searching for the perfect image

The right image for your blog post—or website or PowerPoint presentation for that matter—can help motivate people to read the thousand words you’re about to lay on them. People respond to visuals, even when they’re in search of words of wisdom. Adding photos can help bring your words to life, and avoid the deadly “nothing but text” screen.

As you search for a photo to accompany your blog post, think like an interior decorator: Which coffee table looks perfect with my couch? Which photo looks amazing alongside my words? Check out our list of websites with free or cheap images for where to start your search.

When you search, start with the most obvious keywords and keep brainstorming new ones, each term a little more out there than the next. Try new keyword combinations until you see the photo that makes you shout, “That’s the one!”

As you evaluate your options, keep these six C’s in mind to help you find the perfect photo for your blog:

1. Content

The main concept in the image should clearly relate to the blog’s main topic and title. Literal images are okay, as long as they’re not too literal. Even better is a creative image that evokes the concept without being literal. But, be careful to avoid being too clever, as cleverness can sometimes get in the way of clarity.

Images of people grab attention especially well. Humanity plus reality creates emotional connections, so if you have photos of your organization in action, use them. Show readers who you are and the actual work you do. Pictures that tell a story about your work will help readers bond with your organization.

2. Context

It seems obvious, but make sure your picture works in the larger context of your organization’s brand. Make sure your image is on brand in all ways. It should fit your organization’s personality and convey the right message.

Photos stir emotions, so make sure you’re stirring the right ones. The image’s mood should match both the blog topic and your brand. An upbeat post with a gloomy photo makes as much sense as ice cream on pizza.

3. Composition

Can you make out the details at the size you will use the image? What about when it gets even smaller when you share the link on Facebook? If the licensing allows you to modify the image, crop the picture to zoom in on the essential detail you’re after. Images that follow the Rule of Thirds often carry more compositional and emotional clout (though rules are made to be broken).

Your reader’s eyes will follow the eyes of a person, so consider choosing a photo, or editing it, so that the person in your photo faces the body of your blog post. Design Shack has many more fantastic tips on designing with faces.

Of course, avoid bad quality photography. Make sure that objects that should be in focus are, that the scene has enough light and contrast, and that the image isn’t pixilated.

4. Copyright

This is the Golden Rule of using photos. Use only those photos where the photographer has granted reuse rights. Use the website’s search settings so you only see reuse-allowed or Creative Commons-licensed photos. When in doubt, reach out to the photographer and get permission, and always give credit where credit is due.

5. Chutzpah

Be (at least a little bit) gutsy in the photo you select for your blog. It will help get you noticed, which will do wonders for getting you read. Use an image that stands out, adds humor, or kicks the emotional impact up a notch. Go for some drama—big gestures, bold colors, quirky subjects, an abstract shot, an unexpected angle, a fascinating detail.

6. Cliché – The C to Avoid!

You know the ones: the handshake close up, the child holding a sprouting seedling, the stock photo people with Stepford Wives smiles. It can sometimes seem near impossible to avoid cliché images, especially if you’re stuck with stock photography. But, there’s often a hidden gem if you search a little deeper, or apply a little chutzpah.

(image courtesy Flickr user rorymunro, Creative Commons)
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Lauren Girardin is LightBox Collaborative’s tactical curator. When she’s not helping do-gooders pick the right photo for their blog, website, or presentation, she’s clicking away with her camera in foreign lands and in San Francisco’s Mission District.