the content on my blog is pretty food-heavy. That's great, but as an amateur, I'm also not all that original most of the time. I do sometimes get ideas in my head of what I want to cook and just fly by the seat of my pants now that I'm more comfortable in the kitchen and have watched a lot more Food Network, but usually I decide what I want to cook, read a recipe or two so that I can avoid messing it up, and then make my own version using the general process I have learned as a guide. I always credit my source, but I also like to make something my own if I can, so I take my own pictures and write the recipe in my own words. (Failing to do that would not only be rude and annoying for the original writer/blogger, but a copyright infringement. Yikes.)
It can sometimes be a challenge to figure out what to write about, but Sally had some excellent advice for when she needs ideas that I really liked: think about what you are good at that other people might not know about. Sounds simple, but I've never really done that. For example, she posted about how to measure ingredients like flour. Simple enough, right? Turns out I've been doing it wrong for decades, and now I know. What a helpful post! I'm going to take that advice to heart and think about what I have learned in the last year, and what I can share with others. Hopefully I can make this blog even more informative and inspiring to others not just by sharing new things I have discovered, but some of the things that I know that other people might want to learn too.
I don't know where this blog is going to go in the next year. For now, I like learning new recipes, decor and organization tips and tricks, and information about gardening so I can stop killing all my poor plants. I like documenting what I've learned.
As much as I dislike some of my old photographs, it's really gratifying to see how much better I have become at taking photographs. It inspires me to keep working at it and keep improving.
The top photograph is of my minestrone soup, taken February 20, 2012. The bottom is a picture of a blueberry scone, taken February 17, 2013 (and also a teaser for the post that will go up on Thursday). The lighting is better, the colours are brighter, and the composition is nicer. I do want to get better at food styling and composition though, so that will probably be my major goal for the next year.
I want to keep finding other blogs that inspire me and to keep learning from other bloggers' journeys. I want to be braver with trying more challenging things and to share those discoveries with you. Hopefully in another year I'll have even more achievements and lessons to share with you.
Thank you so much for reading! Without you, I would just be rambling online to myself.