You’ve thought about it, and may have even seen other bloggers do it, but using images in blog posts can be daunting…particularly if you don’t know the rules. 

right v. wrong graphic

Unlike reading a newspaper or book, reading things off of a computer screen is different, and eyes tire quickly. By adding a relevant image to a post, you’re doing more than just beautifying your post. You’re breaking content up and giving your readers’ eyes a subconscious break. This is one of many ways to make your content user friendly. And ultimately, making your content as user friendly as possible is good because the easier a post is on the eye, the more likely it will be read.

No one likes to stare at walls and walls of text.

Here’s a run down of the dos and don’ts of using images in blog posts:

  • DO: choose an image that’s relevant to your subject.
  • DO: if you’re referencing an organization, you can use their logo (for more on this, see "Questions about Trademark").
  • DO: use images you’ve taken yourself. Not an option? Search public domain sites. Wikimedia Commons is a good place to start.
  • DO: read Kevin’s post on using Flickr and other creative commons sites.
  • DO: tweak your images. Adjust the image properties (border, alignment, dimensions) to ensure the image looks as it should, without appearing arbitrarily placed.
  • DO: re-size the image if it’s too big (as a rule of thumb, re-size anything over 600 x 400 px). You can either use software already on your computer, or use Picnik, an easy site to use that allows you to perform basic photo edits for free (you can get a membership for more advanced edits).
  • DO: see our FAQ about How to properly credit a photo source.


  • DON’T: use Google Image Search. As tempting as it is, most of the images you will find are copyrighted images that aren’t fair use.
  • DON’T: ignore copyright law. Just because you find an image that you like online doesn’t mean you can use it on your blog. After all, images are subject to the same copyright and fair use laws as written materials.
  • DON’T: sweat the small stuff. If all you want is one go-to website that has great photography — and you don’t mind paying for it — then iStockphoto is one of our client favorites.
  • DON’T: use poor quality images. Always make sure images have proportional aspect ratios (width and height).
  • DON’T: be afraid to use more than one image. Pro Blogger uses a photo for each point in a bulleted list.
  • DON’T: put the image at the bottom, keep it toward the top to lure in readers.The exception here is if you’re using multiple pictures in a post.
  • DON’T: link the image back to the site where you found it. This is hotlinking, which is generally frowned upon.

Using imagery can be very effective in enriching your posts, and it isn’t difficult to do. Give it a whirl and see for yourself. Feel free to contact me with any questions on the issue, or if you simply need help uploading an image.

Further reading:

Photos blog from FlickrSeth Godin shares this morning that Flickr can be a great source of photos for a presentation or website or brochure.

Go to advanced search, choose Creative Commons Commercial license and search away. The breadth is extraordinary, but what will amaze you is the quality. And the license is a generous gift from the photographer to you.

You may need to give attribution the photographer (perhaps linking the photo back to flickr account) and be limited in altering the photo. Check details on the various Creative Commons licenses at Flickr.

Perhaps we could get Denise Howell or Brett Trout to add a comment clarifying blogger’s legal rights to use photos under Creative Commons at Flickr. They have more expertise on this subject than me.

Seth says to be sure to check out the HDR images, and don’t forget to sort by “Most Interesting.”

Shel Holtz, an Internet PR expert, has picked up on recent lawsuit brought by a Texas minor whose photograph was used by Virgin Australia in an advertising campaign. The suit alleges using the photo is a violation of the subject’s privacy rights. Shel directs us to a CNN interview with the plaintiffs attorney.

Of interest to bloggers is that the photographer posted the photo to Flickr under a Creative Commons Attribution license. On its face the license tells us we’re free to share, copy, distribute and transmit the work so long as we give attribution.

I’m not an expert in IP licensing but this Creative Commons license has been widely viewed by bloggers that text or images marked with same were free to use.

Lawrence Lessig, Professor of Law at Stanford Law School, founder of the school’s Center for Internet and Society, and driving force behind the Creative Commons License, offers limited commentary, as he’s restrained because of probable work behind the scenes as a result of the suit, drawing a possible commercial vs non commercial distinction.

[T]his case does again highlight the free culture function of the Noncommercial term in the CC license. Many from the free software community would prefer culture be licensed as freely as free software — enabling both commercial and noncommercial use, subject (at least sometimes) to a copyleft requirement. My view is that if authors so choose, then more power to them.

But this case shows something about why that objective is not as simple as it seems. I doubt that any court would find the photographer in this case had violated any right of privacy merely by posting a photograph like this on Flickr. Nor would any court, in my view, find a noncommercial use of a photograph like this violative of any right of privacy. And finally, as the world is just now, while many might resist the idea of Virgin using a photograph of theirs for free (and thus not select a license that explicitly authorizes “commercial use”), most in the net community would be perfectly fine with noncommercial use of a photograph by others within the net community.

As Lessig says, more discussion to follow – including in the many comments to his post.