Tips & Research on the Latest Instagram Algorithm Updates in August 2019

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Today I'm going to share some research notes on things going on with the Instagram algorithm. Instagram are targeting a lot of proxies and automation services. We know this because they only used to do 5 updates a year. In the last 2 months they've done 8 consecutive updates every week. Every time on Friday so 3rd parties have to work over the weekend (or in most cases don't) to fix compatibility issues.  

TIP: Don't use 3rd party engagement funnels, especially don't give away your password. Instagram detects each time you enter your password and if you're doing it more frequently then it will target you and more than likely block you. 

If you've experienced a drop off recently in your engagement levels its time to look at some ways to get your spurs back. 

At the end of April Instagram announced there is a connection between followers, friends and stories. These are the most important factors. 

MORE ENGAGING STORIES

You need to level up with your stories and make them more engaging. Polls, questions, share peoples responses and answers. 

The story algorithm has taken over. 

This gives you a greater chance on getting on the Instagram explore page. Previously it just used to be grid posts on the explore page, now they're publishing stories. If you're on the Instagram explore page, you're in a pretty good place. 

Instagram want you to stay on the platform for longer. 

We've always known this. The longer you stay on the platform, the more adverts you'll see, the more money Instagram make. 

So wow does the instagram algorithm work? 

One theory is the 'Casino Effect'. IF you lose every time you hit the slot machine, you'll not get sufficient amounts of dopamine (the feel good chemical that your brain secretes) and you'll lose interest. Same if you win every time, you'll feel like a 2 year old at Christmas that gets too many gifts.

The idea is that you have to keep guessing how your posts will fair. You don't know if you'll get sh*t tonne of likes, or a remarkably low score. Instagram even delay the amount of people that view your stories so you keep checking your feed to see how many people are looking. The reward is more intense when it finally arrives. Genius. 

TIP: Start dm'ing your followers more. Develop better relationships. Even if it's with a couple of emoji's. People get wow'd that you're checking out their stories, they often wonder if they're getting viewed at all! 

Also keep your grid clean and consistent. We like to look at pretty things. We like to see the same filters if its on a page we follow. Don't suddenly switch to black and white for a few weeks and get arty if your audience are craving your unique formula. 

TIP: Ask questions in your captions. Ask them for their thoughts, ask them to rate an idea. Engagement keeps people checking you out and makes sure that your latest content plonks straight to the top of their feed. 

TIP: Check out your insights if you have a business page. See what time people are active and make sure you upload your posts around that time specifically. 

TIP: Tag other users. They will start tagging you in their images and you'll develop stronger relationships and more traction. 

References and research 

How the Instagram Algorithm works

The future of Instagram Growth

Huge Instagram Algorithm Updates 

 

Making Tax Digital (MTD) for VAT Returns | How to Set it up in Xero Accounts

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I’ve been meaning to write this for some time as I’m sure it will be helpful for so many bloggers who are VAT registered either as a sole-trader or through a limited company. If you are unfamiliar about VAT and need to learn the basics about the VAT threshold, what software to use and how to set it up, then first read my Bloggers Guide to VAT Accounting.

For those of you who have been using digital accounts packages such a Xero for a long time, you may already be familiar with submitting your VAT returns online using this type of software. This blog post will explain exactly how to setup ‘Making Tax Digital (MTD)’ in the Xero accounts software.

Making Tax Digital (MTD) has gone live last month APRIL 2019, which means that any VAT tax return sent from this date forward needs to be using the MTD service. Please note that MTD is a new service from the HMRC which you have to register for, if you’re not sure if you have registered, the chances are you haven’t.


STEP 1: SIGN UP FOR MTD for VAT with HMRC

Before you can use the Xero Making Tax Digital VAT return, you’ll need to apply with the HMRC, this is done online and usually takes between 48-72 hours to get completed. You’ll receive an email from the HMRC to let you know that everything has been setup correctly (do not submit your VAT return until you have confirmation).

The VAT threshold at the time of writing for sole-traders and limited companies is £85,000 (please note that this is a monthly rolling amount and NOT per financial year). If your turnover for any 12 month period hits over £85,000 then you need to register for VAT or the HMRC may automatically register you.

Before you sign up, make sure you have the below:

-       Making Tax Digital (MTD) compatible software such as Xero.
- Information about the business you’re signing up.
- Your Government Gateway user ID and password.

Use the below URL to sign up for MTD:

https://www.tax.service.gov.uk/vat-through-software/sign-up/have-software

Once you have applied for MTD, wait for the confirmation from HMRC via email, then proceed with the below (if you are using Xero). If you are using other accounts software such as Quickbooks or Sage, then you’ll need to follow their documentation.

 

STEP 2: CONNECT YOUR SOFTWARE TO HMRC FOR VAT RETURNS

Before you start the configuration of the software make sure you have the below to hand:

-       The confirmation email from HMRC saying that you have been moved over to the MTD service.
- Check your VAT number in your Xero Financial Settings is correct. (Settings > Advanced Settings > Financial Settings)
- Your Government Gateway user ID and password.

You’re now ready to setup MTD in Xero, follow the steps below: 

  1. Log in to your Xero accounts software.

  2. In the Accounting menu, select the option VAT Return.

  3. Click Set up MTD for VAT in Xero.

  4. Read the information then click Continue after signing up. This is just warning you to complete step 1 above before continuing.

  5. Click Connect to HMRC.

  6. Read and click Continue.

  7. Enter your Government Gateway user ID and password and then click Sign in.

  8. Read and click Grant authority.

You are now setup for MTD using Xero and will receive the below successful prompt:

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STEP 3: REVIEWING MTD FOR VAT IN XERO

In Xero, click on Accounting then VAT Return, you’ll now see something similar to the below:

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And on your Xero Homepage Dashboard, you’ll get a handy reminder of when your VAT returns are due:

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If you would like more information on using MTD for VAT in Xero then this is a great article from Xero themselves that explains everything to do with VAT Returns.

https://central.xero.com/s/article/Understanding-your-VAT-overview

 

 

It's Time to Talk About Carl

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I was made aware of the defamatory article anonymously and callously published on the medium.com website, which has named my e-commerce business Hawkins & Shepherd and myself personally amongst other businesses and influencers.

I'd like to take this opportunity to clear a few things that have circulated some social commentary since the article was published. It's been a very traumatic week for me personally having to be on the receiving end on what I consider to be a pernicious article, published on an open platform without approval or checks for authenticity.

It's been very tough keeping emotion out of this. Some of the scathing consistent attacks I would even categorise as cyber-bullying. I'll do a follow up article to this about that in due course.

Now I'm a 38 year old man. I've developed a thick skin and can rely on a certain muscle memory to get me through this kind of onslaught. I don't suffer from depression but I feel anxiety pangs like anyone else. 

When my phone pings, my heart races. I don't even want to look at my phone right now.

But some of the bloggers I've spoken to that are implicated in this article have only just turned 20. I've had private conversations with them who are on the verge of having a break down. 

Now I don't want to advocate for one second the flagrant use of ‘Insta fraud’ as it’s been labelled. I think the industry is on the mend. I think it's right to highlight where the regulations need to serve the industry better. I can speak about this because I have reformed. I used to follow and unfollow around two years ago but that's not my scene anymore. 

However, I think this article is more a personal attack, laden with spite, resentment, with a pernicious undercurrent and I want people to realise that we're still dealing with human beings.

People that share and retweet thinking they're throwing a spotlight on the issue of Instafraud, are actually sharing an article that was removed, with unfounded accusations from an anonymous source. It's cut deep into the people that are implicated, and is still having a profound effect. 

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I've not risen to any of the comment threads on social media that are continuing a very aggressive media attack on my name and brand.

Instead I've been spending my time talking to the brands and management companies of whom I've had the pleasure of working for and alongside as an ambassador for many years, reassuring them of the inaccuracies in the article, of which I'll get into soon.

I have a very open and honest relationship with these brands (there names I will refrain from disclosing for now) I've been honoured to work for and I've been overwhelmed with the support I've received in return. You can see some of the messages of support I've received below. 

From one brand:

"A member of our team did see the article, but I’m aware that we’ve already spoken to you about your historical follower pattern. We were satisfied with the conversation we had with you and are happy to continue working with you on projects that we feel you are suited." 

From an agency: 

"Hey Carl. We were made aware of the article last week and having read it we agree it comes from a place of spite. The “facts” presented are heavily laden with opinion, conjecture and are overall slanderous to everybody mentioned.

We also realised it was quickly removed. I think your statement on the article is strong and unemotional which is more than can be said for the original author of the article itself. It’s a shame that you’ve been put in a position whereby you need to address it.

On a personal level it doesn’t change how we view you nor alter how we’d like to work with you moving forward.

If you need anything from us to help support you then just let us know."

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Some of this might sound like lawyer talk, because I wanted to detach my emotions and just deal with the facts.

ADDRESSING COMMENTS IN THE ARTICLE

“Allegedly another one of the biggest cheats in the Men’s fashion space, Carl Thompson is one of the biggest frauds out there in terms of inorganically growing his account. His cheating goes as far back as records go, which is January 2016. From January 2016 until July 2017 he aggressively followed and unfollowed hundreds of people per day, cheating his Instagram and cheating his way to over 54,000 from practically nothing.”

Back in 2016 it wasn’t unusual to follow a lot of accounts. I personally followed thousands of people - every blogger, friend, fashion enthusiast etc, who I knew as part of the Instagram community and who helped to shape my own style.

From around April 2016 to April 2017, I used to follow some accounts and have engaged with them, later unfollowing.

I want to note here that despite what the article says, by that point, I have already amassed around 20-25,000 followers from my consistent men’s fashion Instagram posts, presenting and TV appearances.

Instagram at that time was mainly to promote my business Hawkins & Shepherd, where I invested over £100,000 of my own money, and for the love of the industry and the fashion.

During that time I did not know where the Influencer marketing would go and if I would be a part of it. It was a very new industry with no guidance.

In summary, with all due respect to the anonymous authors, I’m a massive part of this very much nascent industry and I have earned the respect from multiple fashion designers, business owners, journalists, PR’s and other Influencers.

“After the scandal of July 2017, he then appeared to have stopped, and his account has been in decline since, which is no coincidence. His Instagram name comes from the brand he owns (which also has manipulated Google reviews), but he uses this to promote himself as a blogger, and has a blog in his own name, carlthompson.co.uk.”

I have stopped following and unfollowing in April 2017 when I realised that this form of marketing had a serious influence on consumers and that it was something that I wanted to be a part of for the long-term.

In addition, I have been building trusted relationships with brands and wanted to offer a great ROI. My Instagram account did slowly decline for a while, however, I actually have perceived that trend as a good thing because real followers who may have just followed me because I followed them, decided to unfollow.

As the rate of decline was very slow and gradual, I have still been gaining followers and have been retaining ones that truly wanted to engage with my posts. What the article fails to mention is that my Instagram account is growing again and has never been more engaged. I would like to comment here that I have never bought fake followers.

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I would like to point out that the comment regarding my e-commerce business Hawkins & Shepherd being a “complete slander” is based on no evidence whatsoever, which again just highlights  the fact that this article is a personal attack.

Hawkins & Shepherd has 400 reviews, all 100% verified customers that have to be legally registered on the Yotpo review platform that I use. Below is a screenshot of this:

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The Google Reviews that the article has suggested were also manipulated in fact are genuine reviews, most are customers and some are from friends/family that I’ve gifted product to and they have kindly written a review.

“He is one of the most disingenuous and fake Influencers out there. The perfect example is working with several shaving brands, pretending to use their razors and products, then his beard magically stays on his face in the next photo, despite claiming that the razor is good and he’s apparently shaved it off.”

I regard the opening statement  as defamatory with the purported “supporting evidence” taken out of context.

My captions and images have been consistently well received, I have invested  a considerable amount of time and effort in creating these images and in ensuring that the content is exactly what the brands expect and is of an exceptional quality.

“This was comically seen when he posted about Harry’s and more recently Gillette and their razor blades, foaming up his face with razor in hand, and in the very next photo, his facial hair magically re-appeared a day later. Either the razor is not very good, he grows hair like a werewolf or he’s lying. We’ll let you be the judge.”

Whilst I applaud the anonymous author on his/her diligence in finding the one inconsistency from over 1,800 posts on my Instagram channel, posts on my Instagram grid rarely correlate to a physical date/time timeline.

When working with brands many posts have to be vetted and authenticated weeks, sometimes months in advance. The consistency of my beard between posts is arbitrary.

“He holds almost no authority, no influence and is disliked by many of the other men’s fashion bloggers and influencers, for cheating with his Instagram and being incredibly fake. His Instagram engagement is currently at 2.06%, and has been manipulated.”

I have no comment regarding this other than I have evidence to the contrary available to brands on request.

“FAKE INFLUENCER PARTY”

The Hard Rock Hotel invited me as an unpaid guest to create content on their behalf. After seeing the results of the engagement and the quality of the content provided, I was invited to promote their newly opened Hard Rock Hotel in London.

“He has now set up a new ego website, to showcase his arrogance and for people to believe that he’s kind of a big deal. “Who Is Carl Thompson .co.uk” is a website telling you who he actually is.”

The website https://www.whoiscarlthompson.co.uk/ serves as an online visual Media Pack/CV. It serves no other purpose other than to provide detailed information on my portfolio.

“According to it, he’s a TV presenter, model, influencer, photographer, YouTuber, business owner, blogger.”

Each of these are correct and accurate. I’m happy to forward on examples of each on request.

“It seems he craves the fame, being on First Dates along with Dinner Date.”

I make no apologies for appearing on these shows that are watched and adored by millions of viewers.

“According to his Instagram, he’s currently an ambassador for Haigclub, Jo Malone and Kobox. He has worked with Debenhams, House Of Fraser, Panasonic, ECCO Shoes, 360 Coffee, tk Maxx, Lab Series, Kronaby, Starbucks, Philips, Reiss, Burton, Mazda, and many more.”

That is correct and I’m extremely proud to have worked with each of these brands.


FURTHER READING

VOTED TOP 6 MEN’S LIFESTYLE BLOG IN THE UK 2018

https://www.vuelio.com/uk/blog-awards/shortlist/

TOP 10 UK MEN’S LIFESTYLE BLOG 2017, 2018, 2019.

https://www.vuelio.com/uk/social-media-index/mens-lifestyle-blogs-uk-top-10/

These are all based around official Google blog statistics, domain-authority, quality of writing and imagery. Voted by industry professionals.

MY OWN BLOG STATISTICS PUBLISHED

Earlier this year, I have published my Blog Statistics with screenshots of Google analytic data (I note the extremely low 1.03% bounce rate for the year of 2018).

https://www.carlthompson.co.uk/further-reading-blogs/2019/1/18/carl-thompson-all-the-stats-from-my-blog-revealed

YOUTUBE

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC7saYubGIW4nDfajCS9Kkqw?view_as=subscriber

My channel has around 8,800 Subscribers with a very engaged following and has almost 1million views on the videos published.

 

 

 

How I Invoice Brands and Chase Late Payers: Tips for bloggers

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'Just a friendly nudge'. 

That's my opener when I'm chasing brands for overdue invoices. It's code for 'hey pal, remember me? yeah I'm the schmuck that worked his ass off for a whole month peddling your crap. How about you pay me.' 

Maybe I've seen Casino too many times. Remember that scene where Pesci tells that Banker he wants his money back? Well I'm never far from that level of resentment when it comes to chasing invoices. 

The dichotomy of it all, is that we have to chase them in a polite 'excuse me, excuse me, I'm British', kind of way because of the following reasons; 

  1. We don't want to sound desperate for cash as it looks like we're on our last legs and undermines our bartering power for the next commission. 'He was gagging for that £100 payment last time. Felt like he chased us to the ends of the earth, bet he'll do this job for £50'. 

  2.  We don't want to appear pushy as we want repeat business and want to maintain a good professional working relationship. 

  3. We're naturally too polite and far too good willed. 

I know a lot bloggers and lifestyle magazines have different invoicing policies. Some demand payment upfront before publishing. Others demand payment before they even write the feature. 

I'm quite happy to give brands the standard 30 days, which I believe is fair to both parties. The law for business transactions is 60 days, which is far too impractical for independent businesses that depend on cash flow for survival. Yes you can demand interest on late payments, but the rates are small beer and only compound the issue. 

Imagine if you were owed £1000 by a company like the rates suggest on the Government website. Technically that company can delay payments for nearly another 2 months at the fee of only £11.50. 

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What can you do if a client or brand doesn't pay you? 

The reason why some of these rates and laws feel so draconian is because the Government legislative has not been updated in the last 6 years. The below is also taken from the government website. 

"Amended late payment legislation comes into force on 16 March 2013, implementing European Directive 2011/7/EU on combating late payment in commercial transactions." 

What happens when clients don't pay me? 

I give them every chance. I sometimes walkaway if the pay is modest, I don't look over my shoulder too much. However, one of the bonuses of building a pirate ship is that I get given a megaphone to use over the internet. 

If I know someone else has also been duped by a company, I'll call them out and draw as much focus on their erroneous doings as possible. 

Last summer I was owed a handsome sum of money buy a company, which was a creative content platform for brands and agencies. The CEO did a runner, and lots of influencers were out of pocket. 

My advice on chasing brands for payment? 

Give them the 30 days. Email them with something over than a demand for payment such as.. 

'Hi XXX

Just a quick note to say how great it was working with your team and getting to know your brand last month. Here are the stats from the campaign in case you wanted them. Also I've attached a few extra images from the shoot you may not have seen. Please feel free to use them on your social channels'. 

That normally prompts a response. You want to make sure there’s someone there on the other end of the phone before you start demanding your money back. Sometimes an email like that will trigger them into action. 

If you don't get a reply or a payment, in the next email I'd suggest this. 

'Hi XXX 

Glad you like the photos, I look forward to working with you on the next campaign. Any chance you can give your accounts team a nudge and let me know when I can expect payment for the invoice I submitted last month. I've attached again for their reference'. 

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I’ve attached a copy of my invoice so you can see a working template. 

Hopefully that should do it, and people will want to work with you again in the future. 

BE WARNED 

I made this mistake once of hounding a PR guy for a payment. They were acting as a 3rd party for a clothing brand and the reason why I wasn't getting paid was because I had put the wrong name on the invoice. 

I subsequently had a big fall out with both the PR team and the brand and it took a lot of lunch dates and ass licking on my part to get back in their good books. 

So make sure you have all the details on the invoices correct before you send them out and start threatening to come down there and crack their heads wide open in front of everybody. (Really Joe Pesci says it so much better). 

 

Latest News, Tools and Social Media Tips

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In this article I want to give you some crucial updates on everything that is happening in the world of Facebook and Instagram. What's more, how you can utilise these changes into making them work for you. 

CROSS POST AND SWIPE UPS! 

You can now double up on the exposure of what you share across your social media platforms as Instagram has now launched the capability of sharing swipe up links from your stories over to Facebook. 

Although some people like to go native on their individual platforms, for businesses this is a great time saver. Also for people that are more dominant on one channel than the other. For example, I'll confess I don't do much on Facebook compared to Instagram, so having this feature to share across my audiences at least keeps my Facebook page active. The easiest way to get started is by following the instructions here.

FREE MUSIC! 

After I've done a Vlog it can be quite painful having to trawl the net for a song that will fit. Not only that it has to be royalty free otherwise YouTube will set the dogs on you. 

The clever folk at Facebook have sorted this out for us. The Facebook Sound Collection now has over 2,000+ songs and 1,700+ sound effects available for use.

All content from Sound Collection can be used freely on our platforms without any additional licensing. Check out Sound Collection in Creator Studio here.  

WHY THE MERGE? 

You may have heard the news that Facebook are going to merge the messaging services of Facebook, What's App and Instagram by the year 2020. What will this mean for us? More than likely more adverts. WHY? Because Zuckerberg needs to start making a return on Whatsapp since he bought it for $19 Billion. 

Facebook announced increases in revenue today despite all the noise around Cambridge Analytica. And now we have the introduction of a homogenised messaging service. Joy! It just goes to show if you get a product for free, you don’t own it, you are that product. For more information on the combined messaging services there is a great in depth article about that on The National

BACK TO FACEBOOK

You may be looking to boost your posts and services on Facebook, but you're weary on all the technical jargon. There are a dozen ways to improve your skill set on Facebook without having to hire an intern or tech guy. 

Firstly you may want to think about getting a blue certified tick, which can be done by taking an exam via Facebook Blueprint. This will school you on a variety of different subjects such as Ads ManagerBoostingBidding EffectivelyCarousel AdsGenerating Leads from Ads, and Pixel.

I hope this helps. If you have any questions regarding blogging, the latest CMA rules for Instagram or how to monetise your blog you can always comment me below. I know it can be a bit of a labyrinth, maybe daunting for some. So don't hesitate to get in touch. 

 

The New #AD Rules for Social Media: CMA Tell Influencers They Need to be Transparent (Not an AD)

The days of bloggers and influencers blowing through social media doing doughnuts in a Buick like a 70's Burt Reynolds, are coming to a close. This month the CMA announced new rules for influencers if they have been paid, incentivised or in any way rewarded to endorse or review something in their posts.

It’s important that they make this clear to their followers. This includes when a product or service has been given to them for free.

This needs to be clearly stated when a product, brand or service is tagged, linked or endorsed in any way.

Even if you receive something in the post for free it's classed a form of reward and if you don't clearly state your relationship with the brand, you will be breaking advertising law. 

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Carl I got given a watch for free last year, do I still need to let people know? 

The article says that anything within the last year is deemed noteworthy to your audience. I won't be going back retrospectively through my old posts, but from now on I'll need to be making people aware of my relationships with brands. Hopefully people already are. 

How do I disclose my working relationship? 

Simple. No matter what social platform you are publishing on, just put #Ad or (Ad) at the start of the caption to let people know the content is sponsored. If you have been gifted something you need to declare this also as an #AD. Which is a bit backward for my liking. 

Here is a very easy how-to guide on the Vix Meldrew site. It gives you an interesting way to incorporate your adverts and opinions. 

The main trouble with influencer advertising

I've got a whole bunch but here goes. 

  1. Everyone is too damn nice. If someone doesn't declare their working relationship in a social post is anyone going to leave a comment asking if they're getting their palms lined with silver? I think not. Have never seen it. 

  2. The ASA document is 20 pages long. Even though it's clear and concise, there is still a lot of heft to a document to regulate whether someone has sent you a free bar of soap or not. 

  3. My missus gifted me a watch for my birthday and she owns the watch company. What's up? I want to tell the world the missus bought me an awesome watch for my birthday, is that an (Ad-Gifted-Ad-Promotion)? 

  4. Surely if people are putting (Ad) in front of everything it will start to lose its currency. It will be so saturated that people won't even bother looking into the validity of the working relationship between brand and influencer. 

  5. What are the punishments? Can someone tell me? Will they freeze my instagram account? Will they take away my blue tick? Are we talking jail time? 

Let me know your thoughts in the comment box below. 

 

The Ultimate Way to Travel Light | Moment Lenses

Do you really need a Camera these days when travelling? 

What would be the best alternatives? 

I recently posted an article on my site listing most of the gear bloggers need for traveling. I've had some people message me on my instagram page about a new piece of technology that could help me streamline my gadgets. 

Now I'm implacable when it comes to getting product imagery with my Sony A7S2, but it can be a bit cumbersome when traveling. Whilst out in Bali recently it simply wasn't practical to take it everywhere. 

Moment is a lens company for smart phones started on Kickstarter. They make a couple of lenses, cases, for most of the smart phones that are out today. Currently available are Wide lens, Fish lens, Macro lens. 

They can all be stored in a neat case no bigger than your toilet bag and that can house all the lenses. 

The 170 degree fish eye lens is very wide. It does come out a little shaky without a Gimbal because of the depth of its periphery. But the images I've seen have a neat effect. I think it's more for landscape pictures and balcony panoramas than for day to day video. 

TIP 

Moment will tell you that if you're looking to use this with a Gimbal then you can DIY a counter-balance to the phone. Tape a roll of 20p's to the other end and that should fix it. 

Conclusion 

Moment do look like a very travel orientated brand. They even do travel gift accessories on their website so it's perfect if you want to give your wanderlust friend a unique gift. It's going to be hard for me to part with my Sony but maybe it could also do with a holiday, away from me. 

Other tips to Travel Light

It's not a competition to try and fill the suitcase. 

2 x pair of socks, 2 x pair of pants. Clean them in the sink, dry them on the balcony. Keep rotating them and go one day commando. Boom, you're good for the week. 

Don't take books. You don't read those books at home, you'll never read those books on holiday. I'm determined to read a bit more this year but I won't be doing that on my back by the pool. 

If you're traveling as a couple share the chargers and devices. You can probably half the load if you share.

One pair of smart trainers. I find that shoes take up the most space. In the past I would always take a pair of smart shoes for evening dinner. But I'm not Elton John, I have no entourage schlepping mass amounts of luggage behind me as I throw my keys to the concierge.

Check out the Cole Haan style edit I did, these trainers are incredibly versatile for all climates and events. 

 

 

Carl Thompson: All the Stats from my Blog Revealed

I was recently asked in an interview where will I be in 5 years. Currently I'm writing this on a retreat in Bali, with no return ticket, with no plans or agenda. The blog is a great platform for me to empty all my thoughts on men’s lifestyle. 

It's sometimes cathartic, sometimes a chore. But it's become an extension of me and I was thrilled to get nominated last year in the Top 6 UK Men’s Lifestyle Blogs by Vuelio. Today I want to share a couple of facts, stats and behind the scenes trivia. 


WHEN DO I WRITE? 

I normally get up at the crack and meditate on a particular subject or campaign whilst out walking Charlie across Clapham Common. By the time I return to the desk I hammer out 300 words, just empty my head and then leave it. That takes about 15 minutes. When you do this for as long as I have you realise that writers block is a myth. No one is going to read every blog, or every word in that blog. (I'm amazed you're still with me right now). 

I'll then come back to the article later in the day, mid-afternoon or dinner. Do a quick edit, fact check, tweak and post. All told I make sure that a blog never goes past the hour mark. 

WHO IS READING

I'm very pleased to have such a wide demographic of people that are tuning in to the blog. Naturally my audience is hugely UK and London centric. With over 73k users finding their way to my site I'm pleased to have developed a large contingent in the US, India and Canada. 

AGE AND GENDER

This is a very interesting one, and not uncommon in the male blogging industry. Women are tuning into my blog as well as men. I'm very pleased that women are reading my posts, finding style and gifting ideas for themselves or their partners. 

I read plenty of women blogs and tune into discussion lead podcasts myself.

The age range is very much my own, written by me for me I guess. But an undeniable peak of the 25-34 range. 

AN UNHEARD OF BOUNCE RATE

That's right, I've been burying the lead. The bounce rate on my blog is the statistic that I'm most proud of. What is a Bounce Rate? 

From Google 'It is the percentage of visits in which a person leaves your website from the landing page without browsing any further. Google analytics calculates and report the bounce rate of a web page and bounce rate of a website.' 

In other words, people are coming to the site and having a mooch around. They haven't come there by mistake. They've not been put off by my mug and ran to the hills. 

According to an article by Go Rocket Fuel the most common bounce rate for blogs is between 35% - 40%. Anything above 70% is disappointing. 

QUICK THANKS

So a genuine quick thanks for everyone that reads and visits my blog. (Still reading this? Oh you are a saint, you know that you've just notched up my retention stats so thank you).

DISCLAIMER: All statistics are genuine screenshots from Google Analytics for the date range 01/01/2018 - 31/12/2018. My blog carlthompson.co.uk talks about everything men’s lifestyle.

A Bloggers Guide to VAT Accounting | Making VAT Digital for Sole Traders

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The blogging industry is relatively new, full of individuals who have never run a business before or even worked as a sole trader. There’s little support & resources when it comes to best practices with invoicing, accountancy, tax etc, so today I’m going to give you a basic guide to VAT accounting. When working for a company, everything is just taken care of. Your NI contributions are taken from your salary, as is Income Tax via PAYE and you just get a payslip at the end of the month which equals the amount you get paid into your bank account…it’s a nice way to live! I’ve been a business owner with Hawkins & Shepherd for over 5 years and a sole trader with my main income coming from blogging and creating social/digital content for about 4 years.

So today I’m talking about VAT accounting. This is simply charging VAT on invoices for work you have completed and claiming VAT back against purchases you have brought. Please Note: this is separate from your self-assessment end-of-year return, which you pay income tax.

Making tax digital for VAT will come into effect from April 2019, so from that date, businesses with a turnover above the VAT threshold (currently £85,000) will have to submit their returns through Making Tax Digital (MTD) software.

 

Are you VAT registered? Do you need to be VAT registered?

Regardless if you are a Limited Company or a Sole Trader, you have to register for VAT if you or your business turns over £85,000 during a 12 month period. Of course you can register voluntarily even if you do not reach this turnover if it suits you financially.

If you are VAT registered you will need to charge VAT (currently at 20% in the UK) on any sales invoices for work completed. You can also claim back VAT on any purchases that have VAT applied, such as IT Hardware and camera equipment. Please note that you can not claim back tax-exempt items such as postage, bank fees and purchases outside of the EU. Always check your receipts on goods you have brought; if VAT is charged, you can claim it back, if it isn’t you can’t.

As a business owner, you are responsible for keeping track of your income and forecasting when you’ll hit the £85,000 turnover limit. Please note that this is a 12-month rolling calculation and NOT a calendar year or financial year.

As a blogger, I was initially worried about going VAT registered because I was concerned that the brands wouldn’t work with me because my fees would increase by 20%. So for example, if you charge £1,000 for some work as a non-VAT registered business, you’ll of course invoice £1,000. Although now you are VAT registered, you’ll invoice £1,200 (£1,000 plus the 20% VAT). You just need to make the PR’s, brands or agencies know that your quotes are exclusive of VAT and that VAT will be applied to the invoice. You should also double-check any contracts are correct before signing them, as I’ve had one or two contracts that have said the amount is inclusive of VAT, therefore the £1,000 quoted will end up being £800 + £200 VAT. On the flip side most businesses that you are invoicing will already be VAT registered, so they can claim back the VAT on their accounts.

 

I’ve decided to register for VAT, so what next?

1.     Register for VAT.

2.     You’ll then receive your VAT registration certificate with your VAT number through the post which you’ll need to submit your VAT returns.

3.     Once you have your VAT number, you need to sign-up to use VAT services online.

 

What accounts software package shall I use?

Well this is entirely up to you, I’ve used Xero for 5 years and have found it easy and intuitive to use. Here are a list of the most commonly used accounts software packages that you can use to make your tax digital.

·      Xero - https://www.xero.com/uk/

·      Sage - https://uk.sageone.com/accounts/

·      Quickbooks - https://quickbooks.intuit.com/uk/

 

How to setup VAT in Xero Accounts Software 

Once you have signed up for VAT and if have chosen Xero, then the below will help you setting up VAT in Xero.

Creating an invoice template with your VAT number

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Click on Settings > Organisational Settings > Invoice settings.

Click Options > Edit.

Edit the invoice options as you wish, the below is an example of the invoice template that I created:

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Setting up your VAT Scheme and Financial dates

Click on Settings > Organisational Settings > Invoice Settings > Advanced Settings.

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Submitting VAT Returns

Make sure you have reconciled all of your bank transactions and sales during the VAT period and then review and submit your return.

You can review your VAT return by using the VAT Reconciliation report. You can submit a VAT return using the VAT Return report.

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Get Yourself Back on Track | Introducing the Zelo Journal

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I had a great response from a Mental Health blog  I posted on the site a few weeks back. I'm really pleased it resonated with so many of you and thank you all for your contributions and comments. Here today I'm wanting to draw a spotlight on a well-being journal that's being launched on Kickstarter entitled The Zelo Journal

I was lucky enough to get my hands on a sample and I can tell you it is a thing of beauty. It's all black, sleek in design with a clear listing of all the techniques you can use to get the most out of every day, according to your lifestyle. It's a book that lets you find productivity at your own pace, with subtle nods of encouragement without boxing you into a corner screaming 'Drop and give me 20!' 

I have a few things I'd like to get off my chest when it comes to productivity and wellbeing. Here's a little insight into my first entry.



Gratitude List

They say its the pathway to enlightenment. So how thankful are we that we get to speak to our loved ones on the other side of the world on a device no bigger than a pack of cigarettes. Do we thank the universe for Steve Jobs for accelerating the evolutional bell curve, or do we just curse the heavens each time one of our Instagram story fails to upload. 

Having gratitude is truly the key to happiness. Having the capacity to remember that all your problems are relatively tiny in the grand scheme of things is another thing entirely. 

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Obstacles to overcome

The big ones for me are maintaining focus and discipline. Not getting so easily distracted. It's never easy when social media is your gig; I've carved out a career out of social media but it can also be a huge distraction for me. 

I need to pull in some focus over these next couple of months. Especially as a blogger, these months are the time to dip your bread. Brands are looking to amp up their outreach and they become heavily dependent on people like me to spear head their campaigns. 

I guess what I'm getting at, is it's time for me to get my game face on. 


Daily Actions

I'm a huge proponent of exercise. My KOBOX classes are not only inspiring me to new levels of fitness, but massively reducing my anxieties. I'm convinced that we need to expel and exert our inner pressures through physical exertion. 

They say that astronauts lose muscle mass after spending time in space. This is because they are not exposed to gravity. Now equate that to the modern man. Our muscles, our mind, are all atrophying due to the super-safe world we have created. We have incubated ourselves within our safe little homes, screaming at the world voyeuristically through our faceless Twitter handles, we're not exercising the reptilian side of our brain that is hard wired to fend of sabre tooth tigers. 

Jesus Carl, are they handing out free marijuana cookies down there in Clapham? 

I guess what I'm getting at is I need to get back in touch with the more primitive Carl. I want to do more things outside the tech world. 

The KOBOX gym is great. I'm going to give myself 20 minutes in the morning before checking the phone. Allow myself to get centred. More time with humans, have talks about ideas, less talks about other people. 

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Weekly Planning

I haven't even mentioned my diet. It's one of the hardest thing to nail down due to the lifestyle of press events and coffee meetings. 

  1. Strictly no drink during the week. 

  2. Have the fruit bowl full at all times. 

  3. Each time I pick up the phone, ask yourself what am I doing? Am I just seeking distraction? Attention? 

  4. Drink more water. In fact drink water like it's my job.

Setting Goals

The goals baby! I recommend you all listen to the Joe Rogan interview with Tyson Fury that went out last week. Tyson Fury was a man who had everything, beat Klitschko, Champion of the world, money, women, fame and the wheels came off. 

Tyson Fury was stripped of his belts, caved to the trappings of success, became suicidal. In that interview he talked about his return to the ring and now he is on the comeback trail. He cited goals as the biggest thing that got him back on track. 

Starting by losing the weight he had gained. Bit by bit, day by day, getting fitter, stronger, now if manages to overcome Wilder on the 1st December, he has earned himself a shot at claiming back those belts. 

What a fight that will be by the way. Both undefeated, Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury both over 6'7 tall. Both punchers, Knockout artists. I'm in baby, take my money now. 

More about the journal: www.thinkzelo.com/zelojournal

Support the brand on Kickstarter: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1566841865/992004581?ref=593691&token=3bff5e26

 

The Tech Gear You Need to Start Vlogging | Starting a YouTube Channel

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One of the most frequent questions I get asked is what equipment do I need to start Vlogging? Well this is all relative to budget and there are tonnes of cameras, phones and gimbals out there, sometimes it can be a bit overwhelming. 

I've put together a budget guide on what I believe will be a good enough set up to get you started.

The Camera

So up till now you've probably gotten by with either your camera phone or relying on your mate with all the gear. When buying a camera for Vlogging on a budget you should consider the Canon SL2 or the 200D for three reasons. If you have a higher budget then purchase the Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark II Digital Camera.

Flip Screen

Essential for when you're Vlogging and you want to see yourself. Great for travel as you can slip it back into the fold to prevent scratching. 

Face Tracking

DSLR cameras have gotten really good over the years and this Canon SL2 comes with dual pixel auto focus face tracking technology so it can follow your mug anywhere and will provide that awesome cinematic focus. 

External Mic Jack

Yes that means you can plug in a microphone into the cradle at the top and it will record the audio into the visual. Not every camera comes with this option and with audio being such a key ingredient to the quality of your video, you'll rely heavily on this feature. 

The External Mic

I'd opt for a Rode VideoMic that will clip to the roof of the Canon SL2. Recommend to buy an optional dead cat protector. (That's equipment, not a movie prop from Pet Cemetery). Another option would be a Rode Unidirectional mic.

It doesn't require batteries which is great and you don't have to turn it on which can the most infuriating thing about vlogging. You'll be recording awesome footage with zero audio because the damn mic wasn't turned on. 

 

The Tripod 

I'd say you'd get by with a Manfrotto Pixi Mini if you're just starting out. It's a handheld tripod so you can take it with you when you're out and about. When you want to record at home or in an office the legs span out and doubles as a tripod. 

The material is thick, durable and the red button on the top operates the lock mechanism for the ball head. Trust me, this is super useful. Especially for those time lapse delay photos. 

 

Summary

So just over £500. Sorry, but hey you can always shop around and get things cheaper I’m sure. That should get you going and yes it's not 4k, but 1080p should be good enough and will save you those weighty video files that knackers your hard drive. 

MY YOUTUBE CHANNEL

https://www.youtube.com/user/Carl23B

Streamline Your Time Spent Blogging | Get These Apps Now!

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We're all looking for new ways to make our lives more time efficient. There's nothing that grinds my gears more than waiting in line with nothing to do. Especially with regards to the blog. The biggest strain on my time is often not the writing (as you may have guessed) but the uploading, the photo editing, the tagging, then the distributing across social media. 

I've put together a mini-listicle of Time Saving Blogger Hacks, I'd be interested in hearing in the comment section if anyone has any more. 

Otranscribe 

Otranscribe is a free web app to take the pain out of transcribing recorded interviews. I've tried countless of different apps, some with varied level of success. Ultimately if you can afford it, outsource it. However, this app makes transcribing those recorded interviews a sh&t tonne easier. Not such a well-kept secret anymore. 

Tailwind 

Oh the sweet joy of bulk image uploads. Talking earlier about multiple social media distribution, Tailwind will relieve you of all that heavy lifting. It will post all of your visual marketing content to Instagram and Pinterest from one tool with a single workflow. 

LogoGarden 

Especially if you're just starting out as a blogger, Logo Garden will not only save you time, but money as well. You don't need an all singing-all dancing logo for your blog because chances are you'll change it in a few months when you rebrand. Yes many bloggers think it's a great idea to write about one thing, their love for cats or thrift stores, but soon realise that money isn't allocated to a single genre. Why do you think the word 'Lifestyle' was invented. 

Loom

Ohhh yes baby, this is the biggy. Loom is a ten minute screen recording device that allows you to share a screen and record audio. Perfect if you have a team of minions that you need to address, rather than hammer out a dissertation email, this software is free and has been a revelation for me. 

For example on my e-commerce site I have a small team, each assigned different roles. Copywriting, graphic design, layout etc. Rather than shoot them independent emails I get to summarise in a five minute video, sharing my screen and highlighting the problems that need addressing. 

Also a really good tool for those big pitches! If you want to make that very big pitch personable, nothing better than a very recorded video just for that one client. Less spammy. 

Last Pass 

Oh sweet Lord, what a find this is. Passwords were the bane of my life. Constantly having to refer to my little black book, then I'd need to decipher my own handwriting, then I'd lose the book anyway. 

Last Pass, it's a vault for all the passwords and populates all the fields so you can do away with that little black book, if you haven't lost it already. 

 

 

My Predictions on The Vuelio Blog Awards 2018 | Men's Lifestyle & Fashion

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Oh the woes of a Blogger. We bloggers love to bemoan how hard we work, the endless hours we spend chasing brands for payments, the RSI we endure through fiddling with Instagram pins. 

Yes it can be a slog, as Tom Cruise would say in Jerry Maguire, 'a soul swallowing siege, that I will never fully tell you about'. But we all make our choices in life. And some days those choices feel vindicated. Days like when your blog gets nominated for an award.

That's right, Vuelio, have picked me from the many esteemed and well-heeled bloggers for this year’s Mens Fashion Award. The Bloggers award ceremony is now in it's 4th year and the winners will be announced at the Bloomsbury Big on November 30th. 

Here are the other candidates and I'd like to just share some quick thoughts on each and how I see the contest going. 


Ape to Gentleman - apetogentleman.com

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Run by Chris Beastall. A very tidy platform, easy to use site that delivers quality and informative articles. Very fashion centric, I love how the site never compromises on image quality.

Chris will be a tough opponent, he's tall and will have a long reach. But I figure if I catch him early with some counter punches and keep myself away from his 'hammer' right hand, I predict an early knockout, with yours truly coming out on top. 

Prediction: KO round 3 - Thompson wins



Clothes Make The Man - clothes-make-the-man.com

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Run by Anthony McGrath. A solid seasoned veteran with an all-round game. I think Anthony will struggle to keep up with my level of fitness though so I expect him to tire in the later rounds. 

Prediction: Thompson wins on points, unanimous


Grey Fox - greyfoxblog.com

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Run by the ever studious David Evans. David is a former English teacher so I'd struggle to win the war of words. I know he's a keen cyclist so his fitness coming into this contest will be on a parr with mine. 

David however does struggle with concentration. I know he is on social media a lot and I expect his mind to wonder halfway through the contest. When I see his concentration levels dip, that's when I'll go in for the kill. 

Prediction: KO Thompson wins round 7


Man For Himself - manforhimself.com

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Robin James and his lustrous hair. Strong all round game. Trouble is with Robin, he's too much of a nice man and too good looking. I don't know how much he really wants to go to the trenches with me on this and mess up the cash register. 

Prediction: Thompson wins, Man for Himself forfeits the contest


Permanent Style - permanentstyle.com

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Simon Crompton, well with 500k page views a month Simon will certainly have the home crowd on his side. He has a tidy game, his site is dynamic, his content engaging. However, I know Simon is used to fighting in the upper-divisions, coming down to this weight class will be a huge wake up call for him come fight night. 

Prediction: Thompson wins, KO round 12 Thompson 

I'll keep you posted and will be sharing my thoughts leading up to the event but for now a huge thanks to the good people at Vuelio for the recognition. If someone can inbox me where I need to drop off that envelope of cash that would be great. 

 

It’s a TRAPP! Brandnew IO Walks Away From Owing Influencers and Staff Thousands

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Today I'm going to introduce you to a man that has robbed me and many other influencers of a tidy sum of money. Luckily I've got enough going on where I can notch losing a grand to experience, the lights will remain on in the Carl Thompson house. Charlie will still get his treats, Christmas won't be cancelled and I am still able to afford Waitrose's double velvet toilet paper. (I know, the ultimate barometer for one’s wealth). 

A couple of months ago I was approached by an influencer marketing company called Brandnew IO. Their CEO Francis Trapp (I know right? Don't even..) founded the company in 2013 and claim to be the leading Content Creator Platform for brands and agencies.

 

 

According to their LinkedIn profile: Our (Brandnew IO) platform enables marketers to efficiently discover Creators, manage relationships, collaborate on high engaging content and measure campaign results.

After the payment failed to come through for a campaign I did on their behalf, I contacted the brand who assured me they had paid their end. I was CC'd into a few emails and eventually the trail ran cold as they say in the Secret Service. 

 

So who else has been duped? 

I checked out Brandnew IO's social pages and found over influencers and content creators had also been chagrined, for want of a better word. Wait I have a better word; ripped-off! (Ok I had to hyphenate). 

A fellow influencer, Audrey Leighton Rogers, really blew the lid open on these guys in her Instagram stories and after asking around the influencer community she was not the only one.

"Often we use agents/platforms who act as a middleman to connect brands with influencers. So our contract is with these people.

But often these businesses are new and seem to come and go take Brandnew IO for example.

They have been getting influencers work and the brands have paid them yet they have kept the money and not paid their influencers for the content they have created and the money they are rightfully owed.

Often we are waiting on 90 days for payment, so what happens to that money during that time? It is used to run the business. Staff, office etc. And these apps/platforms cost huge amounts in development so simply is (if) the brands dry up and stop using the platform the cash flow soon fails.

I’m not saying this has happened at Brandnew IO but they filed for insolvency on the 1st August 2018 leaving 100s of influencers unpaid for content they have created."

 

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So why has Brandnew IO disappeared? 

This is the strangest thing. I understand that setting up a company like this requires a large investment of capital upfront. Developing the software to integrate influencers with brands costs money. IT developers don't come cheap so you might see a lot of these influencer agencies come and go in the night. 

However, Brandnew IO was founded in 2013 according to their LinkedIn page. Surely they've managed to recoup the initial startup costs and reached parity by now? 

I took a closer look at their funding and whilst these reports are speculative, it appears that the company came to prominence from small capital investors. I’m guessing family backed with initial funding then persuaded some private investment from Zurich.

Although the last round of funding was over 4 years ago, the company have been riding that wave and developing their platform but without making a sufficient return, failed to generate enough profit to keep the lights on. Perhaps they managed to pay their investors back, but failed to leave enough in the kitty for their staff and consequently, us. 

So where's the money gone? The money gets sloshed around, invoices get delayed, chased, delayed, emails miraculously get sent to junk mail or never received.

I can only imagine Trapp has reinvested the money into the ailing business and thrown good money after bad. Or has simply bought himself a nice couple of bespoke suits, a few Rolex watches. God I'm sounding like Sam Rothstein questioning Ginger in Casino.

"I bet he had a good time on my money. How did he get fitted for suits that fast? He's not going to wear 1,000 dollar suits. But let’s say he did which he won't, how are you going to get fitted for 25 suits in 3 days? How can you get fitted that fast? I can't get fitted that fast and I pay twice as much." 

I've tried reach out to Francis Trapp for a quote as the company has neglected to update any of its social media platforms which have served more of a petition page for out of pocket influencers demanding payment. 

Trapp has refused to reply. Consistent to everyone else’s experiences. Including content creator Gemma Talbot who has this to say:

“To say I’m angry is an understatement. Weeks of chasing payments that are months late with no response. The most frustrating part is that I’d been paid for one collaboration I completed through the Brandnew IO platform but not the other two.

Why not? I’ve completed the work and whilst I appreciate the brand in question may not be to blame they’ve still gained the exposure yet I'm at a loss of both money and time taken to create the content in the first place. 

It’s hard to just accept you’ll never see money for content you’ve created because the company have filed for insolvency.

It just doesn’t seem fair or right. Money that I’d counted on to pay rent and bills. After all, living in London is pricey. Not only do I feel sorry for the other influencers affected (some are owed several thousands of pounds) but also for the employees of Brandnew IO some who have contacted me directly on Instagram via DM to tell me the company owe them up to £8000 in wages!

Quite frankly it’s disgusting. Whilst it appears all my emails have gone unanswered, when I publicly called Brandnew IO out on my Instagram stories by tagging the brand directly someone managing their social media had seen it immediately.

I received no email update, no apology and had been completely left in the dark. I’m trying to perhaps understand from their point of view but quite frankly there is no feasible explanation. It’s simply disgusting and wholly unprofessional on their part.”

 

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Wake up Call

It's a wakeup call for brands also, finding the right influencer for your product is hardly a feat of acrobatics. The blame cannot be placed on the brands for a 3rd party company they have also trusted going bankrupt. However in many cases the brands have appointed influencers for their campaigns themselves and redirected said influencers to signup to Brandnew IO as a platform for the campaign. Now in this case does the brand have to take some responsibility? Legally, no. If they want to do the right thing, then yes. 

In my particular case, I was approached by a major Media Agency to do some work for a brand. After lots of email back and forth we agreed on deliverables and payment. At this point, I was told to signup to the Brandnew IO platform to continue the campaign. Fast forward months, I completed the campaign, submitted the content and requested payment from the platform. The Media Agency and the brand were happy with the content, although a month ago I got an email from the Media Agency it said:

"I just wanted to reach out regarding the delay campaign payment.

Huge apologies for the major delay in payment for this campaign. I completely understand that this is very frustrating and we have been investigating this as much as we can.

Going forward, I have cc’d my Brandnew support contact, who will be able to keep you updated from their side and get in touch with you directly. Just to clarify, Brandnew is a separate company from us and act as an influencer identification platform for us that processes campaign payments to bloggers. Therefore, your Brandnew contact will be handling this financial delay with you going forward. Please do feel free to keep me CC’d within emails."

That's great but it also felt like one of those 'we know what's going on here with Brandnew IO and trying to cover ourselves' kind of emails. Since that email I have sent at least another 6 emails asking for payment updates which were ignored. I then contacted the Media Agency and again ignored. I guess I have to chalk this one down to experience and think about how to alleviate this from happening in the future. It maybe in the form of tighter contracts, shorter payment terms, better due diligence and risk assessments.

If they need to cast a wider net with a certain campaign a lot of influencers (like myself, like Dapper Chapper, like Human Research etc) will spearhead a campaign on their behalf and advise them on which of their contemporaries will be a good fit for their brand. 

As for Brandnew IO and Francis Trapp, I welcome them to make a statement in reply to this blog.

I'm happy to pick up the phone and demystify why they've neglected to pay their staff and hundreds of other influencers. I don't sling mud that often, but Francis, you've forced my throwing arm. 

 

 

How to Take Amazing Smartphone Pictures & How I Edit my Instagram Images

Photo by  Yen Vu  on  Unsplash

Photo by Yen Vu on Unsplash

Have you ever been wowed by a picture on Instagram, and then feel stupefied to find it was taken on an Smartphone? A friend recently posted an exotic photo from his trip to Thailand and it was like a screensaver. I asked him what camera he was using these days and to my bemusement (and mild embarrassment) he said, 'on my phone'.

I've had plenty of friends tell that posting native shots on Instagram gets way more traction. I.E taking a picture of something on your phone, in the moment, rather than a professional image taken on a high-resolution camera that has been edited in Lightroom, cropped etc. 

Someone that is on top of her game when it comes to making the most of the smartphone is Katrina Frazer, a pro-photographer known as the ‘Queen of light’. (That's a good name, sounds like the next fragrance from Beyonce). 

Along with the Nokia 7 plus, Katrina brings you her top tips for pro-style pics all from the tech in the palm of your hand.

 

Top Tips for Smartphone Pictures

Play with the shutter speed. Taking great pictures at night is just a nightmare. Notice you don't see too many night time fashion shoots on the streets of London? Lighting a shot is a massive operation and isn’t as simple as just pointing and clicking. 

To capture more detail, you need more light. A slow shutter speed keeps the camera lens open longer to let in more light.

* If you don’t have a tripod, try spreading your feet shoulder width apart and lean your back against a wall to create a tripod with your body

* If you have a desk/table/counter to lean on, plant both elbows on the platform - elbows should be wider than your shoulders

* Another way to steady a shaky hand is to take the picture as you slowly breathing out

Playing with shutter speed and movement in low light can help you create artistic effects.

Photo by  Arthur Osipyan  on  Unsplash

 

ISO-what? While your smartphone camera auto-settings might work well enough, one simple way you can ensure pro shots is by playing with your camera’s ISO settings.

For the perfect portrait or selfie that brings out the contours and shading of a face it’s better to use a low ISO.

To make the most of the detail this setting allows, you should ideally try to position the subject in natural light, with the light focused on their face. In these circumstances, flash will kill the image so try to use the light available along with adjusted ISO settings to create pro-portraits.

Some smartphones allow you to manually change settings in your camera and play with ISO levels, shutter speeds and aperture – getting it right is sometimes a matter of trial and error!

Pro Mode on Nokia smartphones is the perfect interface to give you full manual control over all your camera settings. Available on its latest models including the photo-fab Nokia 7 plus, Pro Mode allows you to easily access manual settings in one swipe. Combining innovative optical hardware and imaging algorithms, the Nokia 7 plus captures moments into photos that are true to life. It’s optimised and integrated for maximum performance and battery life, even when you are broadcasting your #Bothie videos (videos taken using the front and back camera simultaneously to create a split screen image) live on Facebook or YouTube.

Available in Black/Copper, the Nokia 7 plus is available to buy for a RRP of £349.99.

 

Other smartphone tips for Instagram

Whilst I don't post many pictures from the smartphone (I would say that only 5% of my Instagram images are smartphone taken). I do post vids and snaps on the stories. Here are a couple of tips:

  1. When taking a photo, always try and leave space in the picture for some text, arrows and emoji’s. 
  2. Always Geo-tag your location and tag someone that might enjoy the photo. 
  3. If you're in London hashtag #VisitLondon. I find that the best tag for outreach on stories. 

 

 

How I edit my photos for Instagram

I often get asked this and in all honesty I don't have a particular Lightroom preset or any template to use. What I tend to do is edit each photo individually but in a similar way to achieve my desired look and feel.

The first stage of a good Instagram image is an exceptional photographer who knows you and your style. My Instagram tends to be quite dark, shadowed, sharp, high contrast, simple colours and cool tones. So the first stage is to make sure your photographer knows your style, for me there is no point in getting professional images that have warm, pink, earthy tones to them because 1. It doesn't fit my feed and .2. If I then re-edit the image, I'll be pissing off the photographer and the quality of the image will deteriorate. 

If I have time on my hands, I tend to use the RAW files and edit in Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom. Although this isn't always possible, so more often than not, I just use mobile apps to edit my images. 

So if I only have 5 minutes to edit and post a photo to Instagram, this is what I'll do:

1. Transfer the photo to your smartphone. Make sure the transfer doesn't affect the resolution of the image.

2. Open the photo in the Facetune App. I ONLY use this app for the Details and Whiten features. I do not and will never ever edit my face, spots, greys, wrinkles etc. If there are any green trees or bushes, I'll use the whiten feature to grey them out slightly. I'll then use the same feature to whiten any tungsten, amber light or features. If there are any details in the image that I would like to sharpen and highlight, I use the 'details' feature to go over, such as a watch face or pocket square. Export the image.

3. Use the above exported image to post to Instagram. Use the custom editing tool and never a preset filter, to create your own style. Again, it depends on the image but here is roughly what settings I use to edit in Instagram:

- Brightness 0
- Contrast 0
- Structure +2
- Warmth -30
- Saturation 0
- Colour 0
- Fade 0
- Highlights 0
- Shadows -100
- Vignette +80
- Tilt Shift 0
- Sharpen +35

Trial it out and let me know what you think.

 

Your Ultimate IGTV Guide | How to Upload Videos to IGTV on Instagram

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It's been getting a bit crazy on Instagram of late. The IGTV platform feels like it's been talked to death already and it's barely a week old. Now the proverbial dust has settled what is it all about and is it truly the game-changer everyone is making it out to be? How can you monitise it and how do you edit you videos for the IGTV vertical format?

 

I'm still unsure, what is IGTV? 

IGTV is a standalone app and one that can have integrated into your Instagram account. You can upload videos up to an hour long if you have a verified account. Although I believe there are some hacks or ways to get around this limitation for non-verified accounts.

For those minnows like you and I we will be restricted to 10 minutes. Which is plenty of time for a vertical video. (We'll talk about the vertical video problem/solution later). 

It will certainly enhance the sales of Gimbals as the jittery homemade videos will soon get tiresome, much like all the found footage movies did after The Blair Witch Project.

It will certainly separate the men from the marines when it comes to video content because you'll need to be a bit more clued in with editing, creating ideas that doesn't just involve 15 seconds of you filming yourself blowing out a birthday cake. 

Ten minutes might be a very long time for people with so few ideas. 

 

Will using IGTV benefit my business? 

You bet your ass it will. Imagine having an hour long video platform where you can demonstrate your products to your audience, of course there is also LIVE for that but let's be honest, what brands really use that? It also helps brands or Influencers who do not currently have a presence on YouTube target their audience on Instagram with more engaging video content. 

There are insights available for your IGTV video. So far IGTV insights include: Views, Likes, Comments, and Average percentage watched.

There's even a handy chart to show you the points at which video viewership increases and drops.

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How do I edit IGTV videos for a ten-minute format? 

Well this is where you need to get that big brain a'cookin’. Firstly, lets talk about the editing. As IGTV presents videos ONLY in vertical format then any new videos you shoot for IGTV should be filmed in portrait but make sure there is enough resolution left after the cropping. 

It would be great for a horizontal format to be introduced but for now make sure every time you film something with your cameras you need to keep the object in the middle of the frame. As we're the guinea pig generation for this new format then I wouldn't start hiring out film crews or studios just yet. 

I'm going to film everything on my Sony A7Sii, then import the videos to my iMAC and edit them in iMovie or FinalCut. For this demo I'll use iMovie, so this is how to create a video for IGTV from scratch:

1. Film your subject in portrait NOT landscape. Copy from your SD card to your iMac. Open iMovie, create a new project "IGTV Test" and import the video into the project. Even if you've filmed in portrait, iMovie will rotate the content to display in landscape...don't panic.

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2. On the top right-hand side in iMovie, click the "Cropping" icon, then "Rotate the clip clockwise" until your movie displays in portrait as below.

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3. Edit your video as you would normally and save to file. If you are using Airdrop to transfer the video from your iMAC to your iPhone then save in 1080p although I do believe that IGTV supports 4K resolution.

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4. Then simply open IGTV and upload your movie. Remember that on IGTV you can add URLs in the description and they become clickable links --> use this format https://www.hawkinsandshepherd.com/

I haven't had the chance to experiment with including music on the videos. Currently IG stories can be uploaded with music, (royalty and non-royalty) but posts on the home feed that contain music that require royalty fees, get taken down almost instantly. 

According to Digitial Music News it looks like Instagram is also working on layering music into Stories. This is still at the rumour stage, though monetization would likely include both background music and intentionally added clips.

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I'm a blogger/instagrammer, what are the best videos to upload to IGTV? 

I already uploaded one of me working out in KOBOX. I can imagine fitness vids and instructors making huge use out of this. 

 

FITNESS TUTORIALS

What will this do for all those fitness apps out there like Tabatas that you need to subscribe and pay for to see this kind of content? They'll need to rethink their model that's for sure. 

 

UNBOXING

We mentioned product demos but I think Unboxing videos will be great for this. Unboxing vids on the stories is tricky, and boring because it takes 15 seconds just to get the damn sellotape off. 

 

EXCLUSIVES

How about doing content that no one can get on any of your other platforms? Imagine a news release or a giveaway code for a product? 

 

Recently I thought David Haye missed a massive trick. He announced his retirement on his website with a very thorough and well thought out blog post. 

Then he just reeled it all off on an Instagram vid for those that he said 'can't be arsed to read'. I mean there's repurposing content and there's just killing all the emancipation. 

 

Why should I move over to IGTV? 

When a new platform is started, there is an opportunity for content creators to get noticed. New platforms lack content so there is a greater chance of your content getting noticed.

When it comes to bright and shiny new things people are in “exploring mode” looking for people and content to enjoy and follow. Which makes it much more likely for your content to become popular.

Also we're migrating more and more to our phones. The IG blog highlights that “by 2021, mobile video will account for 78% of total mobile data traffic" and that they’ve “learned that younger audiences are spending more time with amateur content creators and less time with professionals”.

 

Things for Bloggers to Know Before Buying Drones

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Are you thinking of buying a drone? Well cool your jets there hotshot, because if you don't play by the rules you could be facing jail time. Drones have become ubiquitous thanks to the upsurge in technology, increased fascination with photography and videography and the decrease in cost.  

Now new legislation for drone users is rolling out as we speak and UK drone users may have to pass online safety tests under legislation being introduced to the Commons. Here are some of the KEY facts you should know before buying a drone. 

 

How much should I pay for a Drone

Depends pal, how flush are you right now? The sky is the limit (pardon the pun) when it comes to drones. Generally the less expensive the drone, the more of a remote control plane it becomes targeted for your ten year old nephew.

But you're a blogger, and you want to up your YouTube game. You're just finding your feet in videography and want a drone to film around the hotel you're reviewing, or do a 360 around the new outfit you're wearing? 

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Here's what you need to consider

You need to factor in the following. The wireless range and battery life. Can the drone land safely automated when out of range or better yet, can it return back to you once it reaches it flies out of range? Here are my recommendations:

The Yuneec Typhoon H is an auto return drone currently selling for just over £700. It has an automatic takeoff, landing, and return to home so you don't have to do an Anneka Rice treasure hunt to find the thing. 

Is the drone compatible with my GoPro? 

You might want to put your own camera into the drone. In that case you can purchase the GoPro Karma Quadcopter currently on sale at Amazon for £375. It's portable, compatible with GoPro HERO5 and HERO6. Also backwards compatible with HERO4. The only downside is the fly time of 20 minutes, which could be better considering the price. 

Does it have Orbit Me? 

This is the coolest feature. You might be interest in the Orbit Me feature (otherwise known as follow me mode, which locks the camera onto your movement). Very handy if you're a mountain biker, skateboarder etc.  A lot of bloggers and videographers would recommend the Mavic Air if you're just starting out or the Mavic Pro (which is the drone that I personally use).

The Mavic Air/Pro comes with Active Track so it can zero in on moving targets. It's renowned for being extremely lightweight and portable, folds up and easily fits in a camera bag. Perfect for travel. Though I strongly recommend you seek out the travel allowance for airlines and countries. 

Lithium batteries are on the banned and restricted list for British Airways flights, this is direct from their website:

Due to the potential fire risk associated with lithium batteries, hoverboards and other self-propelled electrically-powered vehicles such as Air Wheels, Solo Wheels, skateboards, scooters and Hover Karts are completely forbidden.

Some countries require a permit; others simply won't allow them into the country. Morocco for example. 

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And what are the new laws coming in I need to be aware of before flying my drone? 

The chances are all the spectacular footage you've seen on YouTube of drones circling over cities and hotel resorts have been captured illegally. 

Consumer drones (classed as those that weigh under 20kg) must be flown no higher than 400 feet (120 metres), and be kept at least 50 metres away from people and private property, and 150 metres from congested areas and organised open-air assemblies of more than 1,000 people.

New restrictions soon to be implemented will mean restrictions around airport boundaries have also been clarified stopping any drone flying within 1km of them.

Also, people who own drones weighing 250g or more will have to register with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). Make sure you check the weight of your drone if you're augmenting its features. I.E adding your own camera.

Users who fail to adhere to the flight restrictions could face unlimited fines, up to five years in prison, or both.

 

I’m glad they are taking a reasonable initiative to ensure the safety of the public and drone pilots alike. Drones are getting cheaper and a lot of people are taking them out of the box and flying them without understanding the rules and limitations. The new law won’t stop people from buying them but allow them to fly safely and with confidence.
— @GadgetsBoy | Instagram

Blogging Tips | SEO for Beginners and How to Optimise old posts

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I do get asked some similar questions about blogging, blogging tips, best practices, how do I drive more traffic to my site? etc. I can tell you there is more to blogging than just reviewing a brand or product range, taking a couple of flat-lays and hoping that people will pour to your site. 

I am by no means the authoritarian, (although I will recommend some in this article) but I will share with you some of the core basics if you're just starting out. 

YOAST WORDPRESS PLUGIN

If you're running your blog from Wordpress this is a simple plugin and it's free. By now you should be able to install plugins. If not click on the image below that will take you to the tutorial by Siteground on how best to install plugins. 

Once you've installed Yoast you'll start to get familiar with Keywords and you'll be given a light metered scheme on how well Google will index your article. Basically you want to get all the red lights green to optimise your chances on getting this article seen on Google. 

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This is a screenshot taken at the time of writing this article, notice I've chosen the Keyword: blogging tips, I'll add another one at the end. 

IMAGERY

It's best to get into good practices when uploading your imagery. Naming your files before uploading them and not having them too large will enable your page to load quicker. (Google will notice your site speed and rate you accordingly). 

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For the sizing I normally go medium at 800 width, and in the ALT text (an image attribute added to the image in HTML). It's handy for people with screen reader devices or those with poor vision. I add a description which I'll try and tie in with a keyword if it's natural. I should also fill out the Image Title Attribution tag but am often a little lazy. Do as I say not as I do people! 

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If you're getting a little stuck with some of the mechanics of Wordpress and you don't have a tech geek you can lean on, Wordpress respond quickest via Twitter, so if you have questions then simply tweet them @wpbeginner with the hashtag #AskWPB. 

TWITTER

Speaking of Twitter it might be an idea to start immersing yourself with some of the SEO gurus and keep up with all the trending news. Google is constantly in a state of flux and the algorithms shape shift, as Q from Skyfall aptly puts, 'It's like a rubix cube that's fighting back'. 

GOOGLE SEARCH CONSOLE

You may have already started blogging, uploaded a lot of content but you're unsure on how to optimise those older posts. Installing Google Search Console will enable you to see which articles have a high impression count but low click through rate. 

You can look at adding or augmenting these articles to entice people into engaging more. Being more specific or perhaps adding a few more keywords or alt texts if you haven't already. Knowing your way around these kind of platforms will give you a great head start against your competitors. 

HIRE A GURU 

Believe it or not I have a guru that helps me navigate my way through the coded-abyss that is Google. It can be expensive but rather than hiring someone to do a site audit or optimise your site, pay them by the hour and do a screen share via SKYPE or Google Hangout. 

As they say don't give a starving man a fish, give him a fishing rod and teach him how to fish. Data crunchers like Semrush offer a great SEO academy with a series of videos for free. Alternatively get in touch with me at the comment box below and I will try and offer as many blogging tips and answer as many questions for you as I can. 

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Fully optimised article according to Yoast

 

How I deal with Passive/Aggressive comments on Social Media

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It's been a new thing for me in recent weeks, learning how to tackle the passive/aggressive and the outright aggressive comments on social media. By and large I have a great community of influencers and fans that champion my platforms, leaving very encouraging remarks. But as the saying goes if you're pleasing everyone then you're pleasing no one.

Some recent comments have hit home of late, especially the ones of the passive/aggressive nature. The ones that sound like they come from an honest place, but are have an undertone of resentment and in my mind specifically engineered to get under my skin.

Why passive/aggressive comments are the worst is because the author lacks a complete backbone. They don't have the balls to be direct and call a spade a spade. A recent comment on my YouTube informed me that I was pronouncing a certain word wrong, calling me a tw*t in the process. Those sort comments I can digest, deflect, even laugh, but the ones that are surreptitiously masked, leave a taint.

Saying something mean whilst having plausible deniability. 

Just Saying

Just Saying, putting it out there, always with the open palms right? You're just saying it, but that doesn't stop people feeling it. You're 'Just Sayin' is the weasel's way out. Just say it, without the Just Saying.

Just Curious  

Just Curious? Just curious about how many blokes you've slept with before me. Just curious, out of curiosity, what's your dick count up to? Just curious how much did you make on your last job? Of course you're curious, but just by making the proclamation does not make your 'curiosity' any less invasive. 

No Offence

No offence but actually offence. No offence but that's not a good look for you. That's not a good look for you, and offence because I'm actually bang into this look, and I can handle criticism, but not when it comes unqualified. No offence, but justify your opinions, I'll accept them, respect them and we'll move on. No offence, but go eff yourself with your no offence 'offense'. (Americanism). 

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How do you handle Passive/Aggressive comments on social media?

Firstly, if you're being intimidated or bullied at all then this can lead to mental health issues. Please reach out to the professionals, the word is eCrime is now sadly becoming more prevalent, it's in the police lexicon but there are professionals that can help you out. There's no shame in reaching out.

Secondly, you can always mute, block or call them out. It's possibly harder to call them out because they're more than likely friends in real life that has perhaps just gotten a little jealous, or maybe you've hit a nerve somewhere you didn't know existed. That's where the third tip will help you out the most.

DETACH! Learning to emotionally detach will help you handle most things, but especially negativity in your life. To quote ex-navy Seal turned author and podcaster Jocko Willink, you need to learn to detach

"When you're not detached you're in the storm and you don't even know it."

That's all I have on this today. I'd be interested to know if anyone else experiences this on their channels, and how they react to passive/aggressive comments. 

How to: Up Your Street Photography Game INSTANTLY

No doubt about it, Street Photography is a wave to be jumped. It takes balls. There is no safe spaces or comfort zones to be found if you want to become a great street photographer. The hum drum reality of photography is that a picture will often define the personality of the photographer.

Whether it’s the way it’s been edited, the subject matter or the composition, the shot you present to the world on your chosen platform says something about you. I am by no means a vociferous street photographer. My appreciation skills for street photography far out weight my own accomplishments in this field. However, I’ve hung around enough photographers and expunged as much wisdom as I can on the subject, which I’d like to parley onto you.

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1.   PICK YOUR SPOT

I have a pal that visits Westminster on his days off and just takes pictures of people coming out the underground. He says it’s the easiest, safest way of getting cool images. For one, people are coming into your space, you’re not invading there’s and also its super touristic. Most people think you’re taking pics of Big Ben over their shoulder. So pick a spot with high footfall, and just be patient.

2.  “OH WOW”

Another pal I know uses that line all the time when she sees someone dressed ostentatiously in the street. “Oh wow” she cries, “look at you! You have to let me take your portrait”. I’ve seen her in action and it’s dead easy, most people like having their ego fed, especially those that dress flamboyantly. Plus, using the word portrait instead of picture makes it sounds like you know what you’re doing.

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3.  IT MIGHT NOT BE WASTED

Just because you didn’t get the perfect snap, doesn’t mean it should hit the cutting room floor. Street photography by its very definition should display facets of vulnerability. It should have its faults and equally, not just be forgiven for them, but appreciated and loved all the more. Bit like how you love your missus for farting in her sleep!

Same theory with street photography. No picture will be perfect, it might be in focus then something will be in the background distorting the aesthetic, or it’s in focus but the expression on a kid kicking bubble-balloons make him look a demon child. Still the essence has been captured. The moment has been distilled and it’s honest.

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4.  SHUTTER SPEED

This is a technical one. With shutter speed I tend to go for a small aperture. If you’re shooting without a tripod, on the go and need to encapsulate a decent depth of field, then a smaller aperture will help you with achieve a faster shutter speed. For further reading on this I recommend you look up James Maher, although he goes for an f/8, f,11 or f,16, I’m much more inclined to go lower and whack up the ISO’s, perhaps it’s because the UK light is less forgiving.

If you are like myself and use a SONY A7S2 Camera, you can read my blog post on how to setup your Sony a7s2 camera.

5.  LOOK AHEAD

People hustle down the streets at breakneck speeds these days. You have to check the deepest points on the horizons for your potential subjects. Thus, when they move into shot you can get them coming in to your space and it’s less obvious. Also, I’ve only ever had one person tell me to delete a picture on my camera. (And he was dodgy, probably caught him in the middle of a drug deal). Yes, you might be invading someone’s privacy by getting a shot of them, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s really nothing. It really is.

6.  EXHIBITIONS

You need to go to as many photo exhibitions as possible. Personally I love photo exhibitions and if I had the money I’d not only have a walk in wardrobe, a personal assistant who would walk Charlie and break in my new shoes, I’d also have a separate wing of the house dedicated to photography books. Sadly, they’re often super expensive. But there’s no better way to get inspired than by going to an exhibition. Maybe set one up? Why not hire a space and do one yourself?

In the meantime, here are a list of decent London based Street Photographers you can draw inspiration from: