Category Archives: Technology

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!

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I do like a little bit of problem-solving

 

I’ve always liked finding solutions to problems, it’s incredibly satisfying and, on the whole, means you’ve learned something. Whether you succeed in solving the problem, or not.

And today I got a lot of satisfaction by solving a problem… bear with me, it’s a long (ish) story…

I needed to get some content ready and scheduled for Friendship Day on Sunday and to cut a long story short (er) we have some audio recordings of three members of a large student friendship group and I wanted to use JamSnap (picture and audio) to showcase them.

But JamSnap WILL NOT work on either of my two iPhones, it just spits me out every time I try and log in. Deleting and reinstalling didn’t work and it didn’t work for a colleague either. Time for Plan B…

Graphic designer to the rescue

I decided to use Thinglink, a similar app which allows you to pull other images, videos, events etc onto a background image (as referenced in previous posts). First issue… the image we had of the friends group was a group photo with the three in question sitting nowhere near each other. And it wasn’t high res.

In comes my graphic designer colleague who happily offers to tinker for me, managing to move the three friends I needed so they’re sitting side by side, the others cropped out. Awesome. Now, to make this the optimum size for Facebook meant distorting the image massively. No can do. My colleague came back with a polaroid design on top of a corkboard which kept the image small enough without looking like it was floating in a big hole. Nice one.

Now to adding the audio files and a whole heap of issues. A colleague recorded and edited the audio clips but the interviews were done over the phone so the sound quality is pretty poor, but bearable. Not ideal but given timescales and locations, phone chats were the best achievable. Thinglink desktop doesn’t allow you to pull in raw video files, only content with a url, like a YouTube video. I hopped over to the app version which allows you to pull in content from YouTube or your photo gallery, including raw video files. Great. But you can’t get an audio file to sit in your phone’s photo gallery or camera roll like you can a video. Grrrr. So while I had access to the audio files on my phone, either via WeTransfer and WeDownload or Dropbox, I couldn’t get them onto Thinglink.

Turning audio into a video…

Another Plan B needed, or is that Plan C? After lots of thinking, I wondered if hosting them on Soundcloud could work. And then, inspired by the waveform that appears as Soundcloud’s embeddable trademark, I searched for a rights free YouTube video of a waveform. Found one.

I then needed to get that onto my phone. I searched for a ‘download YouTube video’ converter (you can try ClipConverter or KeepVid.com, for example) and then popped it in Dropbox so I could get to it from my phone.

I then went back to the audio files sitting in WeDownload and there’s an option there to save them straight to iMovie. So I did that for each of the three audio files, as separate projects, and overlaid the waveform video on top and trimmed it to fit. Phew.

I then managed to save the three, now video files, and load them onto Thinglink from my phone. I then returned to the desktop version to add customised icons and some blurb.

Debugger (yes, it’s an odd word)

With all that effort, I decided to post a link on Facebook (viewable only to me) to see if it rendered properly. It was pulled through a strange title which I couldn’t suss out, so hopped over to the Facebook Debugger tool (very handy!), rescraped (by pressing the button) and tried again. Bob’s your uncle! And then I scheduled the post for publication at the weekend.

And I’m afraid that’s not the end of the story. I don’t think Thinglink works as well on Twitter so wanted to try something else with this story. I pulled some really nice friendship quotes from each of the audio files and used the Legend app to turn them into text/image-only videos, the quote flashing up first and ending with an image.

But the image was poor quality anyway and certainly not good enough to crop each of the three friends off for three separate quotes. But if I used the pic of the three of them, how would we know which one of them the quote related to? I tried putting red arrows on pointing to the friend being quoted in each of the three vids but this just looked pants.

On discussion with a colleague – two heads are better than one – she suggested playing one quote after another and ending with the image of the three of them, so one video rather than three, and playing the quotes in the order the ladies are sitting. Plan!

Eureka moment (almost)

Eek, but the apps give you a character limit and there’s no option to pull three quotes in one by one. Grrrr. I had a chat with the videographer to see if he could whip out his old school tools and make something for me, which would possibly take a bit of a time. And as we were talking it through, he said the phase ‘stitch the quotes together’. It was a eureka moment (almost). I said ‘give me 10 minutes and I’ll come back to you if I haven’t done it by then.’

10 minutes later and I’d done it. I created three separate quote clips using Legend, and saved them to my camera roll. I then hopped over to the Splice app and ‘spliced’ the three quotes together and added an image at the end. Bingo! No need for the videographer to interrupt his work, yay! It’s easy to forget that a single app won’t always do everything you want but you can jump from one to another with a single piece of content.

End of the story yet? Not quite. I then went to schedule the video and Twitter post for the weekend but the scheduling tool we used wouldn’t take the video file format (and I can’t even remember what that was, but probably a mov?!). Back onto Google where I found onlinevideoconverter.com and converted the file into an mp4 and FINALLY I was done.

Here’s a screen shot…

grab3

And here’s link to the post, with the Thinglink interactive on Facebook.

Stop, collaborate and listen (I’ll thank Vanilla Ice for that one)

Sounds like a lot of work for a single story but it didn’t take all that long – although it does highlight the amount of effort that can go into a single tweet or Facebook status. Social media isn’t as quick as you’d think.

It also shows that collaboration is key. Four colleagues were involved in this process – the one who did the audio interviews, the graphic designer, the videographer and my line manager who I consulted when I felt a bit stuck. That’s five of us! And, while in theory I could have done of those tasks myself (the graphic design being the most challenging) it would have taken me an age. So while it’s easy to think it’s just me, a story idea and the mobile phone, it actually rarely ever is.

To summarise, I felt great. I’d solved a lot of problems with this content and while the one that concerns me most – the quality of the audio – is beyond my control, I’ve learned a lot. Problem-solving is actually a lot of fun!

And I’ll update this post with the actual content once it’s live (update: now done!)

Here’s a link to the video on Twitter so can you play it, and below are screen grabs of the video (left) on Twitter and an image card (right – taking the same content and giving it two ‘treatments’, posting within an hour of each other to test which worked better. At the time of updating this post (3pm ish on Sunday 7th August) the video got much more engagement. Is is the moving quotes, or could it be the Yeats quote?

 

 

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A ‘Quik’ reminder about the importance of science

I went to Glasgow Science Museum yesterday to catch up with former BBC weather forecaster, Heather ‘the weather’ Reid. I spent the whole day there, captured some footage and did some experimenting in my down time. Editing vids on my phone is a god way to kill time waiting for a late plane home.

Things I focussed on:

Packing light

The aim was to take as little as possible. I ditched a larger tripod in favour of a mini Joby one (which I didn’t use in the end, I went for handheld). I packed spare battery charger packs (paranoid about losing power, but I only used one), a lapel mic and extension cable (lapel mic is essential anyway but the museum was very noisy so I still got background stuff. The extension cable means people aren’t tethered to your mobile phone so much and can get a bit more distance during interviews), and two mobiles – my 16 GB iPhone 5S which is my regular phone and a 64GB iPhone 6S which I used for video and photography. Oh, and an iPad Mini for checking emails and doing some ‘other’ work while I was there. I prefer a bigger screen for typing.

Throw in a notepad, purse and a few girly essentials and I was good to go.

Below is an interactive list of most of the kit I carry with me, including prices and links.

Editing and apps

This time I had a play with the Quik app. This allows you to pull in clips and images, trim them, reorder them, add music and text, and then finish with a cool effect or style which you can customise to an extent. The effects are great and look really professional but it often does some strange things to your clips and images, for example, the images I use at the end of the video are a bit jittery and I can’t do much about it (other than not use them). Trying another effect would stop this but is likely to do something strange to another part of the video so a bit of trial and error is required.

What I learned

A few things… that you can travel light and capture and publish some awesome stuff on your phone. That wondering around shooting video, even on a phone, requires a bit of confidence. I got stared at a bit. And I avoided capturing people in my clips (save for the two speedy bikers in the time-lapse bridge clip) as most of them were children and I didn’t want to mess around getting permissions and signing forms. You also need decent wifi to be able to publish even little videos to social platforms. Perhaps I need to look into carrying a mobile internet hot spot-type thing?

One of the downsides of all this is that, a day later, I still feel a bit dizzy. I spent most of the morning walking around, and then all afternoon looking down at my mobile phone. Add two flights in the same day and it seems to have offset my natural equilibrium and I feel a bit seasick today. Wonder if that happens to anyone else?

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Communities of practice: critical evaluation

When I began to explore the world of video and audio it was easy to hark back to my print journalism days and strike a comparison between the two. At first, I was keen to avoid doing that; to embrace the new. But in fact, the principles of journalism apply whatever the medium, it’s just the approach and production that’s different. I actually found having print experience to compare and contrast to the production of online audio and video helped embed my newfound knowledge and gave me more to offer the communities of practice.

Throughout my exploration of online video and audio, I’ve learned a lot, not least that good quality sound is essential. Adam Westbrook and Christian Payne lead by example in their fields, but what’s also clear is this: there are no hard and fast rules. There’s great scope for flexibility and creativity and no such thing as a ‘paint by numbers’ approach to multimedia journalism.

The community is in agreement on several principles: good quality sound is vital, be prepared, have a Plan B, and to be clear about the story you’re trying to tell and who you’re trying to tell it to. Most everything else is flexible and practitioners won’t agree; each will have their own preferences when approaching online video and audio.

I’ve also found that just as citizen journalism was, at first, shunned and later embraced as a valued source of news, video and audio reporting using ‘everyman’ technology such as smartphones is just as capable of reporting a news story (Sky news reportage of London riots, for example) despite efforts to retain professional production standards. There are vast numbers of tools to be used but the advice is to focus on sound quality as most ‘everyday’ video cameras can record at high quality.

Blogging

What’s been of most use for me is to follow those who blog about their work; to follow their learnings, take note of the things they’ve tried and tested, and ask questions.

As I embarked on this project to delve into communities of practice around video and audio journalism, I have endeavored to ‘blog as I go’ and record my learnings. This has helped my blog stats considerably and since starting the assignment I’ve increased hits, followers, subscriptions and comments, as well as gained new follows to my associated @journonest Twitter account.

For the first time I used the relatively new reblog feature on WordPress to embed blog posts by others onto my own, as well as recording my own learnings via blog posts. At first it seemed lazy but the reblog feature proved a useful way to pool relevant content together in one place, while giving the original author credit.

As well as reflecting on my own learnings I created a ‘Tips for Tuesday’ weekly post in which I share a new list of useful resources and this is something I’d like to continue; to be a regular feature of my site.

Social media

I focused on experts in the field on Twitter to follow and learn from. I used the online aggregator Paper.li to create a Twitter newspaper called Multimedia Mag to pull together tweets around multimedia, specifically focusing on journalism, audio and video. This attracted a lot of retweets and highlighted some interesting and relevant content although I had to play with the settings to avoid pulling in content in foreign languages, and some content is slightly off topic or too advertising-led, which reduces the appeal.

I created Twitter lists, one for audio, one for video, to aggregate tweets by the people I identified as experts and also subscribed to other relevant Twitter lists, one created by a former MA Online Journalism student.

And I used Twitter to ask questions of the community, including recommendations for tools and editing programmes to use.

While I did tweet links to my blog posts (set to auto tweet as I post) and other useful links, and got retweets, I should have been more proactive in asking for feedback on my own work and could have done more to encourage distribution and interactivity around the communities of practice. With that said, I am a beginner and my support network in this field will grow as I develop my skills and have more to offer. For example, a retweet by @Documentally helped me get more hits to my content on this particular day but comments/discussion around the topic would be something to aim for in the future.

I neglected to use other social media channels, such as LinkedIn, Google+ and Facebook, finding Twitter to be the easiest/best for my needs, but these are channels I’d like to explore in the future.

Subscriptions and links

I also subscribed to sites such as Finding the Frame, MediaStorm, Media Bistro, Adam Westbrook’s blog and others (see Tips for Tuesday) to catch up on latest multimedia news and advice via Google Reader or newsletters direct to my inbox.

And I kept a record of interesting and relevant posts by bookmarking them in Delicious under video and audio tags. I also found online tutorials and tookits really useful, including this Audacity tutorial by Mindy McAdams.

Events

Due to a number of factors, one being a lack of relevant events in my area, I wasn’t able to mingle with other members of the multimedia community as easily as my full time equivalent BCU students in Birmingham. However, I have signed up to a locally established MK WordPress group, MK tweetup group and at the end of the month I’ll be attending The Guardian’s Open Weekend including their session on ‘How to make a video’ as well as MK Hacks’ Day in May.

Interviewing the professionals

Without the ability to attend events I did want to catch up, face to face, with experts in the field. I interviewed Tracy Buchanan, a multimedia editor with The Open University’s Open Media Unit about her roll at work and how she’s used video to help promote the other part of her professional life as a recently published author. Character is an important part of journalism and promotion and Tracy felt it was easier to give readers a slice of her personality via online video.

I exchanged emails with Christian Payne, AKA Documentally, who shared some useful links via Delicious and I researched his more open approach to mobile and multimedia journalism which was in sharp contrast to the views of others, for example radio journalist Caroline Beaven who believes good audio needs planning. I’ve also commissioned Christian to do some video with me for my day job, in which I’ll spend the best part of three days with him creating and editing footage.

I spent an afternoon with Roger Stotesbury from Jump Off The Screen video production company in Milton Keynes who gave me a great insight into his work, and offered some useful tips, especially focusing on giving the interviewee control to make them feel more comfortable in front of the camera. Roger showed me his new studio and equipment and has invited me to sit in on some editing projects in the future. I also learned a lesson about drinking coffee while recording an interview.

Fellow MA student and video journalist Franzi Baehrle wrote a guest blog post for me on how she began her career in Germany and the valuable lessons she’s learned along the way and I’ve been an active contributor to her own blog, debating over best practice and mistakes we’ve made and learned from.

I found that listening to other people – and about the mistakes they made when they started out – helped my learning; it’s refreshing to know everyone, even seasoned professionals, make mistakes and move on. They all offered advice on putting interviwees at ease, what equipment to use and different styles: Documentally on the power of unplanned audio, Roger on where to position your interviwee for effect and Tracy on using the right style of video for the right audience.

Forums

Apart from what I refer to as technical forums offered by the creators/owners of editing tools such as Audacity I found it a) difficult to find relevant forums to contribute to and b) struggled to contribute because of my limited knowledge. As a beginner, I felt it best to learn by trial and error and research, rather than posing questions ‘for the sake of it’ on forums. These forums were also highly technical and not a place beginners can easily contribute. I found it easier to learn by looking at other people’s content and commenting, rather than through forums. For example, listening to this podcast I learned how to include links within your audio, a feature I previously wasn’t aware of.

Reading

As well as reading books on the practicalities of audio and video journalism, and ‘how to’ guides both in print and online, supported by blog posts from experts such as Adam Westbrook, I managed to find a hard copy of a video guide produced by The Guardian in 2008 as I cleared out my office drawers. This offered a wealth of informative articles around creating newsy videos and is something I’ll hang onto for future reference. And I posted an image – for variety – on my blog to suggest useful reading resources for other newbie multimedia journalists.

Comments

I endeavored to share my own experiences and opinions on other sites by commenting where I had something to add; either a differing opinion or experience, praise or feedback to help others improve and this often led to discussion. This is something I’d like to do more of – more opinions make for a rounded picture, and every new comment on a blog is a new contact in the field.

Experimentation

If I have any chance of becoming a successful multimedia journalist I have to try things. I started by recording an AudioBoo talking about why I’ve chosen to do this MA, to get used to being recorded (and found it strange to be the one talking rather than asking the questions).

I produced other podcasts, an audio slideshow and a video using a variety of equipment and software to compare the differences and find what I’m most comfortable with (I’m not sure yet!). My experimentations included use of the following: iPhone, Kodak Zi8, AudioBoo, Audacity, Final Cut Express, iMovie, YouTube, Soundcloud and the iPhone Recorder Pro app. What I need to do more of is focus on audio (by investing in a microphone) and try using a tripod to avoid shaky hand syndrome and to have one less thing to concentrate on (it’s easier to focus on the interviewee when you don’t have a camera in your hand).

Immersing myself into the world of online video and audio is just the start of this learning curve for me and I’ve realised that good multimedia journalism often takes research, preparation, strong narrative and pacing. For the most part my appraoch, to date, has been the ‘quick and dirty’ one, to capture unscripted, unedited footage to save time. With this in mind I’m looking forward to trying a more methodical approach, which brings me to…

Assignment 2: Specialist portfolio

For the second assignment this semester I intend to create a series of podcasts off the back of the Cybher conference which celebrates women bloggers. I plan to research and interview both those who are speaking at the event and those who are attending as delegates in order to find some human interest stories and promote what connects them: the blogosphere, and how it’s impacted their lives. I plan to record my research on a Tumblr blog as I go and embed the podcasts on a web page to invite comment and the sharing of stories by the blogging community.

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