You’ve probably heard that including images in your blog posts is a great way to keep readers interested as well as spice up the visual appeal of your site. A few months ago I provided tips on using Creative Commons images on your site, but another option that’s even better is to use your own photos.
If you have a photo that’s directly related to your topic that’s ideal, but abstract photos often add a bit of flair to an article without having a topical restriction. If you’re going to use your own photos, one question comes to mind: where should you host the photos you’re using on your blog? Let’s take a look at a couple options.
Host Photos on Your Site
Blog platforms such as WordPress (both the .com and .org variety), Blogger, and SquareSpace all allow for bloggers to upload and embed images than end up stored on the blog’s server. The advantage to this option is that you control the environment and your photos live where your blog lives. With a platform like WordPress, using the built-in media gallery features means that many themes have automatic hooks for things like post thumbnails. I see three downsides in self-hosting your photos. The first is that if you want to use those photos elsewhere, it’s not super-easy to embed a link to the file. Blog software (naturally) features photo galleries for use on the site itself. A second disadvantage is that the photo upload and manipulation features with WordPress and other blog software are pretty limited, especially if you want to prepare several images at once. The third disadvantage is that photos embedded into your blog from your own host can’t easily be shared on their own by your readers. Perhaps this is an advantage if you don’t want this happening, but if someone finds a photo great, I’d like to make it as easy as possible for them to tweet it out or share it with their Facebook friends.
Host Photos via a Photo Hosting Service (Flickr, SmugMug, etc)
The other option is to store your images on a service optimized for photo hosting and then embed those images into your blog posts. Flickr is the big player here although recent rockiness at Yahoo and questions about the future of the service have some folks looking elsewhere. I’m a big fan and happy customer of SmugMug. Either one of these sites will allow you to create galleries of photos and allow viewers to browse those photos by gallery, keyword, or other metadata. Flickr and SmugMug both offer options to grab embeddable HTML code for a particular image that you can drop into your favorite blog editor – it’ll show the photo on your blog and allow a viewer to click through to see the image larger on the photo hosting site. The advantages are that the photo hosting sites generally present your photo in a visually pleasing way, allow it to be used elsewhere easily, and can facilitiate viewer photo sharing. On the downside, the photo now lives separately from your blog, which means there are more moving pieces to your blog’s infrastructure when it comes to troubleshooting or portability.
Which is Right for You?
I’m a photographer so I tend to lean towards hosting my photos on photo hosting sites mainly so that I can present them as a collection of work. I then embed them into blog posts as needed. That said, if you’re not looking to present your photos on their own and you don’t mind the limitations noted above with self-hosting, it makes sense to utilize the photo abilities of your blog platform to embed an image or two per post. If you move your site to a new web host or want to take advantage of tightly-integrated theme options, the self-hosted photos will be easiest.