I recently read a post by a successful blogger, Mark Manson, about his top tips for blogging. Mark hit the nail on the head with all of his tips; I especially liked his focus on quality writing and perfectionism.
But Mark left one important blogging subject out of his post: photography. Photography enhances blogging more than it does any other literary genre. Photos are to blog posts what chocolate is to peanut butter: They make an amazing combination, but must be combined properly and the quality and packaging are important.
One of the main reasons my blog is successful (in my own mind, at least) is because I’m good at combining blogging and photography. Here are some tips I’ve picked up along the way:
1) Practice, practice, practice. Want to get better at taking pictures for your blog? Then take as many photos as you can, everywhere you go. If you don’t have a camera then use your phone (although an actual camera is better). Ignore the voices in your head that say, “I don’t know what I’m doing” or “I’m not a good photographer”. The more you practice, the better you’ll be.
2) If at all possible, use your own photos rather than someone else’s. Photos communicate emotion, just like words. Your own photos will enhance your storytelling and convey the emotions you felt during a particular experience. Your readers will appreciate this. (Also, see tip 4.)
That cliché about a picture telling a thousand words? It’s true.
3) Don’t post bad photos – e.g., photos that are blurry, poorly lit, or badly composed. If you want to blog about a particular place or experience but you’re not happy with the photos you took, then try to go back and take better ones. If that’s not possible, just leave the photos out (see tip 10). Or if you must, use someone else’s photos but make sure you have permission (see tip 4).
That said, not every photo in your blog needs to be perfect. If a photo is slightly fuzzy but tells a great story, then use it. Just know where to draw the line between “imperfect” and “downright bad”.
Food photography is hard — I often don’t have my camera with me and restaurant lighting is notoriously bad. Nonetheless, I resist the urge to post crappy food photos. (If you’re serious about food-blogging, invest in a camera that performs well in low light.)
4) Don’t steal photos. In other words, don’t use a photo that you didn’t take yourself unless you: a) Know who the photo belongs to; and b) Are 100% sure that person is okay with you using it. Stealing photos makes you look bad and can get you into legal trouble. So don’t do it. (I addressed this topic in a previous post.)
Need a Joburg skyline shot for your blog and feel tempted to take someone else’s without asking? Don’t.
5) Watermark your photos to prevent others from stealing them. I know what you’re thinking: “My photos aren’t good enough to steal”, or “I’m not a professional and I don’t care if others use my photos.” This is exactly what I thought for the first few years that I blogged. Then I began to realize that: a) My photos had become good enough to steal; b) I had become a professional; and c) I did indeed care. I started watermarking my photos and wished I had done so from the start.
Even a small watermark (bottom-right corner of this shot) can be enough to make others think twice before using your pic without asking.
6) If you have good photos for your blog, then post them big. Give each photo its own line, and size the photo to the full width of the page. Photo collages frustrate me because the individual photos in the collage are too small to see clearly. I also hate text that wraps awkwardly around a photo; there’s no need for text-wrapping in a blog. Keep your format clean and simple and devote a full line to each picture – most people don’t mind scrolling.
Bigger is better.
7) Caption each photo so your readers know what’s going on. Even if a photo’s message seems obvious to you, it might not be obvious to someone else. A good caption tells the photo’s story in one or two sentences. Captions also provide a nice buffer between two photos, or between a photo and a block of text, enhancing readability. Captioning is worth the extra time.
Brother Jabu makes the “One Love” symbol next to a pile of marijuana at the Judah Square Rastafarian community in Knysna Township. (It’s easy as that. I center and italicize my captions to set them apart from the blog text.)
8) Intersperse photos throughout the blog post, rather than lumping them at the end. Photos are great story-telling devices; use them to tell the story. Again, interspersing photos improves readability and is totally worth the extra time it takes.
9) Don’t over-edit. In this age of Instagram, it’s tempting to slap one-size-fits-all filters onto your photos before posting them. This is a bad idea, because preset filters generally suck. If a photo is good to begin with then a filter will usually make it look worse, not better.
Less is more when it comes to editing, especially for beginners. Find some editing software that you’re comfortable with – Lightroom, iPhoto, Picasa, whatever – and experiment with minor edits like adjusting brightness, contrast, and saturation. Tread lightly until you become comfortable.
Let your photos speak for themselves: Don’t over-edit them.
10) If you don’t like photography, then blog without photos. Photography enhances blogging but it’s not essential – there are plenty of great writers who blog only with words. Also, I personally hate bland stock photos, memes, and GIFs; I’d prefer to see no images at all. If you’re not into photography, then don’t force it. Find a blog template/theme that makes your writing look good on its own (WordPress.com is a great place to start), and type away.