Blog Photos: The Complete Guide To Using Photos on the Web

Images and Photos: The Bloggers Guide

Images and Photos: The Bloggers Guide

We’ve all heard the saying “A picture is worth a thousand words”

You just need to be sure that those thousand words are doing you good.

Why is it so hard to find good photos?

Well for one, we all can’t afford to hire models, professional photographers and fly to exotic locations.

Even if you could… who has the time? It takes time to coordinate all of this.

But having a great photo isn’t that easy… since we focus on blogging, I’m going to do a complete overview on how to effectively use photos on your blog.

Let’s look at the reasons why photos are important.

Why Are Photos Important

Amazing Photos Create Emotional Responses

Amazing Photos Create Emotional Responses

An amazing photo can help to create an emotional response to your post… it will set the tone of your post.

Advertisers have know this for decades… just look at any piece of advertising from Apple.

As a blogger you’ll just want to make sure that you are creating the right kind of emotional response.

Take this photo of a sunset, over a lake. I would say that it’s very artistic, and without a doubt creates an emotional response of calm and serenity.

Photos are your friend… don’t make them your foe.

If you are including photos for the sake of it… it can actually do your site harm.

Let’s see what negative impacts it can have on your blog.

How A Photo Can Negatively Impact Your Post

Use A Photo For Impact, Not As Decoration

Use A Photo For Impact, Not As Decoration

Every time that you use a photo on your blog, it needs to have a purpose, and that purpose can’t be as a decoration.

Your photo has to either create curiosity, or clarify a point.

If it doesn’t do this, then the photo is actually negatively impacting your post.

Since we are talking about running an actual business with our blog, almost everything that we create will be content.

Meaning, we will be writing articles, tutorials, reviews and the like.

Your work needs to grab the readers attention… and hold it.

The wrong image will push the casual reader away… and your first-time visitor might not even give you a chance.

All your readers will see… is a sea of words. This can actually push people away… or using a bad image, can create a bad first impression.

This typical “corporate image” just screams boring… it also puts you in a state of mind that lowers your expectation. Using images like this one is a big mistake… unfortunately most people won’t stop using this type of image.

In fact your very first image is the most important image… it does a whole lot more than just set the tone of your post.

It actually has a subliminal effect and can coax a person to continue reading.

What You Didn’t Know About Your First Image

Column Width Encourages People to Read

Column Width Encourages People to Read

As I said, your main photo sets the tone of your post.

But you want people to read the first few sentences. This will grab their attention and create curiosity.

If you do your job right and people read your first few lines… your chances of your audience actually finishing your post is tremendous.

You can actually coax people to start reading your posts by making the width of your first few lines smaller than the rest of the post.

A smaller column width, encourages people to read.

It subliminally tells the reader “oh this post isn’t so long… let me read this”, once you have them hooked with your first few lines… then you can continue your writing as normal.

In the case of Art of Blog, our first image width is typically about 250 px.

Just doing that, converts more first-time visitors into actually reading our post and letting them recognize the value that Art of Blog has.

Test it yourself on your blog… start by editing your most popular posts, and with every new post that you write.

At the end of your post… add a call to action.

Then see if you have a jump in people taking action… this could be more email sign-ups, page views, downloading a file etc.

Photo do more than just clarify a point, or tell a story… they can give your blog an SEO boost.

SEO Benefits of Photos

Photos Have SEO Benefits

Photos Have SEO Benefits

So you now know that the right photo can set the tone of your writing… and actually create interest, and increase the chance that they’ll continue reading.

But did you know that photos can help your blog with SEO?

It’s actually pretty simple to do.

Start by correctly naming your files… be sure to use a keyword as your file name.

Never use something like “photo001.jpg”

Remember the web is about making useful information accessible. If a search engine can’t decide what your website or post is about… you’ll get passed over.

But you can do more… Fill out your alt tags.

Again, just like your file name the alt tags gives the search engines details about your website.

Right now, most search engines can’t scan images and intelligently decide what your photo is about.

Do yourself a favor and fill out this important information.

Here’s one important tip for you… don’t link the photo to itself.

In WordPress you’ll notice that when you are about to embed a photo, you have the option of creating a hyperlink from the photo… by default, WordPress links to itself.

Uncheck that option… if you leave it checked, you’ll just wasting your websites SEO link juice.

As you may or may not know, one important SEO factor is links. If a search engine sees that you are linking to something, they’ll notice it and assume that it’s important.

However, if the item that’s being linked to… is only linked once. Then the search engines will have to assume that what you are linking to isn’t worth it… and your overall reputation is lowered.

You may be linking to these photos unknowingly, not realizing the search engines thinks that you are only crying wolf.

Because if your link was important… other sites, and other pages on your site would link to it again.

Don’t Use Photos That You Find Online

Don't Use Google Image Search for Photos

Don't Use Google Image Search for Photos

We now know that photos are immensely powerful… but to make the point clear.

If a photo isn’t creating the emotional response that you want, building curiosity, or clarifying a point… then don’t use them.

They will hurt your conversion rates. So how do we find photos?

It’s tempting to just grab a great photo from another website.

A lot of people are confused with the use of photo and blogging. I can’t really blame them… it really does seem unclear.

It’s become very easy to find a photo on Google… in reality your are putting yourself in possible legal hot water.

If you go from blog to blog, you are constantly seeing the same photos.

I would say that the largest industries that use photos illegally would be celebrity gossip, fashion and websites related to sports.

I’m not talking about the big boy sites when I mention those industries… the opposite would most likely be true.

These industries spend millions of dollars purchasing photos… but even some of them slip-up and illegally use a photo.

Here’s a perfect example: L.A. Times Sued by David Strick Over Photo Copyright

David Stick is suing the L.A. Times for the illegal use of over 500 photos. The L.A. Times could pay up to $150,000 per infraction.

It’s not just the big boys who are getting sued for copyright infringement.

Here’s another example: Legal Lesson Learned: Copywriter Pays $4,000 for $10 Photo

This website had used an image that they found from Google. The post starts off by saying that they had been somewhat naive about photos found online.

They believed that if the photo didn’t have a copyright notice… then it was free to use. Unfortunately, that’s not true… and I bet that most people wrongfully believe that also.

Let’s take a look at copyright laws regarding online photos.

Copyright Laws:Online Photos

Copyright Laws are meant to protect the intellectual property of every artist.

When it comes to online photography, every photograph is protected. Even if the photo doesn’t have a copyright notice.

Even if you alter the photo and completely change the image… you are infringing on their work.

The holder of the copyrighted image is the only person who has the right to distribute, display and edit their work.

That means that even embedding the photo on your site would violate the photos copyright.

Let’s go a step further… now you just hotlink the photo.

Meaning that the photo is displayed on your site, but they are actually still hosting the image.

You are still infringing on the photos copyright… and not to mention, stealing their bandwidth.

The only legal way around all of this mess, is to get permission from the photographer… and every infraction has a compensation of up-to $150,000.

Here’s a perfect example of a photograph being stolen… I actually know the photographer, Noam Galai.

The Stolen Scream

This year a very popular interview went viral… and it was all because of a photo that Noam Galai uploaded of himself in 2006 on Flickr.

Watch the interview, it’s a fascinating story: The Stolen Scream

As you saw, Noam uploaded this photo of himself screaming.

The image went viral.

It’s appeared in over 40 countries, it’s been used on the cover of books, on t-shirts, in graffiti, on political propaganda, event flyers and on and on.

People are profiting on this work. Someone else has even taken credit for taken the photo.

In my opinion, Noam is actually being very nice about people stealing his work. To paraphrase him, every artist wants his work to be viewed by as many people as possible.

So that’s why he has such a relaxed view on the subject.

However, he is certainly within his legal rights to pursue his rightful credit and or compensation.

So what does a blogger do?

One solution is buying royalty-free photos.

Where to Find Royalty-Free Photos

Getty Images Sells Amazing Photos: But At A Price

Getty Images Sells Amazing Photos: But At A Price

You can use a stock photo agency.

Agencies like Getty Images charge hundreds of dollars for a photo. In many cases it jumps into the thousands of dollars per photo.

Luckily, the internet age came about.

It created a new business model for the micro-stock photo agencies. Prices dropped dramatically, because of volume sales.

What does that mean for the blogger?

Well, you can now buy these images at very affordable prices.

For just about a dollar.

But with so many micro-stock photo agencies to pick from… where does a blogger begin?

What Are These Stock Photo Sites and How Do They Work

Most of the the royalty-free microstock photo sites work on credits. Meaning that for a few dollars you can load up your account and use them to purchase the photos that you’ll need.

To make comparing them easier, I’ve created a chart.

It consist of the top microstock photo sites, and compares library size, price per credit and what I believe is the most important factor.

The “Real Cost” of a photo.

Meaning, how much would the cost of the credits add-up for a standard size image 1600 x 1200?

Site Total Images Cost Per Credit Credits Per Image Real Cost Per Image
Fotolia 14,000,000 Images $1 5 Credits $5
Albumo 680,000 Images $1 1 Credit $1 5,000,000 Images $.50 3 Credits $1.50 400,000 Images $1 2 Credits $2
123rf 10,000,000 Images $1 2 Credits $2

Across the board you’ll notice that almost all of these site have the same per credit price of $1… except for CanStockPhoto, which sells you a credit for $.50.

But again focusing on the cost of a standard sized photo Albumo would be the best value.

However, they also have the small library from our sampling.

One point that I also want to make is… this comparison chart is only looking at the details of a one-time buy.

Fololia is the most expensive when it comes to a one-time buy of a photo… but most of these sites have a tiered subscription model, which brings down the cost of a photo.

But to be completely honest, your typical blogger probably wouldn’t need a monthly plan.

You could instead save money by buying photo credits at a discount in bulk.

Also, photographers are allowed to opt-out of having their photos from being included from a monthly subscription plan.

Most photographer don’t opt-out… so it probably won’t make much of a difference.

But it is something to think about.

What are our free options? Buying a photo can get expensive… even if it’s just a few dollars here and there.

What About Free Royalty-Free Photo Sites

Free Photo From stock.xchng

Free Photo From stock.xchng

A lot of the paid royalty-free photo site offer you free images.

But their free selections are somewhat anemic.

You should try out some of the free royalty-free photo sites, but to be honest.

Most of these free photo sites do link you back to one of the paid photo sites… but you can still find a handful of free photos.

This is a photo of a gargoyle in Paris, that I found on stock.xchng. It’s not bad at all.

Here are some free royalty-free photo sites for you to look at.

My favorite choice is Flickr… the problem being is that not every photo is available for you to use.

Searching Flickr for Free Photos

Flickr Is An Amazing Photo Community

Flickr Is An Amazing Photo Community

Flickr is such an amazing resource for photographers and photo lovers alike.

It’s a massive online community, that stays very active.

You will be able to find phenomenal photography that you can use in a blog post, ebook, flyer or pretty much anywhere.

The thing is… you can’t just use any photo.

Every photo that’s uploaded onto Flickr has a license attached to it.

However, we only want to use photos that have a Creative Commons license.

Photos with a Creative Commons license are free to use as long as you credit the photographer.

But it doesn’t end there.

It can get confusing…because every photo can have one of the six creative commons license types attached to it.

Creative Common License Types

Attribution License

The most flexible, and least complicated license. You’ll be able to modify the photo for both commercial and non-commercial purposes.

As long as you credit the photographer… by linking back to their profile.

Attribution-NoDerivs License

This license allows you to copy, publish, and distribute the image, even commercially, as long as it is NOT altered in any way and you credit it entirely to the photographer.

Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs License

This license allows you to use photos in with a credit as long as they’re not modified and as long as it’s for a non-commercial purpose.

This is kind of tricky… because if you make money from blogging, you can argue that the photo is being used for a commercial purpose.

Basically, stay away from these photos.

Attribution-NonCommercial License

This is the most restrictive version of the Creative Commons licenses, but still allows you to copy, publish, and distribute the image.

But unless you are making a holiday card for your family, keep these type of photos away from your blog.

Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License

This license allows you to copy, publish, and distribute the image for non-commercial purposes.

You’ll be able to edit the photo however you like, just credit the photographer.

But again… the NonCommercial tag stops you from adding it to your blog.

Attribution-ShareAlike License

You can freely use and edit the photo. Just credit the photographer… you’ll also have to license the photo with the Attribution-ShareAlike License.

So if someone wants to use your new photo, they are free to use and edit it.

Searching Flickr for Free Photos: Part 2

I told you that those licenses could be confusing.

Luckily, you just have to do an advance search and be sure to click on “Only search within Creative Commons-licensed content” along with the “Find content to use commercially” and “Find content to modify, adapt, or build upon” boxes.

Flickr Advance Creative Commons Search

Flickr Advance Creative Commons Search

And if you are a nerd like me… try creating and bookmark a Flickr quick search in Firefox. Just take a look at this lifehacker post. Use this Flickr search stringto only search Creative Common photos.

Once you find a photo that you like, you’ll have to pay attribution to the photographer.

Meaning you’ll have to credit the photographer by naming them and adding a link back to their Flickr page.

If this all seem too much for you, you can easily use a free WordPress plugin to find amazing free photos on Flickr.

Photo Dropper

Photo Dropper: The Ultimate Resource for Photos

Photo Dropper: The Ultimate Resource for Photos

Photo Dropperis the fastest way to add amazing photos to your WordPress blog.

It’s just a matter of doing a search, and clicking on the photo that you like.

That’s it… it’s brilliant!

Photo Dropper only searches the Free Creative Commons photo section of Flickr, and automatically adds all of the required attribution.

I really see the combination of Flickr & Photo Dropper as the best choice for finding amazing free photos for most bloggers.

Especially if you use the interesting photo section while searching Flickr.

You basically have the entire Flickr community curating photos for you.

Photos that are tagged as interesting are the most commented, liked, shared and mostly importantly a well taken photo.

I would start by searching these interesting photos on Flickr… if you don’t see a photo that you like, feel free to search by recent or relevant.

You Finally Have A Photo, Now What

I’ve drilled it into your head… don’t use a photo, unless it’s going to create interest or help to explain a concept.

You understand that.

Now you have a photo, I’ll show you how to do a simple crop to make it much more interesting.

Your Starting Photo

Before Cropping

Before Cropping

Here’s a photo that I found on MorgueFile.

The subject is a tree in the desert… in my opinion the photo is kind of blah. The tree is smacked right in the middle, and the image looks a little dull.

Somewhat gray… the colors seems to just blend together.

Let’s crop this image. I’m going to use, because it’s a free online image editor… somewhat similar to Photoshop.

However, every photo editor is able to crop images.

Crop Your Photo To Maximize It’s Composition

Cropping Image In Pixlr

Cropping Image In Pixlr

The photo instantly looks much more interesting. All I did was crop the subject to the side.

It’s a basic composition technique… when you have your subject right in the middle, it’s boring.

The great painters of the past knew this, and it’s transitioned into photography and film.

Now let me tweak some of the color settings, I’m doing this manually. But you don’t need to, again every photo editor has an auto fix or auto color correction button.

Adjust Colors & Balance, To Add Depth

After Adjusting Color, Contrast, Levels & Curves

After Adjusting Color, Contrast, Levels & Curves

Just look at the difference between what we started with.

The end result is a photo that is much more vibrant, and interesting to look at.

So you certainly can use free photos to make an impact… in fact if you want to get even more creative, I suggest that you take a look at this tutorial: WordPress Header Design 101.

I wrote it for people who needed help designing a WordPress header, and I do get very creative with it.

You’ll be able to use my tips in that tutorial to creatively retouch your photos.


If you are using photos that you find from the internet… then you need to stop.

You shouldn’t be relying on Google Images… the penalty for online photo copyright infringement is up-to $150,000. It’s not worth it.

You have no excuse, you are able to find amazing photos at any budget… including free.

But again… don’t just add a photo for decoration. Photos serve a very important purpose, a great image can coax your readers to start and finish your post… and don’t forget about the added SEO boost.

Go ahead and install Photo Dropper.

90% of the time, you’ll be able to find an amazing free photo from Flickr. On those rare chances that you can’t… just search one of the paid stock photo sites.

For the most part they are very affordable.

What do you think about this post?

If you liked it… share it on Facebook or Twitter, and especially with any friends or family who are blogging or are interested in blogging.

I’m a New Media Veteran who has worked at some amazing tech start-ups in Silicon Alley. My career transitioned into photography, with thanks to Complex & Interview Magazine.

Written by Wilson Davalos

I'm a New Media Veteran who has worked at some amazing tech start-ups in Silicon Alley. My career transitioned into photography, with thanks to Complex & Interview Magazine.



  • Keith Davis says:

    Wow Wilson – this is one in-depth article on photos /graphics.

    I use flickr but I’ve never heard of photp dropper.
    Thanks for the heads up – something to try.

  • michelle @ the organized blogger says:

    Excellent tutorial! I’m including your link in my upcoming ebook for bloggers.

  • SmashinGeeks says:

    Does using photos from sites like GettyImages cost ? Till now, I was using y own screenshots for tutorials and all. But the Image used at the top of the post is very nice.

  • barni says:

    Thanks for this eye-opener article. I have been using images from Google for some of my post , but now, i have to stop and work through buying my images or using photo-dropper. Thanks a lot!

  • […] see a photo of the person you've interviewed or the product you've described. Make sure you use a great photo and that your blog design is uncluttered and easy to […]

  • I was pondering on how to do this -“Your photo has to either create curiosity, or clarify a point.” Do I need to have an artistic instinct to create curiosity? I was also among those bloggers who wrongly believe that photos without copyright notice are free, sigh*. You’ve shared a lot of resources that are so helpful. I’ve bookmarked this page because I know I will be using them. Thanks much for the rich information!

  • Thank you for explaining in great detail the use of photos in blogs. I am new to blogging and this article is extremely helpful. I still am confused though about your section: SEO Benefits of Photos. You mention not linking to the photo itself, but don’t I have to, to give credit to the author, like you stated under Attribution License?

    Thanks again for such an informative article!

    • Eric Binnion says:

      The author is trying to say to not “hot link” the image, which means hosting the image on their server. Instead, download the image, upload it to your website, then give an attribution link back to the original image. When you host the image on your own website, you’ll get a benefit from SEO.