blog camp tips

What’s Blog Camp all about?

You may have seen the tweets flying about last weekend, and noticed the posts that have subsequently been appearing on blogs.  But if not, Saturday was Blog Camp in Birmingham.  This was my first Blog Camp, and I was lucky to get on the list as I missed the original email releasing tickets, so was really pleased to get the chance to go.  Blog Camp is free event run by those behind Tots100, with this day kindly sponsored by Talk Talk.

After last year’s Britmums where I failed to organise to meet people in advance, this year I’d arranged to meet Kate from Dark Tea on the train, and also ended up travelling up with Karen from Let Kids be Kids and Aly from Over a Cuppa.  It was lovely to be able to chat on the journey with like-minded people, and plan what we all wanted to get from the day.

The one thing I really loved about Blog Camp was that because it was only around 100 people, it meant there was a better chance to meet people, bump into people you recognised and knew, as well as having a less pressurised environment.  No having to walk into a room of hundreds of people and having to pick faces out of those hundreds.  If you’re after a gentle introduction to blog conferences, then an event like Blog Camp is definitely the way to ease your way in.

Most of the speakers/panellists (aside from Tom Arbor, the photography expert) were bloggers first and foremost, and all were approachable and easy to find if you wanted to say hi and ask them questions.  With different sessions, it’s always hard to know which to choose, so I’m hoping I spot write ups from some of the sessions I couldn’t get to.

green cupcakes display

I found all the sessions I went to useful.  Whatever level of blogging, there’s usually something to take away, even if you think you know a lot about a topic.  There was also the opportunity to ask questions of the panellists – usually in conferences, you feel your shoulders drop as you hear the chair ask if there’s any questions, and pray there aren’t any so you can shoot off.  But it’s not like this at blogging conferences, as I can never think of any questions, so it’s great to hear others ask the questions I’d probably want to ask if I could think of them in time!

The Studio is a great venue, really close to New St (although my advice is try and avoid going to Birmingham when there’re football matches on, something we couldn’t avoid), and the food was delicious.  Content Click were also in attendance to talk to bloggers about their ad platform…the cupcakes they brought along looked and tasted great.

So what did I take away from the sessions I went to?

blog camp tips

Freelance Writing – Fi, Molly, Alison, Rachel

The panel are a mix of journalists, editors, general writers, book authors, and obviously all bloggers, so it was a chance to find out the differences in the type of options for freelance writing, and also understanding how to pitch ideas.

  • Know the website or magazine audience and tone you’re pitching to.  Sell yourself and the good idea, and be clear in the subject and first line what you’re proposing
  • Provide the idea through a couple of lines, plus include why you should write it for them rather than anyone else
  • Look for different types of writing opportunities, but recognise the different language, audience, format  for blogs vs magazines etc.
  • You can syndicate out your idea in different formats to different audiences, eg an idea on potty training can be rewritten for different companies and requirements
  • Make sure you have a clear space on your blog to sell your writing capabilities and what you offer.  Showcase your portfolio
  • Free work can help build relationships and portfolios with further opportunities down the line
  • Blogs are often read by editors and agents to understand trending topics.  Agents don’t often know much about social media and blog stats, so the idea is most important.  Also sell your understanding and skill on social media
  • Use blog contacts for case studies and quotes for your articles, and network with relevant on and offline contacts

WordPress – Annie, Emily, Ruth

blog camp 2014 wordpress panel

This session talked a lot about plugins, including divergent love/hate relationships with Jetpack amongst the 3 bloggers.

  • Always run updates – usually updates mean security improvements, but ensure you do back ups of files and database, rather than relying on your host.  And only use plugins that are still supported – check support forums for responses by plugin owners/developers
  • Use an SEO plugin – but don’t write for seo as the copy won’t feel natural
  • If you use Jetpack, use a manual control plugin so you can choose which bits you want to use, without being stuck with the bits you don’t
  • Deactivate and delete any old plugins that you’re not using.
  • Calendar plugin will help with scheduling draft posts and checking progress.
  • If you spot a great theme, use what wp theme is that to find out the name
  • Use Google webmaster tools or to understand which elements of the blog are causing it to load slowly.
  • Make use of the embed function of social media to include snapshots in posts.
  • If you want to ‘stalk’ who’s looking at your blog, is a good stats website.
redpeffer, plasticocracies, emtealady at blog camp
Someone was saying something important!

Photographing people – Tom Arber (@TomArber)

Tom’s a professional photographer, and had a wall of post it questions to answer from us.

  • Take photos that you like
  • Slightly over exposed light is more flattering on skin/blemishes.  Cloudy bright days are perfect.
  • To catch active children, get involved with their play, but be ready with the camera
  • Use a trick that street photographers use.  Focus on a space/area, and wait for the person to walk into shot
  • For full length photos, get parallel to them to give the true picture, but if you want to lengthen legs, snap from above.
  • For stealth shots, bob down and try different angles
  • Use negative space (for example crop people at the bottom of shot, but have lots of sky or buildings) to give a view of something other than eye level
  • Try photos through magnifying glass to get really close in when far away
  • Don’t crop at a person’s joins – so crop above the knee or below, but not on
  • Try to connect with the subject if doing portraits
  • Remember the rule of thirds for composition.  But you can chop of heads if the rule of thirds still works
  • Avoid red eye by reflecting the flash off a silver foil credit card, and turn the camera on the side

Making awesome videos – Ruth

I do have a YouTube channel, but it’s very rarely me you hear on it, and even less likely to see.  So we’ll see whether I’ll start doing more on videos for my blog.  Ruth certainly gave some food for thought.

  • YouTube is the second most searched website after Google
  • Smartphones are fine for videos, but think about tripods like gorilla pods (I’ve been planning to get one of these for years, I’ve just never got round to it) and lapel mikes
  • Always think LANDSCAPE mode (yes, I admit, I have a couple of videos which were shot in portrait – oops)
  • Get the lighting right – natural preferably.  Face the light source.
  • Minimise background noise
  • Stick to 2-3 minutes long
  • Use cutaway static shots to cover any obvious edits
  • For indoor winter pictures, think about LED lights with a clip and bounce light off walls.

On top of the sessions,there were lots of opportunities to chat to other bloggers.  I was really pleased to have bumped into and chatted at varying lengths to lots of bloggers and hopefully will see them again at Britmums.

Will you be at Britmums?  Hopefully I’ll catch up with you there.

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  1. Great post! Whilst reading I went and checked my website speed and deleted all my unused plugins – Thanks for the tips 🙂 x

    1. Glad to be of use! I’m usually pretty good about deleting mine, but still found a few. Annie had said she has a rule of 10 only, but I’d never cope with that few.

  2. You had to mention the J word .. having spent all day today with emotions ranging from floods of tears to shouting in total frustration. I loved Jetpack until this morning, when it no longer works on my blog, won’t reload and all the other plugins I’ve looked at don’t work with WP 3.9 Today has not been a good day. But Blog Camp was great, learnt so much. See you in June 🙂

    1. You don’t think it’s something on your theme causing the hassles? I know when I had the same theme as yours, I had a lot of issues that I couldn’t put right (although none like you had). I had to change my theme as it was doing my head in.

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