You’re joining us for week 5 of Word to the Newbies – a guest series featuring some of the best advice bloggers have for beginners dipping their toe into the big wide world of blogging.
Agatha and I have been friends since before we lost all our baby teeth (which means of course, we’ve got lots of fabulous pre-teen photos together), and I am so excited to introduce you to her today. She’s smart, fashionable, and so on trend in so many ways. Her word to the newbies is an extremely valuable one – about the legal use of images on your blog.
A Lesson on Using other People’s Images
I’ve been informally blogging since 2009, so it’s not surprising that the first couple years of posts on my blog are a little….rough. I was still finding my focus and my voice, and just learning the rules of the road. (I’m still working on a few of these.)
One of my very early blogs was a super short post about a homeless person I saw downtown who had an especially creative sign to attract donations. I hadn’t snapped my own photo of this person, so I did a quick Google Image search, and found one online. Without a second thought, I added it to my blog post.
Years later (literally four years later), I got an email from a photographer informing me that I was using the photo without permission, and demanding that I not only take it down but pay her a hefty fee for having had it up on my site all those years. Never mind that my use of the image was completely without malice, never mind that I apologized for using it without her permission, and never mind that I took down the post and the image completely. She still demanded payment and threatened to take me to court for it.
I work in the social media marketing industry, so today I understand the importance of respecting intellectual property and the importance of properly sourcing content and getting permission for it. But this didn’t feel fair. I consulted other blogs about similar situations, talked to a co-worker with knowledge of intellectual property laws and even spoke with a friend who’s a photographer herself.
Ultimately, despite not agreeing with this woman’s threatening and clearly opportunistic approach, I bit the bullet and negotiated a smaller but still very substantial payment for having used her photograph without permission. I accepted I was in the wrong.
It was a difficult lesson to learn, but now I always err on the side of caution when using any image that is not my own. A few tips:
- Always get written permission to use another person’s image. Be sure you’re clear on any usage terms, sourcing/linking requirements and length of time you can use the image.
- Try using a website that offers a library of royalty-free or rights-free images. Some of the biggest ones out there include Getty Images, Shutterstock, Alamy, iStockPhoto and Veer. But be careful, not ALL images in these libraries are free to use, and some have a nominal cost, so just read the terms for every individual photo before using it.
- When in doubt – don’t use it!
Building your own Library of Images
Second, this lesson has inspired me to always use my own images whenever I can. Last year, I got a fancy camera for my birthday that I’ve been trying to use regularly to capture high-quality images. But even when I’m not carrying that around, I always remember to capture at least a few photos with my cell phone camera.
A few things to remember:
- When you do capture a photo, try to get a few versions of the image so you have options later on. Take landscape and portrait orientations. Zoom in on a few versions in case you end up wanting to use a close-up shot.
- I’ve also been working to build a library of versatile images that I’ll be able to use for banners, cover photos or blog posts that aren’t inherently image-oriented. Recently, I needed a somewhat generic image for a blog post about a playlist I built, so I ended up using a shot of Chicago I took when I was flying in at night from a business trip, showing the city all lit up. Although it had nothing to do with music per se, it captured the mood I was trying to convey and I just had it sitting in my image files.
- If you see an image you really love online, there’s nothing wrong with recreating your own version of it.
Google’s Auto Awesome Photo Features
If you’re using an Android cell phone and use Google+ to automatically back up images online, you may have noticed some really cool features the platform provides. My favorite is the Auto Awesome feature that automatically creates animated gifs out of your images if you’ve taken several shots of a moving object. This is a dynamic way to incorporate images into your posts. Here are some examples my phone created from images I took.
Optimize your Images
This may be the biggest takeaway from this post. Don’t just post a photo from your image library and call it a day. Be sure to optimize each image file you upload so that these photos can work for you in driving search traffic to your blog. The better you tag your images, the more they’ll show up in Google Image searches to capture a larger audience for your blog.
Here are the top three things you should do to start:
- Customize the file name. Don’t just keep the default name your camera assigns to each photo, which is probably a non-descript number. Reference what the photo is actually of in your file name.
- Include an alternative name/tags. This is probably the most important information to include in each photo. When you’re uploading an image to your blog, include descriptive keywords in this description to make sure it’s showing up in the appropriate online search results.
- Provide captions/descriptions. These help provide context for your readers.
As social media in general becomes more image-oriented, think about how you can use photos to help tell your story. These will also prove to be helpful assets in cross-promoting your posts on networks like Pinterest, Instagram and even Facebook, which places increasing weight on image posts.
About the Author
Agatha is a former Hispanic public relations professional in Chicago, now working at a word of mouth/social media marketing agency. She blogs at her self-titled blog, Agatha Kubalski, about marketing, music and culture, and at Multiple Destinations, about her travels overseas. She’s the proud mama of Othello (her cat), and aspires to be an aspiring musician.