Why Do I Need Images on My Blog?
Posts with images are about twice as likely to be shared as posts without images. In fact, photo tweets are 94% more likely to be shared (re-tweeted) than tweets consisting of text, alone.
A picture’s worth a thousand words. But a picture plus two thousand entertaining, intellectually challenging, thought-provoking words is magical, when it comes to getting others to share your blog posts.
Some of the tips in this post are based on tips given for the popular photo sharing site, Instagram (which you should totally check out, if you’re not there already). But they apply to your blog and other sites that support images in posts, like Facebook and Twitter, as well – and the idea is to add visual appeal to your blog posts that carries over onto those sites when your posts are shared.
What Types of Images Do People Like Most?
Take a look at The Science of Instagram. Some of this is counterintuitive: people prefer bright, desaturated images over darker, or more color-saturated photos? Some of it is fairly obvious: people prefer photos with faces and photos with no clever filters (though three specific filters are called out here as doing better than others in terms of “Likes” and comments). Your Facebook friends make fun of your hashtags, but Instagram users love them – you can use up to 30 hashtags per post, and it definitely helps to boost the “Likes” and comments.
Camera and Skills Needed
So, you understand why it’s important to include images with your words – but what if you’re not an artist or photographer?
First, you don’t have to own a pro quality camera; your smartphone will probably do nicely. I use the Samsung Galaxy Note 5, and love it – it’s like having a phone, camera, tablet, and PC in the palm of my hand. See Best Smartphone Cameras 2016 from Tom’s Guide for some of the features to consider when choosing a smartphone camera. An inexpensive digital point-and-shoot camera is another good choice.
If your hands tend to shake, Sony’s SteadyShot image stabilization is a good choice, and one of my favorites. I’ve owned two Sony cameras; my only concern with newer models is that they no longer use the Carl Zeiss lens. I know from the quality of photos on my old Sony and my Nokia Lumia 810, that the quality of the Carl Zeiss lens does make a noticeable difference.
It’s hard to go wrong with Nikon. I have a more expensive Nikon D3300 DSLR camera that I currently use.
Canon is another favorite for many people. Though I’ve never owned one, myself, I have friends who swear by them and have always admired the quality of their images.
What’s more important, though, when taking photos for blogging and social media, is the creativity and personality you put into your photos. Don’t be afraid to experiment – after all, with digital there’s no film to waste and you can preview the shot instantly! Technical skill mainly boils down to not covering the lens with your thumb, and making sure there’s enough light to get a clear snapshot. Do know the basic rules of photography and when you’ll need a property or model release, and when you won’t. In general, “if you can see it, you can photograph it” if you’re standing in a publicly accessible place. And for the most part, you can use it on your blog. Understand that “commercial use” (like, putting the photo on a t-shirt or a book cover and selling the item) has more stringent rules.
I have a much larger one I use with the DSLR (too large to travel with by plane), but this one’s great for both smartphone and point-and-shoot use. If your camera’s Bluetooth enabled, this even comes with a nifty little remote control device, so you can take selfies that don’t look like selfies! Used with the tripod, it keeps you from having to touch the camera and risk moving or shaking it.
Third, if you have a smartphone with a decent camera, you probably have access to free or inexpensive photo editing apps that will let you crop the photo, fix up little errors in lighting and white balance, make the colors pop a bit more if you want them to, and even add text to make your images whisper, “Share me” without offloading the files to your PC first. You can automatically back up your photos to a cloud server like Google Drive or Microsoft OneDrive, DropBox, or Amazon Photos, so you won’t lose them and you can access them from any of your devices.
If you’re doing all your digital darkroom work on a PC, Corel’s Paint Shop Pro is a low-cost and feature-rich alternative to Photoshop. I use it almost every day. Gimp is also a popular image editing application, and it’s free.
Naturally, it’s a good idea to spend time reading the documentation that comes with your smartphone or camera, and to experiment with it before you take that trip of a lifetime or try to capture a special event. Digital involves no film costs, so you can take and erase bad shots all day long. Play with the settings. Try various apps. When it begins to feel familiar, you’ll have fun making your own images and sharing them online.
Just … throw a washcloth over the camera lens if you’re naked, in case it’s on and sending automatic backups to the web.
Ideas for Creating Original Images
Get your readers involved! Take photos of people (with their permission, please!) reading your books. Encourage readers to send you photos by offering them an exclusive sneak peek of your next book, a discounted copy of one of your books, or maybe a prize for “coziest reading spot” (featuring your book cover prominently, of course).
Take a look at what’s popular, and put your own spin on it.
Get readers involved! Have them take pics of themselves or their kids reading your books, and give them a hashtag (and @name) to use on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook. Remember that 80-90% of what you post should be focused on your followers, your readers, your friends. They want to have fun with you – not just watching and listening to you. Ask if you can share or repost their content (don’t do it without permission)!
Show off your creativity and imagination. Or your dorky ineptitude, your Pinterest Fail-worthy attempts at greatness. You do you. Show others it’s okay to laugh at yourself. Throw a virtual party online, get a little tipsy, use marzipan as Play-Doh, and take photos.
Use “selfies” to tell a story. Don’t post bathroom-mirror, duck-lips selfies. Instead, use selfies to make your readers feel included in whatever fun activities you’re doing. Included – not jealous. Bring them along and share the adventure. Don’t just say things like, “Look at me, living the six-figure lifestyle, barefoot and sipping booze on the beach!”
Find inspiration in small things all around you. Some of the most popular, most likely to be shared posts are: news, humor, opinion, instructional/how-to, warnings (and specifically “how to avoid” danger or trouble), and uplifting/positive/hopeful posts. And people like to cheer for the underdog – they want to see David triumph over Goliath. Perhaps there’s a tiny flower, growing against all odds, through a crack in your driveway. That’s a metaphor for something! Photograph it and add some uplifting, encouraging words.
Combine your readers’ interests in surprising – and fun or interesting – ways. In The Science of Social Media, Dan Zarella talks about how posts that combine zombies and marketing make him feel as if the post was written especially for him! Rather than just shouting your message louder, faster, or more often, take advantage of your audience’s “selective attention” to reach out and pull them in with a personalized approach.
Combine the familiar with something novel and surprising. Speaking of zombies, how about “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies”? Think about the movie “Pretty Woman.” People love the comfort of the familiar and trusted, the tried-and-true – coupled with being first to share something new and interesting. And those “first to share” early adopters are often the biggest influencers, most likely to get others to follow along and share the things they share, once those things have their stamp of approval. Here’s another example of “familiar” + “novelty”:
Most of us can relate to the discomfort and inconvenience of travel, as well as to the occasionally thoughtless behavior of our fellow travelers. But a ponytail landing on your seatback tray? That’s not something you see every day! Bottom line, Ramos didn’t expect (or want) that to go viral, but it had just the perfect combination of relatable familiarity, novelty, and schadenfreude (real and imagined) to make it do just that. People enjoyed suggesting creative ways to retaliate (audience engagement factor), or imagining themselves to be better travelers than that (narcissistic appeal). Consider how many “viral” things on the Internet were carefully planned, and how many just happened to hit on this winning formula by accident.
Take photos of your hometown. Give people a little glimpse into your world – a place they may never see in person. Look for interesting spots, colorful places, smiling people doing fun, creative, or challenging activities. Blog about how it influences your writing, or your thinking.
Use WordCloud or Canva or PicMonkey to create images with text – using your own or those available in their database. WordCloud lets you create colorful “word clouds” – the words, themselves, become the image. There are similar apps for smartphone users, too. I use Phonto for adding text to photos, and PicPlayPost to create photo/video/text collages.
Don’t Post These Pics!
Just kidding. Rules are meant to be broken, sometimes. Sparingly. But… in the case of #11, maybe never.
Places to Find Free (and Legal) Images Online
I strongly prefer to create my own images (or use Wordle, Canva, or PicMonkey), because I like to play it safe – I simply don’t trust all the “free photos and graphics for your blog” sites out there, and it’s faster to make my own images than to do the due diligence on some of these sites.
Getty Images for Bloggers. Free, very high-quality, images from Getty that you can legally embed in your blog. One thing about Getty – you know that they vigorously pursue legal action against copyright infringers. If they provide the images, host them on their site, and spell out exactly how you may use them for free, it’s safe to do so. Limitations include not being able to set them as “Featured” or to resize them. If a reader clicks the image share buttons, they’ll be sharing a link to Getty – not to your blog. These images won’t show up when you share your post to Facebook, Twitter, or other social media sights. But with millions of professional quality stock photos to choose from, it’s a great option for simply illustrating your post with more appealing visual content.
morgueFile. Another excellent resource containing beautiful, professional quality photos – free. There may be some restrictions on use, such as “you may not use this in a standalone manner.” Like, don’t put it on a mousepad and sell it online.
Flickr Creative Commons images. Just be sure to read and honor the terms of the Creative Commons license. Some allow commercial use; some do not. Using an image to illustrate a blog post isn’t commercial use, generally speaking; using it on your book cover or on an item you’re selling is.
StudyWeb lists Free Stock Photos: 100 (Legal) Sources. We’ll have to take their word on it – but it’s a pretty impressive list and appears to be recently updated (which is important, since many of the posts listing free images on the web are outdated and the sites they listed now give 404 Not Found errors).
In addition to the clickable links within the post (none of which are cleverly buried trap doors leading to great slimy buckets of spam, I promise you!), here are a few more tips on using images in your blog and on social media.
One Weird Blogging Tip: Links, Images, and Tooltips – how to create HTML text or image links with hover text.
Why ALT and TITLE Tags Matter – make sure that your blog is inclusive and accessible, and provide additional information about your images.
What kinds of images most appeal to you?
Do you have any favorite go-to sites for blog images?
What tips can you share on creating, modifying, or sharing your own images?
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