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Telling Your Story With Words and Images

The following is a guest post by .

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.

Compass and Map, Photography Copyright Not for Use Without Permission by Brent VanFossenBloggers 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:

  1. What are you trying to say?
  2. What is the point of this picture?
  3. Does it add to the story?
  4. Does it subtract from the story?
  5. 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.

Forest, photograph copyrighted Brent VanFossen not for use without permissionWhat 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?

End of pine tree, photograph copyright Brent VanFossen - not for use without permissionImages 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?

Forest in fog, Photograph Copyright by Brent VanFossen - Not for use without permissionA 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.
  • Trees and lake at sunset, Mt. Rainier, photograph copyright Brent VanFossen not for use without permissionLight 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 and the , and is the author of Blogging Tips, Tips Bloggers Won’t Tell You About Blogging.

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Comments

  1. David says:

    I have found that having images which tightly relate to the content they are with really help with interaction, feedback from visitors and general “trust” factor from people who view the content.

    Having images which simply do not relate to the content tends to cause the total opposite and ends up with credibility being lossed in the same way as a cheesy stock photo degrades the feel of many industry text books and leaflets with a “cheap” feel.

    Great post on something which is not talked about enough within the blogosphere!

    Thanks
    David
    Worthing Website Design

  2. David says:

    The last comment of mine had a mistake. When I put “lossed” it should read “lost”.

    Thanks
    David

  3. juliaxx says:

    I think if i put my photos up I would probably get 10x more visitors :) but I hate people stealing my pictures and pretending they are me :) therefore as less pictures of me the better it is.

    Anyways i think that copy paste pictures is not ok ( link ) i think it is better to just save on your mac and upload it .

  4. I love using images in posts!
    “An image is worth a thousand words” – and it’s so true.
    If you do it right, images can add so much to your posts.

    A great thing to do is carry a digital camera around where ever you go (even if it’s a small ‘point-and-shoot’ digital) and just snap photos. Simply keep an eye out for cool visuals and snap pics here and there for use on your blog.
    You never know when that off the wall pic can come in handy!

  5. Paul says:

    what a good tip, thank you

  6. foodette says:

    Very interesting. When I first started my blog, I really didn’t want to use pictures at all. For a food blog, this goes against the grain. However, I have always loved writing, and I put faith in my ability to paint a pictures with words. In addition, I was embarrassed to bring a camera into restaurants and photograph food. I felt it would bother other patrons and annoy the waitstaff. However, I am beginning to wonder if this was a mistake. While I am getting a lot of traffic, the majority of my readers stay for 30 seconds or less. I am concerned that there isn’t enough eye candy to keep them going from post to post. Maybe a bunch of words aren’t what people want when they are looking at food blogs. They want to see the food.

    I might need to invest in a better (read: smaller) digital camera.

  7. tejvan says:

    photo of the author can help in some circumstance. But I definitely like seeing pics on some blogs.

  8. Pua says:

    started my hawaii blog without images…bad decision. changed that soon. ‘hawaii’ and ‘hawaii vacation’ associates with images of beaches, palm trees, sunsets and pretty girls. guess what! the posts with the pretty hawaiian girls as blog post girls do much better than the ones with hawaiian scenery. i guess whether it’s selling a mercedes or a hawaiian vacation, the pretty girl image helps. aloha, pua

  9. Matt says:

    I try to use a related but interesting image with every post I make. I cant really comment if it makes a difference or not as Im lucky if I have 20 visitors a day on my blog.

    I quite like the look of it, it draws the eye better to article headlnes for example. But its my own work so obviously I will like it.

    What do you guys think?

  10. Hush says:

    I think even if your topic doesn’t have a need of any IMAGES, they are still very important to develop the identity of your blog.

  11. A Marques says:

    I think that for a blog, specially like mine dedicated to photography, images are an essential part of the words.
    And also, on a more general level, if the post is just a big block of words it can put off many readers. Adding an image here or there (images that have something to do with what you are trying to tell) is essential to turn a blog into a more pleasant space.

  12. terra says:

    Just like foodette, when I started my blog, I hardly ever used photos. I think that every now and again, it proves to be a little more engaging than just text. I notice my blog posts that contain photos have much better readership, and people spend more time on the website itself after reading that post with a photo. It’s pretty interesting!

  13. Glenn Dixon says:

    So I’m thinking my storm chasing blog needs images of, well, storms……

    Yes, I can be amazingly insightful like that sometimes. :o)

  14. Your comments are really amazing. So many of you have started “visual” blogs without understanding how important images are to your story. I’m thrilled to have helped you understand that they are indeed important.

    Not all blog posts need images, and not all images need the words, but finding the right balance between them is a challenge, as I described. Whatever you do, don’t throw in images just because you think they break up the text or the blocks of text just need images because that’s what you should do. That’s a waste of everyone’s time.

    Use images to continue and complement the story. Images consume bandwidth, so make them matter. They also can consume a few seconds of a reader’s time, and if the image matches the content, they may stay, but if it isn’t, or looks “fake”, the integrity of your content might have a questionable shadow.

    When you see a store-bought image, one of the commercial images where everyone looks “perfect” and too pretty, don’t you immediately dismiss the image and begin to question the content?

  15. Glenn Gabe says:

    Great post. Whether you are writing a blog post, building a webpage, designing email creative, or developing a flash movie, choosing the right imagery is a bear! For blog posts, I typically write the entire post and keep visuals in my head as I write. Depending on where the post takes me, then I can determine the right visuals for the job.

    Sometimes it’s stock photography, sometimes illustration, and sometimes it’s me with my digital camera (like my last blog post about Adidas sneakers and e-commerce issues!) It’s interesting to hear everyone’s perspective on this topic!

  16. Golbguru says:

    I write a finance oriented blog – and there isn’t much scope for a lot of images – but, wherever possible, I try to include some hand-made illustrations in a number of posts; what I have observed is that people generally remember the images till long after they forget the words in the post. Usually, they try to recollect the missing text based on the images that they still remember.

    In a few instances, over the last six months, the images/illustrations in some of the posts managed to get me some loyal readers (I think).

    You say: “if the image matches the content, they may stay, but if it isn’t, or looks “fake”, the integrity of your content might have a questionable shadow.” and I totally agree with that. If I start putting stuff that’s not complementary to the text – pretty soon those loyal readers are going to vanish. :)

  17. Eric says:

    Hey,

    Wow, that’s an awesome article, and I don’t think I could have said it any better. Though I sure did try just a few days ago. Why don’t you go and check out my blog about imagines at ambatchmasterpublisher

    Thanks,

    Eric
    ambatchmasterpublisher

  18. Matt says:

    Lorelle, I would like to know your opinion on using images as a headline/header of each post as per my blog.

    Or anyones opinion actually.

    I quite like it, but then I did it so =/

  19. Mike Goad says:

    Images are an important part of my Haw Creek Out ‘n About blog, especially the travel journal part when we are on the road. Fortunately, since the “story” is about where we’ve been and what we’ve seen, connecting the story and the images is fairly easy. Your post though has given me some ideas to ponder upon, though. Thanks!

  20. Matt: Are you talking about replacing headlines/header text with graphic images such as the Image Replacement Techniques that used to be popular but have long been in disfavor and discouraged?

    Or putting an image alongside the post titles?

    You have my basic opinion on the first, as for the second, they do little good.

    First, on multi-post page views (front, search, categories, etc.), they are clutter.

    Second, recent research has shown repeatedly that images are so overused, they are often ignored for content on the web as that is where the information lies the individual is seeking.

    Third, what good do they do and what are their purpose? In the early days of online journaling, images were used to denote “mood” on a post. Then there was a period where people thought they were “pretty”. Now, they tend to be clutter unless there is a specific purpose for the image to be there.

    Without more information, that’s the best I can do.

    Again, images without value do nothing but waste time and bandwidth and clutter things up. Make them count.

  21. pelf says:

    WOW. I didn’t know that there’s so much to learn and experiment when it comes to adding pictures into blog posts. I mean, I place images into my blog posts whenever possible because I think those images “light up” the otherwise boring, full-of-words post :)

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