10 things I learned at a blogging retreat (and they’re not all about blogging)

I went on a blogging retreat the weekend before last. No one was more surprised by this than me because a) despite blogging for more than seven years I still don’t consider myself a *real* blogger and b) everything about the word “retreat” makes me feel itchy.

I’m not sure what I expected. I mean, clearly it appealed as I’d paid for my ticket. And on paper it looked really good. But as the date drew nearer I started to get cold feet. What if it was all really serious? Would I be forced to spend the whole weekend discussing camera settings in huge detail? Would I have to wear flower crowns and speak in Pinterest quotes? A whole weekend with a group of people from the internet? Really?

It turned out to be really, really good. I didn’t have to speak in Pinterest quotes, I didn’t have to discuss camera settings all weekend and I spent a huge amount of the time there laughing. So, not too serious at all.

Here’s what I learned:

1. You don’t need to spend mega bucks on equipment to make decent content

As much as I’d love a drone and a gimbal and ten new camera lenses I’ve always thought the best content is the content that tells stories. So even if you have all the fancy equipment, if you’re not using it to tell stories that entertain me then I’m not going to watch (granted, others might).

That said, there are a few things you can do for mini bucks to make your photos and videos better. And these are…

2. Tracing paper is your new best friend

A sheet of trace paper (like Hahnemuhle Tracing Paper Roll – 40/45gsm – 0.33m x 20m– £8.50 on Amazon) hung over a cheap clothes rail (like this Home Discount Single Garment Rack Adjustable Clothes Rail, Silver FREE DELIVERY – currently £8.95 on Amazon) can act as the perfect way to diffuse light. Put in front of a cheap work light (the ones we were shown were £30 from Screw Fix) and Ta Da! You’ve got a brilliant technique to light a photo.

3. Water is fun in product shots

As well as the trace paper and work lights, we also played with white acrylic sheets (again, really cheap) as a base for product shots. The acrylic has a reflective surface, so if you pour water onto it you can get some lovely effects. I took this photo below (with the help of everyone else in the group!) which shows the effect water can have in a shot. This picture hasn’t been edited at all, by the way… (Thanks to Derek Lomas for putting on some really brilliant photography workshops.)

4. Lighting is everything

I already use natural light in every photo and video I make (for sit down videos, for example, I’ll set my camera up so it’s in front of a window) but I found out this weekend that having a second light could make a big difference. Your main source of light is the “key light” (so this might be your window, for example) but having a secondary source that’s the same type of lighting (this could be as simple as a lamp with a daylight effect lightbulb) shining on the other side can take your shot up to the next level.

5. Use a tripod

If you’re doing a product shot then using a tripod is a guaranteed way to be able to make tiny changes to a photo if it’s not quite right, without having to start from scratch. So, for example, say I’ve set up the perfect flat-lay or styled up food photo, and there’s a flower that’s not quite in the right spot or the lighting isn’t quite right, if the camera’s on a tripod I can take the exact same shot again after I’ve made the tiny alteration. If you’re shooting free hand you’ll never be able to replicate the exact same shot.

6. Always have a charger to hand

I accidentally left the charger for my DSLR camera at home. Consequently, I hardly took any photos. Fail.

Thanks to Karen from Stopping at Two for the photo!

7. Not all bloggers just want to talk about blogging

Confession: when it comes to the nitty gritty of blogging (SEO, DA etc etc) my eyes close and I struggle to stay awake. I know about this stuff but it doesn’t mean I want to discuss it in detail on a Saturday night (or any night if I’m honest). Over the weekend I chatted with old blogging friends and new ones and not once did actual blogging ever come up. We chatted about family life, kids, fashion, the juggle of working as a mum, our Instagram pet hates, and everything else in between.

8. Being bikini ready is easier when you have willing friends

The Retreat was on the weekend before I published my Bikini Ready video. Throughout the weekend everything I was posting on Instagram was about body confidence. And, because I value friends who don’t take me, or themselves too seriously, I got a bit of stick. (“Ooh, are you wearing that bikini to the spa?! Are you BODY CONFIDENT?” *wiggle wiggle* etc etc) It’s OK, I can take it, because when push came to shove my pals were there to support me in my little mission. Jane and Emma posed for some brilliant photos and then agreed to jump in the freezing cold pool while being filmed. Love them.

9. I really like carbs

To be honest, this isn’t something I didn’t already know. But on a weekend with pizza, jacket potatoes, pastries, cakes, pie and sandwiches? It was a good reminder that carbs often make me happy.

10. It’s OK to go your own way

One of the things I’ve always loved about blogging, YouTube, Instagram and being online generally is that the internet is a huge place and it’s big enough for everyone. It can sometimes feel like some voices are louder than others, or that everyone is doing things a certain way, but this weekend was proof – if I needed it – that you can do things completely your own way and that’s OK. I don’t want my videos to look like everyone else’s and no one is going to write a blog like me because they aren’t me, and that is the JOY of being creative. We were taught that some rules are there to be broken which, as a veteran rule-follower, was a liberating thing to hear.

Watch the vlog of the weekend here:

(If you’re a blogger looking for more information about the weekend you can read posts about it from other bloggers here.)




FYI – This post contains a couple of affliate links


  1. says

    Number 10 is exactly my biggest take away from the Retreat Molly. You and I have been blogging around the same time, and it has taken me well over a year to figure out where I want my blog to move to. I’ve been constantly distracted by what everyone else is doing, and trying to figure out where I can slot into that. Which is ridiculous, when what I do is about me, and no one else. The Retreat definitely gave me some headspace to figure all that out. Loved the bikini ready video btw x

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