Tag Archives: Milton Keynes

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


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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Small business in Milton Keynes? Take this survey please #MAent

surveymonkeyIf you’re a small business operating in or around Milton Keynes, then I’d be super grateful if you could take this short survey on content marketing.

There are just nine questions and if you make it to the bottom there’s a link where you can sign up for some free training.

All support gratefully received. Responses are anonymous and will form part of my research towards the enterprise and innovation (#MAent) module of my MA in Online Journalism. You’ll find more info about my project idea here.

Take the survey. (thank you very much!)



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Introducing… ContentEd MK (helping small businesses make it big online) #MAent

The pace at which things are moving can be intimidating for small business owners. The good news is that a focused online marketing strategy where content is king brings SMEs onto a level playing field with some of the big boys.

Quote – Tracy Thomas via Quora

Small businesses play a key role in the economy, providing 48 per cent of private sector employment. So much so, the Government is actively seeking ways to support them and aid growth. Lord Young in his February 2015 report acknowledged more support needs to be given to small firms to enable them to operate and compete in a digital world. “Small businesses have the potential to become even more sophisticated in the way they operate and interact with customers but this will require them to develop their digital skills and capability,” he said.


ContentEdMK – video pitch for #MAent from Robyn Bateman on Vimeo.


What’s it all about then?

My entrepreneurial idea is to launch ContendEd MK, an online training hub specialising in online story-telling and content/digital marketing.

My target customers are small business owners or sole traders in Milton Keynes and the surrounding areas, not least because I’ve lived and worked here for over a decade, but it’s pretty handy that MK is also the 22nd best place (in the UK) to launch a start-up.

A quarter of small business owners lack basic digital skills and this mini enterprise will deliver a range of online training courses to help local small firms or sole traders create their own digital marketing materials across a range of channels. The training will be informal, online and accessible at a time, place and pace convenient to the customer. Courses can be tackled on a ‘dip in dip out basis’ and clients won’t be constrained by dates and venues. Anyone who signs up for a course will have access to an online training portal to share ideas, ask questions, network, and get personal feedback and support. Training packages will also include a ‘Skype surgery’ – a face-to-face online tutorial/brainstorm or Q&A.

This idea has been inspired by TeamTwoBees and Janet Murray who offer online and offline content and digital marketing, albeit in different guises; both are London-based. But my biggest competitor is probably the internet – there’s a mass of online training out there, including everything you need to know about creating content to boost your brand. With that said, I can add value – ContentEdMK offers informal, trusted, MK business-to-business expertise based on years of experience in content creation and online story-telling as well as personal contact through Skype surgeries, available to anyone who signs up for training.

What are my next steps?

As I write this post I’m already sitting on interviews with Jennifer D Begg, as mentioned above, and local digital marketing storyteller, Fiona Storey (cool name, huh?) as well as local business owner Maxine France. Then I’ll be publishing a short survey aimed at small businesses in Milton Keynes and ‘testing’ the idea by offering a free online training session.

What do you think?

If you’ve read this post and think I’m a) mad, b) way off the mark, c) possibly onto something or d) anything else, I’d love to hear from you. You can email me or catch up with me on Twitter. I’m particularly interested in hearing from small businesses, digital content experts and anyone who conducts training, especially online.


If you want to know how to create your own video content (and to see what I did right and wrong in my video pitch above), read this post. 





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Research via networking for #MAent

I’m discovering a wealth of networking opportunities for small businesses in Milton Keynes, both online and offline. There are networking breakfasts hosted by Grapevine, a weekly Twitter meet and greet and chat via #MKHour, get-togethers a for self-employed mums and plenty of informal chats over coffee and biscuits. And I do love coffee and biscuits!

I went along to Build your Business MK on a Monday morning to catch up with some local businesses – it’s a child friendly networking group (thank God). Like many other small businesses and freelancers, I’m juggling work with childcare and had two noisy toddlers in tow.

Talking to this group of six-strong business owners, one male, five female, (the size of the group varies each week) gave me a useful insight into their concerns. And how supportive they are of each other as fellow local business owners, they were all keen to share their contacts and email addresses. What it also highlighted, as I listened to them talk about video as a popular media, SEO, web copy and social media, is just how much I’d be able to help them if I gave them each half an hour of my time. I think my enterprise idea definitely has legs, but I’m not sure how much these small businesses know they need someone like me to help them.

Networking for #MAent from Robyn Bateman on Vimeo.

Here’s a summary of what I discovered over coffee and cookies:

1) Lack of time

They all said it’s hard to find time to market themselves when their main focus is to do the work and bring the money in. Not all of them had a website and/or Facebook page to showcase their work and their services and only a couple used Twitter. They all agreed they needed them, but struggled to find time to find help or do it themselves.

2) Business cards versus Twitter handles

They all had business cards (except for me) and just a few had Twitter handles (which weren’t on their business cards). Printed promotion was referred to such as flyers, a boards etc and less about online promotion although they all talked about being online, websites and personal Facebook profiles so it’s not that they’re technophobes, just not up to date with how much different channels can help them.

3) Lack of awareness about content marketing and its benefits

Small businesses have no money for content marketing, they said, but went on to talk about creating flyers, advertising on Facebook and employing copywriters to help them creating case studies, web content etc (all of which cost money). There was a lack of awareness about the benefits of content marketing and how easily and cheaply it can be done, and the impact in terms of ROI compared to more traditional advertising methods (they admitted a lot got no response). There was talk of creating videos but no mention of why, what their ‘story’ is or what I’d refer to as content strategy or how to make videos that are shareable for extra exposure. This is definitely a place I think I can help the but there needs be a programme of education, networking and leading by example to show, firsthand, how small businesses can benefit and give them confidence in me as a local supplier. I also think a collaboration model may work, working with agencies who will outsource training as part of their web development packages.

4) Personal versus professional

Most of them as admitted to using their personal social media profiles to work their businesses, rather than creating professional ones. I think this is risky. While it’s important to sell yourself as a business owner and get people to buy into you, mixing business with personal profiles can come across as unprofessional and gives the business owner no separation between work and home life. One mentioned linking Facebook and Twitter profiles and auto-tweeting each status rather than tweaking content for different channels. Helping them start and develop their  professional online profile is something I could help with.

5) Face to face is best

They agreed that face to face is best for making connections and advertising their services, which makes me think there will have to be some face-to-face work and networking pre- business launch to sell myself, my skills and my service as part of my own marketing strategy. I think it will be key to sell myself as a business owner by the strength of my own content (leading by example) so that my online training blog posts, videos etc aren’t seen as completely faceless and that I’m very responsive to comments and questions in the online, learning portal. I need to tell my story in an engaging way so that people have confidence that I can help them tell theirs.

No one  mentioned training in a formal sense but one did refer to video tutorials on YouTube to discover new ways of doing things, including how to download contacts off LinkedIn. One said it’s important to find what works for your business first and then to find another business to help you.

Food for thought.

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An interview with Roger Stotesbury from video production company Jump Off The Screen…

I had the pleasure of catching up with Roger Stotesbury from Milton Keynes video production company Jump Off The Screen about the ins and outs of video this week – and I got sandwiches and coffee to boot, bonus! More about that coffee later…

Listen to this podcast in which Roger talks about the power of audio, filming in pairs and getting the right shots…

And here’s some more of what he had to say… (note the audio would have been longer if I hadn’t experienced technical problems, i.e the recorder app on the iPhone stopping after 10 minutes, grrr). And if you’re dead keen to find out about that coffee, scroll to the podcast at the bottom of this post.

The power of audio

Roger creates videos but says the audio element is the most important: if you have bad audio you have a bad video and it’s very difficult to ‘touch up’ sound like you can with visuals, he says.

‘A microphone is an important strategy for sound’

“These days any portable camera captures quality footage, including mobile devices, but while why they can perform visually most have tiny microphones so the sound quality isn’t there. A microphone is an important strategy for sound.”

When choosing a camera, he says, it’s less about filming (they all do a great job) and more about their audio capability which you might need to support with extra microphones.

If you miss scenes there are things you can do to fill the gap, but if you miss the audio it’s a disaster.

Pair up

There is so much to do and think about when creating good video so doing it in pairs helps. You can do it yourself, and this can have advantages, such as creating a more intimate atmosphere/interview, but pairs works well to help distribute the workload so mistakes aren’t made. Too many people, however, and it won’t work – and never have more than three involved, says Roger.

Here’s a video Roger shot alone, managing to film and get the interviewees to look at him, just to the side of the camera, at the same time. This takes a bit of manouvring if you have a large camera! He confesses to getting the camera angle slightly wrong with one lady who’s looking up at him, rather than at the level of the camera. “Both me and the camera should be at eye level to get this right,” he says.

Trial and error

Making good videos is all about trying things, and learning from your mistakes.

For example, experimenting with where the interviewee is positioned and who they’re talking to. In one video, Roger tried a “look directly at the camera” approach for main players delivering the key messages and a “look slightly to the side” approach for the other contributors. Here, he’s using a “look at the camera” approach to create a different style of video.

Both are fine but, as a rule, Roger suggests the interviewee looks lightly off camera and not down the lens.

Let the interviewee be in control

Putting the interviewee in control helps make for a better interview, says Roger, even if you’re just letting them think they’re in control.

“Ask them which is their favourite chair and get them to start there; you may have to move them if it doesn’t work but it hands an element of control over to the interviewee and they’re more relaxed if they feel in control.”

Chat to the interviewee before hand to warm them up but don’t discuss the subject of the interview or you risk their best quotes could be lost before you’ve had chance to press record. Ask easy questions first, as a rule, and build up to the more difficult ones.


Roger uses a Sony EX3 but fancies a Canon C300 next. He says any DSLR camera/recorder will do a great job visually as long as you can come up with a fix for sound. “For good video the audio is important, the camera less so. It’s more to do with the questions, access and relationships,” he says.

When it comes to editing, Jump Off The Screen staff use Final Cut Pro but Roger says Apple have “dummed down” the latest version, which is more like an iMove Plus. “For that reason we’ll probably have to move to Adobe Premier or Avid, most likely Adobe which has a very similar interface to Final Cut and is easy to use.”

Loud coffee

Oh, and that coffee we had? Here’s why it’s best not to brew and drink coffee during and audio interview… it’s a tad loud!


Huge thanks to Roger for making the time to speak to me, for the guided tour of the studio – and for the sandwiches and coffee!

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