Scott Monty - Strategic Communications & Leadership Advisor

Scott Monty - Strategic Communications & Leadership Advisor

Divin rayonOne of the oft-overlooked elements in the routine of blogging is image selection. Now, not every blogger uses images, charts, graphs, or other visuals as part of their storytelling approach (Seth Godin, most notably, is almost always a text-only blogger). But for those of us who do, our photos can be just as important and compelling as our written copy.

The art of communications and marketing is largely one of storytelling. As someone with small children, I can appreciate the necessity of images to help tell stories. Images can help to set expectations, evoke emotional responses, draw attention, provoke laughter, or symbolize irony, among hundreds of other things.

So you see, the cavalier approach to image selection simply won't do for blogging. Or shouldn't. Similarly, the sources and the rights of images needs to be taken just as seriously as choosing an image. This post is designed to help you think about where and how you choose images for your blog (or site, or brochure, or whatever), with some bonus content thrown in.

Finding Images
Let's start with the basics. You need an image for a blog post. Where should you look? There are a number of great resources that are either low-cost or free:
  • Flickr The grand-daddy of all image sites. Flickr is a very powerful community with millions of photos at your disposal. There's an advanced search capability that makes it easy to pinpoint what you're looking for. Check out their Outstanding Shots
  • everystockphoto.com Is just that. A full range of free images with various levels of licensing.
  • StockVault, according to its site, is a stock photo sharing site where photographers, designers and students can share their photographs and images with each other. Its sole purpose is to collect and archive medium and high resolution photos that designers and students can share and use for personal and non-commercial designs.
  • OpenPhoto A little more barebones than the other sites, but with a variety of content that is sourced in a wiki-like way.
Two great tools to help refine the image searching process:
  • Compfight will help you find images by text or by tag and will allow you to change the settings on licensing, original photos and safe search. The visual layout of the images is impressive and will help you more quickly assess what works and what doesn't.
  • FlickrStorm is a brainstorming tool that lays out the images based on a search term that you enter and that also lets you change the settings on image rights. You can add images to your tray as you're browsing, so you can compare them later.
A note about using Flickr photos: if you plan to embed a Flickr photo in your site, there are guidelines that you need to follow. Namely, you need to use the HTML code available from the "Share this" link and provide a link back to the original photo. Please be sure to abide by Flickr's community guidelines.

If you'd like to use your own photographs but you don't feel quite comfortable with your ability, you can check Darren Rowse's Digital Photography Tips, or grab a copy of Scott Kelby's The Digital Photography Book (as well as Volume 2 and Volume 3). And a camera like a Canon EOS Rebel T1i or a Nikon D90 DX wouldn't hurt, either.

What's all this talk about rights?
Just because an image appears on the Internet doesn't mean it's yours for the taking. Many images have copyrights associated with them. In fact, there have even been examples of companies that have gotten into trouble, as they didn't seek permission to use Flickr-hosted images before they used them in official advertising.

I'm not a lawyer (I don't even play one on TV), but I can tell you that many online images are covered by a Creative Commons license. What's Creative Commons? It's a nonprofit organization that offers free tools that help to increase collaboration and sharing. You can find out more about them here.

If you learn anything about Creative Commons, it's that they have a number of levels of licenses that authors, designers, bloggers, photographers and others can assign to their work. The categories basically come down to Attribution (giving credit), Share Alike (distribution), Non-Commercial, Derivatives (original vs. changed material). There are symbols that signify each category, and taken as a whole, you can tell what they mean. In my case, this site is governed by an Attribution-Non-Commerical-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license.

cc by
This license lets others distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon your work, even commercially, as long as they credit you for the original creation. This is the most accommodating of licenses offered, in terms of what others can do with your works licensed under Attribution.

Attribution Share-Alike
cc by-sa
This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work even for commercial reasons, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms. This license is often compared to open source software licenses. All new works based on yours will carry the same license, so any derivatives will also allow commercial use.

Attribution No Derivatives
cc by-nd
This license allows for redistribution, commercial and non-commercial, as long as it is passed along unchanged and in whole, with credit to you.

Attribution Non-Commerical
cc by-nc
This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, and although their new works must also acknowledge you and be non-commercial, they don’t have to license their derivative works on the same terms.

Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike
cc by-nc-sa
This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms. Others can download and redistribute your work just like the by-nc-nd license, but they can also translate, make remixes, and produce new stories based on your work. All new work based on yours will carry the same license, so any derivatives will also be non-commercial in nature.

Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivatives
cc by-nc-nd
This license is the most restrictive of our six main licenses, allowing redistribution. This license is often called the “free advertising” license because it allows others to download your works and share them with others as long as they mention you and link back to you, but they can’t change them in any way or use them commercially.

It's important to understand how CC works and how it applies to your own content as well as to others'.

Editing tools
If you want a few quick suggestions for editing and other useful tools, check these out.
  • Picnik Use this tool for quick editing of your Flickr photos, directly online.
  • Splashup An online alternative to Photoshop or the GIMP
  • FotoFlexer Self-branded as "the world's most advanced online photo editor." And highly recommedned by me.
  • ResizR Powerful and easy to use tool that will resize your .jpg images online.
  • And if that's not enough, this Mashable article lists 20 Great Online Image Editors

I hope these resources are helpful. If you have other suggestions or favorite sites, please leave a comment so we can all benefit from each other's collective knowledge.

Image credit: alpha du centaure (Flickr)