Next year Milton Keynes turns 50. Local photographer (amongst other things), Gill Prince, is the woman behind the lens that captured… yes, you guessed it… 50 images of Milton Keynes, immortalised in a book to celebrate its half century. Keen to illustrate it’s more than roundabouts and concrete cows, Gill’s book is entitled Unexpected: MK, a photographic celebration of Milton Keynes at 50.
I caught up with Gill over coffee to talk photography, social media and top tips…
Photography and social media – help or hindrance?
Gill’s a modern photographer: she embraces the benefits social media brings to her line of work but is mindful of the pitfalls too; it’s hard(er) to make money from photography in the social media age.
“Before I was on Twitter, there was a fire on my estate and I managed to find a back way in and get some shots that no one else had, and I emailed them to the editor of the local paper. But now, of course, the best way to get your photos seen is to post them up on social media. It has definitely ripped a hole in the news media market because it’s all done on social media now and no one expects to pay for it.
“Years ago you could sell high resolution pictures for hundreds of pounds; now there’s social media everyone can take a photo using their smartphone, there’s a lot out there.
“But there are up sides,” she said. While admitting that Twitter, at first, terrified her, she recognises the power it has to tap into harder-to-reach audiences and has proved a vital tool in raising the sponsorship and support needed to get Unexpected: MK into print. Crowdsourcing funds, raising awareness and making useful contacts are just some of the benefits Gill is enjoying courtesy of social media.
“I have an audience of people who are interested in what I’m doing and I don’t think I could have achieved that without social media. I think the positives outweigh the negatives, you just have to think carefully about how you can generate an income from it.”
‘The best camera is the one you have with you’
I asked this question of Giulio Saggin in my previous blog post, and I put it to Gill too: What’s the difference, these days, between ‘proper’ photographic kit and cameras, versus the smartphones we all carry around in our pockets?
“The best camera is the one you have with you!” she says. “It’s a brilliant phrase and absolutely true, if all you have with you is a smartphone then it’s absolutely the best thing to take a picture with because it’s that or nothing.
“Smartphones are brilliant as a photography tool, people have them with them all the time. One of the reasons photography has exploded is because we all have them in our pockets wherever we go. Generally, these days, whatever you’re doing, you have a phone on you, and there’s no conscious decision made to take it with you to capture photos.
“They’re a great tool and perfect for social media – most of the basics settings you get on a phone will take a great image. Where proper kit takes over if when you are trying to take pictures that an iPhone won’t be able to, perhaps where you need a tripod for long exposure, or special filters. For 80 per cent of what’s beneficial on social media you can do it with 20 per cent of the kit, and that 20 per cent is a smartphone.”
And Gill uses both her professional camera and her iPhone to capture beautiful scenes, but confesses to tagging images with #iPhoneography to distinguish between the two.
“The difference between a good phone shot and proper camera shot is becoming smaller – so that bit that takes you into the professional bracket is being constantly squeezed. You also have to lug larger kit around with you so I totally get why people choose phones.”
Hopping over to a new platform: meet Insta Bunny
Gill confessed to being intimidated when first discovering Twitter but soon grew to enjoy it’s conversation and networking capabilities which have been instrumental in turning the concept of Unexpected: MK into a reality.
But what about Instagram? That’s supposed to be great for photographers, right?
“I wanted to investigate Instagram earlier in the year but didn’t want to stick my head above the parapet with my own business, because the unknown is scary. But I found it to be less scary than Twitter because it’s less interactive.”
Gill set up the InstaBunnyDiaries account on Instagram and tested the platform with the benefit of anonymity, using all the principles of photography she applies in her professional work, but with a stuffed bunny rabbit taking centre stage, quite often travelling or drinking prosecco.
Gill gained followers with little effort and it gave her the confidence to finally put her professional name to an Instagram account and post photos to help promote her book, and Milton Keynes as a place of interest – not just roundabouts, concrete cows and a large shopping centre.
But the jury’s still out for Gill. “I get about 20 likes for every one follower. I find it fascinating and a little odd and I’m not sure I get it or that it adds value to my business in the same way Twitter is. I’m selective with what I post on there and I also forget it’s there as I’m much more active on Twitter.”
Gill watermarks her photographs – for branding as much as security – and says Instagram’s option to post more than simply square photos has made life easier for her – the square setting meant cropping photos differently, potentially losing the watermark and having to re-add one: “If I have to crop something specifically for another channel I might not do it… it might crop the watermark out, for example, and it all becomes too much like hard work.”
‘You can become better known in your world if you make your world smaller’
Gill also teaches photography through one-to-one tuition and offers these as her top tips for anyone thinking of dipping their toe – or rather their lens – into the world of ‘serious’ photography:
“Think carefully, define your audience, and know how to target those people. You can then be a bigger fish in a small pond. There’s an American phrase, ‘you can’t boil the ocean’ – you can’t do everything all at once, so segment and go for a bigger impact. You can become better known in your world if you make your world smaller. And know your end game – do I want to make money or be known as a good local photographer? – the decisions you make along the way will be different depending on whether you want reputation versus profit.
“Make a plan to get you from A to B and use social media. Get a good website. Don’t mix personal and professional content, or be wary of doing that. And tracking links are great – to really know how many people are actually looking at your stuff is helpful.”
Unexpected: MK – go and buy a copy
I’m not a native but moved to Milton Keynes around a decade ago and love it. ‘Unexpected’ hits the nail on the head, there’s far more here than you’d ever realise and if you follow #LoveMK you’ll see I’m not alone. Gill and I are in good company and her photographic celebration of Milton Keynes is really lovely. So go and buy a copy. Now!