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Build a Successful Creative Blog

Lesson 15 of 26

Visuals For Your Blog

April Bowles-Olin

Build a Successful Creative Blog

April Bowles-Olin

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Lesson Info

15. Visuals For Your Blog

Lesson Info

Visuals For Your Blog

What are the challenges that you guys have as a whole, when it comes to visuals on your blog? Yes. Taking photos when the only camera I have is my camera phone. Okay, alright. And are you wanting to possibly get a point and shoot, that would be maybe in the 100, 150, 200 dollar range? Maybe, something budget friendly. Yeah, okay, alright. But for right now, trying to take really good pictures with your camera phone. Yeah. Yeah, okay. What about you guys? What about the visual aspect of it, isn't so easy for you? Or that you struggle with? Well, as a photographer, I take lots of pictures of babies and families, but that's not all that I'm sure people wanna see, and so knowing what other parts of my life and the process that other people wanna see, besides the portraits I take. Ah, that's a good one, yeah. Definitely, as a photographer. You're gonna be showing those pictures, obviously, but what else should you be showing too? Yeah, and we're gonna make a photo list. That's one of the ...

things we'll do. So, visuals are a must, which many of you already probably know this. High quality images are expected, especially from creative entrepreneurs. So, if you're a creative, and you make jewelry, or you're an artist, or you do lots of DIY projects, people wanna see high quality pictures of that stuff. So you already know that it's important. Especially if you sell products, you know that it's important. However, if you're blogging, and you're a service-based business, visuals are also a big piece of it. It's something that we see right away, when we land on your blog. The pictures that are on it. The pictures that, the very first picture from that first post that's there. And, just like everything else that we've talked about within your blog, your visuals really reflect on your brand. So, if you're using blurry photos, if you're using dark photos that aren't very nice, not only is that a turn off, and people are probably gonna leave your blog a lot sooner, but also it reflects on your brand as a whole. People wonder what else isn't professional, when they see pieces that aren't so professional. And if used correctly, they'll deepen your brand's identity and cohesiveness. And that's what you really wanna do. So you wanna have fun with visuals. Some people say, "Oh my gosh, I hate the photography part. This is the really hard part for me." Other people really struggle with the writing, and that's the really hard part for them. Some people say both of it is pretty hard. So I'm gonna tell you the stuff that I use, and the tips that I use. But we want to make this fun. I want you to have some fun with your photography, and with your visuals. And, coming up with creative things that not only you'll enjoy, but also that your ideal reader will really enjoy as well. So you have only a few options, right? You can take your own photos, create your own visuals. You can hire someone to take photos for your brand. You can purchase stock photos. Or, you can hunt for professional-quality photos that are creative commons and can be used for commercial use. And that's a big one. If you're gonna use photos on your blog that aren't your own, you have to make sure that you're able to use those photos. You wanna make sure that they are creative commons, and for commercial use. Even though, in that blog post, you may not be selling anything, most of us are using our blogs to promote our businesses, therefore, it needs to be something that's allowed for commercial use. So those are your options. That's pretty much it. You gotta pick one of them. So I'd like to know right now, what you guys are currently doing. So which one are you doing? Are you taking your own photos, are you hiring somebody to take photos, are you looking for stock photos, or are you looking for free ones? What's happening right now for you guys? I do a mix of my own photos and free photos. Okay. Free photos, and your own photos, alright. I take my own photos. Okay. And, do you find that to be easy? Yeah. There's always things that I am working on, personally, but they're I think too nitty gritty for this. Right. Yeah, there's, I'm always trying to make it, learning more, but. Okay. Lifelong learner, yes, exactly. Me too, me too. With my photos, I always feel like I could do even more to improve, absolutely. What do you do for visuals. The last one. Looking for free photos with creative commons. Usually around Flickr. Using Flickr to get those photos, yeah. Okay. I do a combination of the making my own photos and my own visuals, and then hire, for personal shots, I've hired somebody. Those are good for a couple years. Yeah, yeah. And that's a good investment. We'll talk about having those professional shots of yourself, and how that's a really good investment. Obviously you're a photographer. I take my own. Obviously, yes. I take my own, and my husband is a photographer, so he takes some for me too. That is nice. That's awesome. What about people online, what are they saying that they do the most? A good variety here. We have some people that are taking their own. There's also a trend here of people using PicMonkey to edit the photos that they take themselves. A lot of people love PicMonkey. And they're also pointing out a couple of free, not ugly, stock photo places. One is Death to Stock Photos, and another one is Unsplash. So those are some interesting suggestions. I personally, I have a really talented husband photographer. Yes. So, Score. And then what we do is actually, because you heard yesterday about all the planning that I do ahead of time, we will do a dedicated shoot, where I will get a bunch of different stuff. Things that I know can be incorporated later on into topics. So it's kind of like I have my own stock library to pull from, when the time comes. I love that. Yeah. Yeah. So let's talk a little bit more about each of these options. Hiring someone to take your photos is often pretty expensive, and you have to wait for them if you need more photos for your blog. So there are some circumstances where getting somebody to take your photos is a good idea. For instance, let's say you're really not at the place where you feel like you are capable of taking professional quality photos, and you are a jewelry artist, selling your jewelry. Then you wanna hire somebody to take those photos for you, so that when you're selling your products, you've got those great photos. Because when you're selling online, obviously people can't pick it up, they can't feel it, they can't put it on. So the photos, that's what's gonna sell your products. So that's a good reason. If you're not there yet, and you wanna take your own photos eventually, or, you just wanna hire that aspect out, especially for your products. The times that that can be tricky, is if you are hiring it out for your products, but you're taking your own photos for your blog, then sometimes they don't match up, and there is a branding disconnect there. Also hiring someone to take your photo, so that you have professional about photos, for your About page. And then also, when that magazine comes calling, and says, "Hey, we wanna do an interview with you, or we wanna do a feature of you," so that you have that headshot. Because they're gonna say, "Do you have this headshot available," you wanna be able to say yes. Stock photos are less expensive, but they aren't created for your brand. However, they can be a decent option, especially if you are pressed for time. So, you've written your blog post. You're ready to go. You don't have a lot more time to put towards taking a photo. A stock photo you can get, purchase. Yo can easily search for those on those stock photography sites. Pick one out, and put it up there. However, it doesn't usually match your branding. And some of them feel very stiff, and not exactly what you want associated with your brand. And, like someone mentioned in the chat, Death to Stock Photography is the only stock photography option that I've ever really loved, and it's free. So, I suggest that everybody signs up to get their monthly photos. They'll send you a pack of photos every month for free. And, it's kind of like Christmas morning when they come. I haven't used them yet. However, there have been instances where I've thought, I don't have any photos sort of like this, and this is really creative, and really fun, and I could see myself possibly using something like this. So I suggest that everybody signs up for Death to Stock Photography. Then, you've also got using free, creative commons photos. Now this one, the really downside to it, the con to this one, is that it can take so long. It can take you the same amount of time to find a photo, as writing your post. And, that shouldn't be the case. If you're gonna be taking your photos, then it can take some time, and it's worth it. But, often, unless you're gonna settle for something that's meh, that doesn't really match your brand, it can take a really long time. So in my opinion, at least taking some of your own photos, is the best option. But, you do have to commit to learning about photography. Because, it reflects on your brand, right? So, you do have to say, "Okay, I'm going to learn the basics." And even, I think, even a little bit more than the basics. So that you can use your own photos. And, just to kind of pinpoint this a little bit more, I'm gonna put up some slides, and on one side, there is gonna be a stock photo. On the other side is going to be a photo that I've taken. So, you'll be able to see the two photos side by side, and I want you guys, you guys know my brand, by now you know the photos I've been using by now, so I'm gonna see if you can tell a difference. If you can say which one is the photo that I took, and which is the one that I pulled out of stock photography. So, which one do you think is the photo that is mine, that I took? Right. Yep, absolutely. That, it's definitely much more my style. There's nothing wrong with the one on the left, it's just not my style. It's not something I would use. (laughter) This one's pretty obvious, right? Because I'm in it, but the one on the right. Famous red balloon. Yes. Okay, here are two sets of colored pencils. Left. Yeah. Even though there's nothing wrong with either one of them, this is just my style. Well it seems as though you've chosen a particular pallette. Yes. Yeah, so a lot of the colors seem very consistent throughout. Is that what everyone's seeing too? Yeah, the colors and the lighting look very consistent. The lighting looks more natural. Yes, yeah. That's something that's really important to me is natural lighting. So, for this one. Right. Right, okay. So, I use my photos as a branding tool. I use it as a way to develop Blacksburg Belle even more. To make the experience even better for my readers. And because, I love photography. So some people may think, well I don't love photography as much, and I completely understand that. That's why there are some other options. However, if you enjoy taking your own photos, trying to make those visuals as best as you can, and also to develop your unique photography style. As you experiment with photography, this happens naturally. You develop your own style, and it just starts to come together. When I first started, my photos weren't all extremely similar. You wouldn't be able to point them out. If I put them up on a slide, you might not know which one was mine, as opposed to which one was somebody else's photo. However, I've been taking photos for years now, so I've developed my own style. I know the way that I like to edit them. I know which tools I like to use within Photoshop. I know what kind of filters that I like the most. I also know the angles that I like the most. I know it's easier for me to get those shots. It used to be a lot harder. And still I do take a lot of shots before I get the one photo that I'm gonna use, but it used to be like, I would have to take 200 photos before I got one photo that I was in love with, and said, "I'll use this on my blog," or, "I'll use this for this product." So, just a disclaimer. I am not a professional photographer, but I've learned quite a lot from taking my own photos over a number of years. So, there are probably lots of professional photographers watching, so if you guys have tips, put them in the chat rooms, especially as I go on. And, if you guys have tips, you can share them as well. And I'm gonna let you know what I do. These are my tips and tricks. This is how I take my photos, to give you a little bit of insight, and to help you maybe figure out how you might be able to make some slight improvements. But of course, in the chat rooms, lots of tips are definitely welcome. So, do you need the fancy stuff? This is a question I get a lot. I can't take pretty photos, because I don't have a DSLR camera. I can't possibly take those really nice photos. Well, I think absolutely not, you do not need one. Sage, you can take some pretty photos with your camera phone. We've all seen those beautiful photos that have been taken from somebody's camera, from somebody's phone, right? The camera on their phone. iPhones do amazing things nowadays. However, I do suggest having a point and shoot, because there is a little bit more control. You have a little bit more options, as far as the aperture, and being able to, what I mean by that, is being able to have something in focus, while the rest of it is blurry in the background. Lots of people wanna know how to get that kind of photo. So, I used to get those photos all the time with my point and shoot. I used that for years, before I had my DSLR, and was using those photos, and I was getting lots of compliments. So you do not need the fancy stuff. It's not necessary. Are people, what are people saying in the chat room. Well, actually my husband, being the photographer that he is, he's a gadget attractor. (laughs) But actually, there's a lot of really cool lenses that you can actually put on your iPhone, that give you that DSLR kind of control, and you can get wide angle, you can sort of do the various focusing techniques. And have more control. And then apps on your iPhone give you some control too. So that's another option as well, that I'd throw in there. Yeah, it's great because the chat room was sort of reading your mind. Before this even came up, there was a discussion about fancy stuff. And Not Delilah was saying, "No, you do not need fancy equipment." And as soon as they said that, up comes this slide, and you start saying, "No, you don't really need all of that." So, it's good to get that perspective from the audience here in the chat room. And actually, Barbara L says, "Coming from a photographer's viewpoint, it's not the equipment, as much as it is the eye for the composition. You can have a $5,000 camera and do lousy shots, or a $200 point and shoot, and do the best photos." Yes. Absolutely, I love that. Yes, 100 percent I agree. And also, it's your style. It's how you look through the lens, and develop those photos. We have a comment. Yeah. Well, I wanted to say one thing about this, when you may want to, when you're ready to bump up to something more, is depending on what you're photographing, I had the point and shoot before, and I was trying to shoot a lot of my letterpress items, and no matter what I did with the light, I couldn't get the detail I wanted, until I got something with a bigger sensor size. So, just to note, and I was having so much frustration about it. So if there's anybody else having that frustration, that sometimes, unfortunately, sometimes you do have to get something with a little more power behind it. So sometimes, you're saying, equipment can be a problem, if you want something very specific. Yeah. Yeah. And another consideration, D brings this up. Hey also, you don't need fancy software. I pull everything off of iPhoto and Preview. So, that's another consideration. You work in Photoshop, but, the Adobe CC now has really made that very accessible. Yeah. Software has come a long way over the years. Now the most basic free software that comes with your devices is usually good enough for most situations. That's true. Yeah, absolutely. So, an example of this, if you guys have been to Mayi's site so far, we chatted with her in session one, she doesn't use a DSLR, and her pictures are beautiful. Her pictures are gorgeous. And she doesn't have the fancy stuff. In fact, she said to me recently, "I wanna buy a camera just because there's this really cute camera bag that I wanna get, and I wanna have something to put in there." So what do you need? The basics. A camera. You need some sort of background, if you are going to be shooting products especially, or if you're gonna be shooting some sort of items. I have a background setup right here. A piece of white foam posterboard. I suggest this because it's really inexpensive, and you can reflect light. So if there are shadows, you can usually get rid of those shadows with a piece of white foam posterboard. Photo editing software. Can be free. Can be PicMonkey. That one is really popular. I've used that one. And, can get really great photos from it. And natural light. I love natural light. And I know that not everyone loves it as much as me, and some people would use a light box, or some sort of artificial light, and that's fine too, if that's your style. But for me, I think natural light just makes the photos even more beautiful. You might also want a tripod. Many photographers swear by them. But I only use one about 5 percent of the time, because I like to move. When I'm taking photos, I am moving all over the place. Obviously, I stay still so that I can snap the picture, but then I'm off and moving to another angle, or getting down low, or what have you. So what's your photo list? This is on page 50. Make a list of all the photos you can think of, that you definitely use on your blog. And start looking for opportunities to take them. So what are the photos that you know, the types of blog posts that you write, what photos do you know that you're going to need at some point, or that you would use? Or that you might use more than once? On this list, you want to include a professional photo of yourself. A headshot, working on your craft, working at your desk. Professional does not mean boring. It just means high quality. It just means something that you are proud to send to a magazine. Or, to a really popular blog. A photo that you are proud of having on your About page. And then think about the types of posts that you write. And what kind of photos you'll need for those. I know that I am going to use photos of my craft projects on my blog on a regular basis, so I will take photos of them always. When I'm knitting, I'm gonna take some photos. When I am making jewelry, I'll take photos of that. Any time, I make sure to take photos during that process. But it's nice to have a list. Sometimes I will think of upcoming topics I have, and I will start making a list of the photos that I know I'm gonna need for those. And, when I say not boring, this is a photo that I use on my site. Or, this is a photo that I've used on my site. And here's another one. This is one that I used to promote a blogging course that I taught. And I'm sitting in a shopping cart, in the middle of a supermarket, with my laptop. It's a high quality photo, but it's not something uptight, stiff, in a collared shirt. Some people want that for their blogs, and that's completely fine too. But when I say professional, I don't mean you have to just be standing there with a white background, in your professional clothes. It depends on your brand. It depends on your business. Here's another example. This is an example that I took with Mayi, in our tutus. We were with a professional photographer, and they were taking lots of photos for our site. And, we were doing lots of different things, but this is just one of them. And we used this in one of our sales pages. And it worked really well for us. When we posted these photos of us in these tutus, people, our ideal customer, our ideal reader, they were going crazy. They were so excited over these photos. So what photos are on your list? What are the photos that you wrote down, that you're like, I have to get these photos. I know that I'll use them on a regular basis. Some of our readers are actually looking for ideas for this. For instance, Ballet Uni says, "I really wanna get away from stock photos and do my own. I'm just stumped about what to photograph that fits my niche, ballet, and it seems that most blogs show life, and crafty things. Any ideas?" I believe she actually owns a business where she instructs classical dancers who are studying ballet. I think we've got an example right here. Tutus, dancing around? (laughter) Right, right, but I think her approach is a little bit more from a form, and really helping the dancer's body be healthy, and a lifelong dancer, and help their technique. What ideas might you suggest? So, then, the first thing is some of those techniques. Just photographing some ballet dancers doing exactly what you would show. Right there. Like her clients? Like some of her clients, maybe? Yeah, yeah, some of her clients. Or, if she wants to do them herself, and have somebody else take the photos of her. Like, the photo, this one my husband took, and he's not a professional photographer. He did take quite a few to get this shot. And I taught him exactly what I wanted him to do. It took me about 10 minutes for me to say, "This is what I want. This is what I'm looking for." He also took this photo. And, he took that photo. So he's not a professional photographer, but he took a ton of shots. So, if you're having somebody, let's say that person wants to be in the photos herself, she could have somebody taking those photos. Have a friend come over for the day, and take as many photos as possible. That's one of my best tips. So that you have a ton to choose from. So more of like postures, and just a lot of just different variety of movement in the body. Yeah. As opposed to things, and crafts, and whatnot. Yeah, and I'm glad that you brought that up. You are not a professional photographer. Neither is your husband. But you took a lot of them. We actually have a professional photographer in the chat room. Me Too in the chat room says that I'm a photography teacher, and one of the best tips that I can offer is to shoot a lot, and show a little. (laughter) So that definitely works well for people. Absolutely, absolutely. For 50 photos that I take, I share one. So, what about you guys? What do you have on your lists? Well, I have, so I thought of, so I have the portraits of babies, but having really happy babies, or babies who are crying. To make some point in a post, like having a really sad baby might be pretty funny, or having a baby with just a awkward outtake look on their face too, for some kind of confused reaction. And building those images as visuals, and not just showcasing images from a session. Maybe keywording them, and figuring out a different way to use them. Yeah, yeah, that's a great idea. I like all of those baby shots. (laughter) What else? Can't go wrong with flowers, and nature scenes. Flowers. Also, vignettes of furniture, rocks, plants, you know, whatever. And you talk about the tough stuff. The hard stuff in life. And so that would go very well with that type of stuff. Flowers, nature, that kind of stuff, yeah. You could use that over and over again. What else? We had a question in the chat room about the locations where you're taking these photos. Now you showed one where you were in a supermarket. Now is it okay for people to go into these public spaces, to take these pictures for their blog, or should these be more personal, intimate settings, in their home, or is a good mixture of both the way to go? Yeah, it depends on your brand and business, and what you're comfortable with. I was comfortable going into the supermarket, and taking a cart and sneaking down an aisle and getting in it. And my husband and I, we just decided if they come kick us out, then they come kick us out. Whatever. So, we didn't mind it. So it depends on your brand and business, and what kind of shot that you're getting. Most of the time, I take photos outside of my home. And so we're just in the natural light outside. And actually, there did come up, there was a weather issue. If natural light is not as available, like the Pacific Northwest, what do you do? So, one of the things that I suggest, is figuring out where you get the best light in your house, and at what time of day. So, you may only have an hour where you get really good photos, and that's when you have to take your photos. You may only have a couple of hours. If you don't have any natural light, if you're working a day job, and you just can't take it during the times where you get the best light, then of course you can use artificial light. You can make a light box. I would Google, put in there, how to make a light box, DIY light box, and you're gonna come up with so many tutorials, and ways to do it very inexpensively. So let's talk about improving your photos. This starts on page 51 of your workbook. Choose an attractive yet not distracting background, or backgrounds. I have multiple backgrounds. This is one that's sort of like a background that I use. This looks like a wood pallet. I've gotten all of mine for free, actually, because my parents own a constructing business, and they come across this stuff all the time. So they'll just pull it and bring it to me. So I'm pretty lucky that way. But you can find this stuff, or you can even make this easily, by going to Lowe's, getting some stuff, scratching up the boards. This is the type of background that I like to use a lot. I'll also use neutral colored fabrics, like burlap, if I want to get some texture. I will also use scrapbook paper sometimes, if I want, like the textured kind, if I want a colored background, I'll just go buy some scrapbook paper. But you don't want to get too crazy. You don't want to take away from whatever you're trying to photograph. What backgrounds do you guys currently use for your photo sets? Yeah. I use my hardwood floor in my house. I don't have a piece of wood, but my wood flooring looks nice in a lot of pictures. That works, yeah. That works well. I have a painted, not painted, a wood fence that I use. Ooh. And I have a wall that I've painted almost black. And then I have some white posterboard. And some craft paper too. Like a roll of craft paper. Yes, a roll of craft paper. That's a great one for backgrounds.

Class Description

There are over 200 million blogs on the Internet, so how do you cut through the noise and stand out in the crowd? A quality blog boasts great content, a powerful voice, and relevant, useful information. The problem is, putting all of those pieces together, understanding how to find the right audience, and marketing your blog is no easy juggling act.

Join the founder of Blacksburg Belle and author of Marketing for Creatives April Bowles-Olin for a comprehensive course dedicated to teaching you how to write, create, and market a successful blog. Drawing on the same methods she’s used to help successful entrepreneurs around the world grow their online presence, April will teach you how to find your own voice and get more comfortable writing like yourself. You’ll learn how to develop a strong editorial strategy, attract the right readers and write engaging headlines that will drive traffic to your site. April will also explore some of the key problems that hold bloggers back -- from writer’s block to boredom to insecurity about what you’re writing -- and explain how to overcome them. Best of all, April will teach you how to save time and have fun while contributing to the success of your blog.

After just three short days with April, you’ll possess the perfect foundation for better copywriting and creating a powerful, traffic generating blog.



This course is absolutely amazing. April is so enthusiastic and inspiring. It is clear she has spent a lot of time preparing for this course with a wealth of useful information in the videos and the workbook and the resource pack. Having just launched my new photography website, I have been looking for ideas and help with the blog- a new area for me. This has made me feel excited about my business. It's helped me plan my blog posts for the coming months and highlighted the importance of a good blog for keeping a website fresh. I found myself excited for each new video and sad when it was all finished! I've purchase a few courses through Creative Live but this is my favourite so far and April has a lot to do with that.

Kristina Zambrano

Where to start? ... Um I took my blog to the groomer ha! you guys must be thinking how on earth you take a blog to the groomer pretty easy actually you just go and click where it says "Build a Successful Creative Blog with April Bowles and you are taking it to the groomer. Now leaving my pet-related talking if you are creative and have no idea where to start in blogging this is your place to start she (April) will teach you everything about the blog world with a touch of joy, fun and creativity. She will take you from Zero, Nada, Nothing to Something or better say to a brand new groomed blog. And if you need more to convince you to get this workshop you just read April Bowles "26 post you gotta read - blog tour" and if that doesn't make you get it, then you are totally not ready to Blog. Thank you so much April for everything you shared with us.


This course gave me both the impetus to begin the blog whose domain I was sitting on for nearly a year and the skills to do it well. April was - and still is - supportive and helpful to all of the people who participated in the course. It became a community of people, supporting and helping each other to follow through with the amazing instructions that she gave us during the course itself. The resources she gave us are still useful, and the connections I made on her site and the sites she pointed us to have made my blog successful in only a few months. AWESOME course!