The following is a guest post by Lorelle VanFossen of Lorelle on WordPress.
Words tell their own story. They bring forth rhyme and reason, color attitudes, and move people. Combining the power of the verbal image with the visual can either enhance your story or overpower it. Finding that happy medium is the challenge facing every writer using images with their writing.
Bloggers often use a combination of words and images to convey a message. Some use more words and less images, others use more images and less words, while others struggle to find the way to get the message across equally with words and images.
Like words, a photograph tells a story. It can tell the whole story or part of the story. It’s up to the photographer, like the writer, to determine how much of the story is told by the image and how much is told in words.
When the blog post is a photography essay, where the images tell part of the story and the words tell the rest, how do you choose the images to go with the words? How do you combine written and visual media to form complete picture in your blog post?
When planning your photographic essay consider the following:
- What are you trying to say?
- What is the point of this picture?
- Does it add to the story?
- Does it subtract from the story?
- Is the point really evident?
As you develop your blog post and examine the words and images you want to use, ask these questions of each image and paragraph as you struggle to find the right combination and balance for your message.
Finding the Right Combination of Words and Images
When you know the answers to the questions, choosing the right images for the story helps you tell the story while using enough words to fill in the rest of the blanks. When is the image the story and when are words necessary for the story?
It’s a balancing game between images and words. Let’s answer some more questions to help you find that balance in your blog posts using images.
What is the point of this picture?
What is the point of the story? Is the story about the forest or the trees? Or is it about the land the trees are on? Find the significant visual element to enhance the words you write.
What do you want to say? What are you trying to tell the reader? Is your story about how hard life is for a tree in a dark forest and how it must fight the shadows to reach for the sun and life? Or is it about the scientific process of forest succession?
Look at the photograph or graphic. How many message points can you find in the image? How many stories is it telling? If it is more than three, the image is too much work for the reader to interpret. If it makes one or two points, supporting the content’s intension, it’s a winning image as it balances itself with the story’s message.
Think through the concept and story line. Find the special interest, the main point that will literally “sing” to the readers. Then decide what part of the story needs images and which needs words, and choose accordingly.
Is the image a part or parcel?
Is the image a part of the story or the whole story?
Images which accompany articles can be the whole story or merely pieces of the puzzle. The words can carry the message or serve support the visual message.
With the story of the tree,words may tell of a passing breeze which drops a single seed into the soil, and the tree’s struggle to survive. The photographs could show a seedling pushing out of the ground or a tree bent with snow and ice. Or a leaf or branch stretching out to grasp glimpses of the sun. Or maybe a tree seed in a child’s hand.
Does one image tell the whole story of your blog post? Or do you need several working together they may add to the entire post content.
Does the photograph move the story forward?
Just as each word leads to the next, moving the reader through the words, sentences, and paragraphs to the end, so your choice in photographs and graphic images must lead the reader through the story towards its conclusion.
So many blogs and websites use photographs because they think they have to, rather than to add to the point they are making, thus readers have become immune to the power of the image since it rarely relates.
Make images relate to the subject matter. The eyes usually glance to determine if the image is relevant to their purpose there, and if valid, the reader will spend a few more moments with the image, then return to the text. Scrolling down, they will see another image. If the content continues to match the images, the pictures become more important to the story, thus the reader will be more drawn to them. Add another image, and the reader is now following bread crumbs as you move them through the story, making the connections between the written content and visual.
Avoid making the reader pause and wonder why the image was included. This stops the flow. If the reader spends more time with the photograph than the text, they may never return to the text, assuming the photograph tells the whole story.
What emotions are necessary to tell the story?
A good story has an emotional context or subtext. What emotions need to be evoked for your story to connect with your readers? Examine the words you are using to write your post. Are they happy? Sad? Angry? Confused? Melancholy? Thoughtful?
It is important that the images you choose also invoke those same feelings. Think about the emotional content of your images. Are they bright and cheerful? Soft and gentle? Quite and thoughtful? Dark and confused or vivid and angry? Does the photograph tell the emotional story of your article?
Two children playing on the sand tells of youth, fun, magic times of sharing and the joy and simplicity we may have left behind. An older couple watching the sun set from a park bench tells a story of aging, quiet, peacefulness, and contentment. A flower, depending upon how it is photographed, can display joy or sadness, so the image’s emotional quality is supported by the words influencing its story.
Any time you can capture the audience’s heart with moving images, the more willing they are to read the article and connect with the it.
Do you have the right balance between images and words?
Balance is critical. Do you have enough images to tell the story? Or have you crowded the story with too many images?
Ask yourself these questions over and over again as you find the delicate balance between the words and the images, combining the two to tell the story.
Technical Tips for Using Your Own Photography
As a professional writer and photographer, I’m constantly challenged to find the right combination of images and words to convey my intent in print or the web. Here are some tips to help you create better photographs to include with your blog posts and writing.
- Take your time: The greatest gift you can give a photographic subject is time. The more time you spend with a photographic subject, be it person, animal, or inanimate object, the more familiar you become with it, and the more you see to photograph. A rushed picture only catches glimpses of ideas. A well-thought out and patiently sought photograph features whole ideas and concepts.
- Use lots of film: While few photographers are using real film today, it still takes a lot of pictures to find the right one. Fill your digital media cards taking five, eight, fifteen, twenty-five pictures of the same subject. Don’t let one picture be the only choice you have when you sit in front of your computer. The difference between an okay picture and an award winner can be in the blink of an eye, a shifting of the light, or a turning of the head. Give yourself choices.
- Don’t photograph at eye level: Everyone takes pictures at eye level, camera to their face as they stand in front of the subject. Try sitting down, lying down, hanging upside down, photographing the subject from a different perspective. With small children and animals, get down to their eye level rather than pointing your camera down. Experiment with different positions to find a new angle of view.
- Work from a variety of angles and positions: Do you always need to photograph your subject facing the camera? Why not a profile? Photograph them looking at the subject. By changing the position of the subject, you can often change the story or sub-text of the image. Work the subject from all angles so you can choose the perspective that helps tell your story.
- Learn more about your subject from all angles: Looking at a subject can only tell you so much. Study your subject. Read books and articles about it. Read fiction, facts, and even children’s stories to get different perspectives. Not everyone looks at the same thing with one point of view. Investigate how others see so you can see more.
- Watch the lines and positions: Humans tend to prefer things in their proper place, looking like they should. We expect the ground to be level, water to run downhill, and trees to grow up. Shaking those expectations can create slightly disturbing images and detract from your point, unless your point is confusion and mixed metaphors.
- Light counts: Morning and evening light flatters most subjects with warm colors and less contrast. It’s the best time to photograph most subjects outdoors. A high overcast sky creates a soft, gentle light on your subject whereas a bright sunny day creates strong shadows and washes the color away. Choose images with good lighting to enhance and complement the subject.
- Horizontal vs Vertical: Don’t forget that a camera has two points of view: horizontal and vertical. People are vertical, trees are vertical, so turn the camera on its side. Web pages are vertical, and few web page designs feature wide columns, so vertical images tend to play better on a web page than wide horizontal images.
- Simplify, Simplify, Simplify: Simplification is probably the single most important technique. Just like you do when editing your writing, in photography you need to eliminate the distractions, the unnecessary content. Do you need a shot of the forest floor with all its clutter and dead leaves? Is that the story? Or is it about the leaves themselves and not the clutter? Keep the main point of your story in mind as you look for images to represent it. Keep it simple. Too many words can spoil a story. Too many subjects can spoil a great picture.
Choose your words carefully around images. Choose your images to help your written message, whether they are graphic images or photography. Find the natural blend of words and pictures that complement each other. Allow both to share the spotlight in your blog and you will find the magic of photography enhancing the magic of your writing.
Lorelle VanFossen blogs about blogging and WordPress on Lorelle on WordPress and the Blog Herald, and is the author of Blogging Tips, Tips Bloggers Won’t Tell You About Blogging.