Photo Editing 101

I would like to preface this post by saying that some people prefer to leave their photos unedited. The #Unfiltered look is big on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and even WordPress, so if you don’t have any desire to edit photos, please don’t. Please ignore this post. It’s not a requirement. It’s not even an ’ement’. This is just something that I’ve done over the years, that I know a lot of people who use social media do and I wanted to share some shortcuts with you. That is all.

Okay, so I’ve heard it said many a times that a picture is worth a thousand words. To that notion I say that if my photo’s going to be worth a thousand words, I better make sure they’re important words being portrayed through my images.

For nearly a decade, there wasn’t a photo that I posted, sent or printed without edits. Many edits were small… editing out a logo here, blurring a child’s face there… just small things to ensure we were in compliance with FOIP (the Freedom of Information Protection Act) in Canada. Some edits were major… reconstructing the facial shape of someone as a means to ‘filter’ distinguishing marks, fudging the dollar amount written on giant cheques (though I regret to admit to that) and changing out the people who were holding the cheque, or even completely photoshopping someone out of one location and into another. Over time I became a master at turning a photo into pretty much anything that I wanted it to be. And that says a lot because I am very picky when it comes to photos.

Luckily, from a blogging perspective, the editing (if one chooses to do so) need not be nearly as complicated as what’s practiced in the corporate world.

Before I get to the edition notes, I will say that things are a lot easier if you take good photos to start with. Take advantage of natural lighting where possible (the sun). Make sure the lens is in focus before you take the photo. If there are people in the photo that differ vastly in heights, do something to balance that height difference. These are all small steps you can take to vastly improve the quality of photos you’re taking from the get-go.

Okay, onto photo editing:

*Note – This information is from the perspective of photos being taken on a phone, since smartphones are everywhere and you use your phones to upload to social media platforms.

The number one thing that I would recommend a blogger do to edit photos is download Adobe Lightroom to your phone. There is both a free and a premium version of this app. Please do not purchase the premium version, you will not need it. Everything you need to make a photograph beautiful, you can find in the free version. Free Adobe Lightrom will allow you to:

  • Crop Images
  • Auto adjust the lighting to your photos
  • Manually adjust the lighting to your photos
  • Edit the colour balance of your photos
  • Sharpen, blur, correct, create frames or vignettes for any effects that you might like
  • Attempt to correct the focus as much as possible (if it’s an extremely blurry photo, it’ll likely just make it less blurry…)
  • Allow you to select between ‘presets’ created with specific intention to do all of the above steps in one

Examples of before and After using Adobe Lightroom:

The number two thing that I will recommend with respect to photo editing is to stay away from Facetune. Facetune is a demon that is changing the way that we see ourselves and other people. It contributes to low-self esteem because people are creating unrealistic standards of beauty and attractiveness based on what they can make themselves look like with a few minutes spent editing in Facetune. There’s a big difference between editing out a zit and changing one’s waist from being 30 inches to being 13 inches.

Now, all that being said, photo editing is all about you and what you find to be the magic factor in photos. If you like black and white images, Lightroom gives you the option to convert all of your images to black and white. If you like bright and light photos, Lightroom gives you plenty of functions that help with turning a photo that was taken in a dull/dark room into something that really pops off the page.

I am someone who likes bright photos. I want the colours to carry, the details to shine and even the dullest of days to look like a postcard. I’m providing some examples of my photos below and as you will see, even on a dull day (first, middle and last photo) it’s still possible to make the photo look like a postcard.

These are some of my photos from various locations and times over the past year. I’m not sure if you can tell just from looking at them, but they’ve all been edited to very much carry the same tone to them. I wanted the whites to be clean, the greens to pop, the skies to be the bluest that could be while accurately depicting what a camera on my phone couldn’t catch on the day the photo was taken.

I used what is called ‘Adobe Lightroom Presets’.

I know what you’re thinking and I hear you. ‘Presets, Vee? That sounds so extra. Who would bother?’

These presets are used by people far and wide on social media. If you’ve ever looked at someone’s Instagram page and seen similar tones to all of their images, it’s a safe bet they’re using a preset for their photos.

The ‘Preset’ is exactly what it sounds like – it’s a preset collection of edits for LightRoom to apply to the photograph in one step. It’s a matter of hitting one button in LightRoom and your photo is brighter, more vivid and depicting the image you want to convey in a matter of seconds.

Extra. I know.

But, if you’re particular with photos, it is a big time saver, helps with branding, makes your photos aesthetically themed and ensures you always have a beautiful photo, even on the dullest of days.

The presets that I use I developed several years back to cover my basis when I needed to turnaround press-releases in a hurry and always seemed to get sent shitty looking photos. They’re a ‘formula’ that I keep a tight secret around and will stay in the vault to one day be passed down to my children and grandchildren. (joking)

If you would like to delve into the option of presets, you can do one of two things:

  1. You can make your own. I highly recommend this option because it allows you to draw out the aspects of photos that you most appreciate.
  2. You can purchase some.

I highly recommend, if you download Lightroom yourself, that you try option one before option two. I say this because creating your own presets will allow you to create edits that you find most important in photographs.

It’ll also give you an appreciation for the photo editing process. It’ll also make you appreciate the photos you’re taking that much more and it’ll cause you to stop and think about your photos as you’re taking them. You’ll find yourself stopping to think ‘can I get better lighting if I make my subject face the window instead of against’, and various other thoughts of what’s going to make your photos better. Then, when you’re taking better photos, there’ll be less editing to do.

After all, if a picture is worth a thousand words, you might as well make those words important.

If you tried your hand at creating presets and you didn’t like it, or if you’d just like some help and believe you’d like to purchase some Lightroom presets, the place to do is on Etsy. Using your phone type ‘Mobile Lightroom Presets’ in to the search bar and you will be innundated with different presets made by different designers.

I’ve seen them range anywhere from $3.00 USD to $350 USD. And let me be abundantly clear, you do not need a $350 package of Lightroom presets. There’s a lot to choose from, so it’s a matter of you taking a look at what you find most aesthetically pleasing and what’s the price you’re ultimately willing to pay.

With 17,034 listings to go through, though, I thought I’d provide a couple of suggestions if you decide to purchase presets:

  • A good Lightroom preset package will have 3-4 Presets. Don’t buy a package that has 99 presets (and they are available on Etsy) because you don’t need 99 presets
  • Realistically, if you wanted to use a preset, your criteria should be to have one preset for outside photos, one for inside, one for without people and one for with people
  • Don’t get sucked in by the ‘gimmicky’ presets like the one titled ‘Peach’ in the screenshot above. Might it look nice if your presets always make you look like you have tanned skin? Sure. But, it’s winter and unless you live in California or Florida, people are likely going to see through the artificial tan your adding to your photos. Try to select a set of presets that will be applicable to all of your photos year round, whether you’ve got a tan or you’re in the deep of winter

To finish off this exceptionally long description of how to edit photos, I would like to add a reminder to please leave face structure and body shapes alone in your editing process. You, your friends, your family and any subjects your taking photos of are perfectly beautiful just the way they are.

Yes, we all have insecurities, but that doesn’t mean that you need to edit the length of your fingers to make it look as though you have larger hands. (If you understand this reference, we’re soulmates) Insecurities will NEVER be fixed by making it look as though they don’t exist in photos. That and there’s a big difference between bringing out the beauty of someone and completely changing their entire being. People are beautiful just the way they are.

If you like editing, if you want to get into editing or even if you don’t like editing, thanks for reading and for making it this far. Go forth and do good, grasshopper. I have the utmost faith in you.

Blogging courses – my opinion.

They’re not worth your money. They’re just not.

I’ve put off talking about this for a long time because I don’t want to offend anyone. And honestly, I’m sorry if this offends anyone who charges for these courses. But, the truth to the matter is, when it comes to running a blog, the person behind the blog is what determines whether or not a blog is successful.

Let’s be real! You can find everything you need to set up and run a blog for free on Google. Categories, subject matter, audience engagement, tags, SEO, marketing, formatting, etc, etc… can all be found on Google. You can ask blogging friends, for free, once your blog has been made. You can learn by experience, for free, as you go. You can watch videos about it on YouTube, for free. All of these resources will give you the tools and resources you might/could possibly need/want to run a blog.

They are not going to make your blog successful though.

You make your blog successful.

Think of it like parents who purchase vocal lessons for their child. The teacher can teach all about reading music about tones, pitches, breathing, all things to deal with learning to sing. That teacher is not going to turn the child into Adele though. All the vocal lessons in the world won’t turn the child into Adele. Adele is Adele for a reason. The magic behind Adele is her, and it’s a magic that can’t be taught in any vocal lesson.

The magic behind an incredible blog can’t be taught in any blogging course. If you really want to throw your money away, I’ve got two open hands. Or, save your money, do some online research and use your individuality to make your own magic in this online world.

A free tool for bloggers.

If you’ve never heard me say it before, I’ll say it now: Analytics are one of the best and important tools that you can use for growing a blog, or form. WordPress tracks analytics specific to your blog itself, but, if you branch out to sharing posts on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest the analytics WordPress tracks with respect to incoming visitors is limited.

This is where ‘Bit.ly’ comes in. Bit.ly’s slogan is ‘Unleash the power of the link’ and that it really, really does.

BIT.LY

If you share your posts through any social media platforms, I would strongly recommend considering a Bit.ly account.

Bit.ly allows you to create custom, shortened links that are trackable. Why does this matter? Because analytics are integral to growth. And, if you can track your links then you can find out how to better share. If you’re going to go through the effort of sharing your posts to other social media platforms, then you might as well do so in the most effective way.

How it works:

  1. Create a Bit.ly account. It’s completely free and takes less than five minutes to sign up.
  2. Copy the link of the post that you’re wishing to share to social media and beyond.
  3. Go to bit.ly and on the top right side of the page there is an orange button that says ‘Create’. Click ‘Create’
  4. In the pinkish coloured box where it says ‘Past Long URL’, paste your post link.
  5. Wait two seconds, or click ‘Create’ (in orange at the bottom)

Et voila! You have a completely unique, completely traceable link. Bit.ly creates a link with random characters and, at this point your link is done and ready to go.

If you’e so inclined, however, you can customize this link to best fit your content. There’s a box that says ‘Customize Back Half’ – in here, you can change the random characters Bit.Ly uses to something suitable for you. Example: Bit.ly/fsdf234sad or Bit.ly/VeeIsAmazing123

Once your link is created to your liking, copy the traceable link and use that to post to social media, to share via emails, to include in comments and forums, etc… Then, every time someone clicks on that link, Bit.ly traces that data. Where they clicked on the link from, what date it was they clicked on the link, what country the person lives in, what time of day was most popular for the link and much much more.

Why does this matter?

Having analytics and data about how people find your blog is like holding a secret key to a door that not everyone knows exists.

Bit.ly is such an easy solution for analytics for bloggers, especially those just starting out, because it’s free. Whilst WordPress tracks your WordPress analytics and Twitter tracks your Twitter analytics, etc… Bit.ly allows you to track real time analytics from any website where you post the unique link. Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, or wherever your little heart desires all in one place.

Data it collects:

  1. Where people come from (what site: Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Youtube, etc…)
  2. Where people come from (what country they live in)
  3. What day of the week your links are most popular
  4. The dates people are clicking on your link. While there’ll likely be an influx of people clicking on the date you’re posting the link for the first time, are there people coming a week later? A month later? Bit.ly is going to track that and how they found your link a month later.

Using this unique link will tell you real time data of how effective your social media/digital integration promotion is and where your audience comes from. Once you have that data, it’s completely up to you what you do with it. But, if your desire is to grow your blog at all, data like this is invaluable!

All about hashtags.

Hashtags… they’ve been around since the inception of Twitter, but how many of us use them? And if we are using them, how do we know we’re using them properly?

The following are some tidbits with respect to the use of hashtags and social media. Please keep in mind that people have vastly different opinions with respect to how to use hashtags and what they’re important for, so if you disagree with my thoughts that is totally okay. Do what you believe is best for your blog and take these as nothing more than suggestions.

Also, if you’re not seeking social media growth, this post likely won’t have any relevance to you, so you can stop reading right here.

What is a hashtag?
A hashtag is a label used on social media sites to make it easier for people to find content within a theme, when one is looking for specific content.

Why use a hashtag?
Plain and simply, hashtags work. If you want your Instagram, Twitter or Facebook post to be seen, a hashtag provides the opportunity for more people than just your followers to find it. Hashtags help you build a brand, engage with new people, readers, customers (depending on what you’re using your social media profiles for) and grow your profile.

General tidbits with respect to hashtags:

  1. Don’t be an asshole. If you’re posting a photo of a waterfall, don’t tag your photo #JustinBieber. If you’re posting a tweet that contains parenting advice, don’t tag your post #CurlyHair. These hashtags aren’t relevant. And, with enough shit to weed through on social media already, you’ll likely not garner any new readers/viewers by misusing hashtags, and piss off the ones you’ve got because they’ll get annoyed reading your misusing of hashtags.
  2. On Twitter – stick to using only one or two hashtags per tweet. You can differ from tweet to tweet, but don’t fill a single tweet with ten hashtags. People who do stumble across said tweet with ten hashtags are likely to scroll right past it because there are too many hashtags.
  3. On Instagram – you’re able to post up to thirty hashtags per one photo. You don’t need to post a full thirty hashtags, but, the option is there if you would like to. Typically, 10-15 is a good place to start. Whichever hashtags you select, choose some extremely popular ones, and some less popular ones. A variation between the two means that, for the popular hashtag you run the chance of a lot of people seeing your post immediately, and that for the less popular hashtag, your post has the chance of staying at top of page (or near top) for longer.
  4. On Instagram – post your hashtags in your caption, not in your first comment. People tend to argue about this suggestion often, but I stick to my opinion, and Forbes agrees. (HAHA) Honestly though, the moment you post a photo to Instagram, your photo is being inserted into the Instagram Algorithm. Even if it only takes you two minutes to go in and add your hashtags to the first comment, that’s two minutes the algorithm has been placing your photo that your hashtags haven’t been helping. People say it looks prettier to post hashtags in the comment, versus the caption. What I say to that, though, is that hashtags are meant to be functional, not beautiful. Furthermore, if you’re posting ads or sponsored content on Instagram, that notification of #AD needs to be front and centre for people to see so they know the content they’re viewing was bought and paid for.
  5. On Facebook – stick to hashtags that are in line with your branding. Facebook is the platform in which hashtags are used the least of all social media platforms. For this reason, I would recommend you keep your hashtags related to your branding. Using my blog for example, the advice would be to skip tagging #Anxiety and use #MillennialLifeCrisis instead.

What is a branding hashtag and what can it do?
A branding hashtag is something specific to you and your blog, or you and your business. This is something that you use across all platforms that you belong to, as a means for cohesive integration between all platforms. Branding hashtags can be as simple as your blog’s name.

Say, for instance your blog name is ‘Blog of the Wolf Boy‘ (using you as an example, Mathew, because it was the first thing that came to mind!), a branding hashtag for any posts that you made on social media could be as simple as #BlogOfTheWolfBoy. If you have a twitter account, an instagram account a facebook account, etc… using #BlogOfTheWolfBoy across all platforms can help each of these platforms appear when someone googles Blog Of The Wolf Boy.

Perhaps you have an Instagram account under the same name as your blog. When you google your blog’s name, does your Instagram account appear second or third or fourth on the list? If not, a hashtag specifically branded to your blog could help with this.

An example of a brand that uses this practice is Oreo. If you google #Oreo, the first few pages that come up are their website, their twitter account and their instagram account. Yes, they are a massive company, but if you’re looking for blog growth, imagine how convenient it would be to have all of your links appear just like Oreo’s does when someone is trying to find you!

If you want to make the most out of your hashtags, I recommend doing your research. Every industry, ever blog niche, every culture, has valuable hashtags and hashtags that aren’t worth much of anything. If you want to make the most out of your posts and are seeking growth on your social media platforms, then do some research about what popular hashtags are used within your niche. There are plenty of websites that will rank hashtags if you put in buzzwords. IE: You’d type in “Mom” and it would give you a list of the top 50 hashtags that contain the word “Mom”… such as #MomLife, #MomBlog, #Momageddon, and so on and so forth.

Good luck!

Twitter tips for bloggers

Include your blog link in your twitter ‘bio’ section. When people do click on and open up your twitter page, if you’re really committed to driving traffic to your blog, have your link right there, listed in your blog bio. Make it as EASY AS POSSIBLE for them to find your blog.

Use twitter to show off your personality. Tweet tidbits of your life, or the shows you’re watching, share your sense of humour. Let people know who you really are in small tidbits – 280 characters at a time. I can say with utmost certainty there are blogs I follow on WordPress that I’ve found I appreciated the Blog Author so much more when I started following them on twitter and started learning so much more about their personality. Show of yours! Be candid. Be friendly. Be yourself.

Don’t just tweet your posts link. In the tweet provide a description of your post, or, provide a quote from within your post. People don’t just blindly click links on twitter. They want to know what they’re clicking on.

If you can, add a photo to your tweet. You know the saying ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’? Well, if you only have 280 characters on twitter, use your choice of photograph to give you those extra thousand words.

Follow Blog-Share accounts. These are accounts specifically set up on twitter to allow bloggers to share their work and to meet other bloggers. Some of these include: @bloggershut, @goldenbloggerz, @bloggerstribe. It’s basically an opportunity for free promotion. Follow them and take advantage of the platform they provide! They typically post threads for bloggers to share their posts and when they’re not posting threads they just ask for you to use their hashtag when sharing your post and they’ll retweet it and share it to their base that includes thousands of followers. It’s free promotion, easy promotion and a great way to interact with other bloggers.

Be Social. Talk. Make friends. Follow people without worrying if they’re going to follow you back. This one is important. People tend to tweet Twitter like it’s a popularity contest. It’s not. If properly executed it can be a positive means for you to promote your blog, content and self. The catch is: you have to let go of tracking if everyone you’re following is following you. You have to let go of the thought that thousands of people are going to just up and follow you. Unless you’re Ariana Grande and just haven’t told me yet, it’s all likel that your growth will be slow and organic in nature. Follow people based on if you like their content/personality/tweets. Don’t follow people with the expectation they follow you back. You want people to follow you because they want to, not because they feel an obligation to. And trust me, if you’re genuine, people will sense that and follow you out of choice, not obligation.

Jump on trending hashtags where you can. A few days ago there was one #3ThingsIWantInMyStocking. If you’re on twitter and see hashtags of this nature, share your thoughts. They’re popular tags because people are sharing and reading these tweets. Open up your opportunity to meet new people. And if you read something funny within the hashtag, like it. Let the random stranger know they appreciated their tweet.

Tweet consistently. Just like with blogging, people like to follow twitter accounts that are consistently updated. Whether it’s daily, or weekly, ensure that you’re using Twitter consistently. If you’re tweeting a couple of posts and then don’t use your Twitter account for a month, then people are going to get bored and likely unfollow you. Twitter is about interaction, and if you’re not interacting, you’re not going to see growth.

Tweetdeck is a free service that allows you to schedule all of your tweets in advance. Many services that allow you to schedule tweets will charge you for their service. Tweetdeck is COMPLETELY FREE! You need not make an account, your Twitter account is what Tweetdeck needs, you just have to allow Tweetdeck access. And, you can use Tweetdeck to schedule tweets across multiple accounts. The catch? You can’t post threads on Tweetdeck and you can’t post emojis. Realistically, though, you don’t need either of those things if you’re scheduling promotional tweets for your blog.

Tweetdeck is great if you work full time during the day or have a busy life and kiddos to look after. You can schedule your tweets so you don’t have to worry about logging in during the day to post. You can sit down at night after all the kiddos have gone to bed and schedule your post for the next day. Then, if you do get a chance to read twitter during the day, you don’t have to worry about posting, you’re at that point just browsing!

Ask your WordPress followers what their Twitter handles are. Want to make instantaneous connections on Twitter? Tell your WordPress followers that you’ve got a Twitter account and ask them for their Twitter handles. If you’re new or just starting out, this is an easy way of forming connections immediately.


Shameless self promotion: My Twitter handle is @MillennialMe88

Things your WordPress Analytics can teach you.

We’ve all seen these statistics before. Every blog on WordPress has them. But what are they? What do they mean? How do we use them? Why should we use them?

Analytics are one of the easiest, and best things you can use for improving your blog’s function, reach and usability. And WordPress just gives them to you, for free. Since they’re there, you might as well use them.

I have touched on each of these things before. But, I’m doing a refresher since my blog was much smaller last time I spoke of these subjects.

WHERE DOES YOUR AUDIENCE COME FROM?

Using the #MillennialLifeCrisis blog statistics for example, you can see that the bulk of my audience, far and above views from any other country, comes from the United States.

Why does this matter?

Well, if the majority of your audience is coming to you from a certain country, and you’re looking to have your posts seen by as many people as possible, it might be a smart move to strategically plan posts to go up at peak hours of applicable time zones.

Again, using my blog as an example, #MillennialLifeCrisis posts are scheduled with the American time zones in mind because Americans are the largest audience that I have. While I do get a lot of views from the United Kingdom, it would make less sense to post content around Greenwich Mean Time (The UK) because I’ll be missing out on having my post at the top of feeds for my largest audience (Americans) when they sign into WordPress.

Now this is just an example of my blog. Take a look at your stats! Maybe you’re in the UK and the bulk of your audience is in the United States. If that were the case, it might be something to consider posting your content during the peak viewing times for Americans.

WHEN ARE THE MOST PEOPLE VIEWING YOUR BLOG?

Under insights you can find this statistic. What it tells you is what day of the week the most people visit your blog and what hour of the day the most people visit your blog.

If you’re someone who posts once per week, then go into insights, find this day and time and schedule your posts around this day and time. Why? Because if this is the time when the most people are viewing your blog during the span of one hour, why not optimize that specific time by giving them a new post to read each week at this time?

WHAT TAGS AND CATEGORIES ARE MOST VALUABLE?

I know that I’ve said this before, so I apologize if I sound like I’m sending the same message time after time after time, but tags and categories are integral to blog growth. Not only that but they’re also one of the easiest ways to help people find your content.

Properly categorizing and tagging your posts allow them to come up when people search subjects on WordPress. Perhaps a travel blogger wants to find more travel bloggers to follow, if they type “Travel” into the search bar and your post has been categorized as “Travel” then it’s going to come up in the listings.

Now, where categories and tags can really benefit you is knowing that not all categories and tags are as valuable as others. Using #MillennialLifeCrisis stats as an example (screenshot above), you can see that ‘Millennial’ and ‘Blogging’ as tags are much more valuable towards drawing in views than ‘Writing’ and ‘Job Hunting’ have been. Does that mean that it’s a bad idea to use ‘Writing’ and ‘Job Hunting’? No, not at all. It just means that strategically tagging your posts can allow your posts to be seen more by other WordPress users.

If you’re post is filled with writing and you want to tag it as ‘Writing’ then do so. But, if you’re a millennial then please also consider tagging it ‘Millennial’ to allow it to be seen that many more times.

If you go into your Insights and find that some of your tags and categories have been a lot more valuable than others, remember that when you’re composing your content so that you can strategically categorize and tag content.

Blogging, Marketing, Promotion, Communications Questions Answered

In honour of reaching 5,000 WordPress followers in 11 months, and because I need a distraction, if you have any questions related to blogging, marketing, promotion and communications, ask away.

I will answer questions that are blogging specific, or can draw from my industry experience if that better helps what you’re looking to learn.

Do you want to know the best free tools to use? Do you want to know why analytics are integral to growth? Do you want to know how many hits I get in a day? Do you want to know the best website to use for newsletters? Do you waant to know industry standards for communication distribution? Do you want to schedule a time for me to look through your blog and ‘Audit’ it, so to speak, to help make it user friendly? Whatever you want to know, ask away.

– Crickets –