The problem with pictures

The old adage wearily states that a picture is worth a thousand words. I take issue with this. We get paid by the word and usually nothing for sourcing an image. Yet sometimes, and this may sound strange, it’s easier to write a short article than find an image to partner it.

Clients rarely understand the pain a writer has with sourcing images. Naturally we’d rather not have to pass any additional cost on to the client so we prefer freely available imagery. For the record we use wonderful resources such as Librestock and Unsplash that use the images of talented and generous photographers who allow publishers, professional or amateur, to use them without attribution for commercial purposes.

We will sometimes pay for images, although clients don’t always expect to see this as a line on an invoice and it’s sometimes awkward to include. That’s more so late on in a project where the selection of free ones doesn’t find favour.

The main problem is usually finding the right image, especially for more abstract subjects. Particularly so in technology. Images about devices are easy, like ‘mobile’, ’tablet’ or ’server’.

The same goes with relatively literal subjects such as ‘mobile working’. You type the phrase in and there you go: a nice image of man with a MacBook Pro and a coffee cup on a table.

Then you have subjects like digital transformation, cloud computing and business security.

Process

Usually I’ll start looking for digital transformation, spend 20 minutes using various search terms like ‘office’, ‘digital’, ‘transform’ and ‘digital working’ and scroll through dozens of thumbnails before thinking “Sod it, I’ll just use that picture of the man with his MacBook Pro and the coffee cup on a table again”.

We want to be original but after several minutes of searching you end up reverting to cliché: a padlock and chain for ‘security’, man in hoodie looking at a laptop for a ‘hacker’, a pair of shaking hands for a ‘merger or business deal’ and a cloud for ‘cloud computing’.

Likewise go too abstract and you risk the reader failing to make a connection between copy and image.

Often the dissatisfaction with an image comes from a client who doesn’t like a certain photo, either aesthetically or because it isn’t ‘digital transformational-y’ enough.

The matter of copyright can be tricky, too. Happily, the position on copyright is clearer these days thanks to services like the two services I mentioned earlier but you need to be very careful when sourcing images to make certain you understand the licence terms and to give credit where it is due. We always do that when attribution is requested, for example when using a Creative Commons licence.

And this matters because…

The kicker to all this is that images are only getting more important. Sites that use quality photography or illustrations will increasingly outshine those falling back on clichéd stock photography.

When content is shared on social media these channels pull out a hero image. It’s often a big factor in whether a reader clicks through to the full item – and even then they are understandably drawn to areas where there are strong visual sign posts.

Much as I’m flippant about finding images that fit some abstract tech subject matter, getting this right really counts. Both image quality and processes for finding the right images must improve. Tips welcome.

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