How to Choose Arresting Images for Your Blog Posts (And Why You Should)

You’ve read the headline. You’re intrigued. “But,” you might be thinking, “Why didn’t you choose a different, more arresting image for this post?” Good question.

First, because The Lede is a regular post series, and the graphic that Rafal created for us is a clear visual cue to our audience that a new episode has been posted.

Second, because we are posting this episode a day early, meaning that the visual cue is extra important to let people know a new little audio gift is unexpectedly waiting to be unwrapped.

But, if we didn’t already have an arresting post image logo to use for The Lede, we would have had to choose something else … something that would have seized attention, created an emotional response, and compelled a click.

(Something like this, perhaps?)

In this episode of The Lede, Demian and I continue our series on the 11 essential ingredients of a blog post by discussing:

  • Why you should bother with images at all
  • What it means for an image to be “arresting”
  • How images help you create an emotional response in your audience
  • Why the emotion of the image needs to match the copy
  • Where to find great images online
  • Why trusting your instincts and building the right relationships will help you choose better images

[episode no=”62″]

React to The Lede …

Where do you find great images for your posts?

Do you want to take Robert Bruce’s side and argue against the usefulness of images?

Tweet me and Demian to discuss, or you can join the discussion over at Google-Plus.

The Show Notes

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Please note that this transcript has been lightly edited for clarity and grammar.

The Lede Podcast: How to Choose Arresting Images (And Why You Should)

Jerod Morris: Welcome back to The Lede, a podcast about content marketing by Copyblogger Media. I’m your host, Jerod Morris. If you want to get a content marketing education while you shower in the morning or while you’re mowing your lawn on Saturday afternoon, this podcast is the way to do it.

Last week Demian and I took a break from our series on the 11 essential ingredients of a blog post to speak with Sonia Simone about our recent decision at Copyblogger to remove blog comments. If you missed that episode, I highly recommend catching up.

This week, the series continues. The last two ingredients were seducing your readers through story and maintaining attention via the power of internal cliffhangers. Today we go into detail about images.

Now you might say an image isn’t necessarily essential for a blog post. Technically, you’re correct. But if your goal is to connect with your audience on an emotional level, the right image can make all the difference.

Demian Farnworth joins me now. Demian, how are you?

Demian Farnworth: I’m doing well, thank you Jerod.

Why bother with images?

Jerod: Demian is here to provide insight on images and a few tips you can use to get better at choosing the right image for your blog post.

So Demian, to begin, tell me if you agree with what I’m about to say.

An essential component of any winning media strategy is maximizing the medium. So for a podcast, that’s going to mean a complete de-emphasis on how something looks and a focus on connecting with an audience through sound. For video, it means a combination, right? Moving images are combined with words, so they both need to be compelling and work together.

When it comes to a blog post, it’s important to remember that words are not the only weapon that can be wielded in the battle for attention, because remember, the internet is displayed on powerful screens capable of producing beautiful, pixel-dense imagery. So why not take full advantage of that?

So unless you’re going full minimalist, you should consider incorporating images into your blog posts. Images that complement your words, evoke emotion that sparks the fire of entry that leads to the burning embers of attention you’re looking to develop from your audience.

In other words, a blog post needs an arresting image. One that latches onto a reader and won’t let go.

Demian, agree or disagree?

Demian: I totally agree.

I learned this several years ago when I was reading about an interview with Tim Ferriss. Tim Ferris was interviewing, actually, Robert Scovill, and Scovill was telling Tim Ferriss how he read about 1,000 blogs a day. And of course, reading is an overstatement. But what he was telling Tim was basically that he looked at — he scrolled through the blogs on his blog feed, and looked at, stopped at, those ones that had captivating headlines, but more than that, though, it was the ones that had the captivating, the arresting image that he stopped at and paid attention to.

So with that, I realized that we’re all fighting for attention, and we’re all fighting for the attention of people who are basically overloaded. So sharing an image that is arresting is huge.

What does it mean for an image to be “arresting”?

Demian: When we think about what we’re trying to do when we say “arresting,” what we mean is to seize. We mean as in “a police officer seized my mother today.” Took her into custody. So the second sense is to attract, catch, hold, and fix attention. And synonyms you might think of when thinking of arresting would be striking, stunning, seductive.

Jerod: Isn’t that kind of subjective, an eye-of-the-beholder type thing when you talk about arresting images? I mean, how is the audience supposed to know what type of image will arrest their particular audience?

Demian: Yeah. In some sense that is true. You might prefer to drive a Porsche, while I will take the Buick. But both of us would agree they are good-looking cars. You know, we like them for different reasons. And you and I are also going to find the same sunset beautiful, and the same mountain range beautiful, but for different reasons.

Yet there is some objectivity to that. And again, it’s an accepted truth that a face that is looking at the reader is going to draw more attention than a face looking elsewhere. But even that is not a perfect example.

How images help you create an emotional response in your audience

Demian: Take those photographs of abandoned sections of Detroit that circulated the net a few years ago. Do you remember those?

Jerod: Of course. They were harrowing.

Demian: Yes. Right. And so large, empty libraries filled with rubbish, just huge empty buildings, abandoned, and trash everywhere. Those were arresting, and they created an emotional response.

Now take a different set of photographs from Detroit: Photos that show the same degradation, the same emptiness, but this time these photographs were filled with people. The poverty-stricken, and they’re staring out at you. However, those photographs did not go viral.

Jerod: Why?

Demian: Well, because it was depressing, right? And this was a point — that they were depressing photographs. Ryan Holiday, in his book “Trust Me, I’m Lying,” made this point. He made this exact comparison.

He says in one example you have these photographs of where there aren’t people in there, and so the way we emotionally respond to those is in such a way as “I’d love to be here, I’m sort of envious of the photographer who got to go on this adventure and go into these,” sort of, even though they’re old, decrepit places … it was sort of interesting. It was neat. It was new.

Yet when you have people staring back at you who are obviously in a lot of need and help we feel guilty. That sort of strings with our guilt, and our consciences sort of suppress that. And so if you’re going to share something like that on your Facebook, you’re going to depress people. And Facebook doesn’t like it when you do that, right?

Jerod: So in other words, arresting images will create different emotional responses. Am I summing up what you’re saying correctly? To say — does that mean that we want to lean to the positive when we’re choosing arresting images for blog posts?

Demian: Yeah, that’s a good question, and I’ll answer that by pointing to a study.

There’s a 2012 study published by a team of researchers out of Utah Valley University, and the study was called “They Are Happier and Having Better Lives Than I Am, The Impact of Using Facebook on Perceptions of Others’ Lives.” And their conclusion was that you get more explicit, implicit cues of people being happy, rich, and successful from a photo than from, say, a status update. And so a photo can be a very powerful way to provoke immediate social comparison, and that can trigger these feelings of inferiority. So you see your friend, who is hanging out in Southern California, and I’m stuck here in Illinois, and I’m going to envy that person, right?

So the same sort of impact can be made with an arresting image. You can create that emotion with them. And yeah, it could be positive. It really just kind of depends on what you’re trying to accomplish with the copy so that it really kind of brings in the question of what kind of emotion are you trying to generate with an image, which is the same question that you ask when you’re about to write copy. What kind of emotion? What is the response that I want out of the reader? What kind of an emotional response do I want him to have?

Why the emotion of the image needs to match the copy

Jerod: And let me guess, the emotion that you want to generate from the image should match the copy, right?

Demian: Yeah. Exactly.

So you know, do you want people to be angry so they can then go out and accomplish some sort of social justice cause? Do you want them to be sad, excited? Your image should match that emotion.

But it’s more than just about emotion. A good image should also match your personality. It should say something about who you are. And I think this is where we get to the point when we talked about, when we mentioned subjectivity. See, you and I might write about the same topic, but we are going to choose a different image. Something that we find complements our personality and says something about us.

So for example, the images that I choose tend to evoke sort of feelings of cynicism or sarcasm, maybe brooding or biting. Yours, on the other hand, Jerod, would probably be different because you’re more of an upbeat, optimistic guy with a different background and personality. Neither one is better than the other one, by the way, but it’s all really about being genuine to yourself in choosing those images.

Where to find great images online

Jerod: You and I also have different places where we get our images, too. I remember when I first started with Copyblogger I would go to iStock a lot because I hadn’t done a whole lot of finding images.

Demian: Right.

Jerod: And I quickly — I mean, look, iStock has its place, and you can get some good stuff there. But I quickly got bored with images there and found Flickr to be a place that — I didn’t realize how many Creative Commons images were there, and so many of the images now that I find come from Flickr, and it’s just a great place. Of course, you want to make sure that you use the advanced search tool to filter, to look for only photos and only Creative Commons. But for me, I found that to be one of my favorite places to find images.

You, I know, have a much more diverse list of sources. So where do you find your images?

Demian: Some of the places — Flickr is one of them. But I also look on Tumbler or Reddit, sometimes even Google-Plus.

There’s even a site called Society Six that I like a lot that allows illustrators and graphic designers to share their graphics, and then there’s a website called Quipsologies that shares a lot of stuff that’s — you know, things that attract them, and they share that. And I’ve got a list — in fact, I’ve got a list on article called “The Misfit’s Guide to Finding Interesting Images for Your Blog Posts.”

Of course, as you mentioned, too, look for images with no restrictions, or even just ask for permission. And recently one of my favorite sources for finding images comes from Dustin Stout, who did a wonderful job. Sort of a roundup of sites that offer free images, and a lot of times these are without copyright restrictions.

Why trusting your instincts and building the right relationships will help you choose better images

Jerod: So I want to end here with tips, and so one tip from my perspective is, trust your instinct when it comes to images.

I’ve put images in posts and looked at them, and something just doesn’t feel right. I wouldn’t be able to explain it, I couldn’t articulate it, it just doesn’t feel right. So get rid of it. Especially if it’s your site or if you’re in charge of a site and you know you understand the editorial voice of that site, trust your instinct on it. Because I think a lot of times you’re trying to develop a visceral emotion in the audience with the image. Well, you’re the one choosing it, and so if it doesn’t feel right, find another image.

There are a couple of times where I’ve gone with an image that didn’t feel right and ended up regretting it later. So I think it’s very important as you go through that process. Trust your gut, trust your instinct.

Demian, what is your tip for the audience when it comes to images?

Demian: Yeah. So one of the things I like to do is find a photographer or an illustrator that I like, and build a relationship with them. I tell them that I love their work, and then get permission to use their work, and then — what I mean by that is if you find a photograph that you love, e-mail them and say, “Hey, do you mind if I use this? Here is how I’m going to use it.” And if you can, share a draft of what you’re going to use it on so that they can get kind of some sense of it. But then come back to them occasionally and say, “Hey, I really love your work. What are the chances that we could just, you know, I’d love to keep on doing this if that’s okay with you,” and keep on going back to that resource.

And this is a great way to not only get great images, free images for your site, but also to help build exposure up for this particular photographer or illustrator. Which, you know, if you find someone who is just starting out, or maybe if your audience is bigger than theirs, then of course there’s an easy advantage to them for going with the relationship.

So yeah, just simply building that relationship, finding someone that you like and just working with them, and kind of partnering with them in bringing exposure to that person as well.

Jerod: Well Demian, that’s nine ingredients down. We have just two more to go in this series on the eleven essential ingredients of a blog post. And the next one is close in style. I’m looking forward to that one.

Demian: Me too. Thank you, Jerod.

Jerod: All right. Take care. I’ll talk to you soon, Demian.

Demian: Thank you.

Jerod: Thank you for listening to this episode of The Lede. If you are so inclined, we would greatly appreciate a rating or a review on ITunes, or please, if you’re enjoying these episodes, tweet out a link to the show or share it with a friend. Whatever is easiest for you.

We’ll be back next week with yet another episode. It will likely be the tenth installment in our essential ingredients of a blog post series, but it might — might — be another edition of The Hangout Hotseat. You’ll just have to check back on Friday to find out. Talk to you soon, everybody.

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*Credits: Both the intro (“Bridge to Nowhere” by Sam Roberts Band) and outro songs (“Down in the Valley” by The Head and the Heart) are graciously provided by express written consent from the rights owners.