Choosing a photographer to study with

Very early on in my photographic career I discovered that my talent was most certainly not for taking photographs (although I’m not too bad at that either) but rather for looking at other peoples photographs. I worked out that with all the business acumen in the world I would never progress above the level of a-bit-better-than-average and I’d have to be happy on a lower end, modest salary for the rest of my life. Anyone that knows me will recognise that I’m not the kind of person to settle, so I took a long time working out what part of photography I am good at.

I’m really good at looking at pictures. I can pull portfolio images together with ease that other people don’t seem to have. I can see flaws in images and identify how things could be better. More to the point I actually enjoy doings things like this far more than taking pictures. Talking about and looking at photos is what I’m good at so I decided to go to university to do a degree in History of Art. And I’m doing very well at it, getting a first at the end of my first year.

But what does this have to do with choosing a photographer to study with?

Lots of photographers claim to be able to offer an awful lot to new photographers. The reality is that they don’t. Only today I saw a wedding photographer on Facebook who was offering the ‘opportunity’ to assist him on two weddings this weekend. He said it was a great chance for someone looking to make a career as a photographer. He also said you had to provide all your own gear (a minimum of a basic digital camera and an 18-55mm lens along with a flash gun) as well as your own transport too and from the venues. Graciously he said you’d be able to take and use any pictures you like – I hope his clients are happy with that!

The big, fat cynic in me started to creep out and ask questions and provide answers along these lines:

  • He stated he was shooting three weddings this weekend. Three weddings in a weekend? Fuck my life that’s alot. Quantity is certainly a viable business model but remember that you can’t have quantity, quality and low cost. One of those things has to give. He wasn’t a very expensive photographer.
  • The gear he wanted the assistant to provide. Top photographers will often have gear for their assistants. That way they know it’s all maintained, insured and in great working order. However often assistants do provide their own kit, so that’s not totally unusual. It was the mention of the 18-55mm kit lens that did it for me. You cannot shoot a wedding on an 18-55mm kit lens. It doesn’t let enough light in for the ceremony or the evening celebrations. It’s not long enough to shoot much of the ceremony from where an assistant is likely to stand. It’s not good quality enough to produce a high quality result. The kit lenses are generally soft and hard to get good results from – certainly in the hands of someone inexperienced. There’s no way in a million years I’d consider using a 18-55mm kit lens for a wedding I cared about producing good results for – there’s a reason you can pick them up for less than £20 on eBay. I’m not a gear snob at all, quite the opposite in fact. But if you’re shooting someones wedding, this isn’t a time for shooting with entry level kit most of the time.
  • If you’re looking for assistants who want a break in the industry you’re mostly going to be looking at young people. People who have just finished degrees or who have just finished school. Makes you a bit of an arsehole to say that you won’t drop someone too and from a train station or similar. Young people often don’t have their own transport and since they’re doing you a favour here as much as you’re supposedly helping them out, the least you can do is offer to pick them up from the station.
  • He also mentioned that he couldn’t pay because he had to pay for insurance for the assistant. Warning bells, he’s not charging enough money. Why can’t he charge enough money to pay for an assistant? Must be because his photos aren’t very good or he’s a terrible business person – do you really think you can learn skills about the industry from a person who is either of those things?
  • Lastly I looked at his pictures. My suspicions were correct, they were terrible.

There is so much emphasis put on taking photographs. At first glance that sounds like a silly thing to say. Of course if you want to be a photographer you have to take lots of photographs, right? Well yeah, of course you do. But you also need to look at photographs and learn what good photographs look like.

This is where you go ‘But Char! Art is subjective!’ yes well… no. But yes. It is, different people can have different aesthetic tastes, but quality is not subjective when it comes to traditional commercial photography. (I’m going to insert a disclaimer here that some people make ‘poor quality’ their style, I’m not discussing that).

Before you even think about assisting someone for experience (i.e. without getting paid) or apprenticing someone you need to take some time out to educate yourself as to what a quality photographer means. Learning to recognise bad photoshopping or things like, oh you know, the whole fucking image being out of focus are crucial skills for an assistant. I mean we all think stuff like the following shot is really funny, but the reality is that lots of photographers skills are no better. And why would you want to work with someone like that?


As an assistant your job is attention to detail. Attention to what the photographer is doing, attention to what s/he wants, attention to the brides dress and to the grooms suit. Attention to detail is one of the more relevant skills that either a photographer or an assistant can have and you need it before you even do your first job.

Learning this skill requires looking at images and learning why they work and why they don’t. My attitude to photography hasn’t always gone down well in the LRP world – I simply refuse to put pictures online that do not meet my standard. That means they must be in focus, they must be sharp, they must be well composed and they must have a good background – I’d say they are fairly minimal requirements for any photographer who wants to be half decent. You should not assist or try to learn from any photographer that doesn’t have those skills.

Here’s a good example. A few weeks ago I shot some stuff for Evenlode. I was feeling kind of under the weather, it was hot, we were doing things in a hurry and I didn’t pay enough attention. This is a photo I love. You know what I don’t love? The fact that the belt isn’t centred with the rest of the armour.

_MG_9936webIf a photographer is kicking out work with constant mistakes like this, you shouldn’t be studying from them. And you need to teach yourself to spot mistakes. That could be brides dresses being messed up, or it could be bad photoshopping or inability to focus, but before you even start to work with another photographer with the intent of learning you need to understand and recognise these things.

Working with just any photographer won’t help you. You need to be picky and as an apprentice it’s your prerogative to do so. Don’t just take every opportunity that comes along, hunt people out. You’ll learn more and you’re learn quickly. And you’ll be better.

Learning about images is just as important as learning to shoot images. Don’t let anybody tell you otherwise.

from WordPress

Sometimes we’re just not educated

You know, sometimes it’s not that we’re trying to be horrible people. Or that we do something deliberately offensive. Or that we’re trying to just be a cunt. Sometimes it’s accidental. And the way to combat that isn’t to SHOUT VERY LOUDLY AND SLAG THE PERSON OFF but with education.

Saw this on my Facebook feed this morning. Reminded me of stuff.

Screen Shot 2014-08-14 at 08.52.24

from WordPress

#selfie #dreadhawk

#selfie #dreadhawk

Youtube and Copyright and LRP

So as well as taking photographs at PD events I also work behind the scenes. I have my fingers stuck in pretty much every area of Matt’s business that feeds images into the public domain.

Lots of people are aware that I spend time working on the wiki to remove copyrighted images and replace them with images from the game (it’s starting to look good, but we’ve got a long way to go) and this is because I feel passionately about the rights of content creators.

I have quite considerable knowledge about the way that licensing works with images, but recently I’ve been investigating how video and music also works within the copyright world. I mean, I have a basic understanding because the various types of art aren’t actually all that different, however the digital world is constantly in flux and new uses are developing for media every day.

My latest challenge has been to understand the way that YouTube deals with copyrighted material and it’s been a challenge. I had a basic grasp on how it works but this morning I came across this TED talk by Margaret Gould Stewart, the head of user experience at YouTube. She explains what they do very well.

I like the way she talks about a creative ecosystem. It’s an feeling I’d like to help foster at PD, allowing creatives to all work together as seamlessly as possible.

I’d also like to say that I don’t believe that ripping big international content creators off (like the big Hollywood studios or famous composers) is any more ethical than ripping off the lone artist. If we’re going to be fair to one person, we need to be fair to everybody in the course of business. I suppose I have an advantage here because I see things in a very black and white way. You either apply the rules rigorously, or you don’t. You don’t make exceptions based on who has made the most money in our capitalist system.

from WordPress

Mythlore Costume – Kimono Fail

So I got started on the kimono that’s going to go under the yellow robes as a base layer. I dug out a nice khaki muslin fabric from the stash and worked out that I had more than enough. I followed these instructions, or so I thought, and was feeling dead pleased with the finish on it. Below you can see how it’ll look under the yellow robes – notice the matching stitching?

However what I actually managed to do was use his half chest measurement rather than his shoulder to shoulder measurement, resulting in a garment that fit my mannequin rather than his mannequin – as you can see above. Fail. At least I have enough fabric to cut another.

What have we learnt from this little problem? Well, it wasn’t the only problem. Earlier this morning I cut a set of sleeves that were wrong too. We’ve learnt that four days post surgery is too soon to be trusted to draft patterns and make garments.

photo 2

from WordPress

Mythlore Costume – Still to go

So there’s like… five weeks until Mythlore and it starts to become a race to see how much I can get done. Unfortunately work, LRP and surgery keep getting in the way of working on the costume parts so progress has been slow.

However, if I could complete everything I wanted to complete, I’d have these elements:

  • Kote Sleeves
    Inspired by Japanese Samurai Armour. With hand embroidery and beading.
  • The Outer Robes.
    With a fantasy touch.
    simon sketch
  • The Battle Skirt.
    Half finished.
    photo 1
  • The Oberyn Coat.
    With hand printed and distressed fabric.
  • The Tagelmust.
    A trip to Coventry to pick up six yards of beautiful blue muslin fabric and then tassel the ends.
  • The Gauntlets.
    More Japanese inspired armour.
  • The under-under-robe.
    If I can find a source of cheap, blue, thin cotton in time.
  • Accessories.
    Because layers.
  • Jewellery.
    Because more layers.

from WordPress

Mythlore Costume – Base Layer Robes – Part II

So here we go!

The robes are almost finished. They just need hemming but I can’t do that without Simon being here to put them on. Hopefully we’ll do it this weekend and he can wear them at Odyssey to start wearing them in on a dusty field.

Here’s a shot with the armour pinned over the top to start to see what it looks like as an outfit.

photo 1And some detail shots. I’m considering adding much more elaborate work around the shoulders and the (three meter!) hem, but that can be added if I have enough time.

photo 4 photo 3 photo 2

photo 5

from WordPress

#NotAllPhotographers and Prison Rape

So Sean Peacock / Shaun Colclough has been convicted of Sexual Assault and banned from ever taking a picture of a female model again without someone accompanying who knows of his convictions.

A quick summary of the background. In 1996, aged 22, he raped an 84 year old woman. During his sex offenders rehabilitation he was taught photography and discovered he was pretty good at it. He was very good at it actually, I certainly admired his work when I was starting. He began to intimidate models with sexual discussion, exposing himself to them and assaulting them. The actual details are elsewhere on the web, it’s kind of beside the point for this blog. The judge argued that his behaviour was an escalation because he had gone from a drunken rape to systematically planning to sexually assault these female models. Right on sister, etc.

I have nothing but the deepest respect for those women who have gone through the process of being a witness at court, leading to his conviction. Truly, that must have been a terrible experience. It can be hard for models to be taken seriously in instances like this because you know, they’re getting almost naked for strangers. It’s a bit like ‘She was wearing a short skirt m’lud’.

But that’s not what I want to discuss here. I want to discuss the community reaction.

Violence. That was the initial reaction.

I keep my eye on lots of the amateur photography websites due to my job (hey, I write about photography professionally, in case you didn’t know). Even the websites I’ve been banned from for upsetting the managerial staff, I still keep an eye on those for what’s happening in the community. So when I saw last night that Roswell Ivory had posted about the conviction of Peacock / Colclough I had to stay up late for an extra couple of hours to keep an eye on the reaction.

Violence and rape. The first responses I saw. Some lovely photographers actually wrote down that they hoped he went to prison and got raped by other men. Male on male rape is a serious crime and if you know anyone who’d ever been affected by it then you’ll know that it’s one of the hardest things in the world to deal with. Why would we wish someone to be raped in return for committing any crime? That’s a horrific thing to say.

Screen Shot 2014-07-30 at 07.36.38

From Hilarious.

(Highlighting not my own – I just scrubbed out the usernames and avatars.)

These photographers are potentially a danger to any model that they work with. Why? Because they consider violence and rape to be a casual, trivial thing. Let’s hope that a model never upsets them and they decide that they deserve to be raped for their misdemeanour, because clearly they believe it’s a worthy punishment for some crimes. Which crimes do they think it’s a worthy punishment for? Who knows.

Discussing prison rape isn’t funny. Male on male rape isn’t funny. You know who else believes that rape is a suitable punishment for comes committed? Illegal kangaroo courts in rural India. Then even in this country there’s the violent drug dealers who think that rape is a suitable punishment.

So when these photographers joke about how they hope Peacock / Colclough gets raped in prison as a punishment for sexually assaulting female models, they’re associating their views with these people. I’m sure that they’re the first people to say that they didn’t mean in in that way, but honestly, is there really a good way to say that someone should be raped? Is there ever a time that saying someone should be raped is funny? Is male on male rape funny while male on female rape is serious? Are the men that made these comments a bunch of fucking homophobic bell ends? (The answer is yes, btw. They probably are.)

Male on male rape victims are considered weak and unmanly, which is why it’s considered a fitting punishment for criminals. Well, you know what? Male rape victims are anything but weak and unmanly and it’s about time we just stopped perpetuating this disgusting myth. Men get raped by other men. It’s every bit as awful as a woman getting raped. And we’d never say that a woman was weak for being raped, so why do we make that insinuation about men?

I was going to rant more. But it was about to get personal. Read this instead. Especially the bit about unfortunate consequences.


Then there’s the reaction of it being good to have that guy locked up because real photographers don’t do those things.

Screen Shot 2014-07-30 at 07.52.09

From an early blog post about Peacock / Colclough.

I’ve seen several instances across the web this morning, but this one seemed to sum it up best. Also some of the others I’ve seen have been on private Facebook pages and I’m not quite comfortable sharing those on my blog. Although this one was public:

From Facebook.

From Facebook.

Well, sorry guys. Peacock / Colclough was a real photographer. A bloody good one at that. Let’s face it, he took better pictures than most amateurs (and many professionals) could manage. This term ‘real photographer’. I’ve seen it bandied about in the past. It seems to be used by guys who want to give naive young models a false sense of security about working with them. Me? A cynic? No, you’ve got the wrong person there.

And it’s not a shame he called himself a photographer. He was a bloody excellent photographer. What else should he have called himself? A man who owns a camera and take pictures of people?


It’s dangerous to start labelling people in these terms. If there is one thing for certain though, it’s often the people who use the term ‘real photographers’ that aren’t actually very good. So what makes a real photographer if it isn’t about taking good picture? To be honest, I have no idea, and I don’t really care. I’m sure I don’t fall into their definition of a ‘real’ photographer because I’m not politely taking pictures of T&A, but there you go.

So this… #NotAllPhotographers thing. Of course, I’ve not seen that term used but there are parallels to be drawn with the whole #NotAllMen thing that happened earlier this year.

Saying that not all photographers act this way is a slightly weird and extraordinarily infuriating defence. We know that not all photographers act this way. Those of us who work towards attempting to eradicate this sort of behaviour from our beloved industry and hobby aren’t stupid. Cases like this don’t need a devil’s advocate. They don’t need someone saying ‘he wasn’t a real photographer, real photographers don’t do this’. At worst it redirects the discussion away from the topic at hand and back to the fact that most photographers are well behaved. We don’t need to talk about how great lots of photographers are, we need to talk about how fucking awful a minority of them are.

People who complain about these guys not being ‘real photographers’ aren’t engaging with the subject at hand. They’re derailing the discussion and doing a bit of white-knighting in the process. Yes, they were real photographers. Lets not ignore the fact that they were photographers.

These people are not predators who own a camera, they are predators who are also photographers. Sometimes they do use photography to get what they want, but guess what, they’re still photographers. Removing these people from the community by basically saying ‘they’re not one of us’ is a problem. It means that we can’t deal with them. We can’t come up with strategies to root them out and figure out how to attempt to prevent this kind of thing happening in the future.

At it’s very worst, if these guys aren’t photographers… then why are young women going to their houses/studios and taking their clothes off for them? If these guys aren’t photographers, then the models that are assaulted by them are just strippers and suddenly you’ve made it a whole lot worse for the models to do something about it. Because if you think that the authorities don’t take models seriously, then strippers and escorts have a whole extra layer of difficulty.

from WordPress

Staying cool – coolthentic braies

So… this Empire just gone was way too hot. So I started a thread on Costume Froth to find out how people had dealt with it themselves. I wasn’t sure if it was a bit weird or not to basically wander around in medieval pants, but apparently that’s all right and we’re a free and easy community of role-players, so I figured that was the best thing to do.

I currently have a giant spool of cream thread loaded in my sewing machine so I’m going through projects that require cream thread to finish them off. While tidying stuff away I came cross a pair of trousers I’d made up to test out a pattern for some trousers for Simon. They were too tight for his fat ass, but I tried them on and they’re alright for me. So I cut them off at the knee, hemmed them, and now I have something approaching IC pants for future hot events (and for wearing under my Odyssey robes).


Yeah, so they’ve got pockets. And black tape in the waistband instead of matching cream tape (which I might fix at some point). But they’re good to go. At some point I might put a draw string in the hems, but right now I’ve got a project done and out of my sewing box and into my wardrobe.

The pattern is Simplicity 3633, which is actually for hospital scrubs. But they’re simple and they work. (Also as usual, french seamed throughout, no raw edges for toughness in the field.)


from WordPress

Mythlore Costume – Base Layer Robes

I’m taking a break here half way through the set of base layer robes, because I want to revel in the neat and tidy seams – you’ll see later. ;-)

But here’s the process so far. I decided to dye my own fabric for various reasons. Mostly that I’m not going to get up to Coventry to go shopping any time soon, but also because the muslim I liked was very narrow and I wanted to be lazy with my cutting and seaming in order to make it nice and neat inside.

So above you can see the white Ikea Ditte cotton fabric in the dye bath. I had to go on eBay to find the colour that I want, since Dylon have reduced their range considerably. Old Gold is the name of the colour, and I have another ten pots of it since I managed to find someone selling off old boxes of shop stock. When I say old… these aren’t even in the plastic pots that I remember as a kid. They’re in little metal pots that try their best to cut your fingers off. Anyway.

I decided to cold water dye it. Well, warm water dye. Partially because my shower is the safest place in the house to do these things – I didn’t really want dye in my little kitchen, I don’t have an outdoors area, and I didn’t particularly want to use my washing machine to dye. But also because if you’re “careful” you can get a streaky, mottled effect. OH GOD IT’S WONDERFUL. This fabric looks like it’s come right out of the end of the dye bath – perfect for someone cursed who can’t afford better. The only annoyance is that where the fabric is damaged from being stored on the fold line, it’s taken up more dye at that point. Nothing I can really do about that except buy wholesale on unfolded bolts – but that’s not going to happen. It doesn’t bother me too much.

So here’s the fabric as it was drying.


The robes are basically the same pattern as my own Odyssey robes, but modified to be bigger (because Simon is bigger than me – however only really in height terms, not in chest or hip terms) but also to have a Kimonoish style front. If you recall, this was the look we’re going for:


So I got to cutting the pattern out. I didn’t photograph the front, but I had to cut it in two pieces. The main body/arm and the gore. If I had more fabric I wouldn’t have done that, but I had to in order to squeeze it on. No problem.

Here’s the back piece, to be cut on the fold. The sleeves are short. I quite like them short. I think we’re going to add a piece to make them longer, maybe in blue. Mostly I just wanted to be able to curve the poxy underarm seam.

image-10And here it is with the side seams sewn together.


It looks insanely yellow in that shot courtesy of my iPhone. It’s not. It’s more creamy, almost like a mustard.

The entire robe is french seamed throughout. I like making things super neat and tidy inside and mathematically working out the best way to do that.

Here’s the outside of one of the gores:


And the inside, where you can see the construction…


I’m pretty pleased with myself. Terrible pictures though.

from WordPress

Shooting Products – Again.

There was once a little photographer who wanted to be a fashion photographer. The photographer tried time and time again to get into the London College of Fashion to do their Fashion Photography BA but was never accepted. However that little photographer managed to get a job shooting fashion and product images for one of the biggest photography companies in the UK, and the little photographer got to work for iconic brands like Austin Reed, Mary Portas and House of Fraser.

The little photographer was now a little fashion photographer and was initially very happy. But then the vacuousness of the fashion industry began to get to the little fashion photographer and despite working with fantastically awesome people, the little fashion photographer began to get a more than a little jaded.

After a year or so the little fashion photographer reverted back to just being little and virtually gave up photography completely. Eighteen months went by and little’s closest friend asked if she’d like to photograph a LRP event. Little didn’t really know what LRP was, but her closest friend was very persuasive and so little went along and had a go.

Little became a little photographer once more and began to make friends with the most enormously talented artists who came together in a LRP field on a regular basis. Soon the little photographer began to see that lots of the artists didn’t have good photography of their beautiful pieces of art and that made the little photographer sad, because people this talented should be able to show off what they do to the whole world.

So the little photographer became a little product photographer once again and decided to give these artists pictures of their work that they can be really proud of. And the little product photographer enjoyed it way more than she did when she was photographing vacuous fashion images.

With thanks to the following artists who gave me so much joy to photograph their work:

Kate Lee - & Rich Smith -

Kate Lee – & Rich Smith –

Rich Smith -

Rich Smith –

Rich Smith -

Rich Smith –

Steve Lunn -

Steve Lunn –

Steve Lunn -

Steve Lunn –

Steve Lunn -

Steve Lunn –

from WordPress

Photographing Empire – For Me

It’s not often I get time to photograph at PD events stuff that just I want to photograph. Last year I took my old Yashica TLR to the field during setup and shot some little portraits before time in. I really enjoyed it because in a world where people say ‘have you got some good pictures?’ you can genuinely answer with a smile ‘I’ve got no fucking idea’. Which sometimes is precisely the answer you want to give, but you can’t because that’s a bit rude.

So anyway, I headed down to site yesterday with something that looked like this:


A while ago a friend on Facebook said that one of the big reasons he shot polaroid was because it enabled him to strike up conversations with strangers. It’s true with this too. You plonk down a tripod with this on top and a black cloth draped round your shoulders to block the light and say ‘Can I take your picture?’ and people always respond positively. In fact it’s more than positive, you begin to find out things about their life. Like my friend Douggie telling me how his Dad used to do photography and how he would dabble in the darkroom himself when he was younger. I love hearing stuff like this, it’s so much more interesting than ‘what camera do you use?’.

The other thing is that people want to have a look. The screen on the top is so accessible, so crisp and so BIG! People just want to look through it and move the camera round to frame things up themselves. It’s so different to digital. And slow. I like the slowness of it all.

So here’s some shots, with Douggie up first, that were shot yesterday. But not on my film camera, these were shot on my normal camera with a tilt shift lens. (Yes, a real one David. Not a computer filter.)




_MG_9726webAnd just because it’s beautiful, this is what the lens looks like:


from WordPress

GPA Frustrations

So I just had a sneaky little look at my results from my first year at uni again to revel in my success for a bit (hey, I’m allowed to celebrate…) and noticed my GPA had gone online (it wasn’t last time I looked).

My GPA is 3.88. Oh Noes.

You see, I really want a 4.0. I wondered why I didn’t have an average of a 4.0 though, as that’s how I’d worked it out on my calculator the other week. Then I read again how the averages were worked out and was sad.

Here’s the deal.

The GPA or Grade Point Average is an American measurement of success at university. It roughly equates to our own 1st/2nd/3rd system here in the UK. A GPA 4.0 is a 1st. A 3.5 is an upper 2nd classification, and so on. You can be awarded a GPA of between 0.0 and 4.5.

Here are my results from this year:

Screen Shot 2014-07-22 at 10.11.21

As you can see, I kind of sucked at the subjects that were not History of Art (Arts of Japan and Rise of the Modern World). However, that’s not the point.

When I added those marks up and averaged them out, I got 70.37%. GREAT! I thought. That puts me tentatively into a 4.0. Exactly what I wanted to get. A 4.0 opens the doors to lots of top American and International universities, giving me plenty of options if I want to take them.

So why did I get a 3.88 in my official result?

Well you see they’re sneaky and they average it in a different way. Instead of going the way I went about it, they instead go:

Give each module GPA score -> Average GPA scores.

So basically above I got 3.5, 3.5, 3.5, 3.5, 4.5, 4.5, 4.5. When averaged that means I got just 3.88. That unfortunately doesn’t take into account my extraordinarily high 80%, or the fact that I got a 69, narrowly missing out on a 4.0 for that one. It defaults to the lower end of the category – i.e. no point in working harder than 65% if you’re not actually going to get a 70.  This to me encourages the wrong attitude.

But I’ll suck up my GPA 3.88 (which isn’t a GPA 4.0) and see if I can work ultra hard to get a few more 4.5′s next year to bring up the average. That’s going to be very hard. Because just getting 4.0′s will not bring the average up enough.

Bad system. It should take account of your total average mark, not allocate individual modules a GPA score. It effectively downgrades each of your individual grades up to 4%. And when you’re working at the top, those grades are hard-earned. And 4% at the top is much harder than 4% at the bottom.

from WordPress

Paperless Studying

I have lots of tech-savvy friends. I have lots of tech-savvy friends who discuss the merits of going paperless including lots of very technical ways of doing so.

I am not very tech-savvy. (The other night I booted up my Windows install for the first time ever and managed to get malware on it within about ten clicks of the mouse.)

However I have managed to go almost entirely paperless with ease for university. I mentioned it to someone and they said I should write down how I did it so that others can do. So that’s what I’m doing.

I decided when I started university that I wasn’t going to be one of these people who spent hours and hours trying to locate notes when writing an essay or being frustrated that I couldn’t find that little golden bit of information that I required at 3am in the morning. Yes, I’m looking accusingly at some of my friends here. I’ve been through the pain with you on Facebook.

Would you like to see the total amount of paper that I have accumulated from my first year in a humanities subject?


And actually, everything you see between the hello and the pink dividers in that shot is just one subject where we were given all the readings we needed for the module in a photocopied book. Without that it would have been about one centimetre or less of paper. The stuff in plastic folders right at the bottom is the sum total of my first four modules in Semester 1.

Of course, you’re probably all LOL’ing right now and doing something like…


And in return I’m going:


Anyway. Here’s the dig of how a non-tech-savvy person went paperless. Without all your fancy gadgets.

  1. I bought a premium subscription to Evernote. That allows me to upload 1GB of files per month and have 100MB per note. Sometimes I hit those limits with notes I write in the course of my business, but rarely. Never have I hit it with stuff for university.
  2. I bought one of these portable document scanners. I know it’s like, £200 on that Amazon page. But I got mine on eBay for £60. People buy this shit and then never use it.81DhsL6M2WL._SL1500_
  3. I bought a Macbook Air. Yeah I know, not the cheap option. However my old laptop virtually died on me and I needed something new. Plus I had some money to spend on a laptop (and Apple do a nice educational discount). The fact is though that you could buy one of those cheap £300 laptops to use at uni and never suffer because of it. All it needs to do is run Evernote and browse the web.

    In total my Evernote membership and the scanner cost less than many of my classmates spent on printing this year because they printed journal articles and stuff. So I figure I’m still onto a win.

  4. Every module gets it’s own notebook in Evernote.
    Screen Shot 2014-07-22 at 07.35.59There’s a complicated filing system going on here, as you can see. Modules that are ‘in progress’ just have their title. Modules that are finished get their module number added to them. Brookes handily uses the U pre-fix which means that they automatically drop to the bottom of my notebook list. Also it means I don’t have to remember the prefix when key wording which helps.
  5. When in class I write as much as possible directly into a note in Evernote. When we discuss paintings I also try to bring the images up in a Google search and paste them directly into my notes. Like this”
    Screen Shot 2014-07-22 at 07.41.04As you can imagine, this is pretty helpful. Much more productive than staring at a page of handwritten notes and trying to remember what the image looked like.

    You see it’s worth pointing out that I’m fundamentally lazy. I’ll do anything to avoid doing more work later.

  6. Journal articles. Evernote handles these particularly well. Journal articles almost always download in a PDF format. I import them into Evernote on download and then Evernote allows me to annotate them directly in the program. So I read them, highlight and make notes on them within Evernote and then save them. Evernote Premium churns them through it’s text recognition software too, so they’re all searchable within the file from within Evernote.

    Handily Evernote also has a feature that allows you to see your annotations at the top of the note too. So you don’t have to go searching through a 30 page PDF to find the five words that you annotated. It looks something like this and is extremely helpful for writing essays:
    Screen Shot 2014-07-22 at 07.47.08Helpful, no? In fact you wouldn’t believe how helpful this is when you’re scanning through trying to find stuff you want to quote in your essay. Brilliant. Just a flick of the down arrow key and you’re onto the highlights from the next journal article.

  7. Scanning all paperwork given to us. On that neat little document scanner. Then I file it away.

    The only process I’ve not managed to do more efficiently is taking notes from books. Kindle books are easy, but paper books not so much. I get pages that look like this and then scanned, and that makes me unhappy:
    image3But it’s not so bad. I keyword them so that I know what the subject was.

  8. Web Clipper. Evernote has a web clipper feature that allows me to save pages from my browser directly into notebooks in Evernote, with keywords. Awesome. I use this for looking up words I don’t know on Wikipedia and things and then saving them for future reference. It’s great for general background info about a subject. Or even for capturing a freeze of a page that you want to reference in an essay, because then you have a copy of the page you’re referencing, even if they change it.
  9. Tagging and saved searches. We’re usually given our essay subjects way in advance. In fact, most of the modules we were given them in the first week of the module. I like to spend lots of time thinking about my essays so I come up with some rough ideas and plans as soon as I get the title. Then whenever I read anything or take notes or save a journal article that could be relevant, I keyword it with something like “Museums and Societies Essay 1″. Evernote has a feature that allows you to save searches that you do regularly, so that I do then is I save a search for the relevant keywords and then pin it to the sidebar of the program.

    Of course I also include notes from past modules and other random clutter that I’ve collected from the web over the past few years. Like when I wrote an essay about the Africa galleries at the British Museum. I knew that I’d studied Benin and the way their art was presented at the BM during my OU degree, so all those notes got tagged and then brought into my smart search. We’d also touched on how minority art was treated by galleries in our Reading Art History module, so I pulled that note in too. Because keywords and smart searches allow you to pull notes in across subjects and keep all the relevant info at your fingertips without having a dozen open notebooks and folders.

And that’s it really. As long as I spend half an hour a week scanning bits of paper that I’m given I stay on top of everything. I also use my phone to photograph whiteboards etc if I really need to.

It works. It means I can spend more time working on learning stuff, writing essays and prepping for exams than trying to find that random note that I wrote in some long forgotten class. It also means that I have everything I’ve ever read or written with me at every lecture. Which is pretty bloody brilliant.

In fact something I really love that Evernote does is that it shows you related notes while you’re writing. Sometimes it’s not quite right, but often when I sit down and start taking notes in a class it suggests things that I might want to review that I’ve written previously – which I always do when we come to a lull in the action.

Screen Shot 2014-07-22 at 08.02.32

from WordPress

Loading posts...