Thursday, March 17, 2016

Instagram for creatives: Interview with Norma Andreu from Cara Carmina

As part of the Instagram for creatives series, I made a little Q&A with 3 of my favourite Canadian Instagrammers. Last week was the turn of amazing Natacha Castonguay and this week, I'm honoured to present you the one and only Norma Andreu from Cara Carmina!

Norma is an illustrator and doll maker that, like me, is originally from Mexico and now lives and loves Montreal. I meet her a while ago when I found her gorgeous dolls on Etsy and we became friends, relating to each other's stories about our native country and finding our way in the creative community. 

Following Norma on Instagram is delightful and kind of comforting: she cover you in a blanket of familiarity and looking at her photos turns into a daily ritual for the soul. Her posts are a mix of her works in progress, current projects and peeks into her daily life and her cats, of course! One of the things I find more inspiring about Norma's IG story is her capacity to create content and post steadily, some of the most important aspects to grow a loyal following. So, come meet her!

Norma Andreu
Illustrator, doll maker from Cara Carmina

What do you love about IG?
I love the visual instant impact of it.  I'm a very visual person, I love illustration and photography, instagram is my favourite social network due to this, is so inspiring to see all this images of all over the world of so many different things!

How do you use IG, as a lifestyle or business account (or both!) and why?
I use it as both.  I love taking photos, I love the beauty contained on an instant.  During our daily life we have so many beautiful moments, memories that fade away and that we can capture with a photo.  Of course as an illustrator and designer my images and my work can be showed and shared in IG so easily and also my process and behind the scenes process plus my daily inspiration.  I love it for both!

For you, what are the basics to have a successful IG account?
Style, consistency, honesty and narrative.  You can talk about anything you want in IG, food, art, travel, DYI, books, ANYTHING! everything can become a successful IG account if you give it the right amount of the 4 things I mentioned.  Also tagging properly and interacting with other IG people you like, admire or follow, is a 2 road street here too, #sharingiscaring :)

What is the best advice you could give to an independent designer that wants to use IG to grow their business.
Work on a style and be creative.  Share with your followers part of yourself that are not ONLY part of your work, let them know your journey, is very inspiring and shows the person behind the work, gives the work a soul, a humanity that we all have but not all show to others, that's the HONESTY  I'm talking about!  :)

I particularly admire that you always find content and keep your account moving by posting often. What would you advice to an independent maker that struggles to find content or/and don't post often on their account?
I personally LOVE taking photos and don't discriminate, it is part of my day, taking photos, collecting moments, keeping memories, I love doing it! but if you are not like me try to make it a habit, start with 2 daily photos and keep doing it until you find yourself in this exercise, is a creative outlet! and of course a great marketing tool for you work, and is FOR FREE!!!! plus is easy, you just post a photo!  there are no rules, you make your own rules, some days I don't post and some days I post 8 photos, I try to do it daily but I don't have rules... you get your own style to do things and people will start liking your style as long as is honest.

Thank you Norma, for sharing your experience and advice!
Follow Cara Carmina at:
Or visit her Website!

Stay tuned for next and last part of these series + interviews! coming up on Instagram for Creatives: Key points to improve your Instagram account and reach a bigger audience.

Thanks for reading this!

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Instagram for creatives (part 2): Three basic techniques for great phone photography.

Welcome to the second part of my Instagram for creatives series! Last time, I took you on a little starters trip about Instagram and how to set up your account neat, nice and ready to present yourself to the IG world. This time, I'll let you know about my techniques for great phone photography, which are the very foundation for a great IG feed. Pay attention because this is the stuff that comes before all those fancy editing tools!

Truth is, no fancy filter can transform a bad photo into a nice one. Period. That's why this post is very important, as you'll learn to take a great photo to begin with, a photo that it's worth editing and post it to Instagram. Your smartphone is an amazing, easy to use, and always available tool and regardless what most people might think, you ABSOLUTELY CAN take amazing photographs with it.

People often ask me if the photos on my IG feed are taken with a regular camera, and the answer is that 99% of my photos are taken/edited using only my iphone (the occasional 1% is lookbook shots from my jewellery, taken with a regular camera by professional photographers). How do I do it? I just make sure to always apply these 3 super simple techniques:

1.- A clean lens.
This is such common mistake that I see happening all the time and it's truly a shame because is so easy to avoid! The thing is, you can be showing a gorgeous landscape, a lovely portrait or a beautiful piece of jewellery but if your lens was dirty when you took the photo, it’s going to be difficult to overlook the smudge and truly appreciate the image behind it. So, step number 1: make sure your lens is clean.

I use alcohol swabs to clean and tissue paper to dry when my lens is very dirty (having a messy 7 year-old grabbing my phone with food on her hands makes the affair a pretty common one!). For less messy situations I use a micro fabric and gently remove the smudge. Somewhere I read that using any sort of liquid to clean the lens is not the best way as it can damage it but so far, alcohol swabs have always worked fine for me. If you want to stay on the safe side, use only a microfibre tissue and steer off of any liquids near your lens. At the end, no matter how you do it, the important thing is to make sure you keep it clean and ready!

Let me show you a quick example of how things look when your lens is dirty vs what it looks like with a clean lens:

As you can see, the difference a dirty/clean lens make is HUGE. A clean lens will let you capture even the smallest details and create a neat, more interesting image, while the smudgy one, well, is just embarrassing.

2.- Focus. 
Unless it's one of those dreamy #BlurryOnPurpose pics (LOL!), you want to steer completely away form posting a blurry image. Blurry photos come up mostly due to movement or lack of use of the focus feature in your camera. Taking a clear, neat shot it's basic for making the image reflect the beauty of the object/moment you are shooting. But don't get me wrong, I do love a bit of movement in my pics, it adds deepness and life to them, but I always make sure I can control that movement by making it happen just in the part of the image I want to, by using my focus target. 

Take a second to steady your hand before taking that photo. If you are doing a product shot with your phone, I recommend to place your arm, elbow, hand or your phone to the table, wall or whatever you have close to help you keep as steady as possible, lightly tap your finger on the screen on the spot you want to focus, wait a sec for it to adjust and then shoot. This will make the image very clear and your be amazed at the quality you can get with your phone!

Let me show you some examples of a few of my photos where I used the focus target to get deepness, movement and even the smallest details of my subjects. 

Foreground and background. I wanted to show the details and the colours I got after soldering this piece and although I wanted my hand to show, didn't want to put any attention on it. The focus target helped me get the deepness I wanted by tapping on the jewellery piece and steady my hand for it to adjust properly before taking the pic. 

The light shone beautifully on the cedar leaves and I wanted to get the most of that backlighting glow. I used the focus feature for deepness and to get all the little details on the leaves by focusing on the illuminated branch while taking the photo. The leaves in the foreground became blurry and gave a cave effect on the photo, which I love.

This image is just so alive to me. Photographing Lune (my little pet bird) is always very difficult because she won't stop moving of course! But the fun thing is that I got to get her shaking her tail and wings, but her head was steady so I focused on it and got this lovely image of her feathers "trembling". So as you see, by using the focus feature you can capture movement.

3.- Mind the light. 
I will never be able to stress how important this subject is. No matter if you prefer clear and bright images or dark and moody ones, you should follow one simple rule: always use natural light! Natural light will make the absolute best of your photos, whether they are landscapes, vignettes, studio/home photos, portraits or product photography.  

If you want to take a photo in a rather dark space or if it’s a cloudy day, get a little help from your focus target by placing it on the darkest part of your image, that’d make the camera automatically adjust the brightness a bit. If the image on your screen becomes over exposed, just move the focus target on different parts on the screen until you like the brightness. Your photo might still be a bit dark but then you can fix it by playing with exposure or brightness when editing it. Here I must mention that I always use the app VSCOcam to take my photos and that these features may not be the same on other apps or the regular smartphone camera. For the regular iphone camera, you can adjust manually the brightness by dragging up or down the little sun icon that comes up when you tap your finger on the camera screen.

But what about when you can’t possibly use natural light (because it’s night or you are doing bench work for example)? What I often do when shooting work on the bench (artificial light) or at night is to fix the image with editing tools or filters. Use a black and white filter or lower the colour saturation on the image to reduce the colours that artificial light gives to the photo. What you want is to keep away from yellow-ish or blue-ish images. 

Let me show you an example of how I try to get the best of natural light when taking photos, even on a cloudy day!

This is the shot I got in my studio on a rather dark day. The light from the window overpowers the light inside and makes all even darker, plus there's much going on outside which I'm not interested at all in showing as what I truly want is to focus on my bench. So the photo doesn't give me much to work with. 

But then look what happens by simply placing my focus target on the darkest part of my scene, which is the bench: the light automatically adjust and compensates giving me a much more workable photo. I don't regret loosing the trees and branches outside (which are the sad remains of my tomato plants that stayed there the whole winter!), on the contrary! 

This is the same last photo but here, I used editing tools to make it more compelling. I used a filter that amp up contrast and I made it a bit brighter to get rid of distractions and make the bench stand out. 

A note about editing and over editing 

Now, before we finish this chapter, I want to talk a little bit about editing. Having the means of photographing every bit of life in our pockets the whole time and so much creative minds all around, the amount of beautiful, truly beautiful images out there is something amazing. So in order to make your photos stand out, you gotta use a bit of editing. I mean, is not just editing for the sake of 'standing out', editing or using filters makes the image more you, more compelling and it's just so much fun. 

Whichever tool you use to edit or whichever style you have, be careful not to over do it. Go easy on the contrasts, cropping and use of colours. Most of the time, natural looking pictures work best. Unless you are doing some kind of fantasy imagery, of course ;)

The apps I use

When it comes to editing apps, my motto is the less, the better. On an ideal day, editing is actually just adding a filter. But of course just adding a filter sometimes is not the only thing you need so I have a few apps that make my photo-life much easier:
  • VSCOcam: This app is LIFE. I do most things here, from taking the photo to cropping, fixing and adding filters. It has a lot of great editing features for any need + the filters are the most beautiful thing ever. Best thing, is free! Free version comes with a limited number of filters. If you decide to purchase more (quite cheap), you won't be disappointed. 
  • PicFrame: to make collages!
  • Squaready: To crop or post entire photos on IG without cropping (if you don't want the image in your feed to look cropped even when individually they are not).
  • Easy Eraser: erase unwanted details in your pics, yeah. 
  • Font Candy: to add text to your images.
Do you have apps you love? share with me in the comments bellow!

So that's it for now! Next, check for an interview with one of my faves IGers whith her advice for a successful IG account, identity is a surprise for now, stay tuned! And later next week, the third and last par of my Instagram for Creatives series: Key points to improve your Instagram account and reach a bigger audience. 

If you have an questions, share away in the comments bellow. Thanks for reading!

Instagramming Ronbon, of course.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Instagram for creatives: Interview with Natacha Castonguay from Nanoutriko.

As part of the Instagram for Creatives series, I decided to ask three Canadian Instagramers I admire if they would like to share their take on this social media platform. I was very excited when all of them said yes and were happy to jump into this project with me! So today, I'm presenting you with the first of these IGers: Natacha Castonguay, a wonderful textile artist and mom of 4 that is a huge supporter of the local community.

I enjoy following Natacha on IG as she shares a glimpse inside her family life and endless inspiring images of the process of her work and beautiful products. I believe she's a great example of how to take IG and make something beautiful with it and at the same time, make it work for your creative endeavours. Plus, she's the queen when it comes to social media audience engagement, an essential element to make your SM channels grow!

Her interview is only in french, please use your google translator tool as you truly don't want to miss this! OK, here we go!

Je me nomme : Natacha Castonguay, je fais du tricot, des tissages et des bijoux minimalistes d'inspiration nautique, en cordage de coton. Mon nom sur IG n'est pas celui de mon entreprise, mais bien le mien: @natachacastonguay , parce que je partage beaucoup de ma vie personnelle, de mon quotidien, pas seulement mon boulot!

What do you love about IG?
J'aime la facilité d'utilisation et l'immense bassin de personnes qu'on peut rejoindre très rapidement, en utilisant les bons «hashtags», le monde entier est à notre porté!

Speaking about hashtags and how you can reach a bigger audience by using them, how do you define a "good hashtag"?
Je pense qu'un bon "hashtag" en est un spécifique, qui peut rejoindre un maximum de gens. Par exemple, j'utilise souvent #chunkyknits ou #weaving car je sais que d'autres tricoteuses ou tisserandes les utilisent aussi et vont voir le travaille des autres en cherchant justement ces hashtags, même chose pour les clients potentiels qui recherchent des tricots ou des tissages. Sinon, les hashtags qui font en sorte qu'on peut facilement retrouver notre travail et nos projets, en un seul endroit peuvent être très pratique. J'en utilise trois : #nanoukiko #nanoutriko et #nanoukikotriko . Sous ces hashtags, je peux voir tout ce que j'ai moi-même publié, mais également ce que mes "fans" ou "clients" ont publié comme photos, mettant en vedette mes créations, lorsqu'ils les ont utilisés évidemment. Aussi, j'utilise ces hashtags pour rediriger des clients qui veulent commander quelque chose, mais dont le choix n'est pas arrêter, ça leur permet de voir tout ce que j'ai fait dans le passé.

How do you use IG, as a lifestyle or business account (or both!) and why?
J'utilise Instagram comme un «album photo de mon quotidien», c'est à dire que je mélange toutes sortes de photos : «lifestyle», qui englobe mes photos de famille, les photos de mes repas, mes look du jour, les produits et créations québécoises que j'aime profondément ET AUSSI des photos qui concernent plutôt mon entreprise, mes tricots, mes tissages & autres projets en cours.

For you, what are the basics to have a successful IG account?
Je ne sais pas si j'ai véritablement du succès sur la plateforme Instagram, mais j'ai quand même accumulé près de 7300 abonnés en 2 ans, sans être «featuré» nul part. Ma routine quotidienne sur IG consiste à publier plusieurs fois par jour (pour rejoindre le plus de monde possible), par exemple  le matin, vers l'heure du lunch et en soirée. J'écris mes légendes en français parce que c'est ma langue, mais pour qu'un maximum de gens puisse comprendre, j'inscris mes «hashtags» en anglais. Je pense qu'avec IG, il faut s'avoir s'adapter à son marché. Par exemple, moi, j'ai décidé de vendre seulement au Canada où je peine déjà à fournir à la demande! Comme je fais 95% de mes ventes au Québec même, il était naturel que j'écrive mes légendes en français, mais j'aurais peut-être choisi l'anglais si mes acheteurs avaient été aux É-U! Aussi, j'aime beaucoup varier mon contenu, voilà pourquoi j'ai des photos de famille, des photos de «bouffe» et des photos de produits, je rejoins ainsi différents abonnés pour différentes raisons, mais ils ont tous accès à mes photos plus «commerciales» et ils peuvent être tentés d'aller voir mes produits et même d'en acheter puisqu'ils y sont exposés de façon régulière. J'essaie toutefois de ne pas avoir l'air de trop pousser la vente sur IG, souvent je montre les créations que j'ai terminé, qui sont déjà vendues ou les travaux sur lesquels je travaille ou encore mes enfants qui portent mes créations. Cependant, je n'hésite pas à partager mes promos sur IG quand j'en ai, mais dès qu'elles sont terminées, j'efface ces publications pour que mon album ne soit pas encombré de publicités et promotions.

What is the best advice you could give to an independent designer that wants to use IG to grow their business.
Ne lésinez pas sur la qualité de vos images. Si vous désirez montrer vos créations ou produits pour qu'ils soient achetés, vos photos doivent être jolies! Il vaut toujours mieux s'abstenir de partager une photo où le produit n'est pas bien mis en valeur! Il faut prioriser les images claires (la lumière naturelle du jour donne des superbes résultats sans trop d'efforts). N'hésitez pas à partager votre processus créatif, vos  «work in progress» et à élaborer sur la petite histoire de votre compagnie (en légende sous vos photos). Cela peut grandement aider à créer un climat de confiance et de proximité avec les acheteurs. C'est avec de petites attentions qu'on fidélise ses acheteurs et, au Québec, les clients semble aimer avoir l'impression de faire partie de la famille, si je me fie à ma propre expérience! Votre album doit être intelligent, j'entend par là qu'il doit y avoir un  fil conducteur, même si toutes vos photos sont différentes, on doit sentir votre touche personnelle, les albums harmonieux sont les plus agréable à regarder, on a l'impression de lire l'histoire de l'utilisateur.

I particularly admire how you engage with your audience, how everybody keeps commenting and interacting with your on IG. What would you advice to someone that struggles to engage and make connections with their audience?
Mon truc pour que mes «abonnés» participent activement et commente c'est simplement d'écrire des légendes à mes photos, je n'hésite pas à me livrer, à élaborer sur l'image que je publie. Je pense que les gens qui aiment les photos ont tendance à lire la légende et s'ils se sente interpellés, ils n'hésiteront pas à commenter. Créer un climat de proximité et de confiance avec les abonnés est très simple! Ça demande peu de temps et ça rapporte gros. Comme pour tous les réseaux sociaux, sur IG, il faut contrôler son image, choisir ce qu'on veut montrer et parfois s'abstenir de publier des choses qui sont moins pertinentes, même si elles sont drôles ou inusitées.

Thank you for sharing your experience, insight and advice with us Natacha!

Stay tuned for next week's post Three basic techniques for great phone photography and a new interview. In the meanwhile, check the first post on the series: About your Instagram account. Thank you for checking out my blog and if you have comments or questions, please leave a message bellow!