Using Images to Tell Your Story

The Internet has come into its own as a visual medium, with entire sites devoted to still images and video. When searchers look for information or entertainment, they’ve come to want a little eye candy along with all those lines of text. What are some of the best ways to give them what they want?

Just a quick heads-up: I expect to jump back and forth between theory and practice in this article. For a long time, I didn’t use images in my articles at all; then I learned how to take screen shots, and realized how much they enhanced my search engine and web site reviews. I also learned just enough about taking pictures with digital cameras to get some good images for a monitor review on Dev Hardware. I still have a lot to learn, of course, but that seems to be the nature of technology in general.

I’ll start with something simple for those of you who might still be resistant to the idea of adding images to your blog. Maybe you’ve seen really crowded MySpace pages and you don’t want your site to look so cluttered. Why should you use images?

Images convey ideas in ways that words can’t. If you’re doing a review of a particular item, as I hinted at above, there’s nothing quite like showing the item you’re reviewing from several angles to give the right impression. If you’re writing a how-to piece, images will help your readers understand exactly what they need to do if they want to duplicate your results. If you’re talking about a company’s or an industry’s economic outlook, images – in the form of charts and graphs – can show where it has been, and where you expect it to go.

You practically can’t sell anything online without images. It doesn’t matter if what you’re selling is intangible (like software), potential buyers want to see it – the box it comes in, screen shots of the software in action, etc. For example, I used to be an active buyer and seller on eBay about six or seven years ago; even back then, it was always the listings with images that got the most traffic. As a buyer, they were the ones I looked for; as a seller, I knew I wouldn’t do as well without an image, though at the time I had little choice since I lacked the skills.

Even if you’re not specifically selling something, you will attract more traffic with images. Visitors like seeing images; they break up all those lines of text and help convey a mood or support what you’re saying. So, now that you know the why, just how do you add images?


Photo courtesy of FreeFoto.com (http://www.freefoto.com/).

If you’re someone who likes to do things yourself, you may want to take your own images and screen shots for your blog. In that case, you’ll want to get a digital camera. When you shop for one, make sure you ask how to transfer the images from the camera onto your computer. Some cameras have a docking station; some connect directly into the computer’s USB port with just a cable; some require you to remove the camera’s memory stick or card and put it into an adapter to be read.

Our sister site Dev Hardware runs regular reviews of digital cameras if you’re looking for some guidance. These bad boys tend to be major purchases; there are inexpensive ones out there, but a good digital camera can set you back a few hundred dollars (add another zero if you’re a demanding professional photographer). Fortunately, Wal-mart boasts a liberal return policy. You can try out a camera for up to 30 days and return it for a full refund if it doesn’t suit your needs. Just be sure to delete all of your pictures off of the memory card before you return the camera!

As for screen shots, I use Paint. There are many other programs you can use, however, depending on how complicated you want to get and how much functionality you need. If you’re writing how-to articles and you think you’ll want to highlight parts of some pictures, you’ll want software that can add arrows and circles or the like. Practice with your chosen software until you are comfortable with what it does. Above all, don’t be afraid to experiment. It’s only pixels, right?

Photo courtesy of ZeHawk under Creative Commons license (http://www.flickr.com/photos/lastgunslinger/2224189304/).

If you’re reviewing a web site or search engine, and you’re just taking screen shots from it for purposes of the review, you’re probably safe; it is unlikely that someone is going to come after you with a lawsuit unless you write something truly libelous. Such sites often seek out the publicity, and will appreciate it if you simply link to them in your article. It’s also considered courteous to email them a link to your article – in fact, for SEO purposes, it’s an excellent idea, since they’ll probably link back to your review from their web site.

But what can you do if you’re looking for images for less specific purposes? That’s where things can get a little shady. There are laws governing how and under what circumstances you can use a picture taken by someone else. If that sounds complicated, well, it can be; the area of copyright keeps legions of lawyers fed and housed quite comfortably, along with their families.

Fortunately, there’s something called a Creative Commons license. Rather than put their work under one monumental law that says other people can’t use it, photographers and artists and other creative people use Creative Commons licenses, in effect, to increase their audience. There are several kinds of Creative Commons licenses; if you come across an image with such a license, you should check to see which one it uses, so you can conform to its terms.

Photo sharing site Flickr got on board with Creative Commons licenses in a big way. When you use their advanced search feature, you can check a box near the bottom of the page that tells it to “Only search within Creative Commons-licensed content.” Below that you can check boxes that say “Find content to use commercially” and “Find content to modify, adapt, or build upon.” The image of the egg balancer from the previous page came from Flickr; it popped up in a search where I specifically looked for Creative Commons-licensed content for commercial use. Yes, it’s a little harder to do this kind of work when you’re just looking for something to decorate your site, but at least you gain peace of mind.

Photograph courtesy of kudumomo under a Creative Commons license (http://www.flickr.com/photos/kudumomo/).

If you’re not interested in using Flickr, the simplest way to find images online is to go to Google and do a search for free photos. You’ll find plenty of web sites, but you’ll want to check their terms. FreeFoto.com, for example, lets anyone use their images, even commercial sites, as long they get a link back and an attribution. You can also purchase their images, in which case you don’t need to provide the link back and attribution.

Stockxchng.com is another free photo site with a decent assortment of images. They seem to be associated with StockXpert.com, which charges a fee for stock images. StockXpert seems to have a pretty easy-to-understand interface, and many of their images are not very expensive at all.

You might also find it useful to hunt down particular kinds of free images. If your blog focuses on space news, for example, I probably don’t have to tell you about NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day web site. If you scroll to the bottom of each picture, you will find a link at which the rights applying to the image are explained. The best part, though, is that images that are owned by NASA are in the public domain. Well, that’s the second best part, actually; the best part is the images themselves.

Photograph courtesy of NASA (http://antwrp.gsfc.nasa.gov/apod/ap080915.html).

Images convey ideas to your readers. You can use them to instruct, to set the tone for your web site, to make your visitors feel good, to get a laugh, to make them want to keep reading…the list goes on and on. Sonia Simone at Copyblogger likes to use images to highlight her headlines; they give them a little extra punch that draws in readers. James Payne, our editor-in-chief, likes to use images in his articles to drive a point home in a humorous way. People remember images well; if they see images on your blog or web site that they like, it will encourage them to come back. And I trust I don’t need to remind you of the advantages of repeat traffic, do I? Good luck!

Google+ Comments

Google+ Comments