5 tips for choosing the perfect images for your content

Are you familiar with the phrase, “a picture is worth a thousand words”? Images can make or break your content. Despite the adage, people really do judge books by their covers (in other words, images are first impressions you need to nail). That’s why you need to choose the best image that will complement your content. Thus, here are five tips for choosing the perfect images. You’re welcome.

1. Choose high-resolution images (duh)

If you want your content to look professional, always choose high-resolution images. Images online should never be less than 72 dpi (dots per inch) and images in print should never be less than 300 dpi. Pixelated images will drive your readers away. Note that the higher quality, the more space it takes up, leading to higher loading times.

Size matters, too. If an image is high quality, but tiny, it’s possible you have found a cropped or resized version. Dig a little deeper to find the original image or ones like it through a reverse Google Image Search. Better yet, Bing’s image search is a lot easier to search for license-free images. A good rule of thumb is to go with your gut—if you are on the fence over using an image, don’t use it.

2. Use the right search terms

To pick the best photos, learn photography lingo. Terms like low angle, silhouette, depth of field, wide angle, long exposure, and selective focus can help narrow your search for exactly what photography you’re looking for.

But sometimes you may be stuck on finding a good subject as not every article will have a perfectly realized image. Sometimes you must think abstract to search for the perfect image. For example, if I’m writing a piece on finding your writer’s voice, I need to think outside of typical “writing” and “voice” symbols because the whole point of the article is finding your personality on the page. This is a great time to chart out a word association guide to help with your search.

The image I ended up choosing?

Choosing the Perfect Images

The perfect blend of personality, word association (voice, sing, music, phonograph) and a playful tone that managed to be more subtle than a woman crossing an X over her voice box with a pen.

3. Match the tone of the article (or juxtapose it)

Remember that the best images reflect and complement your content. That’s why stock photography has become laughably bad recently—it’s far too generic. Great stock photography is well-composed, beautiful, and can either be very straightforward or one with a specific point of view.

Whatever images you choose, make sure it matches the tone of the article. If you use Ryan McGuire’s quirky photos from Gratisography, hopefully the image complements or juxtaposes the content successfully. Juxtaposition is trickier, but media sites like The Onion have found plenty of success with this strategy.

Another quick tip: when using multiple images in a series, try and look for some visual or thematic similarities. It can be jarring sometimes to see a very beautiful, selective focus photo in black and white and turn the page to find a generic, amateur photograph.

4. Know copyright laws and always attribute

The most important tip for choosing images for your content? Don’t steal. One, it’s gross and two, it’s gross. Photographers have to make a living too, and using an image without proper credit is stealing—always, always link to the original source (even if you don’t have to).

In order not to steal, you should know that there are three basic types of images:

  • Royalty Free: a publisher buys a license once and can use the work according to the license.
  • Public Domain: no restrictions, no copyright claim (which is not possible in some countries).
  • Creative Commons: work may be used but only in compliance with the stated restrictions.

If you are using stock photography sites like iStock and Getty Images, read the fine print to see how, when, and where you can use those royalty-free images. If you’re using public domain images, you don’t have to worry about infringing upon any copyright law (usually).

If your content doesn’t have the luxury of using royalty-free Stock photography, use license-free images or “some rights reserved” images like Creative Commons. Oftentimes, photographers will waive their copyright laws under a Creative Commons Zero license where “no rights reserved.” This means you can use the photograph however you’d like (for free!), but you should probably still be cool and show love by attributing images to the photographer’s site.

5. Optimize images for social media

Part of any good content strategy (and even journalism) is to attract eyeballs and those eyes are looking at social media for their content. That’s why it’s so important in choosing the perfect images for the corresponding social network. In our best practices series, we’ve offered some best tips for social media. When it comes to repackaging images for social media, think of how a cover image can entice people to read the article.

Practically, it’s important that you learn the dimensions to optimize images for social media. If you use a graphic design software like Canva—which has the social network’s dimensions for you in easy to use templates—fantastic. If not, here’s what you should know. (Note: The numbers given below are in pixels).

  • Facebook: it’s recommended to upload image widths of 720, 960 or 2048 for regular posts. For cover photos (for your Facebook page), upload 851 x 315 photos.
  • Twitter: it’s recommended to upload 1024 x 512, but images may actually appear in stream 506 x 253.
  • Tumblr: more flexible than some of the other platforms, image dimension sizes range on what type of image (jpeg vs. GIF) you are uploading. For a standard photo post, the maximum size dimensions you can upload are 1280 x 1920 for the image to display 540 x 810. For more on other image dimensions, visit this regularly updated page.
  • Instagram: the maximum size of photo uploads to Instagram are 2048 x 2048 and within the feed posts are 640 x 640 (that’s the dimension Canva uses).
  • Pinterest: it’s recommending to upload for Pinterest’s expanded pins at 735 x 1102. Within the Pinterest feed, images will appear at 238 and the adjusted height.
  • Google+: if you’re still using Google+, know that bigger is better. The maximum upload size is 2048 x 2048 and the minimum has an image width of 350.

Cool? Cool. Those were our tips for choosing the perfect images for your content.

Images: Ryan McGuire/Gratisography, Beverly/Flickr

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