Five tricks for making engaging images in today’s visual web

(Photograph via RedHow)

Developing content for the visual web poses a challenge to writers and companies who have focused most of their efforts on traditional search engine optimization tactics. While you should still focus on developing great content above all else, you’ll have to start thinking about how you can economically add compelling images to each of the blog posts, press releases, or white papers you release.

If you’re not planning on keeping a photographer on retainer, use these five tips to quickly and inexpensively generate original images for your online content.

1. Let apps help you take great photographs.

Thanks to high quality smartphone sensors and point-and-shoot cameras, you no longer have to tote an SLR around to collect great images for the web. Even if you never took a photography class, an all-in-one app like Camera+ (for iPhone) or Camera Zoom (for Android) can help you cheat your way through film school techniques like the “rule of thirds” and exposure hacks. Whether you’re taking pictures of your products or your lunch, a well-lit, tightly cropped image can raise the production value of your online content.

2. Convert your ideas into infographics.

Infographics tend to travel far across the visual web, especially when you’re trying to communicate a complex idea. Instead of worrying about getting good at Photoshop, you can use a new breed of apps and online services to convert your raw data into compelling charts. Visual.ly lets you customize any of several infographic themes for your audience, while Wordle builds word clouds to accompany your blog posts. Piktochart offers three levels of service, ranging from a free set of themes for casual users all the way to highly customized infographic templates.

3. Turn your photos into illustrations.

On the visual web, even a great photograph can get lost in a sea of great images. AppAdvice maintains a list of inexpensive smartphone apps that turn your photos into artwork. You can use use WordFoto to overlay text into your photos for a clever approach to blending visuals with your content. Halftone can give your images a pop art vibe, while Artographo lets you soften your photos with watercolor layers. Even a simple application like Over lets you overlay stylized captions on your images.

4. Adapt on Creative Commons works.

For years, professional bloggers used Flickr and other photography databases to source images licensed for free, commercial use. The technique works well to punch up an otherwise text-heavy website, but won’t help much if you’re trying to make a dent in the visual web. That’s because Curalate, Google, and your audience will usually track an image back to its source instead of to your website. Search for images that include permission to adapt, then use creative cropping, filters, and deformations to build an original illustration.

5. Crowdsource.

Stuck for time or for ideas, you can always turn to the rest of the Internet to help illustrate your ideas. You can hire folks on Fiverr to transform an existing photograph into a stylized image, or to create a new visual from scratch. If you think you’ll want original illustrations on a regular basis, you can hunt for emerging talent on services like eLance or Odesk. Remember to think about how the image accompanying your post could show up on a Pinboard or in a Facebook user’s news stream. A strong image shouldn’t be cheesy or distracting, the way that some of the web’s worst ads can clutter web pages. Instead, a strong web visual should compel a viewer to click through and learn how the ideas in your content connect back to the gut reaction from seeing the thumbnail.