Gini Dietrich

Four Tips to Take Photos for Your Content

By: Gini Dietrich | June 11, 2013 | 

Four Tips to Take Photos for Your ContentOn Sunday afternoon, I participated in the Counselors Academy pre-conference session on how to take photos for your content, rather than relying on the work of someone else.

Armed with just the cameras on our phones, Paul M. Bowers, sent us outside four times during the three-hour workshop to take photos. We had 10 minutes to take 10 photos each time.

He began the conversation by asking us all to raise our hands. We all did. Then he said to raise them higher. And hands went up a few more inches. Then he asked us to raise them higher and I stood on my chair (teacher’s pet I was that time!).

His point was, when given the opportunity to step outside of the box, not many of us do it.

And then the fun began.

The Six Inch Rule

The first time he sent us out with how to take photos for your content in mind, the only assignment was we couldn’t shoot anything more than six inches off the ground.

His point? To see how creative people are when limited to that range. People came back shooting only things on the ground, while others laid on the ground and shot upwards (I laid on my belly in the hotel’s driveway and nearly got run over!).

A Nebraska Fan

©Gini Dietrich

Tom Garrity

© Tom Garrity

© Ken Benson

After he reviewed the good, the bad, and the ugly (though he never said any of our photos were bad or ugly), he asked us how the photos made us feel.

When you look at any of the above photos, they elicit some sort of response from you…except the middle one, which is a shared experience for those of us in the workshop. The stick is what Paul gave us to make sure our phones weren’t any more than six inches off the ground.

Because we all have the shared experience of the stick, we thought that photo was funny.

The Rule of Thirds and Negative Space

Then he talked about the rule of thirds. You always want the focal point of your image to be in one of the thirds of the screen: The top third, the bottom third, the right third, or the left third so it creates what’s called negative space.

In other words, centered images without space around the photo’s subject are L-A-M-E. Think about white space on your websites, blogs, or even on your business cards.

I love white space, but we tend to want to fill the space.

When you’re shooting images to standout from others on the web, this is a big no-no. White – or negative – space is good!

And we were sent out to take 10 photos in 10 minutes combining the rule of thirds with negative space…but this time we didn’t have to work only six inches off the ground.

©Gini Dietrich

Tom Garrity

©Tom Garrity

See how the images don’t focus the subject in the middle of the page? I actually took one photo that looked great and used the rule of thirds in the thumbnail version, but when you blew it up on screen, it was totally centered.

Think about how the images will look when they are bigger than what you see on your phone’s screen. It is always better to err on the side of too much rule of thirds, just in case.

He also said the reason Tom’s pencils work so well is because the photo has interesting shapes, texture with the pencils against the patterned napkin, and form.


The third assignment was lighting: Soft and hard. He talked us through hard lighting, which is what happens when the sun is at noon and the types of shadows it creates that are really, well,  hard.

For instance, think about the shadow underneath your car on a really sunny day. How is that different than the one when it’s partly cloudy or closer to dusk? The former is hard lighting and the latter is soft.

He split the room up and half were to get images of hard, while others did soft. Because it was a cloudy day, I was pleased to receive a soft lighting assignment.

©Forest Featherston

©Forest Featherston

©Ken Benson

©Ken Benson










Take a look at Ken’s photo. See the hard lines the lighting above the artwork creates? And then Forest’s feather creates a soft shadow on the bedspread from the natural light coming in the window on the lefthand side.

Neither or right or wrong…they just elicit different feelings.

Foreground and Background

For this last assignment, I was running out of creative juice and was really hungry (darn you, Pete the Tapeworm!) so I hired a creative consultant.

Martin Waxman helped me create 10 photos that had an image in the foreground with a blurry background. What we came up with, instead, were photos of him posing in funny ways (I was tired and hungry!).

But some of my peers took the assignment more seriously.

©Forest Featherston

©Forest Featherston

©Tom Garrity

©Tom Garrity










Look at how Tom’s subject is in the foreground and so present, while the background is blurry, giving the image so depth, but keeping the apples very prominent.

The piano keys in Forest’s photo is different in that the foreground is blurred and the background is strong.

Two different takes on the assignment, but both very compelling.

Much more compelling than, say, this one my creative consultant and I took.

©Gini Dietrich

©Gini Dietrich

Take Photos for Your Content

The only thing I wish Paul had done is ask us to come to the workshop with 10 blog posts chosen and then asked us to take photos to support the content.

Afterwards, Joe Thornley said, “The world is full of interesting things. Why use an image everyone else is using from Creative Commons? Go out there and shoot something for yourself.”

Now, armed with these tips, you can!

Thanks to Ken Benson, Tom Garrity, and Forest Featherston who all gave me permission to run their photos here. The image at the top of the blog post shows you the tools you need to get started.

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro.

  • Ahhhh, a topic after my own heart. Producing still images and producing moving footage uses many if not most of the same rules you mentioned above. You made me yearn for TV land again! Nice work Gini.

    • belllindsay I want to talk more about this with you. I think we have some real opportunities others aren’t doing.

      • ginidietrich The more work you pile on me, the less chance I will get fired. #winning!

  • What a fun and interactive workshop. Thanks for sharing the tips. Sometimes I spend more time searching for an image I can use on my blog when it would probably be faster just to take one that illustrates the content. Photography is one of my great loves, and I use all my own photos for two of my blogs…I just haven’t tried it for Word Ninja since that design seems to lend itself more to illustrations. Might rethink that. Anyway, the “shared experience” concept is interesting, and I had the same emotional reaction to the little stick guy. Did he (Paul, not the stick guy) talk about keeping that concept in mind when planning photos for content? If so, any tips on that?

    • Word Ninja He did, actually! He recommends images that create those shared experiences because they work really well (though you have to be careful about not alienating new people). Like the stick image, even though you weren’t there, it still was funny to you because it’s out of the ordinary and interesting.

      • ginidietrich Thanks, Gini. Really fun post.

  • You’re right, I *did* love this post. 😀

  • I have been using personal photos from around here on my posts. I never really looked at them in the way presented here. Thanks for the tips! And were are the Waxman pics! Sheesh he got off easy!

    • Howie Goldfarb The very last one is his thumb!

  • Love these tips, Gini! Thanks for sharing them.  I’m focusing on using my own images for my blog so I will definitely keep these ideas in mind.  Love the idea of white/negative space – hadn’t really thought about that before, but it sure is eye-catching.

    • Figures, the two Canadians posted a similar comment at the same time. 😉

    • Canadian Blog House It is, isn’t it? I hadn’t ever considered that either (or not centering my subject), but I think it’s really, really compelling.

  • I love this post too. It’s also another nudge to share thoughts about the two fabulous workshops I attended at Social Capital. Ha!
    Thanks so much for sharing and demonstrating these tips to shoot better photos. One thing I’ve found is many of us hoard our digital pics. I’ve started digging through on my own archives and am often surprised by what I find. Once and a while, I even find the perfect photo for a blog post.

    • EdenSpodek Yes! The video workshop! You definitely should blog about that.

      • ginidietrich Ha! I mentioned TWO workshops above.

  • I mean, most of us have smartphones that are capable of producing halfway decent images. By using these tips, none of us should want for images ever again, or have to delve into Creative Commons. Add some filters and you’ll look somewhat professional. 
    You’ve inspired me, Gini. Thanks for making my Tuesday just a little bit better. 🙂

    • bradmarley If you use the grid on your camera and keep these tips in mind, your phone is completely sufficient. He said photographers will tell you you need a fancy camera. Not the case at all!

      • ginidietrich I use the Camera+ app on my iPhone. It works well and only cost $.99. (Although, my wife does take some good shots with her slightly more expensive camera.)

  • John_Trader1

    What a fun exercise, thanks for sharing that experience Gini. Since most of the world is more attuned to visual learning and with the rise of videos and photos in content, this is quite timely. I find myself snapping pics on my cell phone when out in public nowadays and keeping them to use for future content pieces, hoping I can tie the photo’s theme into a post or article, sort of the reverse of what you were talking about.

    • John_Trader1 He gave a really good analogy: He said you can write a beautiful description about a plate of food, but until you see it in a photograph, it doesn’t appeal to your senses. I love the idea of moving people through images to support your smart writing.

      • ginidietrich John_Trader1 I have reservations about the whole snapping photos thing all the time. 
        If I am being honest it kind of kills the experience for me….I think an unspoken but embedded tip in this post is that negative or whitespace means something when you’re talking about volume, too. It’s important to pick your moments.

  • MichaelBowers

    Great post and information. I like to play with my phone taking pictures but this helps me think about why I should take the photos in a certain way. It is also helpful to understand how to create your own photos instead of using someone else’s. By using your own photo for a post you can create something that goes with what you have written. This completes the experience of your post.

    • MichaelBowers You really should test yourself on the 10 images in 10 minutes exercise. It doesn’t allow time for thinking and is kind of amazing what you can find just by walking out your front door.

  • I love this post.  It really makes you think about the “why” as opposed to just taking photos for your content.  I do not come from a photography background, so this was very informative.  I always preferred using original content rather than Creative Commons so I’m glad you posted this.  Thanks!

    • sumnerj14 And the original content will never get you in trouble with the copyright police!

      • ginidietrich sumnerj14 Perhaps more important- you are telling your story using your own words. not someone else’s.

        Think about that- as wordsmiths, we write and create, and craft moving stories for ourselves or our clients. And when we do that, do we use other peoples words? Sure, sometimes we use quotes, but imagine going tot he internet and selecting sentences that please you and just “incorporating” them into your story.
        You wouldn’t do that, right? You want to use your OWN words.

        So why do we use someone else’s images?

        • Paul M Bowers ginidietrich sumnerj14 Err. Because we are lazy? 😉

        • JoeCardillo Paul M Bowers ginidietrich sumnerj14 

          Funny. I take pictures because I’m too lazy to write and not talented enough to draw.

        • Paul M Bowers JoeCardillo ginidietrich sumnerj14 Ha! Truthfully, I can neither write nor draw nor take pictures. So you’ve got one up on me.

  • Oooh! I love this! I recently awarded myself the honor of being named one of ‘2013’s top up and coming amateur iphone photographers’, as well as Petrolino magazine’s “iPhone Photographer of the Year”. 
    Right now, my current artistic direction has been guided by a more modernistic avant garde style (meaning I have no idea what I’m doing and just shoot at pretty things), so these are great tips to hone my craft! Plus gives me a reason to go play outside and call in work!

    • LauraPetrolino I share an eerily similar artistic direction!

    • LauraPetrolino Just when I think it’s not possible to love you more than I do, you write a comment like this.

      • ginidietrich <3 This comment just officially made my day!!
        Nothing beats an early morning Gini-a-gram to start the day on the right foot! 🙂

    • LauraPetrolino Well deserved honors. I’m a subscriber to Petrolino mag and looking forward to the upcoming “Bigfoot, finally captured on film” series.

      • JoeCardillo We are very excited about the Big Foot Issue! Most interesting was the post shoot interview with the big guy, where he talks very emotionally about his reasons for becoming so elusive (which stem from an unfortunate chain of events following an embarrassing moment of singing “Private Dancer’ during karaoke night at a sushi bar in Queens. A lesson for all that saki bombs and Tina Turner just don’t mix).
        Also be on the look out for our September exposé on the pajama wearing habits of llamas. Groundbreaking!
        Thanks for being a loyal subscriber!!

  • Very cool workshop. I’ve been working on this myself, trying to stay attuned to potentially useful images as I go about my day. Street signs, graffiti with a provocative message, architectural details, etc. Grammar errors are a favorite.
    I’ve even found interesting stuff on vacation and in old vacation albums (a road winding to the horizon, a door ajar, etc.). Sometimes the photo can inspire a whole blog post instead of just complementing it.

    • RobBiesenbach I LOVE grammar errors, too! We should do a project/blog post together on that. Love that!

      • ginidietrich Do you remember those two guys who traveled the country correcting grammar problems on signs (like adding an apostrophe with a Sharpie)? I had to look them up:
        But yeah, I have a few, from the Grand Canyon to Carmel, CA. (Though I just take pictures of them; I don’t copyedit them!)

  • patrickreyes

    So glad I read this especially now since I just purchased my first SLR camera! Thanks Gini!

    • patrickreyes Where is your avatar??

      • ginidietrich patrickreyes Yeah! Now’s the perfect time to put these tips into action and snap a sharp nose blurry forehead picture lol

  • This is awesome: I’m bad at photography and especially struggle to find pictures for blog posts. Thanks, Gini!

    • Unmana Now you have to figure out how to use these tips to create photos for your content!

      • ginidietrich Yeah. Thank you for adding more work to my week. 🙁

  • Very cool! I love a workshop that sends me out of my seat with a project. One of the reasons I almost always do a “Wordless Wednesday” post (even though they are never wordless with me) is that it makes me get my head out of the “word box” and into the “visual box.” I’m no proficient photographer (AT ALL) but of course that hasn’t stopped me :-). Conversely, I can count on one hand the number of posts out of my 500+ where I haven’t used an image (mine or someone else’s) to illustrate my point. For me, they’re a big part of the blog post. I’m new to iPhone ownership/usership so I’m still learning — and these tips are helpful so thanks! Here’s a fave Wordless Wednesday (pre iPhone, real point-and-shoot camera):

    • biggreenpen I love your Wordless Wednesdays and your ability to try new things, even when you have no idea what you’re doing. That’s a real talent…most people won’t do it and it’s one of the things I love about you.

  • Joseph Gier

    nEBraSKa… Yeah I know

  • Wow, I’m flattered by all the great feedback, thanks, everyone for the kind words!

    If you didn’t get to attend this session, I have good news- I can come to you. It’s my intention to offer sessions like this (they are never the same) to agencies and companies as creative and teambuilding activity. is where to find me.

    Thanks again for all the kind words.

    • Paul M Bowers Thanks for sharing your wisdom with us…and for heckling me. Next time, I’d like to see a contest!

      • ginidietrich Paul M Bowers A contest for tallest-standing participant? ;  )
        Can’t. Just like a photo contest, it’s SO subjective. It would be like a contest for the best fruit- apples or oranges?
        Each image, if properly shot from the heart and from the soul, is unique to the individual behind the camera. There will be some images with which I (and others people) will connect more than others.
        Our jobs, as image creators, is to demonstrate the unique way we see the world, and our responsibility is to be true to one’s individual vision.

        Unless I’m getting paid. Then I’m just another ‘ho. 

        Hey, Mister? Ya gotta dime? Hey Mister, do you wanna spend some time?

  • Yay!  I’m glad you took that class… fun… right!?  I love taking photos for my content… no surprise.  Sometimes it’s a challenge.  One of my recent blog posts was titled… Storytelling Doesn’t Start With A Blank Page.  Tough one… but here’s the photo I took…
    –Tony Gnau

    • T60Productions You’re so much more creative than me. I would have taken a blank page. LOL!

  • Gini, you’re soooo right about this post being for me!! Mr. Paul M Bowers definitely knows what he’s talking about!!! It sounds like you’ll be giving me a run for my instamoney in no time.  Not that I’m a “pro” by any means, I just play one on Instagram, but the takeways you shared from his workshop should be read by all who want to improve their photo snapping swag.  I made up a lil rhyme based on my old Football Coaches advices “If you’re high, your pic will be crap; if you’re low you’ll deliver a good snap”.  Of course I’ve taken lots of pictures standing up, but many of my most popular shots have come from a lower vantage point because most everyone takes pictures at chest level!  Not that I blog much anymore, but I’ve started producing logos and slides from my photos and everyone wow’s over them.  Believe it or not one of my best was from inside a yellow porta potty on a bright sunny day.  I didn’t even have to go, I just knew that the glowing plastic with those lines would turn out to be a wicked background for something.  Wow – I’ve blabbered on for far too long.  Great write-up and great guidance, Paul.

    • TonyBennett I thought you’d like this one! The rhyme is awesome. LOL!!

  • Michael Koehler

    And it features a HUSKER shirt! Yessssss

    • @Michael Koehler When he gave us our first assignment, I turned to heathertweedy and said, “You have to lay on the ground for me so I can get your shirt!”

  • One of the best things I ever did for my blog was start using photos in my posts. That old saw about a picture being worth a thousand words is so very true.
    Great images make a significant impact.

    • Joshua Wilner/A Writer Writes The thing I like about this is they’re your own photos. It makes you think about things differently.

  • AnneReuss

    No slacking off anymore. From now on, I expect to see your own photos! ;-P 
    Thanks for sharing these awesomeeeee tips!

    • AnneReuss I’m certainly going to try. I have to start thinking about taking photos like I think about blog content.

  • PaulMBowers and ginidietrich This post is the definition of fresh content. Great lessons, here. It really helps when you know what detail to look for in pictures especially when a lot of us our amateur iPhone photographers. Absolutely love it. #YouGuysRock

    • Matt_Cerms And now you will go take photos for your content!

  • What great ideas! All things I’ve heard at one time or another collected into one post o’ awesome? Yes! Of course, I also love love love illustrating my blog posts, but these concepts will be equally as helpful for them, I’m sure. Thanks, Gini!

    • mickeygomez I wish I had your illustration talent.

  • Marilyn Arriaga

    Whoa, excellent post! I take all my own pictures and this post gave me some great help and ideas! Thank you

  • I have a degree in photography and still shoot pics for clients today. That said, I think the basics of composition and a willingness to stand on a chair are what it takes to get great shots. Great post. If nothing else, everyone should know about composition basics like the rule of thirds (one of my favs), leading lines, negative space and so on. You are doing a great public service here Gini. God bless you child!

    • jonmikelbailey Why, thank you! I can’t take all the credit. I”m just a good student.

      • Bah.
        In the words of a great philosopher,”No, Oz never did give nothing to the tin man, that he didn’t, didn’t already have.”

  • I love taking my own photos. I don’t always for my biz blog, but I rarely ever post images to my personal blog that aren’t my own. And images we use on our biz blog are always customized or branded in some way provided the licensing allows it. I need to start taking more of my own stock photos. It’s been a goal for a long time!

    • Karen_C_Wilson You should! There is a big world out there. Just take photos and begin to build your library so you have something to use when you need it.

      • ginidietrich Karen_C_Wilson Sage advice. Honestly it seems obvious, but I never thought about being my own stock photographer, a la Brian one comment up. But I guess that goes with one of my next goals: blogging more.

      • Lara Wellman

        ginidietrich Karen_C_Wilson Doesn’t that workshop sound like a SoCap workshop? 🙂
        Videos, photos, podcasts, blog posts.  Oh la la.  So much content to create!

  • This is some great advice for bloggers. One of the problems many people have is their images aren’t sharp. The one with the apple, for instance, is a nice image, but not in focus. The problem is the camera (phone) may not pick the right spot to focus on.
    I use a great app that is only a few dollars ProCamera which gives one the ability to have the subject be off center and drag the focus to the subject. It also allows one to take a light reading from different spots to get the right light balance.
    I’m a stock photographer, so I have a good understanding of how photography works, but even a novice who plays with ProCamera, will greatly improve the quality of their images.

    • ExtremelyAvg You can do that with your iPhone camera, too. I just haven’t perfected the process yet.

      • ginidietrich ExtremelyAvg I didn’t know you could do it with the iPhone camera. Thanks. I guess I bought the ProCamera app the day after I got my iPhone 5 and haven’t looked back.

        • ExtremelyAvg ginidietrich I like the Camera+ app for my iPhone too. It also gives you that ability. 🙂

        • ExtremelyAvg ginidietrich Just tap on what you want to be in focus o the screen and snap the photo quickly before the iPhone changes it’s mind 😉 the Camera app won’t give you light readings tho (that I know of…)

  • Gini! This is so timely! We have JUST been discussing this very thing! I say, have our own library. We could have Ramona the Pug library totally filled out of the gate!

  • One thing I do for all of my blog content is use my own photos. No copyright issues, no istock hunting, no release wrangling. The only thing is — my face (which is about the only thing I can snap reliably) gets boring to see all over my blog! So this is the perfect little guide to help me make my posts more interesting for everyone.

  • Never knew that Tom Garrity guy was so good at photographizing. Makes sense though, he’s from Albuquerque 😉
    Good tips – I think the rule of design economy is important for all visual content. If you don’t have a reason for everything happening in a piece of visual content, you’ve got some useless information there. I’ve been thinking about the phrase “everything is information design” lately and it holds as true here as anywhere. 
    The dumb-ly filled space and the white space are full of visual information too.

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  • These are good classic tips! 
    I do believe, though, that a person still needs an eye for design to be really good at photography, no matter how many lessons/tips/workshops they do.
    Once again, your posts remind me that I’m slacking. Since I claim to be good at both photography and design, I have no excuse to not take my own shots for my own blog posts.

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  • photo chris

    Gini! Look at you- you’re a pro! Okay- Ot the apple shot, but I’ll blame Pete the Tapeworm!  What a great seminar for this photog to give! Hats off!

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