Monday, August 30, 2010
Sunday, August 29, 2010
Aw, man, you guys were awesome this weekend. If your photo made it on here, leave a comment and I'll link to your blog! It's going to be a bit difficult to go back to the real world after spending a weekend with some of the wittiest, kindest, most generous people I've ever had the pleasure to meet. Get out there and blog your pants off. Keep in touch, the internet is our lifeline. And if any of you are ever over in Portland, drop me a line and I'll show you a good time. #wink
In these photos so far: Kendra from Kitchen Report, Jennifer of My Kitchen Addiction... Keep 'em coming!
Penny and I shot the same market in Jerusalem... squee!!! (Photo is mine)
Over here at the International Food Blogger Conference, we're being treated to the amazing story of Penny De Los Santos, one of my major photography idols. Penny's traveled to over 30 countries shooting for National Geographic and Saveur (where she is now senior contributing photographer - my DREAM job), and 6 cookbooks. She's humble, and well-spoken, and funny. All around, an amazing role model for anyone trying to make a living in the food world, professionals and amateurs alike. As New Orleans-style jazz floats through the heavy black curtains of the conference hall and the smell of wood-fired pizza and roasting meat makes us all realize how hungry we are, Penny's photos are flashing up on the big screen at the front of the dimmed room. Every shot is gorgeous. From a perfect capture of a stir-fry improvisationally taken at the food stylist's cutting board complete with splattered sauces, to a dusty early-morning photo of a running herd of sheep in Idaho, we are seeing Penny's food philosophy come to life.
In a nutshell: Light. Storytelling. Content. Composition.
"I was excited to get paid to make pictures. If I could see the world, make pictures, and enjoy myself, that's what I want to do with my life."
- What makes a good food photograph? Light, Color, Composition, Picking good food subjects that look appetizing.
- Ingredient shots are some of the hardest shots to shoot, because you want them to be appetizing, but they can evoke really strong emotions. Move ingredients to new jars and bowls, work for your pictures.
- Writers think about food very differently from photographers, but working together great photos can happen.
- Break out of your mold, don't show the same thing over and over, even if it looks good, because it will become cliche. We've all seen the photo of people's hands holding ingredients. Do it once, never again. Take risks, be weird.
- Take your camera out of automatic mode, and shoot with manual.
- Give your food some space, let your subject breathe. Try to shoot full frame, photograph the food the way you'd see it on your plate.
- Visual spacing, vary your angles, it keeps people engaged. Very camera angles in the same blog post, especially if it's the same subject. Not all food looks good from the same angle. Primary Camera Angles in Food Photography (Overhead view - I never shoot in full overhead, because I don't think we ever look at food like that, 3/4 view, Side view/straight on)
- "Anytime I walk into a room, I'm always thinking about where the light is coming from. If it's really bright, I try to figure out how to diffuse it." Sometimes you need to go where the light is and make it work, even into a dirty alley behind a dingy Chinese Food restaurant.
- Edit your plate. If food comes out to you in a restaurant looking ugly, ask for another plate and rebuild it from scratch. Or take the food subject and put it in a completely different environment. Place those tamales on a pretty napkin, always be scouting for interesting backgrounds with texture.
- Go prop shopping. Check the Goodwill, Flea Markets, trash cans... find things that inspire you.
- Don't shoot for the assignment. Shoot for yourself.
- Look at photography daily. Study styling!
- Practice photography daily. Take 1 great picture a day, follow your instincts and gut reactions.
- Self assign photography projects. Go out and keep a visual journal, make your own portfolio.
- Be patient. Wait for the shot. Make the shot.
And remember, the most important thing, ALL OF THESE RULES CAN BE BROKEN.
At the end of the seminar, I'm literally in tears. This is so fundamentally, frighteningly, blissfully, what I want to do with my life. I've honestly never heard someone speak so eloquently about the life that I want to lead, putting the way that I really want to shoot into sweet, funny, enlightening words. Thanks so much, Penny. I've felt a bit on the sidelines through most of the IFBC panels, but your talk alone was worth the cost of a ticket. I know I'm going to be spending many, many more hours on my photography. This is what I want to do, and I'm going to do it.
Saturday, August 28, 2010
When I walked into the main room of the party last night, I was still reeling from the panic of driving into Seattle for the first time. The horns were still kind of honking in my ears, reminding me that I was SO not in Portland anymore. The chaos of the party wasn’t helping at all. Everywhere around me I kept getting these glimpses of people’s faces I kind of sort of remembered from Twitter, but was too shy or star struck to talk to, but as soon as I took a sip of that Cosmo (Brought to you by POM Wonderful!) I really did start feeling a little better. My heart stopped punching into my chest wall, and even though my forehead was a little sweaty (because, honestly, temperature control hasn’t been a strength of the conference) I knew it was going to be OK.
OK, we all know that Search Engine Optimization is important to get more hits for your food blog, but some of us are totally clueless about all the jargon and technology and stuff. I'm sitting at the IFBC panel on SEO for food bloggers, which is basically telling us how to be a "popular kid" in the high-school-esque world of page ranks and the like. I'm going to stream-of-consciousness a list of tips from Barnaby Dorfman, Foodista.com CEO, Mani Dhillon, UrbanSpoon.com General Manager, and Joy Victory, WordPress.com Editorial Czar. This post is going to be so full of keywords, it'll blow your mind.
- Measuring traffic is totally important. Google Analytics for food bloggers is necessary, but, uh, I don't use it. Google has over a million computers trained to act like humans, mimicking the way people move through the internet. That's really, really creepy. I like to think of a robot out in a room somewhere acting like my dad on the internet, searching my name on Google and refreshing the LemonBasil home page constantly.
- Hits don't matter, Monthly Unique Visitors - "Uniques" - do. Everything can be reduced to a dollar amount per 1000 views of an ad. The robots don't care how many times my dad presses refresh on a blog post.
- Links to your site = authority = higher page rank on search engine results. Links are like catnip for robots.
- Twitter, Facebook, and Wikipedia links do not contribute to your page rank. Huh, that doesn't seem very fair.
- Take the time to figure out where your traffic is coming from, but don't drive yourself crazy trying to learn about search engine optimization for food bloggers. But if you don't pay enough attention, you'll anger the robots.
- "Pretend you're a vegetarian blogger who just went to the farmers' market and bought some corn, and you want to write a blog post about corn, but want to " Weird, I have no idea what that's like. Anyway, using Google insights can help you find out what in trending on the internet, i.e. Corn Chowder. It's using the robots for your own benefit. You can also see how often terms are being searched as compared to other search terms.
- Using keywords in headline and first sentence makes the most impact on your page rank. This is how you talk to the robots. Oh, man, the robots.
- SEO Optimization makes me feel a little queasy. I guess using better titles and keywords wouldn't be really difficult. I want to robots to like my writing.
- Updating often makes a difference to the robots. Also, to your parents who really want to hear about what you ate for dinner with that nice young man you've been seeing.
Moral of the Story: YOU MUST PLEASE THE ROBOTS.
On a less snarky note, this place looks pretty magical. Good work, lightbulbs.
Friday, August 27, 2010
For those of you who do not know, I am currently camped out in the middle of Theo chocolate factory at the International Food Blogger's Conference in Seattle. I made the trek up from Portland yesterday, got overwhelmed by parking in Seattle, and then got overwhelmed by the conference itself. It's kind of like Comi-Con, with a bunch of geeks who normally hide behind their keyboards and twitter handles, just with WAY more free eats and sips. I feel a bit out of place - this ain't no farmers' market - but everyone is really friendly and excited to make real-life connections with familiar URLs. The food's been great, but, full disclosure, this place is basically one giant advertisement. I'm really new to the world of blog product placement, and it's hard to know how to react to dozens of vineyards and breweries, lamb and beef PR, drink manufacturers, publishers, and food products giving me free things and tacitly expecting me to blog about them, organize giveaways, and basically serve as free, well-written advertisements.
If you've read LemonBasil AT ALL, you'll no doubt be thinking that this concept is completely foreign to me, and you'd be right. I'm really weirded out by slipping in products and links into my blog, but I've been chatting with people who make a couple hundred dollars a month by writing about and having ads. Hundreds! Of Dollars! Guys, that's a few more nights out, a few more kitchen gadgets, and a few more dinner parties for my friends and local blog readers. Conundrum.
I've never used ads on the blog, I'm Portland-centric, and I'm also more than a food blogger. But it seems to be more and more common for blogs to monetize, advertise, and name-drop... I'm fine doing that for local Portland businesses, local restaurants and chefs, and local artisans. But when the Wisconsin Cheese Board emails me and asks me to write a post about my favorite places in Portland to buy Wisconsin Cheese, a little red light goes off in the back of my head, flashing "SELL OUT WARNING. SELL OUT WARNING."
I'm going to keep my fingers crossed that the conference turns into something other than a soap box for the Lamb Council of America. Even though that caveman-sized rack of lamb last night was really good. Damn, I'm already doing it. There goes my conscience.
Friday, August 20, 2010
Yes, I know I've been punking out and posting a bunch of wordless photo posts. Yes, I miss writing about farmers' markets and local produce and dinner parties and chef secrets, and yes, I will be writing more, but let me fill you in on the events that have led to this photofueled silence. It's been a year in transition, so let me ramble for a few moments to catch you up. Life's been kind of messy, like that photo of a one-pot chicken stew gone awry, but also really, really tasty.
I've been living downtown for the year, in a tiny studio apartment with an even tinier kitchen, which has really put a damper on my raucous dinner parties. Long-time readers will harken back to the days of Family Dinner, epic baked good sprees, and birthday parties, but the last few months were filled with thesis-writing, single-serving stir-frys, and lots of farmers' markets. A lot of my friends moved away, as Portlanders, it seems, are wont to do. This, for some reason, made me stop wanting to bake. Go figure.
That being said, there are a couple of changes in the works that will definitely heighten the opportunities for blog-worthy stories.
I graduated from Reed College in May, and have since been filling my time with freelance photography and writing gigs, hopping from coffee shop to coffee shop, camping out anywhere with free WiFi and caffeine. I've been doing some photography work for Eater PDX, which is an absolute blast. I get to go to new restaurants and bars before they open to the public and snap a few shots of the interiors to get the buzz going. I've already met some amazing people, like the owners of June, Hair of the Dog Brewery, Pinot, FIN, and the soon to open Little Big Burger. It's such a privilege, and I see myself falling more and more in love with photography. For the first time, I can see myself actually making a career out of it, as difficult as that will be. Its such a joy to be able to see something I love, capture it, and show someone else what made me happy. It's communication in a really pure form, so please forgive me if my words come and go and the photos do a little bit of the talking for me. There's a lot of me in the images I create.
Perhaps most importantly, however, I'm moving. Into a real house. With a formal dining room and a six-burner double wide Wedgewood oven. A few weeks ago, my sister Casey, her partner Mike, and I found the perfect home in Southeast Portland, and I've been camping out. It's just like regular camping, but instead of a tent, I'm sleeping on a futon on the hardwood floor of a 1700 square foot Victorian masterpiece. This house is absolutely gorgeous, but almost as delightful as the stained glass windows and gorgeous wood floors is the location - I'm smack in the middle between Belmont and Hawthorn, steps away from everywhere I want to be. It's an odd limbo-world, waiting to move until my family comes to town. For most of the day, I'm alone without televisions or computers or radios... just me and a futon, a few books, and a grumpy cat named Baby Britain (he came with the house... Elliott Smith used to live there, hence the name.) I'm spending my time kicking around plastic balls filled with catnip, sitting on my front porch feeling the breeze, and making simple one-pot dishes on the new stove. It's delightful and contemplative, a bit melancholy but full of potential and small joys.
I don't have internet in the house yet, so I'm trekking out into the world to find the perfect, cozy spot to write and email and network. My favorite so far is Happy Sparrow, owned by, quite possibly, the sweetest people in town. Danny and Mary Quach came from Austin to bestow upon us the delightful Kolache, the sweet dough bun filled with savory or sweet combinations. They greet me by name in the morning and fill me up with tasty snacks - I've been enjoying the breakfast sausage, all-cheese, and raspberry cream cheese versions. Best of all, they are only a few steps from my new home.
Casey's finishing up her doctorate at Princeton, but is making the big move to PDX at the end of the month to work at OHSU (she's basically a genius) and Mike is joining us in another month. For the first time in over a year, I'll be making dinners for someone other than myself on a regular basis, and I am. so. excited. about. that. Casey and Mike are foodies to the nth degree, and I know our lives are going to center on the pure enjoyment of making food, talking about food, going out to eat, and running around town trying to absorb every bit of culture, music, beer, beauty, and fall colors this little city can push out of its pores. I'm really excited to share our adventures with you, and am very thankful for those of you that have stuck with me through this transitional phase. There's so much to look forward to! This city is our oyster. Bottoms up!