Like many creative professionals, I’m also a photography buff. From DSLRs to point-and-shoot models to the surprisingly high quality shots from our cell phones, photography is more popular today than probably ever before. Need more proof? The folks at Infographic Labs reported that more than 250 million photos are uploaded to Facebook every day.
As with any other art form, we can study the most successful, creative, and appealing photographs to find ways to improve our own. But this goes beyond simply posting better photos on Facebook. As we all hone our amateur photography skills, we can also use those lessons to improve our work as writers and marketers.
I want to apply some of the best photography tips I know to something most of us do regularly — write content marketing blog posts.
1. Get in close
If you’re taking a snapshot of your family, you want to see their faces, right? If you’re standing at the rim of the Grand Canyon, you probably want some background in it, but most snapshots are about the people. When you’re taking a group shot, take a few steps closer. Do you really need to see their feet? The street behind them? Or would you rather see the expressions on their faces?
The same applies for your content marketing blog posts. The most read article on UX Matters is Matteo Penzo’s post from 2006 on Label Placement in Forms. This isn’t a post about “forms” or even “form labels” — it’s specifically about the placement of those labels and their impact on performance.
Sure, it’s a very small subject, but it’s invaluable if that’s the question you’re trying to answer! If you’re looking for general information on forms or labeling, you may not find this article at all. But if you’re trying to find research about where to place those labels, there’s a good chance this will be the first result in your search.
The key takeaway of Penzo’s article? Placing your labels above the form fields like this can reduce time and effort for your audience, potentially increasing conversion rates.
2. Try out interesting angles
We’ve all seen pictures of the Alamo, the Empire State Building, the Taj Mahal. So why take another? Too often, we take photos as proof that we were there, that we saw that thing that millions of other people have seen, too. But nobody is excited about seeing those photos. But what if you take a shot from inside, looking out? Or from the bottom looking up? Those are interesting angles that catch attention and get shared.
This idea is even more important for writing content marketing blog posts. Nobody wants to read a post about a topic that everyone has already heard, thought of, or written about themselves. Do we really need another post about why blogs are important for SEO? But what about the argument that A Blog is Not a Content Strategy or Content Strategy is the New SEO?
Both of these articles — one from a content strategist and the other from an SEO pro — challenge traditional thinking about content strategy and search engine optimization. Though they come from opposite directions, both articles ultimately point out the ways we’re all facing the same challenges and what we can learn from each other. By writing from an unexpected angle, both authors were able to break out of the traditional boundaries of their respective industries.
3. Pay attention to the background
The right background can make or break your photo. Too much detail and noise, and it can take away from your subject. Too little, and your subject is stranded on a blank canvas. When you’re setting up your shot, carefully choose a background that enhances the shot, providing enough interest and context without stealing the spotlight from your real subject. For an example that takes this to the extreme, check out these almost surreal photos from art fairs from photographer Andy Freeberg.
The same goes for your content marketing blog posts. You shouldn’t write in a vacuum, and you shouldn’t expect your audience to read in one. Give your readers some context with references to the current writing on your topic, both supporting and dissenting opinions. But don’t write a post that simply parrots everything everyone else has already said without adding anything new to the conversation.
For example, in his excellent CMI post, Divorcing Content from Form, Mark Sherbin balances this well. He provides a clear view of current camps in content strategy, while also adding his own valuable thoughts on the responsive design and “content first” discussion.
4. Use creative juxtaposition
In photography, you can combine seemingly unrelated subjects or ideas to tell a deeper story than either could tell alone: a grizzled soldier handing out candy to small children; caribou grazing alongside massive oil drills; a single flower sprouting from the snow. Our minds have to work to resolve our expectations for the two subjects, and in the process we often end up seeing both differently.
This past May, Boston.com’s Big Picture Blog featured a beautiful series on the Joplin tornado: One year later, with stunning images that combine the devastation and hope residents have experienced in that community.
You can use the same principles in your writing, drawing interesting connections between seemingly unrelated topics. Writing about a new app while renovating your house? Why not share the similarities you see between them? Or, do as David Hobbs recently did with the post, Planning vacations (and websites): He uses the differences between traveling alone and traveling with a large group to open a discussion of different approaches to managing a website project — and we come away with better insight on both in the end.
5. Watch for great opportunities
The world is full of great photo opportunities — you just have to be ready for them. Some of the most memorable photos of all time — the V-J Day Kiss in Times Square, the flag going up at Iwo Jima, Ali celebrating over Frazier — are the result of someone not just in the right place at the right time, but also having their camera ready when it happened. Notice how many people in the background of that Ali-Frazier photo are watching the fight with their cameras at their sides.
Great content marketing blog posts don’t just come from industry conferences, research, or recent projects. We’re surrounded by great material every day; we just have to watch for it.
On a recent trip to the Austin airport, I noticed something funny about one of the recycling bins. The labeling and color-coding on the side didn’t correspond with the actual receptacles on top. A very minor detail, I know. But I snapped a couple of quick pictures with my phone, and a few weeks later turned that simple observation into a blog post about user expectations and usability — Content Strategy in the Wild.
A big part of successful photography is learning to see the world like a photographer. It’s a semi-conscious act of looking at the world in the context of the finished product. The exact same thing is true when you’re writing for your blog. Don’t just think about the topic you want to cover, the keywords you’re trying to generate, or the deadline you need to meet. Think about the finished product and how you can make it more interesting, meaningful, and memorable for your audience.
Looking for more tips for taking your content to the next level? Read our Content Marketing Playbook.