Everybody wants to use images to liven up their site. But OK, once you’ve got great image sources, how do you select fabulous images? I’ll talk more about how to select the very best images for your site or blog soon. First, here are the most egregious errors. Avoid these, and you’re already doing great.
1. Cliché. The global handshake. The stock ticker. The graph line with big arrow up or down. A stylized globe with stylized lines/grids/streaks representing electronic communications. There’s a fine line here, because sometimes the cliché can be very effective—that’s exactly why it’s already been overused. But it should never be the first, easy choice.
2. Pure whimsy. The image of pretty flowers that has nothing to do with the article about how to clear your RAM memory. The child’s teddy bear that’s supposed to say… what?
3. Not on point. You’re writing an article about Santa Fe, New Mexico…but your illustration is a photo you took of an old orchard there. This photo is Santa Fe to you… but not to anyone else. And in itself, it isn’t lush, intriguing or gorgeous enough to overcome that lack of immediate association.
4. Cluttered, too much stuff, no focus. The cluttered, unfocused image has always been a problem. Now that image thumbnails are automatically a part of social media sharing and blog linking, it’s an even bigger issue. A cluttered image fails to enhance an article. And, it shrinks down into a murky, ugly blur in thumbnail view—where it does nothing to attract readers to click your link, either.
5. A shot so abstract that it says nothing… pure decoration. Sometimes you can actually see a thought process, something like “…my article is so boring, no one will want to read it… I know, I’ll stick some color in… gosh, these blurry raindrop-type shapes are nice, maybe people will stay to read the article if I use this.” Yes, I always give kudos for doing something… but you can do better than that, and I’ll show you how in this series.
6. “Used” images, i.e. images that are already associated with a product, team, company, school, etc. that has nothing to do with the article or concept you’re illustrating.
7. A wonderful image, uncredited, that actually belongs to somebody else. Enough said.
8. A giant file that takes forever to load. Sometimes these files are so big, the WordPress media uploader can barely handle them either. You don’t have to be a PhotoShop whiz to make these manageable. Use a simple program like Preview (Mac), Skitch, or Paint (PC) to resize it. Four to five hundred pixels on a side is fine for most blogs, and the file size should be under 200k.
9. Shots taken from too far away. By the time your full-length shot of someone standing against a tree appears on my monitor, their face is about a quarter of an inch high. Crop the shot and give us a full-face portrait. This advice applies to buildings and landscape features, as well as portraits—cropping works wonders.
10. Photographically flawed. You select an image of a street sign…. but the letters are distractingly fuzzy. A photo is centered on a face… but the face is in motion or out of focus. Someone or something is coming into or out of the frame… but who, what? A pole is sticking “out” of someone’s head. Etc. Generally speaking, don’t use any of these.
Many flaws can be fixed by some astute cropping. Some can’t. Sometimes, it’s a lot quicker to find a new image than to spend the time required to fuss with a flawed old one.
And every image won’t be perfect… often, you just have to do the best you can with the resources at hand. But always, by avoiding or minimizing these ten image issues, you’ll end up with illustrations that create a lot of the color, interest and buzz you want to achieve.