*DIY Insta Heart Collage

I first got into photography back in University.  Only back then I didn’t call it “photography”, it was just something I did.  Taking photographs to capture moments was something that – for whatever reason – I felt was important. Long before I had a fancy DSLR and was obsessed with Instagram (it didn’t even exist back then!), I lugged around disposable cameras on drunken nights out, drunken nights in, adventures away and trips down the beach (Swansea University is literally right on the beach).  It was a point, click, fingers-crossed world where you never knew how the photographs were going to turn out until you popped down to Boots to get them developed, and then laughed at them with housemates as you stuck them up on the wall with all the others. Photographs really were – as Angela Carter once wrote – chunks of time you could hold in your hands.  Good times!  And that’s probably the last time I actually got a proper film of photographs developed.

Nowadays I’m taking more photographs than I ever have in my life – and yet they remain in digital suspense on Instagram, my blog and on Facebook.  They can be seen by the entire world and yet I only get to see them if I log in and scroll!  What happened to those walls covered in photographs? So when Printiki got in touch with me recently and asked if I’d like to try their photo printing service, I said, yes please!

You can order prints, posters and albums of your favourite grams straight to your front door in varying sizes and shapes (matte or glossy), from retro Polaroid-style photographs to the square ones I chose.  You can even add text to them in their easy to use editor.  Choosing which photographs to print was the hardest part, and once I’d ordered them they dropped onto my doormat barely three days later! 🙂  I was really impressed with the colour and quality – and you guys know how much I love colourful things!

There’s a very boring bare wall above my sofa at the moment that Sunny and I have been having arguments over what to put up there, so I took a tip from my university days and decided to brighten it up with a heart shaped collage made with my new prints!


What do you think?  ♥  Do you ever print your photographs?  What do you do with them?

Why it’s Okay to Unfollow

I was flicking through my Instagram feed the other day.  It’s a strange mix.  There are the sporadic posts from friends and family (including my Dad; whose Instagram theme includes scribbling lines over Google Maps to show the world where he’s been walking), random pet accounts (cute!), mixed in with some online friends, beautiful bloggers and bakers – y’know for a bit of daily inspo.  (Oh.  And unavoidable adverts.  Ugh.)  I scrolled down – liking, saving, commenting – and then, I got stuck.

Wait.  Who the hell’s that?  Oh.  The account of a friend of a friend who followed me and I – politely – followed back.  Another grainy gram of a night out with some friends I didn’t know in a bar I didn’t recognise.  Why was I still following him?  Enough was enough. I clicked through to his profile page and my thumb hovered over the The Blue Button of Doom… but then something stopped me.

I felt guilty. Guilty about unfollowing. After all, they were still following me. So wouldn’t it be rude to cut and run? A prime example of poor netiquette? A sort of virtual dine and dash? I mean, by pressing that button you’re basically sending the message to that person, “I’m not interested in you anymore. Buh-bye!” Never mind the fact that they might be a virtual stranger or that you’ve never spoken beyond a couple of comments with emojis, it feels cold and cruel to hit that button. All of us have been on the other side of this at some point, so we can relate; we know how it feels when someone blue buttons us. It stings a little, and you’re left wondering what tweet, which instagram or snapchat was it that finally pushed them out the door.

Think about it. How many people are you following on various social media platforms that you’d quite like to ditch but don’t because you feel guilty? Those polite follow-backs, friend of a friends, old school friends you haven’t spoken to in a hundred years. How many tweets and Instagrams do you eyeroll your way through every single day just to scroll to the people you actually care about, to the content that makes a difference to your day?

Social media has become such a massive part of our every day lives. Scrolling Instagram is the first thing I do in the morning (or at least it used to be pre-puppy!) and the last thing I do at night, and like it or not, those internet relationships we forge through social media are becoming just as important and as valuable as our “real life” ones. They matter. So why are we hanging on to the ones that don’t – the ones that don’t excite, inspire or interest us – just because we feel bad for unfollowing? Would we waste our time like that offline?

I hope this isn’t coming across as bitchy or cold, it’s meant to be the exact opposite. I’d rather have a feed that’s full of mutual, meaningful relationships and content that I value and feel inspired by, than one clogged up with names I don’t recognise and content I don’t care about.  Wouldn’t you?  And it goes the other way too; don’t keep me on your feed and in your life because you feel like you have to, keep me there because you want to.

We need to shed the guilt about unfollowing someone, just as we need to learn to either ignore or live with that sting we feel when someone unfollows us.  It might feel personal, but it’s not.  Not really.  The relationship never got personal.  They didn’t get you, and that’s okay.  Hitting that blue button from time to time (and being blue-buttoned) is a necessary part of finding your tribe. 🙂

Why You Don’t Have to Use Your Voice

So – as it turns out – on the 8th of June we’ve all got to make another trip to our local polling station.  Another election.  Really?  Hands up if you rolled your eyes a little when Theresa May emerged from Number 10 to address the nation?  And not because General Elections aren’t terribly important, or because broadcast media always have to sneak in a little close-up of her leopard print kitten heels (y’know, just in case it slipped your mind that a woman – yes a woman – is currently running the country)… but because from now until the polls close (and let’s be honest, for at least a week or two after) there’s going to be a lot of shouting and ranting online and that same question posed to bloggers and YouTubers over and over and over again: “WHY DON’T YOU USE YOUR VOICE?”

Over the next six weeks the internet will constantly poke and prod at bloggers to come out from their marble and rose gold blogger bat caves, lower their cameras, declare their side and release a battle cry through their content for their subscribers to follow.  Some do – and that’s fine, it’s their choice – but many choose to stay silent.  And that’s when the internet responds to the radio silence with a scoff and types some passive aggressive tweet along the lines of, “You have so many followers, you could make such a difference!” and, oh yeah, “Why don’t you use your voice and reach to inform about the bigger issues instead of going on about that latest must-have lipstick!?”  And it’s not just politics, bloggers are constantly urged to use their following and to voice their opinions on various matters.

While I understand the frustration, whether they use their voice or not, and how they use it is a personal choice.  Obviously, huge respect to anyone who does choose to stick their head up over the parapet and voice their opinions on the tougher, polarizing subjects, but just as we’re all entitled to use our voice – to shout our opinions and political views loud and proud – we’re also entitled to stay silent, or to whisper if we so choose, and shouldn’t be berated for that decision.

Everyone has their reasons for staying silent.  True, some choose to zip the lip because they hate confrontation, don’t want to offend anyone or because they don’t want to suddenly see themselves drop a hundred followers, but for others it’s simply a choice not to share.  Perhaps they’re just not interested or don’t feel well enough informed to voice an opinion, perhaps they’d just rather stick to lighter subjects (hey, we’re going to be hearing a lot of politics over the next month – sometimes you need to breathe and see something that doesn’t remind you how royally eff’d the country is)… or perhaps they just feel that their opinion isn’t anyone’s business but their own.

At the end of the day, we’re all entitled to pick and choose what we share online – on our blogs and via social media.  And when someone – blogger or not – chooses not to weigh in on a big subject, that’s their choice and they’re entitled to it.

Instagram Stories: Tips and Tricks

I swore never to become one of those people.  You know, the people who take Instagram seriously. The ones who shudder at the thought of posting a ‘gram that hasn’t had the VSCO nip/tuck treatment first (hell no!), or a snap that just doesn’t fit in with their *groans* “theme”. Pfft. Well whaddya know?  1 year later and I’ve gone over to the dark side. Somehow, I just got sucked in.  Long gone are the days of posting a spontaneous snap of my builder’s brunch with a bit of Valencia filter to bring out the baked beans slurping over the side of the plate. But it’s no secret that Instagram can be tough and disheartening at times. If it’s not the algorithm killing my buzz then it’s those big accounts playing the follow/unfollow game, and now there’s something called shadow blocking – where Instagram itself (the nerve!) selectively blocks use who use too many hashtags without them even knowing it. It’s true to say that I fall out of love with Instagram every day for some reason or another.

Then, Instagram Stories came along and I finally had a place for all those sloppy, spur of the moment snaps.  It’s brought the spontaneity back to Instagram – the no pressure, no filter fun – and it’s the perfect place for those raw snippets of daily life.  Through them I’ve fallen back in love with Instagram.  Like kids and bedtime stories, I tend to flick through them before I go to sleep – just to see what everyone’s been up to in “real life”; where they went, what they ate, what they made, what they wore, what their dog (or cat!) did.

It’s within the last month that I’ve really started having fun with it. I micro-vlog on days out or when I’m cooking (or need to rant about my dog ripping up his puppy pads) and I love playing around with the features. It’s tipped to be the next big thing in social media marketing and blogging over the next year, with more and more users getting involved.  So if you’re just starting out with Instagram Stories or you’re looking for a few tips and tricks to up your game and make things a little more interesting, look no further!

You don’t have to use Instagram to create your stories.  Handy tip numero uno; you don’t have to just use the app to take pictures or videos. With one downward swipe you can actually pull in recent videos and pictures you created using other apps like Snapchat.  By doing this, you’re not confined to using only the features Instagram Stories has to offer.  I’ve used my camera app to film videos and then sped them up or slowed them down (cool  little trick for making driving and road trip stories more interesting).  I’ve also used VSCO for other filters and Snapchat for selfies.  Remember though, you’re limited to using videos created within the past 24 hours (again, you can get around that by resaving or editing the photo/video).

Sick of being cut off after 15 seconds?  If you’re fed up of spilling your heart out to the world and having it annoyingly cut you off every 15 seconds, try this.  Record in your camera app and then snip the video into 15 second segments.  Upload them into Instagram Stories in order, and voila!  Each video should seamlessly run through into the next one.  No mid sentence shut downs! 🙂

Text. Unless you use another photo editing app, there’s only one font to choose from in Instagram Stories itself. You can change the colour of the font using the paint pots at the bottom of the screen, or, if you press the “A” button at the top of the screen you can add a background colour to the text to make it easier to read. Move your text around the screen, resize it using your fingers, or using the slider on the left. Hold down words or letters to change their individual colour.

Pens. Using pens is a fun way of doodling or handwriting on your videos. I’ve got a pen with a stylus on one end which makes handwriting and drawing on my phone screen a bit easier and fits easily in my bag. There are LOADS of colours to choose from; either hold your finger down on a colour pot to tweak, or swipe left for more. If you want to colour-block your screen, or give your selfie a colourful haze then select the marker and a colour then hold your finger down on the screen.

▲ Stickers. Stickers are great for adding a little something-something and are constantly being switched and updated. Click the smiley sticker in the upper right hand corner and you can access location, time and temperature tags, emojis, photo booth props and stickers related to the day of the week. 🙂

Stamp your location for a better chance of being discovered by others.  A more recent update to stories is the ability to watch “City Stories”, a collection of stories from users in one area (you can search for these stories using the search by location function).  If you stamp a location to your story (even if you make it really, really small!) it has a higher chance of being added to the collective story for your home town or city/place you’re currently visiting – meaning higher views and – you never know! – followers.  If that’s what your end goal is, of course…

Face Filters.  Another recent feature is the ability to play around with facial filters (sounds familiar… *ahem* Snapchat *ahem*).  Press the little face next to the camera button at the bottom of the screen and change up your usual selfie for something different.

Get social, or not! Mention or tag other users in your stories by using the text feature and typing “@” followed by the person’s user name. Restrict who sees your story by pressing the little star in the upper left hand corner.

What do you love/hate about Instagram and Stories?

Blog Photography 101


You have no idea how much I hate admitting this – as a writer it’s almost like swearing against some blood-written code – but, dammit, the “pretty pictures” are always what first attracts me to a blog.  I feel truly filthy admitting that, but there you go. Of course everyone’s got their own taste and words for me are still an important close second place. I follow a lot of international blogs and because I can’t speak Swedish or Japanese I’ve become reliant on the pictures to tell a story.  It’s those bright, smiling snaps that illustrate the words perfectly are what’s going to bring me clicking back time and time again.

When I first started blogging it felt like the only way to mimic that bright standard of blog photography was with an equally aesthetically pleasing (and expensive) Olympus Pen swinging around my neck like some blogger medal of honour.  Pfft!  The truth is that expensive tools are useless if you don’t know how to use them; I’m still not sure what all the buttons on my Nikon are for, we’re still very much getting to know each other!  You really, honestly don’t need a fancy DSLR, or Light Boxes or even be a dab hand at Photoshop to take great pictures.  Really.  These days even a mobile phone is capable of taking beautiful photography and that’s exactly what I used when I first started.  The truth is that the trick to taking blog-worthy snaps is all about practice and learning how to play around with the elements that go in to making a pinnable snap. 🙂

Light

As soon as you pick up a camera you quickly realise that light can be both your friend and enemy.  Bright sunny days can bleach out colour, create annoying shadows and unflattering facial expressions, while grey clouds work like giant soft boxes to even things out.  Dull days make taking pictures indoors near impossible (Welsh weather is very unhelpful sometimes!).  Pictures taken at dawn and dusk are truly magical. 🙂

  • Personally I steer clear of the flash unless it’s the middle of the night!  It tends to reflect off of objects and “flattens” the picture.  Natural light is much, much softer (and kinder!) and creates depth… but then that’s just me.  So far I’ve coped without light boxes.
  • Everyone has a “sunny spot” in their home – a window that brings in the most light or a sunny corner.  Mine is in the kitchen next to the patio doors and I take the majority of my indoor pictures there.
  • To make sure the subject is bright and in focus, you’re going to want to try and point your camera in the same direction that the light is travelling to catch it bouncing off of the subject (remember all those light line drawings from physics lessons and follow the same rule!).
  • I don’t tend to take photographs for my blog at night.  Indoor lighting can cause a yellow tinge – yuck!
  • Sometimes if the light isn’t quite right then you can fix it when you come to editing.  There are so, so many great photo editors online these days that a subscription to Photoshop seems a little pointless (and expensive!). I’ve been using Pixlr exclusively for years to cheer up any dull pictures lurking in the pack 🙂

Background, Colour and Composition

Once you’ve got the light sorted, then it’s time to “compose”.

  • Keep in mind what you’re taking a picture of – what’s the subject?  Whether it’s a pet, a beauty product, a cake or even you then this needs to be star of the shot and therefore clear, bright and in focus – but remember that it doesn’t necessarily have to be slap bang in the middle of the picture.  Sometimes – particularly with portraits of people – having the subject off-centre looks great.
  • To make sure that your subject is the centre of attention, background is very important!  A busy background will pull attention away from the subject, but that doesn’t mean it has to be completely plain.  I’ve got whitewashed floorboards in my kitchen that work as quite a nice simple, neutral background for flatlays.  A white bed duvet works well too.  Sometimes you can have fun with backgrounds; like did you know that you can order wallpaper samples online for free?  I used a fish themed one to create the background for my lobster cookies shot, but I’ve got loads more to play around with stored up waiting for their moment 🙂
  • Colour is great, but make sure you’re using colours that compliment the subject and not too many.  If you’re unsure what this means then take a look at the Colour Wheel.  Colours that are opposite one another complement each other.


  • Angles can change everything and ultimately depend on the subject.  If you’re taking pictures of people then avoid standing lower than the subject to avoid unflattering “up the nostril” shots.  If you’re taking snaps of beauty products then you’ll want to choose an angle that ensures the label is visible and in focus.

Props

Sometimes it’s nice to add a few background items or relevant props around the subject if it’s looking a bit bored and lonely on its own. 😉

  • Choose props based on colour and whether they add anything relevant to the subject.
  • Flowers and plants always make for popular props, and I’ve also used books before (I used the Jungle Book to make my picture of Monkey Bread look a a bit more colourful and interesting).

Planning

Sometimes blog posts are planned around photographs, sometimes it’s the other way around.  Since the majority of my posts are all about my adventures in and around my home town it’s usually the photos that create the post, not the other way around.  But sometimes I write a tutorial, a “what I learned” or a recipe post which means that a little bit of planning needs to go in to choose exactly how I want to perfectly illustrate what I’m going to write about.  Once I’ve written the post I’ll create a list of photographs I think will be needed.  Sometimes this will be very vague, sometimes it’ll be more detailed if I have a good idea of what props, backgrounds etc I want to use.  A little planning is always helpful!

You



Photography is a very personal thing, and as soon as you pick up a camera you start to build a personal style 🙂  When it comes to blogging your photography style is part of your brand, it’s what sets you apart from everyone else. So that being said it’s definitely important to throw a little bit of your individual quirks into each photograph.  This can be through your use of props, the colours you tend to stick to, or even the type of photos you take and the subjects you like to snap.  This isn’t an overnight thing, it takes time and practice to figure out what best represents you.  Since starting I seem to gravitate to blue and green over other colours when I’m out and about (figures, I go on a lot muddy walks!), and when I’m indoors I seem to favour casual, non posy shots.  Hands and feet!  Is this my “style”?  Who knows!

Have you got any blog photography tips or tricks you’ve picked up?