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When Text is the Illustrator (or: Some Cool Photo Blogs and Photography Tips)

Something I’ve been thinking about recently because of a conversation I had with Nell Ruby (my eternal inspiration!) is how we are using images in blogging. Sometimes we use images to illustrate our text and other times we use text to illustrate images. That may seem a little obvious, but the option to interchange the two is one unique thing about visual communication.

I thought of this conversation after seeing Zain Abdullah’s post on the WordPress homepage: my best 12 pictures in 2009. His photos are the primary focus and he uses text to illustrate them, instead of using photos to compliment text.

This one wasn’t on his top-12 list, but I love it (click on it to go to the original site):

See how the photo’s the primary focus? The image provides all the info we need, but the text addition is nice extra information.

No matter how you’re using photography in your blog or website, it’s important that you choose good images. What makes a photograph good? Well, a lot of things, but let’s break down why this photo in particular is successful.

1. The focal point is off-center. Many who have taken even an intro level art class know that one of the first rules of composition is to make your focal point off-center. Now, many artists also know that there are really no rules in creative expression, so the creator should use her best judgement, and many center-focused compositions are also successful. In this case, however, the off-center focal point is one reason this photo is so appealing. When I first look at the picture, I see the sky, but my eye constantly comes back to the bright red balloon. The sky shouldn’t be underrated though–the focal point needs space to breathe, and in this case, that breathing space actually tells me more information about the focal point. Because the balloon is placed in the bottom right corner, I can see that it’s moving upwards, and I thus get a sense of flight. This positioning allows me to participate in the image as well: because Zain has given me a sense of the space around the balloon, I’m encouraged to imagine where it will go.

Click here to see an exercise on centered and off-centered compositions!

2. The colors are vibrant. Aren’t they gorgeous?! The blue and red shine equally, complimenting one another, and the white text pops so I can read it. Camera quality influences color quality, but if your picture is less than vibrant, you can always use a photo-editing software like Photoshop to enhance the colors. Remember that muted, pastel, and monochromatic color schemes can also be beautiful if they connect to the message you want to communicate with your image. The colors in this picture communicate festive, celebration, flashy, advertisement.

3. The whole thing is abstract. One common belief is that everything must be clear in a photo (and other forms of communication, for that matter) for it to be understandable. I agree with that idea here, but clarity is sometimes overrated. Even though I can’t read all of the text on the balloon, there’s enough for me to guess what it says. At the very least, I understand that the balloon is an ad. The fact that the perspective is obscured emphasizes how strange the content of the photo is. (How many people see a giant, coffee-shaped hot air balloon floating around everyday?)

The abstraction, then, due to the perspective, colors and composition, help me read beyond an advertisement for NesCafe: I see flight, consumerism, advertisement, celebration, sky, money, take-off, clear day, massive, fun, strange, unique, cliché… the list goes on. And those messages weren’t even in the caption!

So, this example of the text-image relationship may be cheating because this blogger is a photographer. It makes sense that his posts would focus on images. Another great example, though, is Linnette Franco’s photo travel blog, Lola’s Wanderlust, including her year teaching English in Korea, Global Connections trip to Ireland, and other travels in between. Linnette is an ’08 graduate and is now in Spain on a Fulbright. Go Agnes alums!

Click here to see Lola's Wanderlust!

Are you a fan of other photo blogs? How do you use text and images in your blogging?



2 thoughts on “When Text is the Illustrator (or: Some Cool Photo Blogs and Photography Tips)

  1. Thanks for a thoughtful analysis Shannon! I have a thought about image illustrating text OR text illustrating image. Substitute the word “illustrate” with “augment”–to me the best text and image combos are the ones where each tells their own story in the way they speak best (visual and verbal language), but they don’t describe each other. So you get the story from the words that you can only get from language and the story from pictures that is, er, worth a thousand words. Then you get the gestalt–the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

    Posted by Nell Ruby | January 20, 2010, 10:30 pm

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