This summer, I took a course called Photography & Social Media offered by the University of Tasmania. It was online (excellent) and free (what? yes!) so there was no reason not to take it. Having that external pressure of class deadlines made me concentrate on my photography, particularly for sharing on social media, and I learned a few solid lessons from it.
There was plenty of content in the course for all levels, newbies and pros alike. I’m somewhere in the middle: I have an expensive camera and a regular gig writing about DIY, but I ain’t shit as a blogger. I post once a week at best and my likes, follows, comment counts etc are woeful. My ongoing goals are to improve my photography, make a stronger presence for myself on social media and create engaging content. Building an effective social media platform is work, and the bitch of it is that you have to make it look effortless.
Now, I could take my third-hand knowledge, turn it into a PDF and promote my “free e-book”, but you’d be much better off by enrolling for the actual course yourself. It’s starting again this week (and easy to catch up on if you join in late) and it’s FREE for anyone with Australian residency (sorry, non-Australians). Get to it!
These are some of the photography + social media lessons I’ve been keeping in mind for Saltbush Avenue, The Blog:
Keywords: what are you and your brand about?
So this is my visual brand, as of April 2016. I recently tweaked my logo and I’m content with it overall.
I had a think about the key words and phrases someone might associate with this blog:
- Tasmania / Australia
- Organic modern style
- Garden plants
Those keywords set parameters for the posts I write and the photos I share on social media, and they let people quickly glean what this blog is about. Your visual identity needs to communicate who you are within seconds, and keywords are a great starting point.
Define your message in one sentence
“If I was going to say anything to somebody launching an Instagram account from a brand perspective, it would be to really define what your message is in one sentence — and try to have every photo feed into that,” said Allison Butula, who manages PR, online marketing, and social media for Herschel Supply Co. Even shorter than a sentence, Herschel Supply’s “well travelled” motto — captured visually in every photo it posts — has successfully inspired wanderlust in the hearts of thousands of Instagram users by conveying a vibrant sense of travel and exploration. Herschel sees every image as another chance to tell a story. And if it doesn’t continue the storyline, it doesn’t make the cut.” – 4 Approaches to Brand Storytelling Using Instagram
This is an important piece of advice and I should have done it myself ages ago! It’s a basic marketing lesson: being able to quickly sum up your message.
If I had to define my ‘visual story’ in one sentence, it would be: finding joy in one’s surroundings. I write about home improvement, crafts and plants, but I also write about inspiring locations in and out of Tasmania. My posts cover disparate subjects at times, but they all have that common thread running throughout. I hope that people might feel a sense of creative inspiration, positivity about Tasmania, and a desire to appreciate the objects and places around them.
You can see that all these Insta accounts have a sense of cohesion. The images relate to one another, whether that’s through the subject matter, colours, composition, saturation or desaturation.
Create a cohesive visual theme or a story to go with your message
The subjects in my photos do vary, but this is the list I generally stick to:
- Completed projects
- In-progress shots
- Spectacular Tasmanian scenery (occasionally others from travel)
- Object/design/interior vignettes
- Interesting rooms and spaces
- Plants/flowers in season
- Inspiring local art/design
Visually: blues, greens, lots of light, plant life, timber tones and pops of colour seem to be working for me at the moment. This could very well shift over time as seasons change, as my photos are so reliant on immediate place and mood.
Post clear, quality photos
It’s obvious, but good photos go a long way. Well-lit settings, good composition, subject in focus, uncluttered backgrounds… it’s worth taking a few snaps to get the right shot. I’m not the greatest at photography, but I make an effort to improve with time. (My 2013 photos look like crapola next to my 2016 photos, so, yay?)
If you’re inexperienced with a camera, there’s a lot of articles out there that can give you a crash course in photography. But here’s an unexpected source that I found useful: the Foodgawker/Craftgawker submission guide, of all things. It clearly breaks down a lot of do’s and don’t in regards to exposure, composition, styling, photo editing and whatnot.
I prefer to post photos I took with my camera (rather than phone snaps) onto my feeds because they just look better. I move selected photos at once from my laptop to my phone using AirDrop and go from there. Alternatively, I post to Instagram on my laptop via Gramblr.
Before/after filtering a couple snaps from my trip to Bruny Island. Not a drastic difference, but enough of one for me!
Use image filters wisely
“Don’t shoot thinking you’ll fix it all in the edit room, or edit app, for that matter. The better, clearer, and stronger the starting image is, the better the completed photo will be. Use your apps and tools to morph a good image into a phenomenal one.” – 9 Cardinal Sins of iPhoneography
I take my time with editing the photos I upload for my blog posts, but for social media, image filters will do the job. I like the inherent candid nature of Instagram, as well as forcing myself to not obsess over every fine detail in post-processing, just letting a quick filter do the work.
Snapseed and VSCOcam are nice, though I’ve been having a play with A Color Story lately. I prefer strong lighting, decent contrast and bright colours where possible and prefer simple, clear filters – no colour effects or vignetting. I don’t want to fiddle around with my IG photos for too long, I just want to post nice-looking photos and get on with my day.
I also bump up the contrast and saturation for social media (and tiny phone screens), for a bit of extra punch. I’ve heard that that people decide whether or not to follow you within seconds of looking at your feed – reel ‘em in if you can.
Every photo needs an associated story
“This brings us to Cardinal Sin #1: Shooting without intention. A great photograph tells a story about the subject, and tells an even deeper story about the photographer. Before hitting the shutter, ask yourself two questions: ‘What story is this telling?’, and ‘What emotion does this make me feel?’. Train your mind to think as if you were shooting on a roll of film. Shoot with intent instead of abandon.” – 9 Cardinal Sins of iPhoneography
This is something I’m thinking about more for my photos, especially for photos that will be shared on social media. I’m trying to focus on capturing an experience or a feeling, as well as the subject itself.
Captions also help explain the context and make photos more engaging on social media. These images are a glimpse at my life and my thought process – the caption allows personality to shine through. (Man, analysing this sure is the opposite of candid.)
Choose the right platforms
Right now I use Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest for this blog. I need to start scheduling automated posts in all three, because right now I’m not exactly #killingit and lining up stuff in advance would save me some stress.
Anyway – I was late to Instagram. Real late. For the longest time I had this weird mental block about it – great, like I really need another constant live feed reminding me of my inadequacy. But Instagram had the opposite effect that I’d expected: instead of discouraged, I felt inspired. Just be yourself, people will respond.
Instagram has been great for gaining an audience and connecting with creatives, particularly locals. I feel so much less isolated from the local creative scene since I joined Instagram, and I keep hearing about gig opportunities through it. Facebook is nice for engaging with patient, encouraging, flat-out awesome readers and building that relationship. Instagram gets a much better response, but I like that Facebook gives metrics and gentle reminders to post more often. Facebook has the option to easily promote pages/posts for money, but I’ve heard from blogging groups that they can jerk you around in order to convince you to keep paying up, so I’m not sure if I’ll try it out yet.
Also, I’m learning the hard way that images that I’ve already edited for the web don’t look too hot if I just directly repost them to social media. Images lose a fair amount of quality when posted to Facebook or Instagram.
What can the reader get out of your photos?
“Consider all the ways your customers use your product, and let that inform your visual content decisions. (eg – Are your wireless speakers providing the soundtrack for your customers’ outdoor adventures? Use this knowledge — and a memorable photo — to tell that story.”
Take Your Customers Behind the Scenes:
“Everyone is enticed by the idea of lifting the curtain to see what goes on behind the scenes. There’s a certain amount of mystery tied to every brand, and when companies offer a glimpse into what makes them tick, consumers are intrigued. To achieve this, companies should aim to highlight aspects of their brand story that aren’t often seen.”
In this example, I was quickly framing a couple of prints into secondhand frames and thought, why not take a photo? So I did, and I gave a few tips for framing at home. I don’t post enough photos showing the mess in action, and this was as good an opportunity as any.
When summer calms down and I find myself indoors more often, I’ll probably end up posting more in-progress photos for my projects.
I still have lots to learn (and lots to gain), but it’s not amateur hour on my blog anymore. I hope. If you’re interested in taking this course yourself, the link is here. Thank you to the instructors and facilitators running it, I feel heaps more confident about tackling social media and photography now.