Blogging and photography: What you need to know when using images

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If you’re a blogger, by now you probably know blog posts need images to keep readers engaged. But did you know there are a number of do’s and don’ts that go with it? From which images you choose to how you use them, learning the ins and outs of successful image use can make a huge difference on your overall post performance.

Here are the key elements you should know.

Blogging and photography tips: What you need to know when using images to boost post performance

Which Images to Choose

Your readers are bombarded by thousands of images every day—that means that you’ll need something a bit beyond the average run-of-the-mill photo to spark their interest.

Just like your written content should be original, your images should be original as well. That doesn’t mean that you need to use only your own photos, though. There are many ways of taking stock photos and editing them in a way that gives them a creative and personal touch. You can:

  • add text to the image

  • “transform” it so it has different dimensions

  • add filter effects

  • create a collage, and

  • much, much more

For most of these changes you’ll need some kind of photo editing software, but there are many free options for both phones and desktops, as well as some awesome premium programs as well.

Obviously Photoshop is the industry standard for all this kind of stuff, but if you don’t already have it and/or know how to use it, you’ll probably be much better off with something easier to work with (and not needing a subscription).

On the free(ware) side of things, take a look at Canva, PicMonkey, and/or Fotor. All three of these are excellent and have numerous templates and effects ot choose from.

For more professional options (that are pretty reasonably priced), both Luminar and ON1 Effects are fun to use, have a million effects, and can do just about everything you’ll ever need, professional or otherwise.

Each of these programs are easy to learn, and more importantly, will allow you to take any stock photo and make it “yours.”

Memes, Memes, and More Memes

Cheesy though they may seem to some folks, memes are great attention-grabbers and are oh-so-easy to create. In fact, infuse them with enough wit and charm and you can end up with a huge payoff in terms of likes, shares, and overall viewer engagement.

There are now a lot of free meme sites to choose from, but I like Imgflip. Scan through their database for the perfect image or upload one of your own. Then just add your super-witty text. Easy peasy! (And super useful if you can nail the humor.)

Keep It Legal

Ever searched for an image on Google or Startpage’s Image search and then “borrowed” it for your post? Believe it or not, that’s unequivocally illegal.

What’s worse, these days it’s quite easy to get caught. Even the smallest of blogs have been sued thousands of dollars for using a copyrighted image. Even if you didn’t know it was copyrighted. Even if you cite the photographer and the source. Even if your blog isn’t commercial. What’s more, there are actually lawyers out there hunting out copyright infringements and keeping a whopping 40% of the lawsuit fees.

Depending on your topic, legal images are generally not too difficult to find. There are a host of free stock photo sites out there, and if you can’t find what you want there, paid sites like Shutterstock and Alamy are also great options.

My Favorite Free Stock Photo Sites:

Even with free photos, though, you’ll need to check the licensing. Some still need attribution (including creative commons photos), some aren’t available commercially, etc. Trust me, it’s better to know exactly where your photo comes from and what its status is than to get caught with a thousand-dollar lawsuit!

Blog Image Nuts and Bolts of Best Practices

Once you’ve found or created the images you need, there are “best practices” you should learn before you insert them in order to make the most out of the images you’re using so they’re optimized for searchability and so they’ll load quickly.

SEO Opportunities You Shouldn’t Miss

Images offer a couple of unique opportunities for boosting your search engine optimization (SEO).

The first is in the image name itself. Make sure to rename your images to reflect the content of your blog—you can even use keywords if you like. Whatever you do, don’t leave the images as they came off your camera (i.e. IMG_0067) or as you downloaded them from a stock site. Use something original that relates to your blog post’s content.

The second, even more important SEO opportunity you should make use of is the “alt” tag. This is your browser’s alternative if your image doesn’t show up. It can also be used by screen readers for visually impaired visitors. It’s also what Google’s spiders crawl over when they’re cataloguing images. Your alt tag can be as short as a couple of words or as long as a short sentence. Just don’t leave it out!

Put Some Thought into Your Featured Image

The featured image of your post is what people will see in social streams when the post gets shared. It’s the one that’s going to grab the viewer’s attention right off the bat (or not). That means: choose it carefully and with intention. A lackluster feature photo will fail to hook in your readers. An excellent one—paired with a decent headline—will funnel readers straight to your content.

Optimize Your Images

Large images have large files sizes, and that potentially means a slower-loading site. The more images, the more this will be an issue. But even if your site is small and you don’t use that many images, it’s best to get in the habit of optimizing them anyway—you never know what kind of connection your viewers will be on and research shows that many users abandon a website if take more than 3 seconds to load. (Whoa—that’s not long at all!) Anyway, it’s just good practice.

The first thing you should do is upload exactly the size file you’re going to use in the blog. Don’t rely on Wordpress or other software to scrunch it down for you. (This scrunching takes extra time.)

The next step is to use some sort of program to shrink your file size (not image size), while keeping as much quality as you can. I use Photoshop’s “save as a web image” feature, but if you don’t have Photoshop, free programs such Optimizilla work just fine. If you’re using Wordpress, there’s a plugin called WP Smush that does the same thing (it’s not free). I also recommend ImageOptim.

Keep an Eye on Image Placement

In general, there are a couple of things to keep in mind with where you place the images. Some of these are like salt and pepper—strictly to taste. For example, should you place an image above your headline or below it? Should additional images be above section headers or below them? This is up to you and/or whatever theme/template you’re writing into.

Other issues, like orientation, are more cut and dry. For instance, images oriented in “landscape” fashion generally scan better to viewer’s eyes than images set in the “portrait” orientation. But, if you’re looking for a Pinterest-optimized image, use a vertical orientation.

It’s also easier for readers if your images are center-aligned or a right-aligned. Left-aligned images can break up the reader’s flow if the text wraps around to the right.

Lastly, make sure at least one image is fully visible without your viewer having to scroll down on your post. (Depending what theme you’re using, this may be decided for you or you may have to insert it there yourself.)

In the end, the images you choose should add to the story you’re telling with words, while not distracting from it. The more they’re integrated—both into the story and into the structure of the post itself (i.e. SEO), the more they’ll contribute to the success of your piece.

What questions do you have regarding using images for your blog posts?

Cover photo via rawpixel