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How to Source Great Alternative Pictures for Articles

Updated on September 27, 2012
JohnMello profile image

JohnMello is a writer, composer, musician and the author of books for children and adults.

Pepper plant close-up
Pepper plant close-up

If you're anything like me, it can be frustrating trying to find just the right picture for your article. Once you get your head round the various websites and their attribution requirements, you'd think the rest would be easy. But it might not be...

There are plenty of sites to choose from, sites like Wikimedia Commons, morguefile and Pixabay that offer free images, but it would be naive to think that you'll find every single picture you want on one of these. And the more articles you write, the more pictures you're going to need. You can only use the same shot of that hand hovering over the piano keyboard once or twice, because after that it gets stale. You need to keep your article content fresh, interesting, different and as exciting as possible. And one way to do that is by using pictures or photos that no one else has used - EVER.

So how exactly can you do that? Just take the bull by the horns and... TAKE THE PICTURES YOURSELF!

Open dictionary using a fish eye setting
Open dictionary using a fish eye setting

Article Picture Possibilities

I needed a photo of an open dictionary. I found two free examples online, one at Wikimedia and one at Pixabay. But they weren't quite right. So I opened my own dictionary, set my camera on fish eye, and snapped away.

This gave me the luxury of choosing any page I wanted - and of finding exactly the right word or words for the article I was creating. That particular article was about finding inspiration to write and one of the ways I suggested to do that was by looking for words in a dictionary. Because I had my own dictionary to hand and a digital camera, I was able to take a bunch of quick shots until I got the focus and content just right.

It isn't always possible to take pictures of items you want for your articles, because sometimes you might want a picture of something on a different continent, or a picture to highlight an emotion. You can't pop out into the garden and shoot the Empire State Building, nor can you always find suitable subjects for more esoteric topics like love or self esteem. There will be times when online sources are essential, but there will also be times when they're not.


Pepper plant on sparkle setting
Pepper plant on sparkle setting

Photos That Add Interest and Value

Why use your own pictures? Well, here are a few reasons you should consider:

  • They make your articles even more unique - we all have access to the same online photo sources. Some of us might pay for photos, while others will trawl the freebie sites. It's only a matter of time before we end up with similar images. Using your own pics ensures your articles stay as individual as you are.
  • They give you more options - can't find a picture of "opposites" online? Neither could I. Not a free one, that is. I want my articles to make money for me, so I'm not keen to fork out for a picture just because it's the only one that comes close to what I'm after. I used two pictures for this, both found online, one of ice and one of flames. But as soon as I can I'm going to take a shot of my own and replace those with that.
  • They give you control - my digital camera is an inexpensive Olympus with 18x zoom and a bunch of settings I haven't even tried yet. There's a setting called "magic" which includes options like sparkle, watercolor, fish eye, pop art, pinhole, and so on. It can be set on automatic or I can play around with my own settings, taking random shots just to see what the results look like. Because it's digital I can snap away and take as many pics of the same subject as I want, deleting the ones that don't come up to scratch.
  • They teach you something - I've owned my camera for about two years, and this is the first time I've used some of the features. Most of the time it's set on automatic and I simply snap away when an opportunity presents itself. You probably do the same with your phone. But with a stand-alone camera I can take dozens of pictures of the same subject, using different settings, and come up with unusual or interesting photos that I wouldn't be able to create otherwise.

The picture at the beginning of this section is another shot of my pepper plant, the last of this season's attempts to grow my own vegetables. Slugs, birds, hedgehogs and squirrels devastated my outdoor crops, so I was keen to keep these plants inside. They took forever to germinate and are only now starting to bear fruit. This photo uses the sparkle setting, a neat effect that I think looks pretty cool. It might not be absolutely right for this photo, but some day it will be just what the doctor (or photographer) ordered.

Meanwhile, the picture below of the same pepper plant employs the pinhole effect. Again, whether or not the effect works for this particular shot isn't really the issue. Just by selecting a different setting you get immediate variety and a whole plethora of possibilities. That's pretty amazing considering that all you really have to do is press a button or two, point and shoot.

Pepper plant using pinhole setting
Pepper plant using pinhole setting

Using Available Picture Taking Tools

I wouldn't call myself a photographer, and there's still a lot I have to learn. But even the simplest camera these days is capable of producing high quality photos at the click of a button - so maybe we're all photographers.

Once you add software to the equation things can get as complicated as you like. There's plenty of free software available that will let you crop pictures and add various effects. Here's a sequence of pictures showing one process I used to create a postcard-type effect. The first is of a litany of ladybirds lumped together on an evergreen shrub.

Ladybird cluster
Ladybird cluster

I imported the picture into Picasa (a free Google-owned image editor and uploader) and applied the postcard effect to it, which made it look like this:

Postcard effect applied
Postcard effect applied

And finally I added some text to give the postcard a more authentic look and feel:

Postcard with "handwritten" text added
Postcard with "handwritten" text added

The two pictures below were taken in just a couple of minutes using my camera and that "magic" setting again, just to demonstrate how quickly images can be snapped and altered without having to do very much work:

Cushion using soft focus setting
Cushion using soft focus setting
Cushion using watercolor setting
Cushion using watercolor setting
Simple way to keep greaseproof paper in place
Simple way to keep greaseproof paper in place

Photos That Make Great Articles

Some articles are positively crying out for you to use your own photos, such as recipe and DIY articles. Telling someone how to bake a cake or build a shoe rack is one thing, but showing them raises the bar. People like to find information in a hurry, and one way to make their job a little easier is to lay out the parts of a process using step-by-step illustrations.

This is particularly effective with recipes and how-to articles. Readers will need to verify their own work at every step of the operation, and having reference pictures gives them the ability to do that.

  • Does my whisked mixture have the same consistency as in the photograph?
  • How can I keep the greaseproof paper from sliding all over the place on my baking sheet?
  • What's a bain marie? Oh, I can see a picture - it's just a glass bowl placed over a pot of simmering water.
  • How dark should the cake be when it comes out of the oven?
  • How do I test to see if my cake is cooked all the way through?

Use these tools to get the job done
Use these tools to get the job done

All of these potential questions can be anticipated and answered just by taking pictures as you progress through the recipe yourself. Likewise, how-to articles may need images to guide the reader along, showing things such as:

  • What tools to use
  • How to protect yourself and your material while working
  • How to cut, nail and sand wood properly
  • How to measure accurately

And so on.

Sunset on a winter's day
Sunset on a winter's day

Tips for Taking Quality Original Pictures

While you're considering using your own pictures to add the wow factor to your articles, why not go the extra mile? Here are some tips that will help you take the best pictures you can and that should guarantee your online articles attract more visitors.

  • Think outside the box - take shots of your subject from above, from below, from every angle. Take close-ups to add an extra dimension to what you're trying to convey.
  • Use light to your advantage - it's generally accepted that dawn and dusk are the best times to take photos. But what if the sun's beaming down when you're in just the right spot? You could take a picture with the sun behind you, or you might try filtering some of the sunshine through a nearby tree. If that doesn't work, get someone to stand near you and block out the excess light.
  • The two-thirds technique - enjoy shooting landscapes? They can make a great visual impact, from snowy mountain peaks to meandering countryside to lakes and oceans. Make sure that you don't put the horizon in the center of the shot. It makes the result look weak and undefined. Instead aim to get either the sky or the earth into two-thirds of the picture for maximum effect.
  • Take pictures that work - shoot people, places and things. Make sure there's something in the photo that will draw people to it. That could be a famous landmark, an event, an activity or an unusual sight. For instance, imagine a shot of a beautiful lake on a late spring afternoon. Not bad. Now imagine the same lake with a kingfisher diving for its lunch, and on the bank there‚Äôs a sign that reads "no fishing."

Taking quality pictures will guarantee that your articles are fresh and original, giving you the edge over the competition. Use your own photos whenever you can to give your work that extra bit of pizazz.

Mast and rigging of the pirate ship at Whitby, North Yorkshire, England
Mast and rigging of the pirate ship at Whitby, North Yorkshire, England

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    • JohnMello profile image
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      JohnMello 3 years ago from England

      Thanks ecogranny - glad you liked it. Taking your own pictures is the way to go; I think it makes me more creative trying to come up with images that suit my Hubs. Whenever possible, that is :-)

    • ecogranny profile image

      Kathryn Grace 3 years ago from San Francisco

      Thank you for this article. I'm always looking for ways to improve my amateur photography skills so I can better illustrate my articles. You've done an excellent job with this.

    • JohnMello profile image
      Author

      JohnMello 3 years ago from England

      Thanks Arachnea, esmonaco and Ilonagarden for your positive feedback :)

    • Ilonagarden profile image

      Ilona E 3 years ago from Ohio

      Nice, basic photo how-to and tips.

    • esmonaco profile image

      Eugene Samuel Monaco 3 years ago from Lakewood New York

      Thanks for all of the help here. I use my Olympus, but I'm more of a point and shot guy, although I am learning and getting better. Your pictures are amazing :)

    • Arachnea profile image

      Tanya Jones 3 years ago from Texas USA

      This hub was very helpful. I use a Canon PowerShot SD 780 IS with 3X zoom. I've suspected for a while and your images above prove it, I need more zoom capability. I'm looking at another camera in the Canon line which is designed for the amateur and has more power and features.

      The ladybug cluster is lovely. I also love the clarity of your images. Great hub.

    • JohnMello profile image
      Author

      JohnMello 3 years ago from England

      Thanks Don, Arachnae and Lorelei for reading and for your positive comments! Glad you all liked it :)

    • Lorelei Cohen profile image

      Lorelei Cohen 3 years ago from Canada

      Wonderful tutorial on images. I have taken pictures of the covers of books or movies but not thought of opening a dictionary to take a picture there. What a very useful tip. I also liked the polaroid idea. Very nice. I generally lay a white sheet over our couch and take many of my shots that way so the item shows but not the background.

    • Arachnea profile image

      Tanya Jones 3 years ago from Texas USA

      This was at the top of my feed. Gotta run now, but it looks interesting and I'll be back to read it more thoroughly.

    • Don Bobbitt profile image

      Don Bobbitt 3 years ago from Ruskin Florida

      Very Good article. I really enjoyed it and you kicked me in the head (not literally) with some reminders of how to take good pictures.

      Thanks for the article, Voted UP and I am now a Follower.

      DON

    • JohnMello profile image
      Author

      JohnMello 3 years ago from England

      Thanks kemilahypnosis. That sounds like a lot of pictures... must have taken a while!

    • profile image

      kemilahypnosis 3 years ago

      I really like this, being creative in your own way.

      I just signed up for HP, so that I could comment here.

      I published 8 hypnosis CDs, and all of those I used my own pictures.

    • JohnMello profile image
      Author

      JohnMello 5 years ago from England

      Thanks ignugent17! Appreciate it.

    • profile image

      ignugent17 5 years ago

      Very useful. I will try to check out the features of my camera too. I do hope I will get good shots like your photos. They are very pretty.

      Voted up and more! :-)

    • JohnMello profile image
      Author

      JohnMello 5 years ago from England

      Thanks WritingPrompts & janesix!

    • janesix profile image

      janesix 5 years ago

      I should probably use pictures but i never do. good hub.

    • WritingPrompts profile image

      Karen 5 years ago from The Garden of Eugene (Oregon)

      Great ideas. I really like what you did with the ladybugs.

    • JohnMello profile image
      Author

      JohnMello 5 years ago from England

      Thanks davidlivermore!

    • davidlivermore profile image

      David Livermore 5 years ago from Bakersfield, California, United States

      Nice hub, I find it difficult to decide what pictures I am going to use if a hub isn't intended to have pictures. I should be more creative and find pictures that stand out. Thanks and voted up.