How to Adopt a Photographer’s Eye to Choose Photos for Blog Posts.

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Cover photo by Amanda Dalbjörn on Unsplash

If you are a blogger or a freelance writer, you’ve been there before. Your article is written, polished up and ready to be published or sent over to the client. The only things missing are photos that are powerful enough to accentuate your key points and stir the right emotions in your reader.

So what do you do? You start your photo search: “It’ll be quick” you tell yourself. You jump on a stock library website, most likely one of those that offer free images and start browsing. You start with a first website, but can’t find what you’re looking for. Then you move on to a second, a third one, and so forth until you get exhausted, run out of time and realise the pics you’ve found are not quite the best.

They don’t express what you had in mind, have different styles and treatments, don’t make your blog stand out in the sea of digital content. But what can you do? You’ve already spent hours looking at the right images. Plus, you’re a writer, not a photographer, right? True, but it’s important to consider that writing for the web is a very specific form of communication. 

To master digital writing, it is important to make the most of the environment in which your words appear.

For a similar reason, you break up your content into brief paragraphs and use section headings in bold. You want to make it easy for people to scan, read through the article and absorb the most important ideas.

That’s when photos come in handy. They help section out your content and provide some visual rest to the reader. Just to prove my point, check out this photo here.

 

HE3h0_SXgdOdPTstoMqYwfF2x-l6bHhKi1AfO-x-Ff_MSFPuCpswbKBPWUGmq6Xnai_fp-5-mH3e919S88Cspg1bhvLSvJkpNveAy4cbRZquWT7sAscVuDFZPxbp6m0C2kuWwFNdPhoto by Francesco Solfrini

 

Feeling relaxed? Great, you can keep going.

Photos can create an emotional connection with your reader and make them more inclined to “listen” and be inspired to take action. Someone with more experience than me, Jeff Bullas, says articles with images get 94% more total views than articles without images.

Plus, the right images (coupled with the right meta-tagging) help your article perform better in search engines and on social media. 

I could go on and on listing out all the benefits of including images in your blog posts, but I won’t - there are tons of articles out there that just do that.

Instead, what this post can help you with, is understanding why you should focus on photos more than other types of images (i.e. vector graphics, illustrations, screenshots, etc.) and how to choose or create the best ones.

Think about a blog post you read yesterday or a year ago. You probably remember the overall message and one or two photos from it. That’s it. If the article included some graphs to get across some complex concepts, you might remember them. But I bet if that article included a photo of someone that looks like you or someone you know, or someone that inspires you (like a famous person) you’d remember it over the graph. 

Certainly, you’d recall a photo capturing a story that is meaningful to you over a screen grab or an illustration.

Yes, vector graphics echoing the style and colours of a logo are great in making a brand stand out from the competition. But only photos have the power to create a real connection with your reader (and especially photos showing people, but we’ll talk about this later).

Photos make up 80 to 90% of visual content in a post - unless you’re writing a step-by-step troubleshooting guide where providing utility is the only goal. In that case, your article will have only screen grabs. You might write a scientific piece and rely on several graphs to get across the sticky points.

Most blog posts include a graph, an illustration, a screengrab, and the rest of the images are all photographs. Why? For all the reasons shown above; plus, it’s easier (and cheaper) to find a ready-to-use photo than to hire a designer to create a custom illustration.

The issue is, you might not find the right photos.

What you need is high-quality and high-impact photography that helps your article be found, add emotion to your message, and drive the reader into action. Put simply, you need the best photos for your blog posts.

The best photos will allow you to:

  • Communicate precisely what you want to say 

  • Showcase the quality of your content

 

The right photo for the right message

dzblCQa4ovP5vRlje7DM-W6BkyA9czz0TWI5q9VE_5UyrgkeasKlnQqh3tXV6nCLz8XXR_EGzR0rjnXaXrcCYqHY17Rt8HsjiBCXzIXCjuIhY9B9YylTsHhEnt-wi20Rvw0BgBOHPhoto by Francesco Solfrini

 

The power of photography is to capture in one instant a full atmosphere, an emotion, a story. That story should align with your content to better explain it. That’s very helpful when you need to get across complex messages. 

A visual narrative can enhance your words with a new and unexpected perspective. In your articles, you’d write nothing the reader already knows or finds boring. So why using obvious or cliche photos?

 

Quality photos mean quality content

The audience should never finish an article thinking: “Great read, if only they had made some effort to choose better photos...” The quality of your shots affects the overall perception of the article. 

According to the Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab, overall visual design is the number one criteria for discerning credibility. There are a lot of factors involved in “visual design,” and good quality images are amongst the top ones.

I mean, we knew it: quality, whether it’s related to images, words, or anything else makes you look more professional. But thanks Stanford Lab for confirming it!

Now let’s define quality in photography. Photography life believes that a good photo:

  • Has a clear vision: the message is clear, or the photo is capable to elicit an emotion

  • Expresses that vision successfully: this is when the technical bits come into play: exposure, depth of field, compositional rules, etc. Luckily you don’t have to worry about these when choosing stock photography. You’re able to recognise a good photo.

  • Harmonizes with your viewer’s vision: in simple terms, this means your vision should align with your audience’s tastes. If you write for an audience, you know them very well - you’ve got this in the bag!

Now you know you need quality photos for your story, and you understand what makes a great photo. But how to find the right shots? How to avoid spending hours looking for “the one” amongst thousands online? How to keep clear from ending up with a collection of shots that resemble your dachshund’s breakfast? What to do when you don’t have time or money to hire a photographer? 

This blog will help you slay all those dragons.

 

How to Adopt a Photographer’s Eye  to Choose Photos for Blog Posts. - Image 1
Photo by Cam Adams on Unsplash

 

See what I did there? No dragons related image. I admit I was tempted, but in the end, I decided to show the buzz you’ll get after defeating those fire-burping monsters.

And before diving into the steps to plan and get wow-inducing photos for your blog posts, let’s make clear what this post won’t do for you.

 

This post WON’T:

  • Tell you where to find photos. Because you can find them in this Freelancer community post from Veronika Theodor - including tons of free stock photo resources

  • Explain how to avoid copyright issues, but you can read about it here

  • Teach you how to crop, resize, save at ideal resolution and all the technical bits included in this article

  • Tell you where to get or how to create vector graphics, illustrations, graphs, etc. There are lots of resources out there, and if you don’t mind, we have a few dragons to slay here. So let’s leave centre stage for…

 

How to Adopt a Photographer’s Eye to Choose Photos for Blog Posts.

Let’s go through the process used by photographers to pick the perfect images for a blog post, without spending your entire life and missing your deadline.

I’m going to use a specific blog post I recently wrote as an example and show you the images I chose for that article. The article topic was “Teaching Kids about Money”, which presented many photo opportunities on image libraries. Unfortunately, most of them were generic and some of them didn't help in getting across some specific points.

At the end of this post, I’ll also cover what to do when you’re stuck with no images, have no photography skills to shoot and no time or budget to hire a photographer.

 

1. Plan your search to save time

If you don’t want to let image search take over your life (and if you’ve spent long enough writing, you know that could easily happen) you need to make friends with planning. With this, I don’t refer to an overly structured and soul-killing process, but you simply need to identify the steps to take and carve out enough time for each. Starting with this will make a big difference to your search (and life!)

During the 15 years I’ve spent working in advertising and as a freelance content creator, I have come up with a step-by-step process to find the best photos for a campaign or a blog.

Image search steps:

  1. What to search - 20 minutes 
  2. Where to search - 10 minutes
  3. Image search - 10 minutes per photo
  4. Photoshoot - in case you cannot find the right stock photography for your blog, allow 20 minutes for each image

So if you need to find four images and shoot one, carve out an hour and a half in total.

And if you’re wondering how many images you need to include in your blog post, here is the answer:

Use one image for every 350 words - courtesy of Blog Pros

Set a timer to make sure you don’t go overtime. This is important: if you can’t find the right image soon, very often you won’t find it after many hours. That means you’ll need to take out your mobile and shoot. Fear not: the tips I’ll give you will make the task very simple.

 

2. Choose what to say with images 

Decide what to search and come up with your shot lists.

At this stage forget about images, and just think about your story. You’ve got your blog post, which gives you the principal theme. Go through it and highlight the most salient points: the revelations, the content your readers can only find from you, the juiciest data, the paragraph where you think your audience will go: “That’s life-changing!”

It’s not just about what you want to say; the outcome is very important, too. Think about the way you want your reader to feel when going through your article.

This is a critical phase, as it’ll give you the keywords to use in the research.

 

How to Adopt a Photographer’s Eye  to Choose Photos for Blog Posts. - Image 2
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

 

Here are the key points, which gave me the shot list, for the example article “Teaching Kids about Money: 7 Ways to Secure their Future”:

  1. Header image - this is as important as your headline as it’s designed to grab your reader’s attention. It needs to be true to the title, but leave some room for imagination so people will be enticed to read on. It needs to set the tone for the entire article. 

For the example article, the keywords could be kid’s future, secure life, mature kids, kid in a suit (in order to show the future outcome combined with the current state), etc.

  1. Starting early is the key to learn about money 

  2. Simulate real life

  3. Kids can develop an investor mindset 

  4. Learning through play is the most effective way to teach finance 

 

3. Pick a consistent look for your images

Now that you’ve got your shot list with potential keywords, you know what your photos need to say. The next step is to think about your audience and the type of images they will connect with. Remember the importance of harmonising with your audience’s vision?

 

Think about:

Look & feel: will your readers connect with a polished and sophisticated look or with a more practical and down to earth feel?

Mood: do you want your images to inspire, motivate, boost energy, provoke thinking, induce calm?

Lighting: if you’re going for a moody look, you’ll probably choose sombre and underexposed images. Vice versa, if you want to inject hope you will choose images with lots of light.

Culture: do you want to contextualise your message to a specific part of the world, ethnicity, etc. or you want to make it more universal? Remember that objects, clothes and buildings can pin your message to a specific place and time. 

Keep this in mind while choosing your images, it’ll help you end up with a collection of shots that look “from the same family”. This will make your post look professional and stand out.

Let’s go back to the example blog: I chose a visual approach that resonated with practical and busy mums of kids ages 10 and up - that was the audience for the story. I opted for a balance between real-life shots and beautiful, positive images that project mums towards the finish line of their kids’ financial journey (mums want the best for their children).

 

4. Choose 2-3 stock photography websites

Once you’ve picked your style, it should be easy to come up with a list of photography websites adhering to that look and feel. 

Limit your list to 2 or 3 max:

  • You’ll end up with a collection with a consistent style 

  • You’ll be able to complete your image search in 10 minutes per image 

In my case I went for:

  • Unsplash - free quality stock for the more conceptual or sophisticated shots

  • Pexels: free quality stock for real-life and natural photos

 

5. The image search 

With a clear plan and steps, the search now looks less daunting, right? So go ahead and have some fun. Browsing through stunning images will break up your day and give you some visual nourishment. Just balance the fun with concentration and remember to set your stopwatch as it’s very easy to go overtime with this task.

 Some other quick but important tips for you:

  • Use images with people in them. Why? Pictures of people are one of the most engaging forms of web content according to a Jakob Nielsen’s usability study.

  • Consider abstract shots. They help you convey complex concepts and avoid cliche and overused images.

  • Avoid the obvious. You’ve started a blog post because you have something different and useful to say. Why shouldn’t your images do the same?

  • Don’t go for the negative. People know very well the problem they have and don’t need to be reminded of it. Instead, you can leverage the power of photography to show the positive: the end state after taking the action you’re recommending.

  • Show the outcome instead of the action. In light of the point above, show the result of the actions you're inspiring your audience to take.

  • Show the feeling. Now, this can be a challenge - the risk is to end up with staged, cheesy or stocky photos. If you end up in that rut, just use the tip below to get out of it!

  • Search around your search. Sometimes the first keywords you use bring up the wrong results. In that case, use lateral thinking: replace them with synonyms; think about how other people would search for those images; broaden your search or add some descriptors to make the search more specific.

 

6. Look back and review

Add the shots to your blog post and look at them in situ as part of the entire article.

Do they help sell the key points?

Would they make your reader go WOW?

Do they convey the feeling you were aiming for?

Do they look good individually and as part of a collection?

Of course, you’ll never end up with images that look exactly as if taken by one photographer as part of one photoshoot, but the goal is to get as close as possible to that result. It is achievable, as you’ll see below.

Let’s look at the final shots for the example article.

 

Header image chosen to accompany the headline:
Teaching Kids about Money: 7 Ways to Secure their Future

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Image chosen for:
Starting early is the key to learn about money
 

zCyDqgddviU-Gp9NDAEvNbBwhIUZq5CEHltWtfsLdybROCBMi-1BXTOUtIiawDCx_Z34It38_Pk1vhfFVrMePysa2-4xNA4IjUlEuHjzOfs9TDUYLPQPXhc017f59nypv7j7lXvsPhoto by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

 

Image chosen for:
Simulate real life

E_SMUt4gX9iMYZBwVr3Tg6VIYney3hnhhpV1hSyRE-IISpf0lYNhL5oZqoXl7YIO9T1Oet37uwWsJowfhczGTzEPBRiIx9h7IljNGH2jSALTLEnou8oSg9FYHuRn4G4Dk1rgG4DRPhoto by August de Richelieu from Pexels

 

Image chosen for:
Learning through play is the most effective way to teach finance

How to Adopt a Photographer’s Eye  to Choose Photos for Blog Posts. - Image 3
Photo by Julia M Cameron from Pexels

 

You may have noticed that we’re missing the image for: Kids can develop an investor mindset. The keywords I used: kids and money, teenagers investing, investments, future and a few other similar words and combinations didn’t give me the results I expected.

And before ending up in the famous Image Search Black Hole (pretty sure Einstein scientifically theorised about it) I stopped and decided to invest the next 20 minutes in a mini photoshoot.

 

7. Plan and do a mini-shoot in under 20 min

You’re stuck, trembling with terror, on the verge of the Image Search Black Hole. Luckily, you’re strong and resist the call of the sirens whispering to you: “Just another two minutes... that’s all you need…”

Well done. You know it’s a lie. Don’t listen to them, but set another 20 minutes on your stopwatch and get creative with your own photoshoot.

Before getting stuck in the tips and process, let me just tell you the major benefits of doing your mini-shoot:

  • Convey your own vision

  • Create a unique photo

  • 100% free

  • No worrying about royalties

  • Get creative and learn new skills

 

The mini-shoot (20 min)

I’ll take you through the mini-shoot process with the help of the blog example. You’ll see that, once again, planning is key.

  1. Think about your message.
    Think about what you want to say, how your readers are going to interpret it, and how you can realistically achieve the shot. In my case, I needed to talk about the investor mindset. It was quite a difficult concept to express, so I had to simplify my message into the more you save, the greater the benefits in the long run. To express this message, I showed one small pile of flour, next to a bigger pile, next to a loaf of bread. The target audience for my article were mums, and I thought this could work for them.

  2. Look for props.
    Use what’s around. Before locking in my concept, I went into the kitchen and checked that I had some flour and a loaf of bread. If I didn’t, I would have had to think about another idea: something I could express with what I had in my house. Remember, you want to balance good results and time invested.

  3. Create your set.
    What you need is an uncluttered, clean surface, a plain background with a colour that will contrast with the subject and lots of light. The kitchen bench was the best location for me. Whilst I prefer to shoot with natural light, I had to make the most of the artificial light (avoiding shadows where possible).

  4. Shoot.
    Take your phone out and move things around until you nail the composition. How? Just think about your message and remove from the frame anything that doesn’t help convey your message. This will help you simplify your photo. Go for straight on or simple angles, again this will help strengthen your message. Don’t worry about the camera setting on your phone. If your shot is well composed and there’s enough light, the photo will turn out great.

  5. Edit.
    Take a couple of minutes and use the native app on your phone for some basic retouching. Just increase the contrast and exposure if you need to (most of the time, the more light, the better; unless you’re going for a moody look). If your collection of stock photos has a gradient, try to match it with one of the filter options on your phone. 

 

Congrats, you’ve got your unique shot ready to add to your collection!

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And more importantly, now you know how to adopt a photographer’s eye to choose photos for your blog posts. From today, your stories will look incredible.

Have a go yourself and post any questions and links to your articles (now with stunning photos) in the comments section. 

Written by Francesco Solfrini, content creator specialised in writing and photography for the Finance and Mental Health sectors.

Posted 27 February, 2021

francescosolfrin

Content creator - writing and photography

A content creator with over 15 years of strategic account service, writing and photography experience in the advertising industry. I combine the power of written words and photography to generate content that attracts, connects and converts. My areas of expertise are Finance and Mental Health.

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