Tech Guide

How to use Instagram as an easy photo editor but NOT necessarily a social network!


As well as being a massively popular social network, Instagram is a brilliant photo editing tool - it's quick, intuitive and easy to transform images. But you can't save the photos to your phone unless you post them online, and sometimes you might want to edit a photo and not share it with the world on social media.

So how do you do this? The tl;dr version of this post:

How to use Instagram as a photo editor

This is great for family stuff (and professional stuff, more on which below). I've become a little obsessed with manipulating photos so that the most important part of the image is clearly highlighted in some way. For example this weekend I took a picture of my daughter and wanted to use the filters Instagram provides and also the tilt-shift function. I love tilt-shift - it makes part of your image slightly out of focus, drawing the eye to the in-focus part you define. But I didn't want to post a picture of my kids on Instagram because I use that purely for drumming related shenanigans - so I took the picture and went into Instagram, edited it, and posted in Airplane Mode so it didn't actually get as far as the internet, but DID save to my camera roll. I really like the way the bits in the picture frame are in focus, but the resit isn't.

The original picture

The original picture

The tilt-shifted, Instagram filtered one

The tilt-shifted, Instagram filtered one

5 steps to use Instagram professionally for photo editing

For professional projects this is potentially very useful, especially if you can't find a free stock image that suits your requirements. Let's say you're making a slide for a presentation and you need to talk about Google. You don't want to pay for a photo, and you can't find a suitable Google-related pic which has space to write on, without having to pay.

STEP 1: Use your phone to take a picture of the Google app icon on a tablet. (Keep in mind you don't have to take a photo - you could screengrab your phone or tablet if you want to get an image of an app or website. I've gone with a photo in this example to get the angle.)

STEP 1: Use your phone to take a picture of the Google app icon on a tablet

STEP 2: Apply a filter. (I ended up choosing X-PRO II)

STEP 3: Use the Radial Tilt-Shift to effectively blur everything except the Google icon

STEP 4: If you don't post it to Instagram it won't save to your Camara Roll. So go into Airplane Mode then post it - you'll see the 'Failed' message and you can press the X to dismiss it. Instagram will now forget all about the image and not attempt to repost it when you have connectivity - but you'll still have the edited pic saved to your phone.

STEP 4: If you don't post it to Instagram it won't save to your Camara Roll. So go into Airplane Mode then post it - you'll see the 'Failed' message and you can press the X to dismiss it. Instagram will now forget all about the image and not attempt to repost it when you have connectivity - but you'll still have the edited pic saved to your phone.

STEP 5: Your finished photo! The eye is drawn to the Google icon, and the photo is darkened and blurred so you can potentially add easily readable white text to your image as part of a slide. Email it to yourself and it's ready to use in your slide.

STEP 5: Your finished photo! The eye is drawn to the Google icon, and the photo is darkened and blurred so you can potentially add easily readable white text to your image as part of a slide.

Finally here are the two photos side by side so you can see the difference.

Original photo

Original photo

Edited version

Edited version

You can sign up to Instagram and never publically post a picture if you don't want to! If you make creative use of this technique let me know in a comment.

An Alternative to Seth Godin's 5 Rules to create amazing PowerPoint Presentations


Seth Godin is a very influential man, and his views on PowerPoint carry a lot of weight. He wrote a famous post a while back (1.5k Facebook shares, a gazillion tweets about it etc) on creating amazing presentations - you can read it here. I agree with lots of it completely, but I'm not totally on board with the five rules at the end.

My take on Seth's rules

My take on Seth's rules

No more than six words on a slide. EVER. There is no presentation so complex that this rule needs to be broken. To me this seems too arbitrary. Fewer words is without doubt better than more words when it comes to slides - they're presentation tools not written documents. But six? As the maximum ever? Unless that's based on research that shows seven or more words reduces the effectiveness of your PowerPoint, why limit yourself in such an extreme way? I'd say one or two sentences to ensure brevity but allow yourself a little flexibility in conveying meaning and nuance.

No cheesy images. Use professional stock photo images. First of all there are plenty of cheesy professional stock photos! Authenticity is key. The trick is to find images which look like the camera has happened upon a real scene - lots of pro stock images show impossibly perfect people laughing flirtatiously over a blank iPad, I mean come on. I find Pixabay and Unsplash have enough for most presentations I make, plus someone introduced me to Pexels the other day which looks good, and they're all free - both of copyright and financial cost. The professional stock photo sites cost a fortune to use - why use them when so many great (legal) images can be found for free?

No dissolves, spins or other transitions. Yup. No argument here. If it's extraneous to your story, all you're doing is reducing the impact of your message.

Sound effects can be used a few times per presentation, but never use the sound effects that are built in to the program. Instead, rip sounds and music from CDs and leverage the Proustian effect this can have. If people start bouncing up and down to the Grateful Dead, you’ve kept them from falling asleep, and you’ve reminded them that this isn’t a typical meeting you’re running. I like the idea about using music etc but it really needs a certain type of high energy presentation performance to pull this off. It's not for everybody (I couldn't do it). It's hard to think of a rule around sound that is absolute; it all depends on your audience, and some of them way think the use of music is a little distracting, whatever your music taste... From what I understand about the Proustian effect it's a very personal thing; I'm not sure a presenter could expect to cause or induce it for a room full of people. 

Don’t hand out print-outs of your slides. They don’t work without you there. I agree with this. But I wouldn't put it in my top 5...

Header pic is a CC-BY image by  Betsyweber  - clcik to view original on Flickr.

Header pic is a CC-BY image by Betsyweber - clcik to view original on Flickr.


My own top 5 rules for creating effective PowerPoint slides

So what would I put in my top 5 rules for creating amazing PowerPoint presentations? I can answer that question because the intro to my full-day Presentation Skills training is built around five golden rules, based on existing research into what makes for an effective presentations - and that's the aim here, to build something which works. 'Amazing' is no good on its own; you need people to remember your key messages, not just how great a presenter you were.

Here we go:

  1. Keep it simple. Slides don't need to be flash - get rid of anything that doesn't tell your specific story, and leave behind something which supports and reinforces what you're saying out loud, and prompts you as to what to say next.
  2. No more bullets. Bullet points ruin slides. They're fine for documents, but you're not making a document in PowerPoint. As well as being symptomatic of a general Death By PowerPoint malaise, they make people less likely to agree with, understand and remember your presentation. Oh and they like you less when you use them. That's enough of a reason to never use them, surely?
  3. Make one point per slide. Make your point, allow your audience to digest it, then move on together in sync with them. Several points on a slide inevitably result in your audience moving at a different pace to you, because they can only listen and read for a few short seconds. Why be in conflict with your presentation materials when you don't have to? Give each key message room to breathe.
  4. Big fresh fonts. Font size 24 is the absolute minimum you should ever use in slides. If you need more you're trying to fit too much on one slide. Either ditch some text or cascade it across two slides. Non-standard fonts (which is to say, fonts which don't appear in the Office Suite) can, if chosen carefully, increase the impact of your presentation. Typography is underrated.
  5. More images, less text. Too much text stops slides working. Relevant images help people learn. Make the most of your opportunity with each new PowerPoint you make!

If you need a conference / event / project website, Strikingly might be the option for you

The short version of this post is: if you'd like a clean modern website for your online presence, and aren't looking to do anything too complicated, Strikingly may well be the right choice for you. It's easy to use for both author and viewers of the site, and it's free as long as you don't get TOO much traffic.

Over the past couple of months I've been tinkering around with the website builder Strikingly in spare pockets of time.

I really like the vertical scrolling style websites you can make in Strikingly - I first saw that style when Matt Borg used it for stuff like the UXLibs site. You can use normal navigation to skip to whichever page you like, or you can scroll down and they all appear below the homepage - meaning you never have to load up a new page to explore the website. This long-form one-page style saves time and works well.

Where it doesn't work so well is if you have a lot of complicated information to display on many different subjects - in that setting a traditional website may work better. But if you have just one story to tell Strikingly can do it with an uncluttered, stylish, and very mobile friendly site. For example for a conference, an event, a project, a collaboration, or even a personal website to act as a CV or something for the Googlers to find.

I already have this main website made in Squarespace (which I reviewed here), so in order to have a reason to sign up and play with Strikingly in earnest I built a site for my Training offering. You can find it here if you're interested - the top part looks like this:

Click the pic to open the website in a new window

Click the pic to open the website in a new window

At the moment this feels some way ahead of Blogger and even Wordpress in terms of the interface - it's pleasant to interact with a Strikingly site. You can actually blog using Strikingly, but if you do that and achieve success with it, you're going to exceed the 5GB of bandwidth that comes with the free version of the service. You can upgrade to the 8-or-16 dollar a month packages but I doubt anyone reading this would want to that - so to my eyes, Strikingly is a good option for someone who wants an online presence, perhaps to document some projects you've worked on, an online CV, or to showcase your skills if you're job-hunting, but who doesn't want to commit to blogging. Or, as mentioned, for an event, conference or collaborative project.

The editor looks like this:

As you can see you choose the type of section you want, then edit the content to your own. You edit the actual site - so what you see is truly what you get, rather than there being a seperate Editor interface. This makes it easier to see exactly how the changes you make are going to affect your design.


  • It's fairly fool-proof in terms of making things look nice. You are set up to succeed and would have to out of your way to make a duff site, even if you have no experience of web design or blog-building etc
  • It's very easy to create a site. There are nice templates which are relatively customisable
  • It's free, as long as your site is not too popular! (See below)
  • It's Responsive Design, so everything about your site is retained when viewing it on mobiles - it's just re-ordered to best fit the size of screen. Below is a screen-grab of Preview mode where you can see your site in tablet or phone view:


  • If you exceed 5GB of bandwidth per month, you'll need to upgrade to a paid-for package. There's more on understand bandwidth requirements here but to 5GB ought to be enough unless you're blogging and building an audience. I don't know what my bandwidth usage is anymore as the Squarespace package I have is unlimited, but in my old wordpress days I used between 10 and 20GB a month - had I not been blogging and thus creating traffic I think 5GB would have been more than enough
  • You need a lot of imagery. As with all modern website designs, it's a lot about pictures - so you'll have to use some. There's plenty of inbuilt options to choose from but in making mine I had to hunt around for things which were relevant, and not just stylish for the sake of it
  • Following on from that, all these new website builders (like Squarespace too) are really aimed primarily at start-ups and freelancers; sometimes it feels like an effort to find the options which aren't all about a: the hard sell or b: vaguely trendy lifestyle stuff that may work in a San Franciso web design office but is hard to imagine having any meaning elsewhere
  • It's not THAT flexible - as mentioned above, a more complicated site is better off with a different website builder. The editor is easy to use but a little constraining so you can't micromanage the finer details of how each section is arranged
  • And the usual disclaimer as with any new site-builder - who knows how long the company will be around? Unlike Wordpress which is open-source and sustained by the non-profit community, Strikingly exists as a business, and businesses go under... There's no reason to expect Strikingly to stop existing, but you never know.

So could Strikingly work for you or an enterprise you're involved with? If you do decide to give it a whirl let me know what you make with it.

Visitors and Residents: Useful Social Media in Libraries



Visitors and Residents (or V&R) is a really useful way of thinking about how people interact online and use social media. In short, people in Visitor mode come online to complete a particular task, and then leave - with very little trace of their activity remaining. People in Residents mode are more likely to identify as themselves and use the web as a social space, sharing as well as obtaining information. Visitors and Residents is a continuum which all of us are on, moving between the two according to our needs at any given time. It was first proposed by Le Cornu and White, and (David) White has a very useful section of his site to introduce the topic in more detail.

As libraries, it's really useful to think about how we go about catering for users in both modes. Social media isn't all about social networks - we can use social media platforms to provide easy entry points for Visitors seeking information (a lot of the platforms I've set up at York should provide utility even for students and staff who don't use social media at all), AND we can use it to add our voice to a more Residential space and provide help and information as part of a community. Led very much by Donna Lanclos's views on the subject, I now see V&R as a far more constructive lens through which to view peoples' online behaviour than the 'Digital Natives' idea, which is extremely prevalent and asks us to make assumptions about our users based on their date of birth.

I was invited to give a keynote at the Interlend conference, and asked specifically to talk about social media. As I've mentioned before I think a keynote is a very specific thing, and has different requirements to a regular conference presentation where I could, for example, just report back on what my institution is doing to engage users online. A keynote needs an overarching theme which gives people a way of looking at the world, as well as specific ideas and things for people to try out. With this in mind, my #Interlend2015 talk was entitled Visitors and Residents: Useful Social Media in Libraries.

The Presentation

The actual slides I used will be available on the FiL website shortly, but they won't make that much sense without me talking over the top of them so I've redone them to stand alone online. Here they are. (I get really excited about slide design. It's the one part of me that is remotely visually artistic, and I loved using a slightly different style for this slide-deck and learning new tricks. I found new sources of images - listed on the final slides - and a couple of new fonts, used a lot of darkening and blurring of images so I could write directly onto them, and generally tried REALLY hard with these!)

Screw Digital Natives

Inspired by Donna I've become quite militant about the whole digital natives thing.

It can't be left unchallenged - when people use it uncritically we have to pull them up on it! It's dangerously reductive. There's two major problems with it: firstly anyone who's thought about it for more than a second would agree that age doesn't actually determine technological know-how. How exposed we are to modern tools and computers depends on place of birth, environment growing up, privilege, and other socio-economic factors - we know that. So to assume that students entering University now have a set of skills that they just have (how do you Snapchat? You just Snapchat. Hello to Jason) is to ignore the messier reality in front of you in favour of a very simplistic alternative - an imagined present, as Donna eloquently puts it. So we don't assess the students in front of our very eyes on what they can and can't do, we just plough on and risk a dereliction of our educational duty. And secondly, even those that ARE excellent with the tools don't neccessarily know how to use them in the academic environment (or indeed for life-skills type purposes). Technological literacy does not imply digital literacy! Being deft with a touch-screen and quick to find information is a great first step, but then comes all the (again, messy) business of critically evaluating that information, and potentially re-purposing it.

My 1 year old can - genuinely - do things with our iPad which we can't recreate, to do with swiping in a certain way. She's born into the technology. She's what the people who talk about Digital Natives are imagining ALL children are like. But that doesn't mean she can use the tech to achieve goals and complete tasks and understand how information works. Of course it doesn't.

On talking then leaving

I strongly dislike when people give talks at conferences and then leave straight after. It implies arrogance - it says I am here to give out knowledge, but there's nothing you guys can teach ME.

With the Interlend Conference, the timing was awful - it was in a run of the most stressful and stupidly busy 7 days I've ever had professionally. I really wanted to do the talk though - I was supposed to do it last year but had to pull out because of my daughter's illness, and it was an honour to be asked to do a keynote. The only way I could do it was if I went back to work in the afternoon, due to a massive deadline looming - so essentially I did what I hate people doing: I showed up, gave the talk, and left.

I wanted to stay - especially after the really interesting conversations I had with people over coffee after my talk - but I had to choose between talking and running, or not talking at all. I chose to talk and run, but next time I would make a different choice and not do the talk at all unless I'm able to attend the full day on which I'm speaking. I just felt awful - sad to miss out on stuff I would have found really interesting and useful, and my insecurities running wild about what people must think (fired further by a few tweets which confirmed my worst fears).

So huge apologies to the delegates - I wish I could have stayed and carried on the conversations.

CPD as a way to get some learning done

One of things I like most about CPD is choosing paths which force me to invest proper time in understanding something relatively new. Over the years I've often submitted a title of a talk knowing that it would involve some serious work  and research to actually be able to deliver the finished article... What normally happens is I do this and feel excited about it, then about 2 days before the talk is due to be given I curse my past self in great and sweary detail because I'm still learning about a topic rather than planning how to create a presentation on it, and then afterwards I'm really glad I forced myself to do this because I learned something valuable and lasting. That's basically exactly what happened here.

When I was planning this talk and knew it had to be about social media, I was really drawing a blank in terms of an angle for it - I didn't want to just repeat the same old same old. If I read one more conference tweet that says 'social media is a great way to connect with our users!' I will probably despair.

So I asked Twitter what I should call the talk, and got loads of good suggestions, before ultimately realising that this would be the perfect opportunity to go from 'being interested in that #vandr thing I've read a lot about from Donna Lanclos' all the way to 'knowing enough about #vandr to actually talk about it at a conference' so I settled on that, and am really glad I did. (Although it was, as predicted, massively stressful.)

But I wanted to give an honourable mention to the best twitter suggestion in response to my plea for ideas for possible titles for my talk:

I wish I could have used it...

Two great new sources of free-to-use stock photos


I got sent this guide to image sources, and it contained links to a couple of image sources I wasn't familiar with. They're both a little different to the sites I normally recommend, and I think they'll be very useful. I use stock images a lot, mostly in presentations but also in tweets, blogposts, other parts of this site, graphics and posters etc.

The downside with these particular sites, for me, is that it's hard to search them - they're both blogs rather than depository style sites like But actually this presents images, added on an on-going basis, in a new way (to me) which is potentially quite helpful.

The upsides are firstly you can do anything you like with them and you don't even have to attribute. The second updside is the standard of photography - and I've been looking for a free-to-use source vintage images for ages, and finally I've found one. Let's look at that one first.

New Old Stock

New Old Stock curates vintage photos 'free of known copyright restrictions' - this means you can use them for whatever purpose you like, however you want. Hey look, here's a library example!

METU Library, via New Old Stock

METU Library, via New Old Stock

Some of the pics go WAY back, like this Egyptian example:

There's a huge amount to explore on New Old Stock, mostly B&W or sepia but with some early colour too, and if you're on Tumblr you can subscribe to get notified whenever they post more.


Unsplash adds 10 new images a day (you can subscribe to keep updated) and again, it has a 'do anything' licence. Specifically the site says:

All photos published on Unsplash are licensed under Creative Commons Zero which means you can copy, modify, distribute and use the photos for free, including commercial purposes, without asking permission from or providing attribution to the photographer or Unsplash.

... which is good to know!

There are real advantages to not having to attribute. Although I'll always do so in a presentation, when you're tweeting in image or designing a poster or web materials, it's nice not to have to take up space with a URL and author name. It's also important to be able to modify the images in any way you please - on Flickr, for example, the majority of the Creative Commons images aren't set to allow this, meaning you can't use them in presentations or posters, or indeed do anything expect display them as they are.

The images on Unsplash are just a cut above most free image sites - for example I've used pictures of both coffee and bridges in presentations before, but never as nice as these examples...

The header image for this post is also from Unsplash.

So take a look and see if these images will be useful either for you or your library comms.