Social Media for Business – Be Part of the Conversation

In today’s world of social media people are going to talk about your business online – so why not be part of that conversation?
In less than a decade social media has become part of the fabric of everyday communication. More than a billion people now have Facebook accounts, and well over a quarter of a million use Twitter. These tools offer businesses new opportunities to connect with customers and employees, usually at very little cost. And while it is not essential for companies to maintain a presence on all social networks, ignoring them altogether would seem somewhat out of touch to many customers and employees.
Being active on Twitter, Yammer, LinkedIn or Facebook can make a business seem more ‘human’ and approachable. It can also keep it informed of the latest trends and customer desires, and establish it as an expert on important issues. What is more, social networks can provide businesses with a vast amount of information on how they and their rivals are perceived by customers, suppliers and staff. This allows them to fine-tune their communication strategies, target certain groups or broaden their appeal.

Secure, private social networks such as Yammer are breaking down hierarchies and internal silos, giving every employee a voice and ensuring that worthwhile ideas and opinions receive a fair hearing. More than 400,000 companies worldwide (including 85 per cent of the Fortune 500) have already adopted Yammer, so that everyone within the company can share their insights, ask questions, create polls and contribute to projects. That means frontline staff with valuable customer insights can share these with the rest of the business immediately, rather than pushing them up the chain through long-winded reporting processes. Feedback from colleagues can be in real time – right up to senior management level.
Twitter’s real strength lies in its ability to allow both existing and potential customers to communicate with a business on a more personal level. Businesses can draw attention to important campaigns and special offers, and deal with customer enquiries – including complaints – in a quick, satisfying manner. Praise for what the business has done right can be tracked and shared, helping to build its reputation as a reliable, open and trustworthy brand. Regular updates and photos detailing life behind the public façade often strengthen bonds with both customers and suppliers.
Social media gives businesses the chance to share expert opinions and insights with staff and customers. A company might tweet a link to an article on its website or blog, or help people solve everyday problems. Both LinkedIn and Facebook allow businesses to set up a company or fan page, which acts as a hub for sharing images, video, text, blogs, updates and product information with online communities. LinkedIn’s analytical tools allow businesses to track engagement with their posts, their follower growth and other key trends. Similar data is available on Twitter, Facebook and other social networks, allowing you to refine the content you share and build a strong online following.

How to Use a Light Tent for Small Product Photography

Many crafters, cooks, and artists want to take high quality photographs of their own creations, whether to feature them in a blog post, offer them for sale online, or just share them with friends. The trick to getting these kinds of product shots easily and reliably is to use a light tent. This article will cover the fundamentals of shooting with a light tent to help you capture bright, high quality product photographs every time.


What is a Light Tent?

A light tent or light box is a contraption with translucent sides that diffuses light coming from multiple sources. This allows for even, nearly shadow-less lighting against a simple, solid background.

light tent, photography, DIY, product photography

Shooting with a Light Tent

The standard set-up for light tent photography is to place the tent on some kind of table or end table, with the light sources directly opposite each other on each side and the tripod centred in front. Placing the tent up on a table makes it easier to see and manoeuvre, as well as easier to use your tripod for shooting.
The backdrop is attached at the top inside the tent and should fall freely down into a gentle curve at the back and then across the bottom of the tent. You want to be sure that you backdrop is clean and free of debris and wrinkles. If using a fabric backdrop, be sure to iron it for a completely smooth look. (If you roll your backdrops up on a cardboard tube after shooting, you should be able to keep them wrinkle-free for next time.) Consider keeping a lint roller or small blower handy for dealing with the inevitable dust and debris.

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Now you are ready to start photographing! Place your subject carefully inside the tent, and start with it in the exact centre. Moving your subject forward or backwards relative to the light can change the lighting and shadows. Experiment to get the look you want. You can also experiment with pointing the lights slightly at an angle, rather than straight on at the tent. Be sure to leave space between your subject and the walls, so that you can zoom in or position your camera to see only the backdrop and not any edges.
Consider the ambient lighting and adjust as needed. I have found very little difference between shooting midday in diffused indoor light and shooting at night with only the lights themselves for light. You do want to avoid direct sunlight shining in or at your tent, as it will be difficult to balance such a powerful light source.

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Camera Set-up

Set your camera securely on the tripod and use either the 2-second timer or a remote shutter release to ensure that you tripod remains steady. (If you are using a lens with image stabilization, vibration reduction, or vibration control, turn the switch to off.) The tripod will allow you to use longer shutter speeds with crisp results.
Begin by shooting in aperture priority mode with an ISO of 100 (or the lowest value for your camera). Choose your aperture based on the look that you want to achieve in the image (a wide aperture like f/1.8 for a narrow depth of field and a lot of blur or a narrow aperture like f/22 for a wide depth of field and crisp focus across the entire subject). Food photographs often utilize wide apertures and selective blur to make food look more appealing, while product shots of crafts and handmade goods look best with a narrow aperture to keep the entire item into focus. IF you want to avoid blur in the foreground (the bit directly in front of your object) – set your focus using the part of your subject that is closest to the camera.
Consider also using exposure compensation to shoot a series of three shots, bracketed at -1, 0, and +1 exposure, so you can see which gives you the best results. (For white backgrounds, you may get better results around +1; while for black backgrounds, you will get better results around -1. If a full stop is too dark or too light, try a half or a third of a stop.)

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Post-Processing Considerations

It can be difficult to get the background of your shots perfectly white or perfectly black while also keeping your subject properly exposed. In those situations, you may want to do some additional post-processing to ensure that your whites stay white and your blacks stay black. The following description relies on tools available in Adobe Photoshop, but you should be able to do many of these same procedures using other software products.
If you are shooting in RAW, adjust the white balance of your image first so that your whites look white and not yellow. Most light bulbs will list the colour temperature of the light they produce, which you can use as a guide for setting the white balance. You can also set the white balance manually by shooting a white card and calibrating from that image (or if you know your background is pure white or black use the colour picker in the RAW processor to neutralize any tint).
Use your histogram as a guide when processing. While standard photography advice recommends against having your histogram touch the edges of the scale (clipping), this is what you want to achieve in product shots. Clipping your background (whether on the left for black, or on the right for white) will create an entirely homogenous look to your background and focus all attention on your subject.

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In Photoshop you can use the Levels tool to adjust either end of the histogram. Holding down the Alt (Option for Mac) key while adjusting the sliders allows you to see which areas of the photograph are being clipped, as shown in the image above. Move the slider in towards the center until the background is uniformly clipped but the subject is not. If your subject is too affected by this action, then you may need to scale back your adjustment.
If you are having trouble achieving a uniformly white background on your product shots, consider adding a thin border to your final image. While a not-quite-white background, on a shot displayed against a pure white background on a web page runs the risk of looking dingy. However, a slightly grey background with a black border can make the background shade appear intentional.

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Here’s a final image from the vase of flowers in the first image at the top of the article.

6 Simple Ways to Increase Your Website Traffic

As of March 2012, there were 644 million active websites. That’s more than half a billion – in other words, a lot. In this sea of content, images, videos, and social media, it’s easy, as someone with a struggling website, to feel overwhelmed. That said, there is no greater tool your business or brand can have than a website that both promotes your product or service while adding value to your readers’ experience. By generating awesome content and engaging traffic tools to expand your reach, you can boost website traffic while simultaneously establishing yourself as a trustworthy member of the digital community.

Here are 6 quick, creative, DIY ways to improve your website traffic.

1. Optimize Your Content for Search Engines

To increase the visibility of your website and boost traffic, incorporate content-rich search words that will earn your site more play in popular search engines. Since much website traffic comes from search engines like Google – especially when a user is discovering your site for the first time – you want to make sure you’re employing simple on-page SEO techniques, like consistently stellar website performance, keyword-rich text and titles, frequent content updates, etc. When incorporated organically, these are great ways to increase your presence in search results and bring more traffic to your site.

2. Improve Your Social Media Presence

Your social media outlets should function as an extension of your website. Maintain fun and active Facebook, Google+, Twitter, and Pinterest accounts that don’t only promote your content, but serve to build up your personality and profile. Become active in social communities that are relevant to your content. In addition, make sure your content is easily shareable by implementing social plugins on your website (Like, +1, and Tweet buttons) in order to increase your site’s visibility on social networks.

3. Get Grabby

When sharing your content on social media or in link trades, think about creating titles for your posts and pages that will be more interesting to readers. Check out sites like Upworthy and Buzzfeed – they are experts at titles that are creative, honest, and engaging without being sensationalist. We’ve researched and collected some best practices on title length and word choices to determine what kinds of titles generate the most clicks. Think about ways you can implement these best practices to make the content you’re sharing more clickable.

4. Paid Traffic

In order to generate high traffic, many websites rely on the pay per click (PPC) model, a form of internet advertising in which the advertiser pays for clicks on their ads, only paying for actual traffic driven to their website. Depending on your budget and industry, this might be a good option for you. If you do want to take your site to this level of visibility, paid content discovery platforms like Google Adwords, Facebook’s PPC platform, and Outbrain Amplify can radically extend your website’s reach and increase your traffic. These content discovery platforms can help extend your reach and bring you a whole new audience that otherwise might not have been looking for you.

5. Find Your Community

One of the best ways to increase website traffic is to become a hub for your industry. By connecting with other writers, bloggers, and thought-leaders in your field, and forming a virtual community, you will be positioning yourself as a trusted go-to. One way to form real and lasting connections is by prioritizing giving back – i.e. employing the “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine” mentality. Participate in link trades with other related site owners. And don’t only wait for others to notice you: drive traffic to other websites you respect and trust, and be sure to participate in conversations in forums or on social media to establish yourself and your site as a dynamic community member.

6. Provide Real Value

While all the above techniques may help you to gain new readers, you also need to think about keeping the ones you have – and how to inspire those readers to tell their friends and share your content. Create useful, unique, and timely content that your readers will organically want to share with their friends, and that will inspire those who are site owners or bloggers to link to your content. These links are a great organic way to improve your SEO. Use videos and images when appropriate to provide a more dynamic reader experience. Proof your content for grammar and spelling, and reveal your unique voice, point of view, and expertise. Word-of-mouth is still one of the most trusted ways to boost website traffic, and to generate this level of engagement, your website needs to focus on providing real value – both entertainment and educational – to your audience.

Facebook to Introduce YouTube-like Video Counter in Next Update

Facebook is planning to take on YouTube with a new feature within its next update that features a counter for public videos.

Facebook to introduce YouTube-like video counter in next update

Through a blog post, the social media network boasted about having over 1 billion videos viewed a day with more than 65 per cent on mobiles. It’s likely the autoplay feature that the Facebook app now has as standard has helped, as well as the recent Ice Bucket Challenge videos, but it still sounds like a pretty large number.

The next Facebook update will bring new “views” figures that will be displayed on public videos from people and Pages, which should help you find new and popular videos within the app.
Additionally, Facebook announced another video feature that was in testing which will play related content following the video you are watching.

Video publishers can now also add a call to action like a link to a website once the video ends – another YouTube-like feature that should encourage more professionally published videos.

The update with the new video views feature is expected to land this week.

Selfie Science: Taking the Perfect Snap

Have you ever wished your holiday snaps looked just a little crisper, or wondered why your nose looks big in a selfie?

Two scientists from the University of Surrey are on a mission to help us make the most out of our digital cameras.


Choosing the right settings will affect how much of a landscape shot is in focus

These devices, with their automated and computerised components, represent the technical pinnacle of photography’s 200-year history – and newer, cheaper technology arrives every year.

“But it’s still remarkably easy to take a bad picture,” says Dr Radu Sporea.

Speaking at the British Science Festival, he and his colleague Dr Andrew Pye are keen to explain some of the principles that give top-notch photos that touch of class.

Perspective: the selfie problem

One key step that is often overlooked, Dr Sporea tells me, is to think about where you take the photo from.

“The way we move around the subject is important… Zooming and moving around are not the same”
Dr Radu Sporea University of Surrey

Using a normal, digital camera with a fairly wide-angle lens, being up close – say, an arm’s length away – will distort how the subject appears. That’s because the distance from the lens to the subject isn’t much bigger than the distance between its features.

If it is a portrait, the face (yours or somebody else’s) can seem slightly bulbous, with a big nose and vanishing ears.

So to avoid the shot looking a bit like the famously comical monkey selfie, stepping back can make a big difference.

This obviously isn’t much use for a quick self-portrait. But moving further away and then zooming in, so that the subject still appears nice and large, produces a “foreshortening” effect, making everything look closer together and more similar in size.

Jonathan Webb

The “bulbous selfie” (left) compared to a “distant but zoomed in” portrait (middle), tested on your correspondent; the shot on the right adds a blurrier background by enlarging the aperture (see below)

Jonathan Webb and Radu Sporea

Dr Sporea demonstrated the selfie problem by taking one for me

Even if your shot is not a portrait, this foreshortening tactic can create interesting effects, particularly if things in your photo are at different distances.

“The way we move around the subject is important,” says Dr Sporea. “What people sometimes do is just sit stationary, and zoom – but zooming and moving around are not the same.”


This up-close, wide-angle shot makes the first bench look slightly distorted


After moving backwards and zooming in, the first bench is just as big but everything seems closer together

Perspective is also the sort of trick you can think about when all you have is a smartphone camera.

Generally, Drs Sporea and Pye are sceptical about getting really amazing photos out of smartphones: “You’re pretty much stuck, because it doesn’t let you tune anything. It’s completely automatic,” Dr Sporea says.


Chocolate-wrapper wine glasses, photographed at very close range with a smartphone

But you can add some life by completely contradicting the portrait instructions above, and getting extremely close – which can work for food or nature shots.

“Because the lens is tiny and the sensor’s tiny, you really need to get in close to get any separation.”

Exposure: timing is critical

A photograph is created when light hits a sensor. Once upon a time, that sensor was a strip of film; if there was too much light, or too little, the shot was wasted.

Digital technology means we can re-shoot without wasting film, but getting the correct amount of light onto the electronic sensor – controlling the exposure – is still crucial.

Most of us are all too familiar with the washed-out and gloomy results of over- and under-exposed photographs, respectively.

The most obvious way of controlling exposure is changing the amount of time involved: the shutter speed. Digital cameras adjust this automatically, but it is worth figuring out how to intervene if you see the relevant symptoms.


If the exposure time is too short (left) or too long (right), the results speak for themselves

A digital camera can also tweak its sensitivity directly (often labelled ISO in a camera’s settings), which can be useful to get an extra boost if the scene is fairly dark.

Dr Sporea cautions against manually meddling with ISO settings.


Boosting sensitivity (as on the right) can make images grainy

“This is not a physical control – you’re electrically amplifying what’s happening,” he says. “And that’s not without side effects.”

If sensitivity is cranked right up to detect extremely low levels of light, for example, then the tiny quantities of light hitting the sensor start to get drowned out by electrical noise within the chip. Amplifying the whole lot produces speckled images.

“So you want to use ISO as the last resort, basically.”

Aperture: expand your options

Another way to control how much light gets into the camera is by changing how much of the lens you use. This is done by widening or narrowing the “aperture”.

This has other effects besides changing the brightness of the picture – and these can be very useful for playing with the look of a photo.


You can easily see the difference between a large and small aperture setting, inside a big lens

If the aperture is very small, there is almost no limit to what can be in focus within a single shot. Light from any distance can be focussed sharply onto the sensor, because the distances involved are all much bigger than the extent of the lens being used.

“Don’t worry about what camera you have – that’s not what takes good pictures”
Dr Radu Sporea University of Surrey

This is why everything is in focus when you use a pinhole camera.

Photographers call this property “depth of field” – and using a wider aperture makes it much shallower, so that only the distance you choose will be in focus and the rest will be blurry.

Sometimes this makes for professional, atmospheric photos.

“If you’re taking portraits, you want very shallow depth of field, so only the subject is in focus,” says Dr Sporea. So in that situation, he recommends choosing a large aperture (counter-intuitively represented in camera settings by a smaller number, because the value is the denominator of a fraction).

“But if you’re doing landscapes, you want as much as possible of the depth of your scene to be in focus. So you turn the aperture down.”


One landscape shot, taken three ways: foreground in focus (wide aperture); background in focus (wide aperture); and finally – focussed halfway in between, a narrow aperture makes the whole lot crisp and clear

Lighting: soft is sweet

A final tip from Dr Sporea and Dr Pye relates to how your scene is lit – if you have a choice.

In particular, apart from thinking about light direction (for example, to avoid back-lit silhouettes), the quality of the light itself can make a big difference.

“If you have a small light – even the sun; it’s large but it’s far away, so it appears like a point – the shadows are very harsh. There’s a clear separation between light and dark,” Dr Sporea explains.


The difference between a single bright light (left – note darker shadows) and a bigger, diffuse source – illustrated by Dr Sporea and volunteer Amy Sutton

“So you don’t want to do photography in the midday sun, or in harsh light.”

Covering that light with a screen or an umbrella, or bouncing it off another surface, produces a bigger, softer light source – and its shadows are much less obtrusive.

This doesn’t have to require expensive equipment, Dr Sporea emphasises, pointing out that even fashion photographers have been known to improvise with sunlight reflected off street signs.

Experimentation for the win

In summary, the advice from these scientists – neither of whom study light or lenses, though both have been asked for photography favours by friends getting married – boils down to trying things out.

“Don’t worry about what camera you have – that’s not what takes good pictures,” says Dr Sporea. Just experiment with any digital camera that lets you tweak some of these settings.

In particular, he advises summoning the courage to leave “auto” mode behind.

“It looks at the image – and it thinks it knows what type of image it is… but it’s not always reliable.”

Instead, he suggests trying a “half-automatic” mode. Many cameras have these, which allow you to control shutter speed, or aperture, while everything else is adjusted for you.

With that starting point, the lesson is over.

“There’s no use just listening to us for an hour,” Dr Sporea concludes. “Go and press the buttons, because otherwise you’ll never know.”

Choosing the Right Camera for Product Photography

The features that you need for great product images are not necessarily the same features you need for other types of photography such as portraits or family photos. The same camera may do many different tasks very well, but if you are purchasing a camera especially for product photography then there are some particular features to look for. If you already have a camera and would like to know if it will be able to produce great product images, these are the features to look for on your current camera. If you have your current camera’s manual to hand, so much the better in helping you to check if your current camera has the features required.

The main features to look for are:

·         (1)  Custom White Balance
·         (2)  Exposure Compensation
·         (3)  Aperture Priority
·         (4)  Macro Capability (useful for smaller items like jewellery)

It is not necessarily the case that the more money you spend, the better capable the camera will be because sometimes the more expensive the camera, the more specialised a task it is intended for, and that may not be the task you have in mind. Neither is it true that the more MegaPixels you have the better. A camera with a 3 to 4 MegaPixels capability will be more than sufficient for web images. Anything greater than that will usually have little added benefit. Of course, this applies to product photography – if you want your camera to have multi-uses then you may want those extra specifications for other purposes. But the point is, you don’t necessarily need to buy the most expensive camera you can afford. You may be better off buying the “right” camera at a modest price, and spending the extra on better lighting or custom accessories.

These are by no means the only good cameras for product photography – there are lots of great cameras on the market and it’s hard to go wrong if you spend at least £150 to £200 for a new name-brand camera with the above features. But you needn’t spend £300 or more unless you really want to. If you do want a higher spec camera, then try a Canon DSLR. This will be of particular value if you also want to produce images for printed material (such as catalogues) where a higher MegaPixel camera will be helpful.

Once you decide which camera you want, be prepared to spend time shopping around as prices for new cameras can vary by as much as 40% from different suppliers. Try using a price comparison website to find the best deal.

Once you have your camera, spend some time becoming familiar with it and the settings it offers. It’s worth reading up in the camera manual about the features mentioned above. Don’t be afraid to experiment. The great advantage of digital cameras is that you can delete the images that are less successful and it doesn’t cost anything to take some more! You’ll be surprised just how quickly you’ll find out what works and what doesn’t. If you decide on an SLR or a DSLR, be prepared to spend a little more time learning how to use it.