Eons ago in Journalism school – back when the industry gold standard for design was Desktop Publishing – I learned that images and graphics were a vital part of a strong layout.
While the tools for design certainly have improved since those days, one thing still remains the same: compelling photos and graphics are a must-have as part of a complete story-telling package. Whether it’s a news article about the latest gadget developed by Apple, or a company website intended to attract new clients, the eye naturally is drawn to images. Choose the wrong one, and that mistake could cost you readers or clients.
According to Statistic Brain, only 4 percent of visitors to a web page will spend more than 10 minutes there. In the world of Google analytics, this is known as engagement, which is pretty important in determining whether your online content is a hit with viewers. Sure, you may have 10 million views . . . but how many of those folks stuck around for more than a few seconds?
One of the best ways to engage viewers once they are reading your story or visiting your online blog is with well-placed, relevant images and graphics. Why, exactly, is this? Well for starters, images tend to speak directly to our emotions. There is a reason the old adage about an image being worth a thousand words holds true. Reading about a hospital being bombed in Syria is far different than seeing images of the aftermath.
In addition to engagement, images also play a vital role in helping individuals to remember the information. Studies have shown than 65 percent of the population is classified as visual learners. For these individuals, images are a perfect way to transmit your message, and improve comprehension and recall of facts.
Google is not Your Friend
Now that we’ve discussed why images are crucial components of effective design, let’s talk about selecting images.
I’m sure some of you are thinking, “Well, isn’t that the purpose of Google images?” The answer is both yes and no to that particular question. While Google (or Bing or Yahoo) can be a great way to find images for just about any topic, it doesn’t mean those images are readily available for use by individuals on their blogs, websites, social media and other content. And this is where so many well-intentioned folks get themselves into serious hot water.
For example, let’s say you were creating a blog about how to keep prepared foods fresh for reheating and consumption at a later date. A quick Google search provided a ton of images of food and even some of the packaging methods you plan to discuss in your blog. You download them and publish each on your blog. Voila! All done!
Can anyone tell me what is wrong with this scenario? No? Let me help you out with two little words: copyright infringement.
Copyright infringement is the use of any work – and yes, that includes photos, images and graphics – without the permission of the individual who possesses exclusive rights to the work. Most photos and graphics online were created by someone. If that someone is a professional, chances are, they’ve copyrighted their work. Using that work without permission can be a costly mistake. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 spells out the guidelines and the penalties for digital copyright infringement. Essentially, the act allows for penalties between $200 and $150,000 for each work that is infringed. A court of law also might impose attorney fees and court costs on someone who is found guilty of copyright infringement.
Think it’s unlikely that you’d get caught using someone else’s work? Think again. I had a client who used a cute cartoon in one of their brochures. The client had found the cartoon online, decided it was perfect for the brochure, and downloaded it. Now, the client might have gotten away with it if the brochures were only being distributed in person. But my client made the mistake of publishing the brochure on their website – and the cartoon’s artist saw it. A cease-and-desist notification was immediately sent to my client, and they wisely removed the brochure from their website. That client was lucky in that the work’s original owner provided them with a warning before pursuing legal action. The owner of the work certainly wasn’t obligated to do so; they could have just pursued legal action.
I’ve seen a fair number of folks who think placing a Fair Use Standards statement on their website or in their publication frees them from the burden of properly obtaining graphics and images. Statements of this nature usually contain wording indicating that “no credit is claimed for the images or graphics on this site or in this publication, but to their respective owners. If you own an image or graphic being used, please contact us with a request and we’ll remove it.”
While that might sound all official and everything, a Fair Use Standards statement is not legal protection against stealing someone else’s work. As a general rule of thumb, if you didn’t take it or make it, you don’t own it, so don’t just help yourself.
For those who aren’t handy with taking photos or creating their own graphics, how do you find images to go with your content?
If you see a photo online that you really like and would love to use, find out who owns it. Sometimes simply asking the person for permission to use their work will get you a yes. Just make sure you get any permission in writing.
Stock photo sites such as Shutterstock and Dreamstime provide a variety of photos for a fee. It is important, however, to pay attention to the licensing with any photo you purchase. There are rules for how a photo or image can be used, as well as how many times it can be used. Each of these sites has information about licensing of the photos they provide. Do yourself a favor and thoroughly read that information before purchasing and using images.
Freebies, Freebies Everywhere!
For some, paying hefty licensing fees for images and graphics which then include a laundry list of restrictions on their usage isn’t desirable. Others simply may not have it in their budget to pay for artwork. When that happens, there are options.
Any photo-sharing site that contains Public Domain images is a good bet for finding photos and images you can use without restriction. Public Domain images are those which are not protected by copyright or other legal means or which have an expired copyright. Some of my favorite sites offering Public Domain images include:
Have some great resources for images you’d like to share with us? We’d love to hear about them in the comments.
Shari L. Berg is the owner/operator of The Write Reflection, and a writing professional for 25 years.