It’s hard to imagine modern online media without any photos or illustrations—many articles stick out to us not because of their titles, but because of their design and multimedia elements. We’ll tell you how to develop a photo style for your media outlet or blog so you can use photos to enhance your written work.
Both photos and illustrations serve the same goal—they explain the text, make it more vivid, and contribute to the visual style of your publication. But it doesn’t mean that photos and illustrations are interchangeable: each genre is needed to solve the respective problems. When you are just starting, try to find the balance between the two genres. The ideal proportion is about 4 photos per 1 illustration. Otherwise, your media outlet or blog will look like an illustrated book. It’s suitable for some media (e.g. Charlie Hebdo and comic blogs like The Cooper Review), but such a design is not appropriate for most online media, since illustrations are too emotional.
In order to help those who begin to think about the correct use of photos in their media and blogs, we have collected some simple rules.
The magazine’s corporate identity and the photos work together really well
Lively images look good with articles about sport
Photos should be added to pieces requiring evidence of something
Take photos if you want to show that you or your author witnessed a certain event, talked to a famous person, etc.
Don’t add photos for no reason—each photograph should serve a function
Think about adding photos that help supplement a story, move it forward, or express things that cannot be shown with the use of words, illustrations, or diagrams.
Analyze your publishing plan
Look for opportunities for photos to become an integral part of your content. For example, consider how still-life photos basis of the “Essentials” section in Hypebeast.
Remember that photos and graphics take time
If you want to launch a daily column with custom photographs but you only work with one photographer, they may not be able to finish shoots that quickly. You’ll want to consider changing the frequency of the column, or looking for ways to supplement with stock imagery.
Once you know your publishing plan, you can come up with a visual style guide
This is part of your brand’s identity and helps establish a consistent and recognizable style, and is a useful tool for future photographers or anyone else who helps choose media for your publication. This guide should include information like how to take photos for various article styles, how to process photos, what formats to choose. Your photo style should be as defined as the colors you use in your design. This doesn’t mean you have to limit yourself: if you mainly use blue, black and white in your design, there’s no reason you can’t use photos with other colors. Take Bloomberg Businessweek for example: a modest colour scheme is used, but the graphics are in a wide variety of colors and styles.
Choose keywords that describe the feeling and subject matter you want your photos to have
Include them in your photo guide to help photographers in choosing photos. Think about the impression that your photos should make. For example, if you write a blog about healthy living, your keywords may be things like outdoors, optimism, cleanliness.
✔︎ PORTRAITS: natural environment, eye contact, observation, daylight
✔︎ STATIC OBJECT: studio shot, plain-color background, soft shadows
✔︎ SET OF OBJECTS: pattern-like composition, graphic, geometrical
✔︎ ARCHITECTURE: straight verticals and horizontals, daylight, geometry
✔︎ COMPOSITION: optical illusion
✔︎ PHOTOREPORT: object in action
✔︎ PHOTOREPORT: pattern-like composition
✔︎ FOOD: human touch, hands
✔︎ STATIC OBJECT: scan, cross-section
Describe the style requirements the various types of photos you use regularly
For example, if you need photos of people, explain what composition is the best for portraits and whether you want your subjects to be smiling, or serious, or something else. If you use photos of architecture or interiors, what different angles need to be taken? Include some incorrect examples along with the correct ones—it helps photographers understand what mistakes they should avoid.
The photo style should also define what subject matter is okay—and not okay—at your publication
For example, a lot of news media will show photos of wars, terrorist attacks, and photos showing death. E.g. in 2015 many large newspapers published a photo of a drowned Syrian child on the Kos island beach (Reuters). But these photos would not be suitable for lifestyle blogs or celebrity media.
Don’t forget to include any technical requirements in your style guide
What quality of camera do photographers need to be using? What size and ratio should photos be cropped to? What type of file do you need the photo to be? Describe all the details to make the processing of photos easier.
Think about how you want your photos to be edited
How much retouching is acceptable on your blog? Everything depends on the type of media you work in. For example, if you write about fashion, it is very likely that you will have to retouch many of them. If you maintain a blog about travelling or photograph architecture, you may have a specific editing approach in order to really make the photos stand out.
Come up with some recognizable and recreatable photo formats
For example, if you regularly write about books, come up with some different ways to photograph them: maybe from above, on a table with eye-catching colour scheme, etc. After time, your readers should start to recognize your column before they even read the header.
Don’t hesitate to take photos with your phone or use stock photography
Today’s smartphones have great cameras and standards for photos in online media have lowered a bit. In many cases, the most important thing is not the quality of a photo, but how an event is documented, especially when there is a news angle. Some impressive lifestyle or fashion photos can also be taken on your phone. You can also buy photos from stock companies (SHUTTERSTOCK, Getty, AP, Reuters), found on Flickr (look for photos with Creative Commons license), or even pulled from social media using embed codes.
Keep social media in mind
Remember that, when you’re promoting your articles on social media, they will compete with a lot of other articles, statuses, pictures, and videos. Since about half of all the readers go to websites of media outlets from social media, it’s very important to distinguish the design of your post in the Facebook or Twitter newsfeed. If you are thinking about the visual design of a complex long read or a special advertising project, don’t be afraid of breaking the rules—it’s important to make a spectacular and catchy piece that will be read by many.
Your visual information should be easy to understand
Think about how you place photos in relation to text in an article. If you have only one photo, your readers should understand how it is connected with the content. If you have a series of photos, try to arrange them so that they supplement each other. Make captions for any photos that may be unclear to readers. In some situations (like photos with a lot of products in them) you may want to use services like Thinglink to identify objects in the picture, give references, or attach video or music. Another option if you have a lot of photos is to create a slideshow, like this one about art for T Magazine.
Think about the cover images on your posts
They’re an important element of your identity. Try to find a good combination of illustrations and photos, pictures of objects and people, to make the homepage of your publication look balanced. Use picture of people (even if your blog is about cars or finance), as they get clicked more often. Analyze how adjacent pictures work together—and try to avoid multiple photos that look to similar.