Wednesday 2 December 2020

How to Choose the Perfect Image for Your Blog Post

If it’s true that a picture paints a thousand words, the thousand or so words you’ve written for your latest blog post deserve the very best picture you can find. But it’s not always easy! Do you struggle to find that perfect image to accompany your lovingly crafted words? Do you ever wonder if it’s okay to use that photo you found on the Internet? Read on.

What Kind of Image Are You Looking For?

It’s worth spending a few minutes thinking about what kind of image you’re looking for. Are you after a banner image to go across the head of your post, or one (or more than one) placed within the body of the post itself?

What aspect ratio do you need? Square? Landscape? Portrait? Some image library sites let you search on aspect ratio which can help you find the right image quicker. Bear in mind that you can crop an image yourself to whatever shape or size you need.

Is the blog post one of a series? If so, are you looking for an image that matches others in the series? Do you have a house style or branding that it needs to align with?

Do you want an image that works on its own or are you intending to overlay text or other elements? If so you may want something that is not too detailed or “fussy” so the other elements can be seen clearly.

Are you looking for an image that matches the subject or content of your blog post, or one that is more generic? If you want a matching image, your blog post key words or labels should help you narrow your search.

People Not Necessarily Like Us

If you are looking for portraits or photos that include people, pay attention to the people you choose. It’s easy to select pictures featuring “young beautiful people,” or people from your own social and cultural demographic. There’s nothing wrong with that as such, but think about who you may be excluding. How often do the images you choose to illustrate your blog posts represent people of different ages, cultures, or races? A good friend of mine, mental health writer and coach Julie A. Fast, brought this to my attention when we were discussing the choice of images for her guest posts at Gum on My Shoe.

“In the future,” she said, “let’s use some pics with older people that represent my age group. So many images today are youth-oriented and yet many of us with bipolar are older.”

It was a valid point and one I’ve kept in mind ever since.

Special Consideration for Mental Health Bloggers

If you blog in the mental health arena there are some additional things for you to consider. The first is not to reinforce unhelpful or unhealthy stereotypes concerning people living with mental health conditions. As an example, avoid using the mundane or stereotyped image of someone holding their head in their hands, when illustrating depression or other mental health diagnoses. Check out this article on why journalists should avoid using “head clutcher” stock images.

The second important consideration is to avoid images that may be unnecessarily triggering, especially when illustrating suicide or self-harm topics. UK charity Time to Change has published guidelines on the responsible use of images in such contexts:

Often the pictures accompanying stories around mental health are generic stock showing people isolated and in distress. In fact people with mental health problems come from all walks of life and will have much more going on than simply their mental health problem.

The National Suicide Prevention Alliance has published its own media guidelines (PDF) for mental health promotion and suicide prevention.

Copyright or Wrong?

There are few things more frustrating than finally finding that perfect image and discovering you don’t have permission to use it, so let’s get this out of the way. If you didn’t take the photograph or create the image from scratch, you can’t use it unless you have permission. Read that again.

That awesome pic on Instagram or Pinterest. The photo your mate shared on Facebook from some group he’s in. That product image on Amazon or Etsy. Unless you’ve obtained permission from the copyright owner, or you’ve bought a licence covering what you intend using it for, or you’ve checked (not guessed) that it’s in the public domain, just don’t.

Copyright theft is a thing. Litigation is a thing. Yes, really.

So, What Can I Use?

In The Essential Guide to Using Images Legally Online, Kristi Kellogg suggests the following approaches:

  • Public Domain Images
  • Creative Commons Images
  • Stock Photos
  • Your Own Images
  • Social Media Images (but only with permission)

Let’s take a closer look at each of these.

Public domain images are those whose copyright has expired or never existed. They can be used by almost anyone for personal and commercial purposes. This article lists 31 free public domain image websites.

There are six Creative Commons (CC) licences which grant different permissions, plus CC0 (CC Zero) which means creators have given up their copyright and put their works into the public domain. CC0 allows others to distribute, remix, adapt, and build upon the material in any medium or format, with no conditions. The Creative Commons website offers a useful image search tool.

Stock photo websites such as Shutterstock and iStock offer photos that the creators have licensed for use to anyone who pays the appropriate fee. It is important to read the license details carefully to ensure it covers what you want to do with the image.

If you took the photo, you own the copyright so there are no restrictions on how you use it.

As Kristi Kellogg says, “Images appearing on social media are no different than any other image you’ll find online, in that you must act responsibly and ask for permission.” Bear in mind that the person who posted the image may not be the copyright owner and it may be difficult to determine the status of a particular image. In my personal opinion, unless you know you are asking the creator or copyright holder, it’s far safer, and easier, to look elsewhere.

Three Online Image Libraries

I routinely use the following image sites because I know the photographs will be okay to use. Check the sites’ respective license pages for full details.

Unsplash is my go-to site for high-quality photographic images. It has over two million high-resolution images which can be downloaded and used for free. The Unsplash licence means no permission is needed to use the images for commercial and non-commercial purposes, although an attribution to the creator is appreciated.

Burst has free stock photos for websites and commercial use. Some images are released under Creative Commons CC0 license. Others are made available for use under a nonexclusive license. See the Burst Terms of Service for full details.

Pixabay shares copyright-free images and videos. All contents are released under the Pixabay license and can be used without permission or giving credit to the artist, even for commercial purposes.

For more options, check out this article at Verve which lists 27 sites offering royalty-free stock images for commercial or non-commercial use.

Four Image Editing Apps

The following websites and applications are useful for editing and cropping images.

Pablo is a simple browser-based app linked to the Unsplash library of royalty-free images. You can search for an appropriate image, or upload one of your own. Once loaded, you can crop the image (square, portrait, or landscape), convert to black and white, apply various filters, and overlay text. You can download your finished images and use them in any way you wish. Check Pablo’s licence page for further details.

Pixlr offers powerful free browser-based photo editing. Supported image formats include PSD (Photoshop), PXD, JPEG, PNG (transparent), WebP, SVG and more. There are two browser applications: Pixlr Express for quick edits and beginners, and Pixlr Editor for advanced editing and professional-level tools.

I recently discovered and fell in love with Affinity Photo, which is a fully-featured photo editor akin to Photoshop at a fraction of the cost. At the time of writing, it is available for download for PC/Mac at GBP 48.99 (Ipad GBP 19.99). Far too many features to detail here, but check out the Affinity website and tutorials.

Canva is a template-based design platform for creating social media graphics, presentations, posters, documents and other visual content. It is available for browser, Windows, Android, and iPhone and is free to use. (There is a subscription service offering additional features.) My friend and fellow mental health blogger Aimee Wilson of I’m NOT Disordered is an avid user of Canva and was keen to share her impressions:

I discovered Canva through a digital marketing internship and immediately found it incredibly easy to use. Over the past year, I’ve continued to learn about more of Canva’s functions and love that it allows me the opportunity to use my creativity and imagination to produce images for my blog.

A Worked Example

I thought it would be helpful to see how I select images for my own blog posts, using this article as an example. I began as I usually do, with a visit to the Unsplash website. A search for “blogging” returned 277 images. Limiting it to landscape orientation reduced the number to 158. A quick scan through them yielded nothing promising so I refined my search to “blog photos.” One image immediately caught my attention: a number of vintage photographs on a desk, by Joanna Kosinska. I bookmarked it and continued looking.

Searching for “choose photo” yielded several similar images. I bookmarked two, by Dan Gold, and Sarandy Westfall, respectively. Equivalent searches at Burst didn’t return anything I liked, but at Pixabay I found a photo by jarmoluk which I added to my shortlist.

I had four excellent but similar images to choose from, but I wasn’t finished yet. I returned to Unsplash and searched around concepts such as “choosing,” “choice,” and “website design.” Nothing came up that caught my attention. I put the title of my blog post into Google and scanned through the image results. Two links stood out for me: How to Select the Perfect Image for Your Blog Post, and 11 Best Practices for Including Images in Your Blog Posts. The banner images their authors had chosen were similar to the four I’d selected. I downloaded the images I’d shortlisted and set them aside until the next day.

Clockwise from top left: Dan Gold, jarmoluk, Sarandy Westfall, Joanna Kosinska.

Dan’s and Joanna’s photographs stood out for me and I tried each as the banner image for my article before deciding to go with Joanna’s. I hope you agree it works with the theme of my post.

Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash



  1. I use AdobeStocck and have usually been satisfied with the choices and the results. I agree so much with what you say about choosing images with different ages and races that represent other experiences than one's own.

    1. Thank you for taking time to comment end share your thoughts. These are topics that I feel don't always get as much attention as they warrant, so it's good to know we're on the same page. Creating or choosing a suitable image for a blog post is perhaps my favourite part of the whole creative process, although it can be frustrating at times!