On occasion I’ll get the question, or see one somewhere, of how to start a food blog from a technical standpoint. People know what content they want to write, what they want to talk about, and have an idea of what images they want to include. But from there, the options can get them a little lost. They might have already gotten started on one of the free or commercial blog hosts but then get to the point where they want to do more.
Maybe I can provide some answers. What I’ll do here is lay out what I’ve put together, along with the tools I work with. Still, make sure to draw your own conclusions, do it your way, especially since it’s your content. First off, you need to …
Name Your Content
So, what are you going to do? What are you writing about? In my case I had offered to do a food blog for the fledgling BlogsMonroe site that was being put together by the Monroe News. I was sitting in Editor Dan’s office at the paper and were talking about how my main focus would be Michigan foods. Sure I’d talk about other foods from other places as the situation dictated, but Michigan foods, recipes and dishes had always been a part of my life. Having just moved to Luna Pier a couple years before I wanted to show how much I enjoyed this place. “Luna Pier Cook” came out of that conversation. The name was set for startup on the blogs before I left Dan’s office, and was already working by the time I got home.
Dawn Harmon, princess that she is, named her blog “Fly in my Tiara“. Some of the folks from BlogsMonroe put together “Michigan Beer Buzz“. Atlanta-based upcoming food celeb Bren Herrara shares her Latin fusion at her “FlaNboyant Eats“. Peter makes the food and Christey takes the photos over at “FotoCuisine“. She’s the white and he’s the rice at the blog “White on Rice Couple“. And popular cookbook author David Lebovitz, living the sweet life in Paris, authors “David Lebovitz; Living the sweet life in Paris“.
Think about it a few minutes. I’m sure you’ll come up with something.
Get Your Hosting
Yeah, you’ve been there. You’ve looked at the commercial blog-hosting sites. You may have even used one of them for a while. And then, you decided you wanted a nice theme. Maybe with some custom graphics. Or maybe more. Go ahead. Try it. There ya’ go, whaddaya think?
It’ll never be enough.
Ok, here’s the thing: You may like one particular blogging service over another. But it’s a simple fact that WordPress is probably the most customizable blogging system out there. Not only that, if you have a WordPress-compatible hosting service, and you understand that the basic WordPress system and themes are actually free-of-charge, you may start thinking, “Hey, maybe I can do this myself.”
That, you can. I do.
Since leaving BlogsMonroe to follow a slightly different lead (they do still link to me and I to them), I’ve used GoDaddy hosting for this and other sites. For about $150 – $160/year I get the following:
- Linux hosting
- 2Gb email, 10 accounts
Let’s look at these …
Here’s some techie stuff: You probably use Windows or a Mac at home. Geeks use a thing called Linux, which some of them actually work on the code for. It kinda looks like Windows but not really. But most important is a Linux program called Apache. Quite simply, Apache is the most popular web server on the planet. Linux and Apache are both free-of-charge, and if you use Linux hosting the folks at GoDaddy will automagically make upgrades to your system without you even knowing it.
Also included in the Linux hosting are a couple other freebies you’ve probably never heard of; PHP and MySQL. WordPress is written in PHP code, and the stuff you write will be stored in a MySQL database. Again, this is all provided in the service … you don’t need to worry about it. But as 25 MySQL databases are what’s included, you can actually do 25 different blogs on one account without needing to buy more.
So yes, you want the Linux hosting.
I wanted micuisine.com. But what I didn’t want was cybersquatters setting up shop on a similarly-named domain to try to do whatever with it. This can be a major issue, particularly if you get really popular, so make sure you get all the domains you might be suspicious of.
Now, go ahead and try one of those other URLs listed above. They’ll take you right over to micuisine.com. This is fairly simple to do within the Domain Manager provided by GoDaddy, and doesn’t require any special code whatsoever.
You may or may not want to get email in a GoDaddy package, but I’ll tell you why I did: 2Gb of space spread out over 10 accounts is more than most email providers provide. So, I now run my family members’ email accounts by myself. If they have a problem, if they need more space, they just yell across the living room. No problem.
Here’s where GoDaddy really works well for anything from personal blogs to massive sites with online stores. There’s a section in their Hosting Control Panel specifically for these Application thingies. You open your Control Panel, head into the Applications area and look for blogging software. You find WordPress. You tell the thing to install it. It asks where. You tell it http://www.mydangfoodblog.com. It asks, “Oh maybe http://www.mydangfoodblog.com/wordpress/?” You delete the “/wordpress/” portion, tell it the username and password you want, and hit the Submit button. An hour later an email comes in saying, “I’m done”. You go to http://www.mydangfoodblog.com … and there, in all its glory, is a totally raw, very basic WordPress blog, just waiting for your every command, right where you wanted it.
File Transfer What???
Oh, the pain of FTP. After all this time, you’d think it would work better. This is where your hair will fall out if you haven’t already pulled it out.
In GoDaddy’s Hosting Control Panel under Settings there’s a thing says “Manage FTP Users”. Give yourself a username and password. Once it tells you it’s ready, go to your own computer, open Windows Explorer, and up top type in ftp://ftp.mydangedfoodblog.com or whatever it is. Windows Explorer will glitch while thinking about it, then ask for that username and password. Use those, and watch what happens. Your site’s folders and files will open right up.
This gets tricky. This is where you’ll upload whatever the heck you want to your site and it’ll show up immediately. But please, be careful. One wrong move and you will wipe out the whole shootin’ match! I kid you not, do not screw this up. You’ll scare the dog with your anger at yourself.
Still, this is where the fun really starts.
Head over to http://wordpress.org/extend/themes/ and start searching for a theme. Or, just google “wordpress theme” to find one. You’ll find literally thousands of the things out there. A lot of them are free, but there are also some that are commercial endeavors that are for sale. Take some time and find the one you really want. Remember, you may be using the thing for a while so you’ll want something you’ll like to look at.
Once you have it, extract it from its ZIP file. For example, if you unZIP the Atahualpa theme you might end up with a folder called atahualpa.3.4.4. Inside this will be a folder named simply atahualpa. That’s where the theme is located, so that’s the folder you want.
In that FTP thingy you opened you’ll see a folder named wp-content. Inside that is another folder named themes. Grab that atahualpa folder, drag it to the themes folder and let it go. This will transfer the files needed for the atahualpa theme to your WordPress blog.
You then log into your blank blog, click Appearance on the left side, enable the Atahualpa theme … and your blog will suddenly look almost exactly like mine. Why? Because I use a slightly modified version of the Atahualpa theme. And if you feel like modifiying the theme you choose like I have, digging through the original theme files is the first thing you’ll want to do. Just be sure you save original copies of anything you might change. It’s just good practice to do so.
What About Pics?
Pics are easy, really. Some of us (myself included) like to make them difficult. But here’s all you need …
First, ignore the camera on your cell phone. Those aren’t good enough yet and should only be used if nothing else is available.
A decent camera for food shots needs a flash you can turn off, and a macro lens. Food looks best in natural light minus any flash, and newer cameras have great low light modes. A macro lens (marked by a flower on a button on the camera’s backside) will allow you to get in close to the food and focus on something near you. This gives the nice depth a lot of food photos have today.
I have a Canon PowerShot A590 that set me back about $140. It followed a Canon A570 that I started with that ended up with beach sand in its lens mechanism. Regardless of what you get, get a Canon. Other cameras just aren’t as rugged and don’t have the wide range of features suitable for food shots.
I crop my pics down to 500 pixels wide at 72 dpi before uploading them into WordPress. This gives a decent width at a good web resolution. You can see stuff in these pics, and that’s what counts. I might go to 550 pixels at some point … we’ll see …
Finally, just above where you write a post in WordPress, there’s an icon to upload pics, video and music. That’s all you’ll need to get a photo into a blog entry.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is this: Yes, there’s work involved in doing a professional-looking food blog. At the same time though it can be rather gratifying to put something out there like this and hear what people have to say when they try a recipe you’ve created. I do a lot of this just because I like to. But I’ll say this again: The day my family stops appreciating it, that’s when it’s over.