The Lazy Blogger’s Guide to
Finding Great Post Images

Lazy Blogger

Writing a great blog post is a lot of work. There’s the planning, the headline, the writing, the rewriting, the rewriting, the rewriting.

As the cliché goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. So why not let your images do some of that writing for you?

When you’re trying to get the biggest bang out of a blog post (while putting in the least amount of work), it’s smart to let strong imagery do some of your heavy lifting. But what’s the difference between an image that works hard and one that just looks good with your blog theme?

Images are steroids for your headline

You may remember the immortal advice of copywriting genius Joe Sugarman: the job of the headline is to get the reader to read the first line of your ad. (And the job of the first line is to get the reader to read the second line of your ad.)

Let’s face it, writing great headlines is hard. (Worth the effort, but still. Hard.) A great image can give your headline a big boost. The image might be beautiful, odd, heartwarming, instructive or just curiosity-provoking, as long as it makes the reader want to read that first line of your post.

Set an emotional tone

A powerful image zaps right into the primal bits of your readers’ brains and gets them in the emotional state you want. In an instant, a terrific image can create an emotional reaction you might otherwise slave for hours to craft with words.

Images of puppies and cute little children will set one tone for your blog. Gritty street scenes will say something very different. I use a lot of images of apes and monkeys over on Remarkable Communication, in part to convey the primate emotional drivers that shape our communication, and in part because, hey, everybody likes monkeys.

In fact, “lighten up” is a major Remarkable Communication theme, and that’s consistently reflected in the images I choose.

Some images just make people feel good. And associating yourself with feeling good is a smart move if you’re trying to persuade. While a steady diet of kittens and rainbows gets cloying, it can be a good move to choose a photo just because it makes you smile.

What’s the personality of your blog? Funny? Combative? Compassionate? Goofy? Imagery can set the emotional tone of a single post or for your whole blog.

Lazy Blogger Tip: If you can’t find a good, relevant match for your post’s main idea, look for an image that conveys the emotional content of your blog as a whole.

Arouse curiosity

Just like making a ridiculous comparison can intrigue the reader and get her to keep reading, a striking image can work in the same way. The image can either create a seeming paradox with the headline, or just amplify the headline in a surprising way.

(The most notorious example to date on Copyblogger was probably on my own Feel Great Naked post.)

A feeling of “What is this doing here?” can move the reader forward and right into your terrific post. The effect shouldn’t be too jarring, but a little unexpected juxtaposition can be just the ticket.

Where lazy bloggers go to find great images

There are free sources for stock photography out there, but in my opinion it takes more time and energy than it’s worth to dig around and find what you need.

I use two sources for nearly all images I use. The first is iStockphoto, which has a wide selection of stock photography at very good prices. For a blog post, you can use their smallest size image, which will run you a little over $1 depending on how many credits you buy at a time.

The great thing about iStockphoto is that it’s cheap and efficient. You use their search tool to find a couple of options, click, click, click, and you can get back to scrolling through the latest LOLCats.

The second source I like is the Flickr Creative Commons. I shied away from this for a long time, thinking the licensing issues would be too complicated. Skellie set me straight on that with this useful, comprehensive post. Just search for images under the Attribution license and you’re set. The only thing that’s required is a credit, which is satisfied by a pleasingly effortless link back to the photographer.

Other Creative Commons licenses have limitations on whether you can modify a photo (such as cropping it) or use it in a commercial context (which could be a factor if you’re monetizing your blog). Stick to the Attribution license and you won’t have to give any of it a second thought. Trust me, there’s virtually no limit to the fantastic Attribution images to choose from.

The quality you can find on Flickr Creative Commons is as good or better than what you’ll get for iStockphoto, but each has different strengths. Flickr has terrific macro, landscape and botanical photography, and you can find great (and unusual) images of people. iStockphoto often does better than Flickr for animals and machinery, and offers high-quality shots of any object you can think of isolated against a white background.

More lazy fun you can have with images

Flickr isn’t just a great resource for images, it’s a magnificent way to waste hours and hours of your time. Try doing some searches on your major themes from time to time, and mark your favorites for later posts. Instead of “procrastinating,” you get to call it “building your image library.” You can do the same on iStockphoto, building extensive lightboxes of subjects you tend to use again and again.

As a lazy rule of thumb, the more iStockphoto imagery you use, the more professional your blog will feel. Using more Flickr images will create an artier, quirkier flavor.

Try letting your images do a little more of the work in your blog. Your posts will be more effective, and you’ll save precious energy you could be using to play Rock Band.


Want to learn more about this topic?

Then listen to this short podcast episode called How to Choose Arresting Images for Your Blog Posts (And Why You Should) with Jerod Morris and Demian Farnworth. And don’t forget to subscribe to The Lede once you’re done!

About the Author: Sonia Simone is an Associate Editor of Copyblogger and the founder of Remarkable Communication.

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Reader Comments (113)

  1. says

    Thanks for the pressure Sonia… you write a post on finding great images and leave it to me to find one. :)

    This task turned me momentarily into Steven Wright:

    “I went to a stock photo website and searched for ‘photo.’ My computer exploded.”

  2. Will says

    I use a service called Zementa which runs right alongside my blog as I am posting. It suggests photos as well as links to other stories based on your post content. http://www.zementa.com

    On yeah, and it’s free.

  3. says

    I’ve always had trouble finding images I could use to match the theme of my post – this is a great collection of sources for royalty free images.

    Thanks for the tips on where to find images that will match the feel and tone of your blog.

    I’m a techie who appreciates good design, and this helps!

    twitter/douglaslampi

  4. says

    I’ve always read about using flickr images, but never tried. Thanks for the encouragement! Now I just need some interesting content to go with the images….

  5. says

    I’m with you, Sonia. It’s istockphoto or Flickr creative commons for me. That zementa app that Will recommends sounds very cool though. I’ll have to give it a try.

  6. says

    Fantastic. I put a picture on each one of my posts and its not always easy to find the kind of picture you are looking for. Flicker Creative Commons is a great resource.

  7. says

    Thanks for the great tips! After just spending an hour searching for a free image to illustrate my latest post, I have a headache. Maybe next time it’ll be easier.

  8. says

    Can I just say something about iStockPhoto? If I see one more picture of a triumphant man/woman on top of a mountain or of a seedling sprouting from a moist little clod of soil in the palm of a hand, I’m going to stab my own eyes out.

    You can still qualify as lazy without choosing the first popular one that appears. :-)

  9. says

    And I think they were both for my posts. :)

    I’m less persnickety than that. As long as it’s not a person in business garb jumping on a trampoline, I am happy. (And I have a soft spot for that plant in a clod of dirt thing, damn you Michael Martine.)

  10. says

    One thing I noticed about Flickr. Some of the photos are actually copies of copyrighted stuff, SO BEWARE and be very careful. For instance I saw some screen shots extracted from commercial games which could get you sued seven ways to Sunday if you publish them on your own blog or other commercial site.

  11. says

    And here I’ve been using client photos….or those I’ve taken myself. Thanks so much. You just saved me a bunch of time
    I can now spend writing headlines.

  12. says

    I echo Will on Zemanta, which not only suggests Creative Commons BY-NC photos from Flickr but also Wikimedia Commons. Both can also be searched manually.

    Like Jay, I also use StockXchange at sxc.hu; and lately I’ve been a fan of PicApp at http://picapp.com

  13. says

    I’ve been using Fotolia.com recently, similar to iStockPhoto. Hard to describe the differences between two very large banks of images, but in general they seem to have more artistic (and less corporate) images.

  14. Darko says

    Depends. Writing a great headline is hard for some people and not hard for the other.

    Overall, good article.

  15. says

    Thank you for the tip Sonia. I love iStockphoto, but I hadn’t even considered Flickr. Now I have a new source to mine, especially when I’m short on iStockpho credits.

  16. says

    I’m a really lazy blogger. It only takes me seconds to find a good photo.
    I just use the wordpress plugin Photodropper which searches only creative commons photos in flikr.
    So, within a few clicks I’m done. You can see from my website it even gives photo credit to the photographer.

  17. says

    Flickr is my favorite source and it helps me find some really interesting, quality photos. I’d used Photostock for some professional writing, they are also a good source, if you’re looking for high quality photos at a low prize.

    Over all this article is very nice, specially the title!

    You’re amazing man!

  18. says

    After reading the headline of this post, I was hoping to find Flickr Creative Commons images as one of the options covered – low and behold it was! It is definitely this time-strapped man’s source for all of the images I now use on my blog.

  19. says

    This is so true! I just found a funny picture to bring home the idea of the assume and the silly thing brings people over. You have a great blog and usually I get sevearl things out of every post. Thanks! Give someone an AWESOME day!!

  20. says

    The most important thing is getting the right pictures for your blog and placing it with the right alignment. Brian (and his co-authors) has done a great job in placing the right pictures on their blog posts. Frankly speaking, I ‘followed’ the way Brian’s way of displaying his post on the front page, including adding “read more about this post” feature in every third paragraphs for each of his post. Very clean and nice-looking indeed.

  21. says

    Hey Sonia –

    Great write up. I originally fought adding images to my posts because I’m a developer by day and focus on the knowledge. The light bulb finally went off that the eye-candy is part of the hook. It’s an initial and immediate emotional response, before actually reading any of the content. It’s still a bit awkward for me, but I get to practice one post at a time 😉

  22. says

    Sonia, thanks for such a colorfully-written, usefun (useful + fun) post! The leading image definitely set the tone for what was to come, and making image-finding easier is incredibly important. As time goes on, this will be even more true of videos.

    That being said, I <3 http://compfight.com too, and one of the bestest things about Flickr is how widely-used its API is; there are many, MANY ways to search Flickr images. I favor the tools that show many at once in a GIGANTIC WALL, so I can surf through. Such as http://flickrleech.net/

    I often use middle-click mouse button to open new tabs, and vertical tabs (by way of Tree Style Tab) save a lot of time.

    Cheerio!

  23. says

    Great to see a copy focused website doing a post on the importance of images. Nothing sets the stage for a message like a relevant and appealing image.

  24. says

    I have been using sxc.hu for about one year for finding images (which are free to use) for my web designing and blogging needs, the results has been incredible.

  25. says

    Excellent advice – I too use Creative Commons photos in my blog posts. But, since I am an avid amatuer photographer, I also use many of my own image.

  26. says

    Fantastic. Thanks very much. The Flickr tip was just what I needed. I had always been concerned about using Google images and now you have given me the perfect answer.

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  28. says

    More cheap/free photo sites:

    -dreamstime.com has a great free area
    -wikipedia images can be free to use, check the licenses under each image to be sure.

    Between these two I rarely have to pay for a photo. Another thing I will do is find an image of a product I am blogging about and e-mail the company to get permission to use it – they will usually say yes for a mention and link from your blog.

    I hate to admit it but I haven’t paid for a photo in months using these legal means. Must be the Scots in me.

  29. says

    I second rebecca’s comment that morguefile.com is a good choice for pictures. I use them alot on my other blog, timmyjohnboy.com. They don’t even require attribution! I typically offer a link back anyways.

    Great post!

  30. says

    I always have trouble finding good images to my blog posts , definitely going to check out the resources. Its amazing the amount of information you can find in the comments as well , might give photodropper plug in a try.

  31. says

    Also, you can check out the zemanta browser plugin. It gives a nifty sidebar, including photo possibilites, and it works for many different blogging platforms.

  32. says

    Thanks for the great tips! After just spending an hour searching for a free image to illustrate my latest post, I have a headache. Maybe next time it’ll be easier.

  33. says

    Not sure my technique is great but I travel a lot and shoot lots of images. I always manage to find an image that works, some better than others. That way I don’t have to worry about copyright and they are on my hard drive for quick upload.

    Frank

  34. says

    Just digging up an old article, I have to agree that feature images give your readers an idea to hold onto whilst they read your blog. I’ve tried to incorporate this into my blog for every post.

    Cheers Mick

  35. Henry Rivers says

    I designed a student poster using a photo of the statue of liberty (that i thought was quite generic) … the producer recieved a complaint from the photographer. Apparently it was a rights managed aerial shot!

    I now use http://www.flickr.com/ and also got about 30 nice rf images off a free trial at http://ingimage.com/


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