Tag Archives: photography

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

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Seeing the world through square images and Instagram filters

When I started my InstaMA project I genuinely had no idea how time-consuming – and valuable – it would be to truly immerse myself in its community. Or that I would be dreaming in square images – every content opportunity was viewed through an Instagram filter and a square frame. It took over. But after three months the pilot is over, I can take my foot off the gas, reflect a little and take stock of what I’ve learned.

My own personal use of Instagram is merely to keep a record of my top memories and best photographic endeavors and I rarely venture into content beyond that posted by my friends and family. Conducting an Instagram pilot on The Open University’s account made me look at things in a much broader way (and if you need a reminder of exactly what I’m doing, see here) and I’ve enjoyed the experience.

Share the love

Lurking is all well and good but getting stuck into Instagram is the best way to engage with people and increase your following. I immersed myself in the OU community and it was great – not only helping me to come up with content ideas, create and share content, but also chatting to students and sharing in their success – or in their low moments. A comment from your university when you’ve reached the peak of procrastination is a pretty good motivator. I now ‘know’ some of the OU’s followers, I see and talk to them regularly via Instagram and feel much more able to ask things of them, because I’m giving back (like chatting to Chloe which is using Instagram to drive traffic to her blog and build her business). And when I say I, I mean the OU, of course.

What this pilot has uncovered is that Instagram is far less broadcast than I realised and there’s real value in chatting to your audience. I have to confess, when the pilot started I was seeing everything as a potential Instagram post, I was even dreaming in square images! But I’ve learned – and am still learning – a lot.

Instagram success is not instant: invest serious time into monitoring

Newsflash: engaging with your community WILL eat up a lot of time. What I thought would be a few-times-a-week monitoring task turned into a nightly one – there were so many #openuniversity postings that in order to keep on top of them, I had to like and respond to comments daily. I also found it tricky to keep on top of conversations unless I responded as soon as someone commented and a notification popped up on my phone. If I ignored the notification, the chances are I’d never have found the comment again – this is one of the downsides of Instagram, so I did feel a bit like a slave to it, and to my phone, during the pilot.

I naively thought I’d be able to carve up tasks throughout the week and, like a good little postgraduate student, be methodical, practical and organised throughout this pilot. Not so. I’d hoped to be able to follow the timetable below, but I couldn’t keep on top of the replying to comments and liking photos if I didn’t do it nightly; it just got too much.

Monday Monitoring Monitor relevant hashtags and like and comment as appropriate
Tuesday Talking Comment on relevant posts, respond to comments
Wednesday Wisdom Research
Thursday Thinking Develop new content ideas
Friday Review Weekly review of stats – likes, comments, increase in followers, what worked well, what didn’t
Saturday Business as usual
Sunday Stats Note weekly stats and increases

There is much less tagging of accounts on Instagram than use of hashtags. For example, @theopenuniversity was tagged a miniscule number of times compared to the number of #openuniversity posts. My tactic was simple: to engage with anyone who commented on an OU post, and to follow the hashtag #openuniversity, liking and commenting on those posts. And I hunted around for other hashtags used by Instagrammers and dipped in and out of them too: #openuni #oustudent #ou and our graduation hashtag #ou_ceremonies.

This took time. At the start of the pilot there had been 17,557 mentions of #openuniversity and at the time of writing this post there are 20,514. That’s 3,000 uses of that hashtag over a three month period, so approximately 1,000 per month, 250 per week, 35 a day. Now 35 doesn’t sound much but if you let that monitoring slip by a couple of days you have 100 posts to flick through, like and comment on.

Community engagement takes a lot of time, and just as much time is needed creating your posts. But after a three-month pilot (which was meant to be one month, then two) it’s clear there is always more to be done. I’d committed myself to posting at least once per day, but it’s easily to let things slide and find yourself scrabbling around for content. On some days, something was better than nothing but this won’t be the approach going forwards.

#CreateYourOwnHashtags

I introduced some new hashtags: #ouselfie and #ouacademic. The first was to encourage members of our community to take photos of themselves and post them. Students were already doing this but I wanted to students to engage and offer to share some of them. The second was to try and engage academics and, for those active on Instagram, to share their content which always seems more genuine when coming from a personal account. Despite promoting this on the OU’s intranet site, engagement from academics directly via Instagram was relatively low with just two or three academics contributing fairly regularly. I did however, get suggestions for content and submissions via email, including some nice shots of campus.

photoShare the love wider: third-party content

A great way to show off your community and reward its members, is to share their content. There are various ways you can do this, including apps like Repost but I find them clunky. I simply took a screen shot of the photo I wanted to share, cropped it, and then posted it directly (no reposting per say) – but first I asked permission to share it via the OU account. No one ever said no, which was great, and I always tagged them in the photo and thanked them for letting me share it. Doing it this way also allowed me to add my own filters to their photos or, in once case, blur out a cat’s ID tag in which its owner’s mobile number could be read. On the whole, most of the third-party shared posts got better engagement than our own – how else would we be able to delve inside our students’ lives in such a genuine way, see them studying in their bedrooms, their kitchens, with their pets on their laps and while entertaining children. They were authentic. To a lesser extent I also shared some academic’s photos directly via Instagram.

Instagram doesn’t have to be lonely

The intention was, as part of this pilot, to collaborate with partner organisations and undertake some kind of takeover. This didn’t come off, mostly due to lack of time, but we did join forces with the OU Library. They were thinking of starting their own Instagram account to run alongside their already successful Twitter and Facebook accounts, promoting library resources and actively engaging with students. Unsure how time-consuming it would be to take on Instagram, our pilot served as theirs – how would the library get on providing us with regular content without the pressure to update their own channel? And how would we, owners of the corporate social media channels, get on posting daily?

The library provided some content for us to post, including a ‘shelfie’, a video flipping through the pages of a George Orwell original, and a series of photos from the OU’s digital archive which I posted out each Thursday for #ThrowbackThursday, including hashtags #oulibrary and #oudigitalarchive – these hashtags were agreed with the library and while they don’t have their own account on Instagram they do have their own community through the hashtag.

I also conducted this pilot almost entirely alone (well, I have an MA to finish, my colleagues don’t) but it’s always good to get feedback from colleagues and help creating content if you can. I thought it would be easy to tackle this alone and well, really, more hands on deck would probably have had a greater impact.

maggieIf you ask a question do you think you’ll get more comments?

Yes. Yes, you will. Any content I posted which included a question got much better engagement overall. For example, weekly content posted for #ThrowbackThursday got decent engagement in terms of likes but minimal comments. On the photo of Margaret Thatcher (right), taken in 1973, I asked ‘What were you doing in 1973?) which got a lot more comments – most saying they had yet to be born, or my favourite, “I was but a twinkle in my father’s winkle.” In essence, ask a question and you will get answers.

Have a sense of humour

Tone of voice in important and I set this up from the start – our tone on Instagram is professional but informal and with a sense of humour. We wanted to come across as friendly, chatty and approachable. When one curly-haired graduand posted a picture on graduation day complaining that the OU doesn’t provide mortarboards (not part of the OU’s formal dress) I responded with ‘Because we don’t want to ruin those lovely curls.”

fridayprocrastDon’t be afraid to go for the easy wins

Once you know your audience, tap into their weak spots. And what I mean by this is post content you know they’ll like. It’s an easy win. I know firsthand (because I am one) the life of a distance learning student means  studying all hours. So our post which simply said ‘Hands up who’s studying on a Friday night’ (posted on a Friday night, no less) got massive engagement.

I see lots of post by students of their study spaces and procrastination concerns, including posting to Instagram, so I posted an image which said ‘Get off Instagram, you’re supposed to be studying’ which got massive engagement as I’d caught lots of students red-
handed and it had made them chuckle. Also, knowing when key dates or deadlines are coming up and offering up a snippet of motivation can help spur people on.

refelctionAdd an incentive

Students love sharing their experiences, advice and tips but you may need to tease it out a little. I tried this in a few ways – one asking a direct question ‘How do you juggle study’ with a juggler pic, which posted to gain some quotes for some new marketing material on how students fit studies around their other activities. I also ran a competition to support marketing’s New Year ‘reflections campaign’ asking students and grads to reflect on what they thought of the OU before they started studying compared to how they feel about it now. And I offered up three £20 Amazon vouchers for three ‘winners’. This post gained 120+ comments, more than double that of any other post we’ve posted to date. What it didn’t do is gain us many more followers.

Reward loyalty

It’s easy to find out which followers engage most frequently with your content, and I did this using our social media monitoring/scheduling tool Social Sign In. Reward them. Talk to them, like their photos, share their photos, and give them an occasional shout out. Oh, and follow them back!

If you build it… they still might not come

If you’re starting an Instagram account or dusting off an old one, you’ll need to tell people. You can’t expect them to know you’re there. After a good three weeks of posting decent content on Instagram after the launch of our pilot, I started telling people in the following ways:

  • Pilot mentioned in weekly cross-department editorial meetings (spread the word, contribute etc)
  • Series of three once-weekly articles posted on intranet (to increase staff and academic engagement – definite peak in followers around these times)
  • Mentioned in November and December editions of eNewsletter, sent to 400,000 students and alumni (slight rise in followers after each, although CTA was low down the newsletter)
  • Promoted via other social media channels, namely Facebook and Twitter on several occasions, including pointing to an Instagram Story when covering Harrogate Degree Ceremony.
  • Going forwards the Instagram handle will be included in publications like the 2017 Graduate Directory (printed).

What’s next?

You know when I said I could take my foot off the gas a bit now the pilot has ended back up the top of this post? It was a complete lie. What the above has illustrated is there is still a huge amount to be done, and this will be highlighted in a report to my line manager. There are still things I want to try but haven’t got round to, like animation (check out Rachel Ryle’s legendary work), and clearly defined branding for this channel (check out Matt Crump and Sara Tasker) as well as a channel strategy going forwards which aligns with university and communications unit objectives whilst also engaging with our community and continuing to grow our followers. Oh, and the rest of this MA to complete. Eek!

Cor blimey, that’s a long post. Huge congrats if you made it to the end. If I don’t write all this stuff down, I’m afraid it’ll float clean out of my head. What’s next? Well, if you can bare to read more I’ll be writing about mobile phones, health and safety and why salsa dancing could be the key to keeping mobile journalists fit and healthy. Oh, and some academic stuff too, of course.

 

 

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The Tate Modern and some accidental inspiration: visual storytelling

A few weeks back, I made an impromptu visit to the Tate Modern in London. It was a pre-Christmas trip and nothing at all to do with my MA in Online Journalism. But…

This picture, or should I say artwork, made me start thinking about Instagram. That’ll be the squares, although technically speaking, I think these are rectangles. The artist, Ellsworth Kelly (1923 to 2015) created this in 1952, entitled it Mediterranimg_4281ee and was about experimenting with colour and overlapping (what’s hard to see from the image is that some of those blocks of colour are raised slightly, they’re not all flat). Anyway, I continued around the Tate Modern with a different viewpoint after seeing this.

Let me explain… while working on my Instagram pilot I’ve been doing lots of research, about composition, photography, short form video etc… and the Tate Modern made me think specifically about presentation, or visual storytelling if you want a more online journalism-y phrase. I’m not a massive fan of art, in all honesty, but what the Tate showed me is that a sometimes average set of photographs can be made to look exceptional by the way they’re presented. And this is very much the case for Instagram – the apps, filters and cropping tools now available to us can help us turn an average photo into a good one. And the very nature of Instagram and its predominantly square photos show it’s a great presentational tool in its own right, Instagram offers a basic set of tools to help you display your photos and videos in the best way.

The images below, for example, are essentially repeats of a single image – what makes this interesting is the presentation on a stark white background, and the way they’re positioned.

img_4277img_4276

Adding movement

I really loved the media section of the gallery, for obvious reasons, but some of the things I saw resonated with my MA, like this quote from @SamAMcGuire about the images you share, how you see them, and what influencers helped shape that view.

Simg_4289am’s quote is captured (right) as a still image but it was just one in a series of quotes displayed as videos which gave much more impact… it would have been easy to glance at a quote wall and walk on by but with the text rolling in as part of a video wall it meant people were stopping, watching and therefore reading. And apologies for the wobbliness of this video – I was conscious I needed to capture something quickly before another gallery visitor walked into my shot.

This is definitely something that I think works really well with video content that doesn’t necessarily start out life as a video – adding movement can sometimes turn the average into something much more engaging and I’ve been experimenting with this on Instagram too, using tools like Hyperlapse, Boomerang and Spark Post to create gifs.

Examples I’ve used as part of my Instagram project include turning festive study images into a gif, turning a queue of PhD induction students into a hyperlapse video, creating movement on a static Halloween pumpkin image by turning it into a gif and, of course, we jumped on the mannequin challenge and creating videos featuring people who don’t move. This is also something used as part of a campaign we ran on Twitter – creating a simple video with rolling text using the Spark Post app to create individual slides and then editing them together using iMovie, all done on an iPhone 6. Simples.

Visualising the story

In short, this trip to the Tate reminded me that video can be used in some really clever and less obvious ways and contributes to the “renegotiating what is conventional and normal in the everyday practices of journalism” as stated by Mattheson (2004). And that presentational skills (visual storytelling) can enhance stories – something that’s all the more important in the digital age and is amplified by mojo (mobile journalism) expert Robb Montgomery in this interview.

Below are a couple of my Tate videos… firstly, TVs playing old movies and news clips which were positioned on the floor. This wouldn’t have worked as an image because you need to see the movement to understand what this artefact is.

Secondly, is a robot thingy (forgive me for my lack of artistic appreciation, I take in the work I like but confess to not reading the who and why information at the side of each one.) This would have worked as an image because it looks cool but the lights are the moving element of this video and it’s a shame not to waste them. There are periods of no flashing lights on this robot so I used the Boomerang app to create a repeating motion. Unlike a traditional gif, which replays a video start to finish, start to finish, start to finish, the Boomerang app plays a video start to finish then plays it finish to start before going back to start to finish, kind of like a rewinding video.

Now, the image below should also have been a video… not because there are moving elements necessarily, but because of the audio. This ‘tower’ for want of a better word is made up of radios and mobile phones and is quite noisy – this image doesn’t capture the sound which is what makes this piece stand out above its size.

img_4291

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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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How to make a great pic awesome

 

WEDDING

Snapping away as a bride walks down the aisle mostly brings up a camera-full of blurred, awkward photos as you grapple with friends and family from the discomfort of a pew.

On the occasion of Esther and Dave’s wedding I hit it lucky, capturing this photo of Esther in all her wedding-day glory. It also captures my friend Jen’s mobile phone, just in shot and framing Esther perfectly. I’d like to say this was my creative genius at play, but alas, it was just a coincidence, albeit a brilliant one.

I tinkered around with the image a bit (after the wedding, of course, although I could easily have done it at the back of the church and between hymns). And, thanks to the Photosplash app, I turned it from a brilliant photo into an awesome one.

This app turns your photos into black and white and you can use your fingertip to highlight areas of colour.

I was never going to get a wifi signal in a church but thanks to the power of 3G or 4G I could easily have enhanced the photo and posted it to social media by the time the bride had said ‘I do’.

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