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Using images and photo content

This article provides tips for creating and using photos and other image content, including guidance around copyright.

As you’ve seen, there are many ways you can make sure that any video content you create enhances your message. Now it’s time to look at how images, photos and other graphical elements can work best online.

Graphic of cropping an image

A large part of the human brain is focused on visual processing. Images, videos and other graphical elements on a website both draw the eye and provide opportunities for people to scan down the page. A good image can therefore be used alongside text to enhance or underline the key message without distracting from it.

Here are some practical tips for using photos and other images:

Choose the best format

Portrait, as the name suggests, is useful for pictures of an individual person, but can also be used for other subjects. Additionally, pictures in portrait format look more at home on a smartphone screen, which shares the same orientation.

But photos in landscape mode (wider than they are tall) look better on laptop, desktop and TV screens, and can be viewed more fully on smartphones if the viewer rotates the screen.

If in doubt, take photos of the same subject using both orientations and see which works best for the object in the frame, but don’t forget how the image will appear on the page. Landscape is usually safest.

It’s fine to use a combination of formats (portrait, landscape or square), but be consistent with size/ratio to avoid your content looking too mismatched and jumbled.

Think about image size and position

Don’t be afraid to crop images so that the subject is obvious. It can also be useful to crop so that you reduce distracting background clutter.

If your images are going to appear together in sets or as a whole, for example in an Instagram feed, mix up the content so it’s not just endless variations on the same thing. This is especially important if you are taking product shots or covering a limited topic area.

Define your look

If you can, decide and define an overall look. This could be a particular colour scheme or a way of capturing people or products. Your visual treatment then becomes an extension of your content brand.

DIY graphic design services and apps like Canva or Stencil can be used to create graphics for social media and your own website. They offer a range of templates, fonts and design elements, and have most social platform sizes built in, making it easy to export an image for a particular use.

Check rights and ownership

Finally, don’t forget that you can’t use any image off the internet or social media. Just because it’s online, doesn’t mean it’s free to be used. Fair use is very different to ‘free use’.

Fair use means that certain images can be used when no substitute is available, for the purpose of comment, reviewing, teaching or news reporting, and for the benefit of the public. For example, a picture of a new breakfast cereal taken from the manufacturer’s website could be used in a blog post about the launch of the cereal. However, you couldn’t use the same picture from the manufacturer’s website just to make an unrelated blog post look nicer. That’s out of the realm of fair use.

If you don’t have your own images, you can use public domain, royalty-free images, or images licensed by Creative Commons . Stock images are also an option, and can be found either for free or relatively cheaply. The website is a great resource.

Images that have been posted on social media, eg product shots by fans, may be used with permission, so it’s important to ask before hitting the publish button. If you do use someone else’s image, with permission, you should always provide attribution so viewers can know how the image was sourced, and click through to the original creator if possible.

If in doubt, assume the image is subject to copyright and don’t use it without permission. Find or get your camera and take another picture instead, or figure out how to get or pay for the permission you need.


Finally, whenever you use images, make sure you also provide good captions, which help with accessibility as well as context.

A good caption might include the following:

  • Identifying the main people in the picture or the location where it was taken.
  • Describing the subject matter or activity depicted.
  • Relevant information (eg historical) which help explain or add depth to the image.

Providing this additional information can help viewers understand the image’s context as well as content.

Give feedback:

  • Do you take or use photos?
  • How do you think they could be used in your content plan?
Share your ideas with other learners in the Comments section.
© University of Leeds
This article is from the free online

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