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Food Blogger Camp 2011 Grand Velas (Top Ten Things I Learned)

I never thought anything could compare to last year’s Food Blogger Camp.  I learned so much and came away so inspired with some incredible friendships.  I started saving my pennies to attend this year’s camp but had several emergencies come up in November and December that ate away at my fund.  Thanks to the generosity of a friend, I was still able to attend, and boy am I glad that I did.

I made sure to set goals for myself for this conference.  I wanted to really improve my photography and food styling now that I have a fancy new DSLR.  I also wanted to learn a lot more about the business side of blogging.  This blog will always be first and foremost a resource for people looking to gain confidence in the kitchen and trying to cook on a tight budget.  But Eric and I realize that if we were able to focus on the blog full time someday in the future, we could really make it spectacular and build an even stronger resource.  We’d also love to be able to work together from home and set our schedule around our family’s needs.

(photo by steamykitchen)

My most important goal was to be used in people’s lives in a positive way.  I always believe that when I’m given the opportunity to go somewhere new, have a great experience, or meet new people, it’s a chance for my life to be used for others.  My favorite part of camp was the opportunities I had to share my stories, hear from others, and know we each walked away from conversations knowing one another in a deeper way than we may have previously thought possible.

Some of the lessons below are tips that I already knew but somehow forgot.  Some are things that I was questioning before camp and conversations or sessions gave me the push I needed to make a decision.  Others are brand new ideas that I just wouldn’t have thought of on my own.  I’m so thankful for the opportunity I had to attend and hope the lessons I and other attendees share help those of you who are on your own blogging journey.

Lesson 10:  If you’re going to get injured on vacation, do it at a full service resort.

Let’s start with the most humorous lesson learned.  My friend Jaden missed a step on the way to lunch and badly sprained her ankle.  Let me tell you, I have never seen more attentive service at any hotel, ever!  Having survived more than my fair share of accidents, I immediately went into action mode looking for ice, asking for a wheelchair, checking her ankle for swelling.  But my actions stopped abruptly as I noticed Jaden turning a lovely shade of pink.

At first I thought it was due to pain, but no.  It was the studly lifeguard Roman come to her rescue that caused her girlish blush.  He helped her into a wheelchair, and began massaging anti-inflammatory cream into her ankle while she sipped a margarita!

Remembering that when I broke my foot and had no insurance, my friend Rene drove me around Oahu for 12 hours trying to get me help (on his birthday!), I decided to try to be as good a friend to Jaden in her wheelchair bound state.  But if I hadn’t been there, she would have been just fine.  At every staircase needing to be navigated, 5 strong men would appear out of nowhere, carrying her like litter bearers for the queen!

Although I hope to be less accident prone in my thirties, I paid close attention and decided if I was ever going to sprain my ankle again, I want to do it at Grand Velas!

Lesson 9:  Be adventurous, play with your camera.

(photo by steamykitchen)

I really like the way Todd of White on Rice Couple put it “You’ve got to bob and weave like a boxer people.”  I’ve watched Todd and Diane shoot before and noticed how much they move around to get the right shot, but I haven’t always been good at doing it myself.  They talked about how people often stand in the same place and don’t like the photo they’re shooting but keep trying to get different results from the same angle.

I get what they’re saying, I shot my stuffed sugar pears 245 times to get a few shots that I actually liked.  I was tired and frustrated and just kept moving things on the table trying to change the shot, I never moved myself.  I’m done making that mistake.  As you can see in the photo above, I now move around, whether it’s standing on tip toe, squatting, or leaning.

All that moving totally worked as I got two beautiful shots of the lovely young woman posing for us.  I also got some fantastic shots of chefs in and out of the kitchen.  I watched during our chef demo how Diane broke off from the group and began moving around the kitchen to photograph from different angles.

I decided to follow her lead and figured the worst that could happen was someone telling me to come back (or hot food being spilled on my sandal clad feet, but I was careful!).  I gained a lot of confidence in photographing people and learning to talk to them and ask them to move around.

Lesson 8:  Step out of your comfort zone and talk to people.

I don’t know why I still struggle with shyness.  It’s so much easier for me to talk to people I already know, people I’m sure like me.  Sticking to the comfort of hanging out with friends is tempting at conferences.  But I also LOVE getting to know people.  I enjoy hearing their stories, finding out what life experiences have made them who they are today.  So I set a goal of getting to know at least 3 people each day at Food Blogger Camp.

An easier way to feel confident enough to do this is to imagine that each person I want to talk to is as shy as I am.  I’m not actually saying that the people I talked to were shy or insecure, but letting myself think that made it easier to get past my own insecurities so that I could talk to some really awesome people.

Although I didn’t get to meet everybody, the list of bloggers is at the end of this post and I will tell you that every single person I met was inspiring and fascinating and I’m so glad I didn’t stay in the comfort of the familiar.

Lesson 7: If shooting hand held, your speed should not be lower than your lens length.

Aha!!!  When Todd said this a lightbulb went off in my head.  I tend to have shaky hands so this was an important tip for me.  Basically it means that since I’m shooting with a 50mm lens, I shouldn’t have my speed lower than 50 if I’m holding my camera rather than having it on a tripod.

Goodbye shaky blurry photos, hello perfectly clear sharp images.

Lesson 6:  Visualize your food before you plate it or style it.

As Adam Pearson was teaching us food styling, I began to realize that he visualizes each dish before he begins styling it.  I usually plop the food onto a plate or bowl and then try moving it around and adding props to get a photo I like.  I asked Adam about it and he confirmed that he has the image in his mind before he creates it.

Adam said that sometimes he has meetings with the client where they spend an hour talking about where exactly the drips should be on the food!

Once Adam and Matt finished their session, they were kind enough to let us use their props and tools to practice.  I decided I needed to play with some Kerrygold butter since they were our wonderful camp sponsors.  Adam had demonstrated how he melts butter (heating a metal artist’s spatula with a flame and then smoothing it across the butter) and I wanted to try it out myself.

I practiced visualizing what I wanted the photo to look like, and though it took a lot of adjusting from what I thought would look good to what actually turned out, I ended up with the photo of my dreams.  Don’t you just want to gobble up this amazing breakfast?

Lesson 5:  Follow your light.

This was another thing from both Matt Armendariz and Todd and Diane that really helped me improve my photography.  I realized that I really like light coming from a certain angle, so I should set up my shots to use that kind of light.  It doesn’t mean I’m stuck to it but it’s the right place to start.

That tip combined with the styling tips I learned really made a big difference in my photos.  Check out the brussels sprouts below.  The first photo is one I took right before I left for Food Blogger Camp, the second is one that I took the day after I got back.  Talk about improvement!

As Matt said, “Food loves directional light”.

Lesson 4: Have utter confidence in your abilities.

One thing I noticed with each of the speakers is the utter confidence with which they teach and talk about their area of expertise.  This was especially apparent when I went with Jaden to have dinner with the PR firm (KWE Partners) who helped make Food Blogger Camp happen at Grand Velas.

As she shared one idea after another for using new media to help promote the Grand Velas resorts, everyone at the table drank it in.  Each idea built on top of the excitement of the previous until we were all certain that everyone in the world should want to vacation at a Grand Velas resort.

I realize that my own insecurities sometimes keep me from speaking confidently about things that I KNOW are great ideas (see lesson #8).  A lot of the success of the Healthy Cooking on a Tight Budget program has been because of other people helping me pitch it.  But it’s my dream, and I know the most about it, so I need to let go of my fears of rejection and talk with the authority I know I have.

Lesson 3:  Make sure your blog name matches your blog’s purpose.

Okay, this one’s a scary one for me.  It’s something I had been thinking about for the past few months, but Food Blogger Camp confirmed it for me.  DianasaurDishes is a cute name and has a great story behind it, but it can be difficult for people to figure out when I say it and doesn’t describe the blog.

This led to the big decision that it’s time to change the name of Dianasaur Dishes.  Not only do I want a name that describes clearly what the blog is about, I also want a name that is less about me.   There will still be plenty of me in the posts, all my zany stories and fanciful thoughts, but I want to show that this blog is more about a lifestyle of eating healthy on a tight budget than about “MY” dishes.  Elise, Jaden, and David all had really positive responses to my thoughts on changing the name, so that made it even easier to decide to commit to.

Lesson 2:  Serene locations tend to lead to reflection and introspective thinking.

This is something I knew but have too easily forgotten.  In Hawaii I would go to the beach or a mountaintop whenever I needed to think or reflect.  It was easy because it’s a small island and there are beaches within a 10 minutes drive of just about anywhere.

In Washington there’s still a lot of beauty but it can take longer to get to.  I’ve recently gone through a period of pretty bad burnout.  Not in any one area of my life (such as blogging, work or ministry) but in life in general.  I’m a lot better at pacing myself than I used to be so realizing I was burning out was a bit of a shock.

At Food Blogger Camp I would take a notebook and go watch the sunset or sit on the deck of my room with an amazing jungle river view and just think.  This really helped me to recognize that I need to have more quiet reflection time in my day to day life.  When the weather is nice I’d like to do this in our backyard, which is cleaning up quite nicely.  But I’ve also set up a little “thinking corner” in our living room that is away from distractions and can be my little corner of quiet when I need a moment to reflect.

Lesson 1:  Understand your goals for your blog and then work backwards to determine what must be done to make your goals reality.

This was the number one thing I took away from camp this year.  By making an actual list of the goals for this blog, I’ve realized some things that need to change to make those goals reality.

Don’t you worry, all the changes will be positive and this an even stronger resource and source for online community.  You, my readers, will be the first to know what’s happening.  Eric and I are so excited to hit the ground running with all the things I learned, and who knows, maybe next year we can both go together!!!

Food Blogger Camp 2011
Camp Counselors
Adam Pearson
David Lebovitz
Matt Bites Matt Armenderiz
Simply Recipes Elise Bauer
Steamy Kitchen Jaden Hair
White on Rice Couple Diane Chu and Todd Porter

Amazing Super Woman (Organizer)
Prose and Co Kate Moeller

A Communal Table Nancy Buchanan
Acorns and Apples Aimee Seavey
Adventures of an Amateur Foodie Marie Tran-McCaslin
Angela in Provence Angela Billows
Awake at the Whisk Amber K. Stott
Bake Cupcakes Sally Vargas
Confections of a Foodie Bride Shawnda and Jason Horn
Couch Surfing Cook Wylie Goodman
Daily Nibbles Sarah Reid
Deliciously Organic Carrie Vitt
Dianasaur Dishes Diana Johnson
Eating Clean Recipes Jennifer Kalinowski
Family Fresh Cooking Marla Meridith
Fast Feasts Lillie Bavendam
Food for the Thoughtless Michael Procopio
Food Woolf Brooke Burton
Frantastic Food Fran Feldman
Garlic Escapes Robin Cherry
Indigo Days Nancy Singleton Hachisu
Kitchen Conundrum Renee and Ari Iseson
Kitchen Corners Damaris Santos-Palmer
Ladles and Jellyspoons Lucy Lean
Loaded Kitchen Maggie Cubbler
Mommie Cooks Julie Mastbrook
Pinch My Salt Nicole Hamaker
Recipe Renovator Stephanie Weaver
Sally Cameron: In the Kitchen | On the road | Through the lens
SaVUry and Sweet Rosa Vu
Spoon and Chair Diane Miller
The Urban Baker Susan Salzman
Together in Food Stephanie Morimoto
Undercover Caterer Sarah Singleton
What’s Gaby Cooking? Gaby Dalkin

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13 thoughts on “Food Blogger Camp 2011 Grand Velas (Top Ten Things I Learned)”

  1. Loved your post, Diana! I am so glad you captured those shots of Jaden! I love that you included the 2 photos of the brussel sprouts – it’s amazing and satisfying to see such instant progress.

    Thank you for being so sweet and making an effort to chat and get to know everyone in Mexico. It didn’t go unnoticed. I am so glad I did some karoke with you (you were FIERCE!) and I can’t wait to see where life and blogging takes you next!

  2. Diana,
    It was wonderful to meet you at FBC and I thoroughly enjoyed reading your post on camp!! My only regret is that I didn’t get to know you better. I love the concept of your blog and I can’t wait to see what changes you make!

  3. Diana, This was a terrific post to read. You included so many details that slipped by me of the nitty gritty on the learning front, and your pics are beauteous–before and after incredibly impressive!

    I especially loved hearing how you felt inside about your experience. It is hard to believe you are shy! But I think many shy people (myself included) have mastered the art of hiding it and somehow they manage. A new group of people is challenging, and I like your approach: trying to meet and get to know 3 new people every day. I was glad we had a chance to sit down together the last night at dinner and that I got to know you just a little. Being a total newbie, I felt the time was too short to connect with all the people that I would have liked to get to know, but I will be able to do it virtually, I guess. I look forward to watching your progress and the exciting changes I’m sure you will implement. xxoo Sally

  4. Great recap! I actually remembered a few things I need to add to my to-do list after reading this. 🙂

    It was wonderful to meet you, my bright color buddy! I look forward to seeing all your changes come to life on this blog.

  5. Diana, you are an amazing woman & I look forward to getting to know you better as the years go on. Reading your post just taught me so much. An amazing re-cap. I tend to have a very short memory – so I will be back to visit this post again & again. When will we get to hang out again?? BlogHer Food?? xo
    btw- your photos are stunning 🙂

  6. Thanks so much for capturing the food blog camp with the photos and your writing. I was making notes from your post of things I’d forgotten! I think it was too short to get round to meeting everyone, but I was happy that we finally got to talk on the last evening and I got to experience your warmth and generosity and laughter. You were definitely the bright spark of the group.

  7. Diana, Great re-cap of our time together. I enjoyed the mix of “technical” lessons you learned as well as more personal ones. Thanks for your frankness in sharing what scared you, how you improved, and your triumphs. Looking forward to seeing what you accomplish!

  8. Thanks Damaris, I really cherish that extra time together. Love how the only empty seat on the plane was right where we needed it!

    Aimee you definitely had major fierceness in you as well, what a voice! Looking forward to future chats and karaoke sessions 😉

    Thanks so much Nancy. I love the way you put it, that at camp you found your tribe. It’s so true and I look forward to keeping in touch in the future!

    Sally I’m so thankful we got to talk at dinner as well.Love the chilaquiles recipe you just posted. I think I have some tomoatillos in the back of my fridge and must make some!

    Hooray for bright colors! Amber, I’m so glad we met and love how you brought fun everywhere you went, yet have an awesome depth to you as well. Thanks for being so friendly and making it that much easier to meet new people!

    Marla, as of right now I’m not planning on any other conferences this year. We gotta save our money because we REALLY want to start a family! But let’s definitely keep in touch and maybe I’ll see when I’m down in California later. Thanks about the photos, I’m so excited at how much I’ve grown!

    Angela I’m so glad we got to talk as well. I’ve been reading your blog like a novel, what a unique perspective you have. Love it! Looking forward to seeing what the future holds for you.

    Thanks Stephanie, it’s funny I often go to conferences expecting to learn technical information, but come away with a new wealth of personal knowledge that means so much more. Excited to keep in touch with you.


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