What are the most essential tools I use, every day, when producing and creative content? It’s a question I am often asked, so here’s my overview on what works for me and how you can save a lot of money if you’re starting out blogging, shooting photographs or simply creating content for work or for fun.
It doesn’t have to cost you tens of thousands to create great content.
EDIT – This is an updated blog post, written back in 2015 and reflects the changes to my work, to technology and also the ever changing landscape of digital marketing. I’ll re-write it as needed and as new channels, markets and technologies come to the forefront.
Many people starting out writing and creating content such as words, photography and video are massively intimidated by the choices out there. Indeed, if you’re just starting out creating your company blog or should you aspire to be a writer, blogger or any other role in digital media, then working out what equipment to buy and how much to spend can be a daunting task.
There are many blog posts out there that talk about content creation and content creation apps. Some are good, some not so good. The subject of how to create timely, relevant and cost effective content for the clients I work with is something we often discuss.
Creating a diverse mix of content, words, images, video in my daily work is great. That diverse mix that is vital to any online marketing mix of blogs, social media channels and viral video.
I’ve been creating or producing content in one form or another since 1998. Indeed, even before that I used to write my own press information for the business I worked for in the specialist car industry.
I love these new technologies far more than I ever did simply still photography. The new ways we have for both creating interesting features and reading them at our leisure make this a fascinating time for all of us.
So here’s my list of the top ten essential tools I use every week when creating and producing content for my own website and also for clients in print and online.
However, before you read any further, a word of warning.
I have to tell you that none of these tools will magically create content for you automatically. The bad news is, you still need to work hard at it.
Stop reading now if you’re looking for a blog post offering automated content creation and instant solutions.
Still here? Good, so just how do I face the challenge of creating content across such diverse channels, both for print and digital, for traditional publishers and business clients?
And if you wish to know how I use them in conjunction with my skills, this blog post will help.
1. Sony Alpha A6300
This is a new addition to my top ten tools, simply because it has become indispensable to me. I’ve shot on Canon cameras for over a decade and was reluctant to move away to Sony. I love my EOS Lenses, especially the legendary 70-200 F2.8 IS. However much of my work these days requires me to carry kit that is far more compact than a huge, magnesium bodied Canon 1DS.
The tiny Sony Alpha A6300 is quite incredible. For such a small, portable camera to have a massive feature set such as this, plus an ability to capture dynamic range to such a degree is truly remarkable. I’ve added two lenses, the 10-18 zoom and the 18-105 zoom. I also bought the Rode Video Mic, which is both cheap and massively capable for recording interviews, Porsche flat six engine notes, B roll etc.
I still have my Canon lenses and they’re pressed into use regularly when shooting with Adam Watson on cameras such as the Canon C300, but for now, the tiny Sony A6300 is the camera that lives in my bag every day.
2. Evernote – from brain dump to drafting tool to digital filing cabinet
Evernote is the hub of my working day. Pretty much everything I do revolves around it, from capturing thoughts and inspirations for articles, planning my editorial calendar, adding reminders and alarms and also as an archive for reference material I find in my work, online and otherwise.
If you don’t use it yet, here’s why you should. I have a copy of Evernote on all of my devices, phone, tablet, desktop. Evernote syncs seamlessly across my different platforms. This means that the quick note I grabbed when inspired to create a fresh blog article on my iPhone will be waiting for me on my Mac when I open it, ready to be developed further into a print feature or blog article.
Evernote has a hierarchy of notebooks, stacks and other tagging elements mean that I can organise my work by client, by website, by genre even, should I wish. Add in web clipper to your website browsers and those useful web URLs you need for reference are always there. I have to thank author and blogger Jamie Todd Rubin for my Evernote conversion. His blog on ‘going paperless’ is a great resource for anyone wanting tips on how to get the best from Evernote, from entire tutorials to tips and tricks he’s discovered to make it ever more powerful.
The standard Evernote edition is free, but I recommend upgrading to the paid Premium version for £34.99 per year. You get a whopping 10gb per month of uploads, offline archiving plus the ability to search and annotate attachments such as docs and PDF’s.
3. iPhone – it shouldn’t really be called a phone any more.
To be honest, I think it needs to be renamed. My iPhone is probably used as an actual mobile phone for talking into for around 25% of the time. Like many others, I imagine, my iPhone serves as an extension of my MacBook Pro. Mobile versions of my Mac apps, plus other mobile applications that I find useful. The camera has come along leaps and bounds since the good old iPhone 3.
EDIT – I’m currently on iPhone 7 Plus and love it. I’m due an upgrade from my Cellular provider soon and anticipate going for the largest iPhone X I can get.
4. GoPro – Why everyone needs that tiny plastic camera
Gone are the days of rigging heavy cameras on the outside of cars with bulky grip gear. The GoPro has revolutionised action camera film making and now pretty much everyone has a GoPro in their bag. While the fixed focal length isn’t going to give you any lovely telephoto shots, it does things that an iPhone camera can’t do and serves as a good companion to a compact digital camera. The GoPro seems to develop more and more features with each incarnation as traditional camera manufacturers struggle to keep up.
5. Rode iPhone mic and app – For interviews, howling Mezger Porsches and Plugging Into a GoPro
The Rode Smart Lav mic is a great quality, inexpensive mic that couples with my iPhone to record conversations. Coupled to the Rode app, it offers far more control over sound recording than the standard iPhone app and is a great tool for recording interviews and engine sounds. It can also be plugged into a GoPro to serve as a better quality audio recording device. Simple and robust, it sits in a small pouch.
6. Weather Pro – the only weather app I ever trust
Along with Aero Weather, Weather Pro is my favourite app for making judgement calls on go or no go for shoots and features. In the past, it’s given me the confidence to set off on a feature car shoot in pouring rain and rendezvous with everyone, knowing that the prediction was that by the time we were in place, the weather would be too. Useful for flying, track driving and production decisions on feature shoots. I can also be seen in British winters staring whistfully at locations of far sunnier climes that I’d rather be when the rain is hammering down the window.
7. Adobe Creative Cloud – the Swiss Army Knife
I know that Adobe’s decision to move from a pricing model of buying software once and owning it to a subscription based service wasn’t very popular with some, but I find it very useful. While some say it may not be cheap, in the grand scheme of things, it’s actually not expensive at all for anyone working in a professional capacity. For those who need Adobe products for personal use, the company also do a photographers package of Lightroom and Photoshop.
For many, many years I was a user of Capture One for image processing. It’s imaging engine was superb, giving very accurate adjustments in ways I couldn’t achieve with Photoshop. And if still photography is your main business, then I still recommend it. But for someone who’s work is now far more diverse, the Adobe Creative Cloud service works far better.
8. Notepad on Apple Mac- Sometimes the simplest things are the most useful
Sounds odd, it’s free with every Apple Mac, but you’ll be surprised at how often I use it. Not for writing whole features in, but as a tool for running great blocks of text through. Anyone who has tried to take a Word doc and transfer it to a web page in WordPress or any other background will be dismayed at the results. Word brings with it some ugly formatting baggage that sends your layouts way out of whack. While I don’t use Microsoft Word myself, I’m often sent articles by clients that need to be worked up into blog posts and for manŷ people, MS Word is the only thing they know. A quick hot key of Control A, Control C on the Word doc, followed by a Control V into Text Edit will quickly remove all the annoying formatting and leave you with the plain text version. Don’t forget to use Text Edit in Plain Text mode to achieve this. It saves me huge chunks of time. Windows operators have Notepad as a similar resource.
9. Gmail and My Google Account – The Big G has it’s Uses
For many years I was suspicious of the Big G and didn’t really wish to use any more elements than I had to. And while I’m still ticked off at seeing ‘keyword unknown’ in my Google Analytics reports, I’ve come round to the idea that for many things Google is damn useful. I run my email through Gmail these days. The principle reason is that if I check my email on my mobile, Apple Mail has no spam filtering, I get the lot dumped on me. While I’ve read elsewhere of various work a rounds and yes, I know that I can filter on my server, redirecting my email through my Gmail account gives me lots of positives. I can see my spam filter at a glance, I can arrange my emails very quickly and, best of all, the Gmail app is a simple and effective way to check emails on the move. With an iPad, iPhone and Gmail, it’s possible to travel away from your heavy laptop for wuseful periods without lugging around that annoying black nylon over shoulder thing that makes you look like the IT guy.
10. Think Tank Bags – And Why You Don’t Need to be a Photographer to Use Them
Which brings me to my next every day item. My Think Tank bag. Think Tank make industrial strength camera bags that are incredibly well thought out. But you don’t need to be a professional photographer to need them. My Think Tank Urban Disguide bag is incredibly versatile and can be quickly reconfigured to carry anything from my daily stuff of pens, passports and Moleskine notebooks and then swapped out to carry a Canon DSLR or even aviation maps and a BOSE headset.
If you were of the view that Think Tank bags were just for photographers, think again. I’m able to quickly reconfigure the Urban Disguise to run with anything from a Canon 1DS with 70-200 telephoto, through being my daily bag with laptop, iPad, notebooks etc all the way to serving as a carry on bag for overnight trips.
11. Moleskine Notebooks – Because I still like the feel of a pen and paper.
This may be last but it’s not an afterthought. You may be thinking that all of the above things mean I’m a fully digital creator these days. Ultimately, you’re right. But that doesn’t mean I never need a paper notebook. It’s perfectly true that really, any old notebook with do, but I really like the look and feel of Moleskine. Right now I’m using a Moleskine Evernote edition that I I picked up from Barnes and Noble in LA. The concept is a great one, the Smart Notebook allowing you to capture your written notes in Evernotes camera and digitise them using your iPhone or iPad.
This is a cool idea, but to be honest is kind of superceded by the Evenote Scannable app which does a very good job of digitising anything it sees, really. An Evernote notebook generally lasts me about a year and I find it a useful tool to grab notes as we’re sitting interviewing someone or for sketching out this mind map diagrams we all like to empty our brains into sometimes. When this one’s full I’ll probably revert to a standard Moleskine book. If I have notes I wish to have digitised, the Scannable app lets me create a searchable digital version in Evernote.
You’ve probably noticed that not many of these content creation tools are free. While some are one off payments such as mobile apps, others require continual subscription. However, with the possible exception of the Sony A6300, you couldn’t call any of these things expensive. And some of them are free.
However, creating quality content, both for my own publishing and for clients, isn’t easy. But above all, none of these tools will automatically do it for you, nothing can do that with any kind of quality output.
But what they do help me to achieve, is to take a lightbulb idea in my head, archive it then subsequently develop it into something that readers will find useful.
If you’re struggling with developing a content strategy for your business or publication, hopefully some of these tools will help. Let me know what secret weapons you have for capturing those great ideas, leave me a comment below.