Illustrating stories correctly: 5 practical tips

High-quality long reads, posts and blog posts that do not have enough semantic accents from photographs and illustrations have every chance of being left unread. “Canvases of text”, even if they are easily and clearly written, are difficult to understand and seem boring.

The human brain perceives visual information 600 times faster than sounds and smells. People are 65% better at remembering images and the relationship between them than text. Pages with photos and videos get 94% more views on average than plain text.

This is why it is so important to focus on visual content. Most users pay attention to the images first, and only then to the accompanying text. The audience will read your post only if they are hooked on the picture. Here are some tips to consider when choosing images to illustrate texts.

Choose relevant photos

The image should be not only beautiful, but also appropriately illustrating the text. The relationship between the picture and the text should be intuitive. This will allow you to more effectively convey the essence of the message, attract and retain the reader’s attention, and shape the image of your blog or website.

According to a study by the Nielsen Norman Group, Internet users pay a lot of attention to photos and other images that contain relevant information, but ignore pictures with a “decorative” function, which are used only to animate the page and do not carry much meaning.

Sometimes the discrepancy between the picture and the text can even lead to a scandal. This is the case with companies that are not overly attentive to the illustration of their social media posts. In 2018, Samsung Brazil had to apologize after a controversial post on Twitter: a tweet about the capabilities of a selfie camera on a smartphone was accompanied by a stock photo taken with a professional camera. Samsung admitted that it sometimes uses random images that “reflect the mood of our target audience” – but the post was removed.

Consider the context

It is very important to keep an eye on the context to avoid possible reputational risks. You need to think about who will see your content and what message the illustrations to the text convey.

In 2019, Miele decided to congratulate its clients on International Women’s Day, but made the wrong choice of a photo. The post with the words “May all women remember how important it is to accept what makes them unique” was accompanied by a picture of four women – next to the washing machine, dishwasher and cake. Of course, Miele is a manufacturer of household appliances, but the company did not take into account that this combination of text and image seemed offensive to many people.

To avoid these mistakes, research your target audience, including geographic, demographic, and psychographic metrics. Remember that the world is changing right now: in a difficult time of general isolation, you should not focus on photographs with crowds. If this does not break the logic of the text, it is better to choose more neutral images that will not raise questions.

Pay attention to quality

Image quality plays an important role, so choose photos with high resolution, sharp focus, and good exposure. If this is not an artistic idea, there should be no visible pixel areas in the image.

However, too high resolution images are also not the best choice. Most users will see your text on mobile devices, and files that are too “heavy” take longer to load. If your page takes too long to load, many users won’t wait and leave.

The optimal picture resolution for a post on Facebook is 1200 x 628, on Instagram – 1080 x 1080, and on Twitter – 900 x 512. For illustrating long reads in media and blogs, a resolution of 1500 to 2500 pixels on the long side is suitable. Ideally, your images shouldn’t be more than 1 MB in size.

To change file parameters without loss of quality, use special programs that are available online.

Avoid clichés and follow visual trends

A proven standard picture for illustrating business topics – a group of people in an office against a background of graphs and flipcharts – is good, but very boring. Try to avoid clichés: the modern photobank has millions of beautiful and non-standard images in its collection that will suit any aesthetic.

Do not be afraid to use vivid images: unusual visual solutions stand out in the endless flow of information. However, the pictures should correspond to the general tone of communication, image and corporate identity.

When choosing images, it is important to follow current visual trends, to choose authentic and emotional images.

Use licensed content

Images, like text, are intellectual property and are protected by copyright. You can’t just take a picture from Google and use it for your own purposes – place it in outdoor advertising or print it in a magazine. Any copyright infringement is a legal liability, reputational and financial risks. Therefore, it is important to use licensed content that is available on paid and free photo stocks. Several types of licenses apply to visual content.

Editorial Content

Free licensed images are easy to find for illustrating articles in media and blogs. They can be used to illustrate educational, cultural and generally useful texts for the reader.

One of the most common licenses for such content is Creative Commons. With its help, copyright holders give permission for partial or full use of their content. In most cases, free images are subject to the following restrictions:

  • you must always indicate the name of the author;
  • you can use the file, but you cannot modify it in any way;
  • you can use the file for educational purposes only.

If your post contains ads, it is already considered a commercial use.

There is also the concept of Public Domain – “Public domain”, which refers to products of creative and intellectual work with expired copyright. This means that you can safely use such pictures to illustrate your editorial and creative texts. Many museums, galleries, scientific institutes and educational institutions digitize their archives and open up free access to their files within the Public Domain.

Content for commercial use

Free images that can be used to illustrate editorial texts cannot be used commercially. A royalty-free license is suitable for commercial use. Within its framework, you need to pay for the downloaded file only once, and then you can use it an unlimited number of times.

The Royalty-free license applies to content in photobanks. Such images are suitable for illustrating ordinary texts, for any kind of advertising and design projects – that is, these files can be modified.

Restrictions on the use of visual content

When choosing photos, you should follow the rules for their use. Even under the commercial royalty-free license, there are limitations.

Stock pictures should not be used for political advertising, illustrations of texts about serious illnesses, physical or psychological abuse, sexual preferences.

This limitation is due to the fact that such topics are very delicate, and there are models in the pictures. Using their faces to illustrate such content may render them in an unfavorable light, as well as violate their rights and the rights of the author of the photograph, who did not agree to his image being used in a contradictory manner.

Photo agencies that provide editorial shots to media also indicate restrictions on their content. For example, a certain image cannot be used in the media on the territory of a certain country, or there are restrictions on the subject matter of the texts for which the frame is selected. Therefore, it is worth paying attention to the user agreement before downloading the file.

Images are an important part of any text. With their help, it is easy to place logical semantic accents, attract new subscribers and customers, and build your brand image. Correctly illustrated text is the key to the success of your media, blog and social networks.

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