Using Blogs to Find and Organise Images
Blogs tend to be text-based but they often also include images. This advice document provides an overview of blogs, considering how they can be used as both sources of images and as tools for managing and presenting your own images.
- Image blogs
- Finding images in blogs
- Some important considerations when using images you've found within blogs
- Using a blog to manage and present images
Blogs are often described as examples of 'social software' - web-based software and services that enable easy communication or interaction. A fuller definition is provided below, but essentially a blog enables someone to post entries for others to read and comment on.
Those who own and contribute to image blogs are often happy for others to use their images, and this document will help you discover the best ways of finding such images.
If you are looking for an easy way to organise and share your own images, blogs offer cheap and easy alternatives to more involoved image management solutions (for more on these, see JISC Digital Media’s Systems for Managing Digital Media Collections).
Those working in education can use image blogs to support their own work and their institutions’ strategic objectives for learning, teaching and research and business and community engagement (BCE).
A blog (short for 'web log') is a website that chronologically logs entries made by an individual or group over a period of time. Research has suggested several different reasons why individuals or groups choose to blog: to document their experience, express strong opinions or emotions; share ideas; or build an online community1.
Image blogs tend to share the following characteristics with the more traditional text-based blogs.
- Chronologically arranged - Blog entries are generally arranged in reverse chronological order (latest entries at the top), although you can also often browse them thematically via subject 'tags' or categories. You can also search them.
- Encourage interaction - It is usually possible for readers to add their own comments to blog entries. This can enable the blog to function as a kind of discussion forum - although the blog owner has more control over the conversation than in more traditional online forums.
- Provide notification - Authors of blogs can easily notify their readers of new content via 'RSS feeds' (i.e. standardised summaries of blog entries that can be collected via browser-based or desktop-based readers).
- Enable cross-linking - Individual blog entries can be interlinked through the use of permanent links (which enable others to reference them) and through 'trackbacks' (records of who has created such links). Blogs as a whole can also be referenced through a 'blogroll' (a list of a blogger's favourite blogs).
A couple of forms of the blog are particularly relevant for those who want to find or share images: the 'photoblog' and the 'moblog'.
There is a long history of "picture of the week" or even "picture of the day" websites, where professional photographers or enthusiasts proudly display their best images.
Photoblogging grew out of this activity, but has taken advantage of some of the key blog functionality we've described above: ease of organisation (chronological and thematic), easy feedback and interaction (via commenting) and easy discovery (via RSS notification and cross-linking).
There are different ways of establishing a photoblog. Some photobloggers make use of standard blogging software or services, such as Wordpress or Moveable Type (described below), sometimes with the addition of specialist 'plugins' (optional or third-party software). Others make use of dedicated photoblogging software or hosts, including:
You will also find you are provided with photoblogging functionality by default if you use photo sharing sites such as Flickr (see also JISC Digital Media's advice on Photo Sharing Sites and more specifically Finding Images on Flickr and Using Flickr to Organise a Collection of Images). Because of this trend, there is often now a blurring of boundaries between photoblogs and photo sharing sites.
Moblogging (mobile blogging) never really caught on as a term, but describes an increasingly popular activity: publishing images or other data to a blog directly from a camera phone or other mobile device.
Moblog images are generally personal in subject matter and often of dubious quality - despite the increasing availability of higher quality camera phones. However, one area where mobile phone photography is appearing more and more is in news reporting - an image's immediacy is often much more important than whether it is well-composed or completely in focus. Moblogging is being used by both the "citizen journalists" - individuals who blog their own news accounts - and by the traditional media, although some critics suggest this activity raises some ethical concerns2.
There are several dedicated moblog services (such as Moblog or Mobypicture), but it is more common to find moblogging facilities integrated into standard blog, photoblog or photo sharing services. There are also various apps for uploading images from specific phone models to blogs and photo sharing sites.
Searching for images within blogs can prove a challenge, since they are often buried within text and inadequately captioned or tagged. There are a number of different strategies you can take to find images, three of which are considered here: searching, subscribing and "socialising".
Once you have found an image you would like to use, make sure you have permission to use it - see the Copyright section below for more on this.
3.1 Searching for blog images
General image search engines such as Google Images include some images drawn from blogs, wikis and photo sharing sites, but these are neither comprehensive nor always very up-to-date.
If you are looking specifically for blogged images, or think the type of images you are looking for are likely to be found in blogs, it makes more sense to use a blog search engine. The more useful ones will flag blog entries that contain images or enable you to limit your search to entries with images:
- Photoblogs.org - searches for tags within 36,000 photoblogs
- BlogScope - searches from among 38m+ blogs and flags images within search results
You may find some of these other blog search engines useful, but note that they do not flag or limit their search to images:
If you do try a few of these you will see that the results can be very mixed. Where these tools can be helpful, however, is in enabling you to find individual blogs - or rich clusters of blogs - that can then be searched individually, subscribed to, or explored socially via their links and comments (see next sections).
Photoblogs are an obvious source of imagery, so Photoblogs.org listed above is likely to prove particularly useful. Another way into these specialist blogs is via sites offering browsable photoblog directories or highlighting the 'best of' the photoblogs, for example:
- Cool Photoblogs - directory of photoblogs submitted by users
- Photoblog Community - directory of self-listed photoblogs which can be browsed in many different ways. Lists the 'top' photoblogs, as determined by member voting.
- Photoblog Awards - annual award, chosen by users.
3.2 Getting your images by subscription
Once you have found a source of good images, you may find it useful to take advantage of blog notification, which as we said above is a key feature of blogs. This is usually achieved by subscribing to RSS feeds: a standard format for distributing notices about new content, usually denoted by this symbol:
In order to subscribe to such feeds, you will need an RSS reader, which could take the form of a program you install on your computer, a web-based service, or a web browser feature or plug-in.
3.3 Taking advantage of the social side of blogs
Another key feature of blogging is its social dimension. Not only are the blogs themselves often highly personal in nature, but they encourage personal interaction through commenting, groups and cross-linking.
If you find a blog with useful images, it will be worthwhile exploring any comments for references to similar blogs or image collections. It can also be useful to explore the links that are made to and from the blog. By browsing in this more social way, you are likely to find other people who are creating similar content or who share your interests and tastes in images.
If you're hunting for images and succeed in finding a good one via a blog, you'll then need to consider whether you can or should use it. The image might not be of the size or quality that you need, or there may be some legal or ethical issues to address.
The fact that an image has been made freely available on the web does not automatically entitle anyone to copy it: most online images are subject to some restrictions. Look carefully for indications of copyright, but note that © symbols or "All rights reserved" statements are not required - copyright is automatic and does not need to be asserted in any way.
Helpfully, people are increasingly making their content available under simple and standardised Creative Commons (CC) licences. Some of the content on Flickr is available under such licences - see our advice on Finding Images on Flickr for more on this. The following pages are also useful in locating CC content:
If you do see a Creative Commons symbol, you should click on the licence to check your obligations. Also be aware that sometimes people wrongly assign licences to material that isn't really theirs, and that a CC licence at the bottom of someone's blog entry doesn't necessarily mean that all the images contained within that page are intended to be included.
If you are in any doubt about the status of an image - or you want to use a work that you know to be in copyright - contact the owner of the blog. You will often find that people are very happy for you to use their image and are grateful that you've asked.
You may also need to think about ethical issues. Photos that are blogged or moblogged often include other people, sometimes caught unawares or in embarrassing settings. Sometimes, in the context of citizen journalism, blogs will include images depicting people in pain or caught up in traumatic events. Although these might be made available under a Creative Commons licence, there may be good reasons not to use them. If in doubt, contact the blogger or consider finding a different image.
Many of the images included within blogs are of poor quality to begin with and can be compromised further by software that automatically resizes them to fit into a template. An example is Moblog which resizes images to 516 pixels along the longest edge. Although this size was well suited to camera phone technology in 2004 (when the site was established) it would now be considered pretty small and limits how the image can be used.
The quality of images is generally much better on dedicated photoblog sites, since their users are very serious about their images (see for example Daily Dose of Imagery which has won numerous photoblog awards).
If you need a large or good quality image (e.g. for printing), it is often worthwhile contacting the blog owner to see whether they have a better quality version you can use or purchase.
This section considers how you might go about presenting and organising images using your own blog. There are many different ways to use images within or alongside blogs, so each particular blog service or software will differ in what it provides.
Note that this section considers the use of images within standard blog services or software. If images are the primary focus of your blog, then the best approach may be to use a dedicated photoblog service (the main ones are listed in Photoblogging and moblogging above). Alternatively, you could use a photo sharing service (such as Flickr) that provides blog features - see our advice on Photo Sharing Sites for more on these.
We looked at these popular blog platforms - Blogger, LiveJournal, Moveable Type, Typepad and WordPress. Blog functionality changes all the time, so you should check out each service carefully before making your choice. For a wider and up-to-date list of available blog services and software, look at Wikipedia's entry on blog software (but bear in mind that anyone can add to Wikipedia's list, so you will find popular, well-supported software listed alongside some that are new or obscure).
5.1 Some common approaches to getting images into blogs
Embedding individual images within blog entries.
If you want to share an individual image with readers of your blog, most blog software will let you to embed it directly into a blog entry. However, there are differences in the way this is achieved and the ease with which this can be done.
Some blog software requires a bit of work to insert images: you need to upload each image then link to them by inserting the relevant code into your blog. Others make it very much easier, enabling you to click on an image button and locate a picture on your computer. It will then automatically resize and position it for you. Some software will give you more control of this process: enabling you to determine the size and position of the image within your entry. It might also prompt you to add a caption or some 'alt text' (for making images accessible to those using assistive technology to browse web pages - see JISC TechDis for more on web accessibility), or it might give you the option of inserting the image as a thumbnail that will link to a larger image.
If it looks like the blog software you're using is of the 'fully automatic' variety (e.g. doing its own thing in terms of sizing and positioning), it's worth finding and checking your 'user preferences' or 'options'. It may be that you can change the default settings for embedded images. It's also worth seeing if there are any 'plugins' (additional software) you can add to your blog to handle images more elegantly. Sometimes such plugins are available directly from the blog developer, but they are often provided by third parties so it's always worth doing a web search.
Creating blog albums
Some blog services have built-in photo albums/galleries or plugins that can be used to create albums within your blog. These can be used to organise and present images to readers of your blog and you can create links to the albums or particular images from your blog entries. The functionality offered by blog albums varies considerably, so if you're thinking of using a blog-based album as a primary means for organising and presenting your images you will need to check carefully the features offered by particular blog software or servcies.
Pushing images into your blog from photo sharing services
Some photo sharing services such as Flickr, Photobucket, or Picasa Web Albums, will enable you to post images - or sometimes whole albums - directly to your blog. Look out for buttons such as "Blog this" or "Share images". Note that while some of these services will only let you blog your own images or albums, others will let you blog photos from collections owned by other people - which could be useful but may raise some copyright concerns - see above for more on copyright. Generally you will need to have an account on the photo sharing site in order to push images from it into your blog.
Pushing images into your blog from mobile devices
As we mentioned above in Photoblogging and moblogging, some blogs are now well equipped to receive images directly from mobile devices such as camera phones - either as an individual blog entry or an addition to a photo album. For those whose phones or blogs are not yet compatible with such services, another route is to send photos from your mobile device via email to a Flickr account and have them automatically sent on to your blog.
Pulling images into your blog from a photo sharing service
An alternative approach to pushing individual images or albums from a photo sharing service into your blog is to set up your blog so that it automatically pulls in images from an external image collection. This is usually achieved with the addition of a plugin. It might display the latest images, a random image from your collection, or create a link to individual albums.
5.2 Further image help for specific blog services
Images-specific information for the popular blog platforms:
- Blogger - support pages on images
- LiveJournal - ScrapBook image hosting feature
- Moveable Type - photo plugins
- Tyepad - image and video plugins
- WordPress - support on using images and information on WordPress as a photoblog or image gallery
5.3 So many options!
Blogs are increasingly providing album features or enabling these to be plugged into them, while photo sharing services often now function as blogs, providing all of the typical features we described above (chronological arrangement, interaction, notification via RSS, and cross-linking). So you should think carefully about whether you can meet all your needs through one of these services, or whether it makes best sense to establish both a blog and an online gallery and create links or push/pull your images between them.
The solution will be different depending on your circumstances. If you have a lot of images and you want to use an online service as the primary means of managing and sharing them, then it is often better to choose a dedicated photo sharing service and use the blog as a means of promoting and linking into your collection. If, however, your use of images is more incidental and they relate to particular events or narratives, then a blog might be the right choice - or indeed, a wiki (see our advice on Using Wikis to Find and Organise Images).
Blogs can be very useful sources of images - especially for newsworthy or topical issues. There can be some challenges in finding these images, since they are not well represented in standard image search engines. However, some of the more social and interactive aspects of these technologies can greatly assist: enabling you to be alerted to new content from chosen sources (via RSS feeds); and to explore image sources selected by others (via links and comments).
As with any image you find online and want to use, you will need to consider carefully the quality of the images you have found and whether you can legally or ethically use them without seeking permission. However, there can often be advantages to contacting the owner - and the social nature of these technologies will often support and reward a more personal approach.
In addition to being a potentially useful source of images, blogs can be used to present and manage your own or others' images. Blogs are generally well equipped to handle images and there is an increasing convergence between blogs and photo sharing services. Although there are some common features among the various blog services, they are not all created equal. So if the display and management of images is an important part of your use of a blog, you'll need to be very clear about your requirements and expectations, and do some careful investigation.
JISC Digital Media has other information about social software, and about finding and using images:
- Finding Images on Flickr
- Using Flickr to Organise a Collection of Images
- Photo Sharing Sites
- Using Wikis to Find and Organise Images
- Using Flickr to Organise a Collection of Images
- Index of JISC Digital Media resources on finding and using images
See for example Nardi, B. et al (2004). 'Why we blog'. In Communications of the ACM 47(12): 41-46.
Available online [Checked October 2009].
See discussion in Glaser, M (2005). 'Did London bombings turn citizen journalists into citizen paparazzi?'. In Online Journalism Review.
Available online [Checked October 2009].