Category Archives: Interviews

Mobile phones aren’t bad for your health, you are

Concerned by the lack of health and safety information in place regarding the use of mobile devices for work (an essential part of a mobile journalist’s role) and the impact working in this way can have on our posture and nervous system, I caught up with physiotherapist Alastair Greetham. The good news is, mobile devices are not to blame for any so-called related health issues – we are.

Alastair sees a variety of people with postural issues, many exacerbated by the tools and technology the modern world makes it impossible for us to ignore. But he’s not seeing more people than he used to. Postural issues, he says, are not new. And it’s the impact our posture has on our nervous system that we need to worry about – and potentially addictive behaviours, like reaching for a smartphone to scroll through Facebook out of habit rather than interest or need.

Alastair frequently deals with office-based issues and encourages people to set up their desks in a way that’s going to work for their bodies, comfort and longer term health. He’s not saying anyone should give up work. And it’s the same for mobile phone users – we don’t need to give them up, just change the way we use them.

I’m looking at this from the perspective of mobile journalism but, of course, this applies to anyone using a smartphone regularly, particularly those using them for work.

What’s a mobile journalist again?

Westlund (2013) describes them as “journalists who use mobile devices extensively in their news reporting”. Blankenship (2015) in his research into mobile journalism in TV networks, says mobile journalism is “whereby a single reporter must write, shoot and edit their own news stories.” Christian Payne, in a chat with him last year, described it as the ability to report out in the field. And Richardson (2012), referenced by Wikipedia, describes it as “an emerging form of new media storytelling where reporters use portable electronic devices with network connectivity to gather, edit and distribute news from his or her community”.

Take all those definitions, the fact I work on a content and social media team with storytelling at its heart, and add in my latest MA module on Instagram – a mobile app which unlike its fellow social media platforms Twitter and Facebook remains true to its app origins and many features, including analytics, have to be accessed directly via the mobile app. Not accounting for the fact I obviously use my mobile phone for social purposes too, this adds up a lot of hours connected to a device which essentially fits in the palm of my hand.

Blurring the boundaries between home and work

Add on top of that how easy it is to blur the boundaries between work and home life (known as a digital brain switch thanks to Roby et al) when the mobile phone travels with you in both. How many of us quickly check our email on our phones or tablets from the sofa at home, just because we can, not because we need to even want to. While the French recently won the right not to check email out of hours, for many of us this adds to workplace efficiency – news doesn’t always break between 9am and 5pm and, as my Instagram project reminds me, evening is often the best time to post because it’s when most people are firing up their social media apps.

Health and safety info, in the main, relates to desktop working, PCs and laptops, with little consideration for portable devices like tablets and smartphones. In fact, most reference to mobile phone use at work is linked to distraction, i.e your workplace should have a mobile phone policy in order to keep your staff off them so they can do their work.

Mobile Office Ltd specialises in supporting people who are ‘mobile’ when they work, from using laptops on trains, agile work patterns and hot desking, to daily use of smartphones and tablets. Their report ‘Ergonomic Risks in Mobile Working‘ states:

Mobile devices give us huge benefits in terms of work flexibility, but they also present us with musculoskeletal risks that previous generations never experienced. We need to focus on managing and reducing the physical strain and discomfort which mobile devices can place on us, so that we can benefit from them without risking long-term pain and injury.

With the increase more generally in flexible working patterns due to the nature of modern workflow, the 24/7 news agenda and access to work email and tools from wherever you are, the report also stresses the importance of organisations training employees to take mobile working seriously, when research shows many ignore postural advice. And hands up, I confess, I am one of them.

Man hunched over looking at a mobile phone

Photo by Derick Anies via Unsplash

Training our body into discomfort

Much of the health and safety I can find ‘out there’ pertains to helping staff  not use their smartphones at work; to leave their mobile phones alone and help them avoid nomophobia (smartphone addiction and the need to constantly check for messages and notifications, or anxiety when without it).  Nomophobics beware, there are even mobile apps to stop you using mobile apps, like Forest, to stop you using your phone for periods of time.

But what about health and safety information for those who do use smartphones and all the productivity tools they offer, as part of their daily work? When I pick my phone up during working hours, for the majority of the time it’s to take a photo, shoot some video footage, edit a video, design graphics, create gifs or use filters, transfer images to Dropbox etc. My working ‘to do’ list is created on a mobile app (Wunderlist) synced to all devices so I can add actions to it whilst in meetings to avoid an endless stream of post-it notes littering my desk.

Mobile Office Ltd specialises in supporting people who are ‘mobile’ when they work, from using laptops on trains, agile work patterns and hot desking, to daily use of smartphones and tablets. Their report ‘Ergonomic Risks in Mobile Working‘ states:

Mobile devices give us huge benefits in terms of work flexibility, but they also present us with musculoskeletal risks that previous generations never experienced. We need to focus on managing and reducing the physical strain and discomfort which mobile devices can place on us, so that we can benefit from them without risking long-term pain and injury.

With the increase more generally in flexible working patterns due to the nature of modern workflow, the 24/7 news agenda and access to work email and tools from wherever you are, the report also stresses the importance of organisations training employees to take mobile working seriously, when research shows many ignore postural advice. And hands up, I confess, I am one of them. I’m also a flexible worker, placing ever more importance on using my iPhone for work. And my work phone does not have a SIM card, it’s not used for phone calls but for its array of apps, photography and videography functions.

This may or may not be an issue for all mobile journalists (or, indeed, anyone who uses a smartphone regularly) because other factors influence health here – posture when using a mobile phone and habits we get into which ‘train’ our body into discomfort. For me, my terrible posture is exacerbated when I use a phone – I hunch over in a really ugly position – and I seem to tense up a little when I do this. Alastair says I’ve trained my nervous system to accept this as normal behaviour so it’s repeated, I now find it difficult to relax completely, even when watching the TV, my body’s in a state of permanent tension and I often wake up in the morning feeling like I’ve slept scrunched up in a ball. For me, repeated trips to the osteopath to stretch me out, clear the problem up. Until the next time.

The tall girl with terrible posture

I was the tallest girl in school for a long while, and being painfully shy in my younger years, my height only served to make me stand out more, and I was quite happy to go unnoticed so subconsciously resorted to slouching. And so began the first of many years of bad posture.

After suffering with numbness in my hand some six or seven years ago, caused by my terrible posture but exacerbated by mobile phone use, I went to see Alastair. He believes that exercises and treatment to ease symptoms can have the effect of allowing people to persist in the patterns that created the problem in the first place.

I could prescribe hundreds of different exercises but if you have to keep coming back to see me then I’m not doing my job. If I’m doing my job properly and you truly want to get better, you’ll come and see me for a series of sessions and not necessarily have to see me again.

The occupational health team at work told me I’d have to stop using my mobile phone or, at least, drastically reduce the amount of time I spent on it. They advised me to get one without access to email and apps so I could just use the phone function. I remember thinking to myself ‘that will never happen’, and more so now, because my iPhone is integral to my job and my passions – mobile journalism, visual storytelling and social media.

But Alastair reminds me that my iPhone is not to blame, I am. My phone isn’t causing me pain and discomfort, I am. And I don’t need to stop using it to get better, I need to change the way I use it. And only I can do that. In the meantime, Alastair can educate me on the how and why. (PS A video demonstrating smartphone-related postural issues and how to undo them, will follow soon). Ironically, I’m returning to this area of research because of my MA, not my postural issues, and clearly if I tackled them head-on I may not have been on what Alistair describes as a ‘downward spiral’ for so long. Note to self: I really need to listen to Alistair.

Training our bodies into a state of stress

Alastair explains that there’s a link between our vision and our nervous system and physiology. “When we take in our peripheral vision, we’re aware of our entire environment. When we put our head down to look in closer detail at something it activates our sympathetic nervous system which is our stress system, so one of the problems with phones is it puts us in a state of stress as we focus in on detail.

“When you ask someone to think about something, you’ll see them shift their balance onto one leg, push their shoulder forward, hand on the face, looking down. We’re in internal processing mode. Multitasking has been proven time and time again to be a complete illusion, we don’t multitask, we sequentially task, so when we have to think hard about something or focus on detail we shut down our physiology, we’re in a much less active posture.

“We’re in an age where people check social media constantly, checking new info, focusing in on the minutiae of what’s happening in people’s lives, losing the perspective of the bigger picture. If we have a more open perspective, lengthen our spine, open up the shoulders, your head comes up, the muscles relax and you’re now in a very different state of space. If we spend a lot of time on phones what happens is that our nervous system becomes predicated on that and it becomes our default system.

“What we need to do is remember to come out in and out of the closed posture to avoid training your body to function in a particular way. It’s actually  quick to train your body, it learns very quickly, but it’s an individual’s responsibility to do this.”

Alastair says the media would like to have us believe the all this technology will be the end of us all, but the devices aren’t the issue, it’s how we physically use them.

Salsa dancing could be the answer

So how do we strike up a healthy relationship with our mobile phones when we need them for work? Alastair said salsa – or social – dancing is a great activity. Dancing opens your posture completely, there’s music, people, a good atmosphere – it’s impossible to focus in on yourself and is an excellent physical distraction from the way you’d hold yourself when editing a video on a mobile phone, for example.

If salsa dancing’s not for you, there are other ways to strike a balance. Alastair says we don’t have to hunch over and look at our phones for hours, we can open up our posture and hold our phones up and position ourselves in a more relaxed and open way. And we can alternate activities so as not to train our bodies into bad habits. For me, for example, I can spend time editing a video on my iPhone, then walk across campus to interview an academic, then spend some time monitoring and posting content on Instagram, then sit in on a meeting. Just as I organise my diary so I don’t have back-to-back meetings at opposite ends of campus, I can also organise my workflow so I’m not spending too much time on closed-posture activities. And being aware of how I use mobile devices – thinking about open posture, trying not to tense up, I can train my body to retain these good habits and reduce the amount of stress I put it under.

Take a break, boost productivity

Alistair says taking breaks have been proven time and again – across a variety of professions – to enhance productivity. Going for a walk at lunch time, he says, will increase your output during the afternoon, compared to working through your lunch break.

In fact, taking breaks boosts productivity, no matter what your profession. This 2015 article for The Telegraph states:

Recent data from productivity app DeskTime, which tracked people’s office habits, found that the employees with the highest productivity took 17-minute breaks for every 52 minutes of work – and they did not spend that break time checking social media or replying to emails.

And Florida State University Professor K. Anders Ericsson, in his research into elite performers across a variety of disciplines from musicians to athletes says breaks every 90 minutes made a positive impact on performance.

My smartphone is here to stay

I’m not sure salsa dancing in the office will catch on, and as much as I like a ‘cracking’ good session with the osteopath it’s reassuring to know that making positive, permanent changes, means I can enjoy a happy, healthy and long relationship with my mobile phone. The advice I received seven or so years ago – to ditch the mobile phone – was neither practical nor necessary. But I do need to listen to Alistair, take his advice seriously and attempt to ditch my mobile-induced health symptoms (diagnosed as work-related upper limb disorder).

My conversation with Alastair, unfortunately, failed to record (see, smartphones aren’t always awesome!) so I did a quick audio round up in the car on the way home to remind myself of his key points. You can listen to it (unpolished, warts and all) here or directly on Soundcloud.

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Using voice memo to rescue an interview

Between Christmas and New Year I had the pleasure of chatting with physiotherapist Alastair Greetham about the potential impact of mobile phone use on our health, particularly in relation to my own personal case as a mobile journalist, someone with terrible posture and a recurring need to see an osteopath to offset my symptoms.

I chatted for over an hour with Alastair but only managed to record the first five minutes (damn you, mobile phone and lapel mic) and in an attempt to remember as much as possible about what he said, I recorded this voice memo during the drive home.

So this is a warts and all recording, attempting to recall the interview while driving and trying to remember the way home. No editing has been done – this is 100% authentic panic interview recall. This research forms part of my MA in Online Journalism and focus on mobile journalism, in particular.

You can read the full interview – undertaken as research as part of my MA in Online Journalism – soon, and I’ll also be recording a video session with Alistair to physically show some of the open/closed postural movements I talk about in this audio recording.

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

From maternity leave to professional Instagrammer

saraAs well as having a whopping 146,000 followers on Instagram (@me_and_orla), Sara Tasker is a blogger, photographer, iPhoneographer, writer and Instagram coach. So she’s pretty busy. Sara’s story has seen her go from maternity to leave to running a successful business helped, of course, by a generous dose of creativity and talent. And now she’s helping other Instagrammers to find success…

How did you first get into Instagram?

I was on maternity leave and feeling pretty bored and uncreative. I read about people doing 365 projects using their iPhones and it appealed as a record of my daughter’s first year, so I reactivated my dormant account and started sharing daily.

Did you ever imagine, when you started, that being a successful Instagrammer would create so many opportunities?

I had no idea! Back then there were only a handful of people making a living from Instagram, and they were all in the US with millions of followers.
My intention was only ever to share and be creative – and, to some extent, to find an audience to help me do that. Everything else came as a big surprise.

You’re now an Instagram coach and channel expert. What do you love about working with Instagram and what types of people/organisations do you help?

My favourite thing is how it represents creativity in everyday life. Sometimes we can be afraid to give ourselves or anything we do the label of ‘creating’, because it feels pretentious, or like it belongs to other people. Instagram is a way around that, and it means you have this really diverse group of people sharing their take on the world.
I love getting to help people find their visual voice, and connect with their audience through that. I tend to work mostly with small business owners and creatives. That’s never really been by design, but probably represents the audience that most feel they can relate to me and how I work. I’ve mentored actors, coaches, singers, illustrators, authors, photographers, bloggers, makers – and people who just want to develop their Instagram as a tool to express themselves for no specific purpose.

What benefits do you think Instagram has over other social media channels? Are there any downsides, or features you’d like to see added?

It’s a visual medium, which is great as that’s how your brain works. If you’re wordy and have no eye for a photo, it’s not going to be the place for you. Compared to the early days, it’s a highly saturated market now, and it can be difficult to stand out – but if you’re doing something original that resonates, there’s still plenty of potential to make a splash. There are plenty of limitations within the app – they don’t like you to share links, for example, and are notoriously incompatible with Twitter – but it’s a free service, so I’m reluctant to complain too much.

What can people expect to learn on one of your courses, who are they aimed at and why will they find it beneficial?

My courses are for the people who I’ve been mentoring – or the people who I would mentor if I had the time! I found myself going over the same key principles again and again with my clients, and my time was becoming increasingly scarce, so a course seemed the logical step to share the knowledge further. I’ve tried to make it pretty exhaustive, so it covers everything from choosing the best username all the way to playing the algorithm and maximising your exposure opportunities. The focus is on creating great, genuine, meaningful content all the way through – I’m really opposed to the ‘get rich quick’ schemes that chase huge followings without the quality of the posts improving. It only works if you put the effort in.

What are your top 3 tips for Instagram users, whether it’s for business or pleasure?

  1. Take better pictures! I start there with everyone – including myself, every day. It’s a visual platform, so you need to be always striving to take and share your best work.
  2. Be intentional about your message. If you know what you’re trying to say, and who you want to say it to, it’s much easier to connect with the right audience and find which hashtags to use, etc.
  3. Engage more! The biggest reason that people’s accounts lie dormant or flounder is because they sit back and wait for their audience to come to them. Instagram is hardwired to reward engagement, so you really get what you put in.

 

You have  very specific look and feel on your account – is that something you’d recommend? Do you think ‘branded’ accounts get a better response from their audiences?

It’s something that develops organically if you work at it long enough – you refine and improve your style and taste so precisely that things tend to start to flow by themselves. That said, the more you consider the overall look of your gallery, the more coherent and deliberate your message to potential audience will be.
There are a ton of benefits to having a really solid visual identity – it’s a bit like having a recognisable writing style or singing voice.
It’s not just about the individual pictures/books/songs that you create, but the talent and vision you have behind them. That’s what people are signing up for when they hit follow – your voice, not the pictures that have gone before.

You inspire a lot of people on Instagram – who is your Instagram inspiration?

I soak up inspiration from all over the place – from music and photography and nature and life. I love browsing new hashtags and getting a sense of what’s up and coming and fresh.
It’s impossible to name one person or account that inspires me, because it’s such a creative soup.
My ideal catch up on Instagram would have some film photography, some female self portrait work, an amazing styled food shoot, and a quick snap of someone’s kids. I love the diversity and the scope of it, and that keeps me creating and thinking in pictures.

Find out more

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

‘Using Instagram to build my blog’

Chloe Burroughs, OU graduate and study skills trainer

Chloe Burroughs is an Open University (OU) graduate who’s since launched a new study skills training business to help other students achieve what they’re capable of. While working towards her degree (a first class business degree with honours, no less) Chloe developed a secondary set of skills – essay writing, assignment planning, motivational styles etc – which she has compiled into a series of strategies and tactics for not only helping others pass their assignments, but also to achieve higher grades. And remember, many OU students, just like Chloe, work full-time while studying so finding time, let alone the time to get great grades, is no mean feat.

I bumped into Chloe on the ‘Instagram circuit’ while running The Open University’s two-month pilot – we are both using and following the hashtag #openuniversity and commenting and liking the same content. One of the nice consequences of immersing yourself in an online community, is that you make friends. So I touched base with Chloe and asked her if she’d mind sharing some of her content on our page. I also asked Chloe a little about her business, her use of Instagram and what, as an OU graduate and potential postgraduate student (yes, she’s planning on coming back for more), she thinks of the OU account and how we could improve it.

Screen grab from Chloe Burroughs' Instagram pageWhen did you start using Instagram and what do you like about it?

I set up my account in February 2016 but started using it regularly in May 2016. I love the versatility of Instagram. I can share simple quote images which are great for motivation and add some colour to my profile. I can just share images or I can give value to my followers with longer captions. I try to give advice and tips in all my captions. I can also share behind-the-scenes images of my study space and of my personal life.

The portfolio style of Instagram allows me to build up a story of me. As I’m a personal brand rather than a company I think it’s important for me to share all sides of me, not just the study skills training aim of my business. So I try to add in personal images a few times a week not just those related to the business.

You’re working on building your own business – how is Instagram helping to develop that  and what other channels do you use? How do you find Instagram compares to them?

Instagram is the most successful tool I’m using to build my blog. The hashtag system allows me to find new followers a lot easier than on Facebook. Around 75% of my email subscribers have found me through Instagram, either by following me after I’ve commented on one of their posts, or by finding my posts by searching through related study hashtags such as #openuniversity.

I’ve started using Pinterest which, at first, seems similar to Instagram but is in fact quite different. I’m using Pinterest as more of a search engine, posting blog post images and images overlaid with advice to get traffic for my blog. I think visuals are a great way to build my brand and Pinterest gives my business a more professional side whereas Instagram allows me to build relationships.

I want to start using Twitter too once I have Pinterest figured out and running smoothly. I think that could be great to share snippets of advice and also build relationships with students and influencers. I haven’t tackled Facebook yet but that’s also on the plan as I want to create a free Facebook group to offer support to OU students who feel a bit lonely studying by themselves.

As an OU student and follower of us on Instagram, a) what have been your favourite posts so far, and b) what sorts of posts would you be interested in seeing going forwards?

I’ve enjoyed the posts about different OU graduates. I think that’s a great way to showcase the incredible mix of people studying with the OU. I also enjoyed the recent video (18th December) with a study tip from a recent graduate. Posts that involve other students are a great idea – like your ‘feeling festive’ quick video last week. It can feel lonely at times studying with the OU so future posts could include those that build community.

What do think the OU’s Instagram account is missing?

To build community, perhaps you could start themes for the account? Lots of Facebook groups I’m a member of have a theme for each day. Followers begin to learn the themes for each day and look forward to the posts. Possible categories could be:

  • Motivational quote
  • Quick feature of a current student
  • Study tips – from the OU or other students
  • Feature an OU employee or tutor – include a photo and a few sentences on what they do
  • Share an OU resource – such as the magazine or a study skills page. (You can create shortlinks with bit.ly that you could include)
  • Share your study space – using the #ouselfie tag or similar
  • Engagement day – where you ask questions or ask for a tag e.g. tag your study buddy, or tag someone you know is studying hard. This could grow the audience.

How important do you think branding is on Instagram?

I think branding is very important, I’m still working on mine. I don’t think branding is just about images and colour schemes – even though I’ve decided on these. I think it also relates to the voice of your brand. I don’t want my voice to be that of the expert telling students what to do. I want to share my experiences and give advice but explain ‘this is what worked for me’, you could try it too.

I think corporate accounts need the visual elements of branding as Instagram accounts with a clear style and theme are more appealing. But they also need a clear aim and voice. I can’t remember who said it but there’s a quote like, ‘branding is what other people say about your business when you’re not in the room’. I try and follow this advice and keep my style clear but my voice consistent.

What’s more important to you – showcasing great pictures and videos or great stories with less polished photographs and videos? Or striking a balance?

I think this depends on the audience. I don’t want to come across as too polished. I want to come across as relatable to my audience and as a friend of theirs. So my photographs show me as a normal person, trying to work on her laptop while eating some chocolate. Again, this depends on the brand. Casual may not work for brands that want to only convey professionalism and formality.

Social media can come across as too perfect and I think audiences are starting to wise up to this and crave something a bit more real. This doesn’t mean images or language has to be very informal, but behind-the-scenes photographs, personal stories and funny images could be interwoven with more formal content.

As an OU graduate what do you want most from your university’s Instagram account?

I would love to become more involved with the OU as a graduate but am not entirely sure of the opportunities. Perhaps these could be highlighted. It would also be great to hear more about people who’ve completed postgraduate study with the OU. I definitely want to further my studies next year sometime so would enjoy reading others’ stories.

What are your Instagram top tips?

  • I try and make best use of the hashtag limits by including between 20 and 30 with each post
  • I try to follow the formula give, give, give, take. I try to stick to the ratio of around three posts giving value or telling my story to every one post that asks my audience to do something e.g. click on a link, tag a friend, answer a question… etc
  • I use the one link IG allows us in our bios – I update this with each new blog post and try to send my followers there
  • I reply to every comment on my posts
  • I always engage with my followers by liking and commenting on their posts
  • I try to stick to my blog’s colour scheme for my tip/advice posts.

plannerFree resources and find out more

You can find out more about Chloe by checking out her blog.

Oh, and if you’re studying, take a look at Chloe’s free downloadable/printable study planner – its sure to set you off on the right foot as we enter 2017.

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Unexpected: MK is a photographic celebration of Milton Keynes at 50

Unexpected: MK bookNext 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: MKa 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

instabunny

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!

Tagged , , , , , , , ,