I’ve spent enough time online to see some horrific blog designs.  Some are a matter of personal taste, which I have no intention of criticizing openly.  However, a few folks obviously have no clue what they are doing.

They’re morons.

In the spirit of enlightening you in the ways of me, I would like to point out some common errors and show you some easy methods for developing better backgrounds.  All images in this post were modified using free and simple photo editing software and I just played with all the nifty little buttons without knowing what they are.  You’ll find no evidence of Photoshop or other costly applications here.  (I’m unemployed, remember?)  Caveat: I do still have a scanner from my grad school days.

Also, you don’t have to like these images; I only focused on technique and some of the creations here are quite loud.  I wouldn’t use all of them myself but then again lots of good images aren’t an appropriate match for some individuals.

If you want “Matchmaking for Blog Dummies,” you’ll need to go somewhere else.  I don’t do romance here.

That said, let’s cut the preliminaries and dive in with four basic rules.

1- Your original photo should have a high resolution. Subjecting images to technological torture often causes them to bleed their detail away, leaving them as limp as a corpse.

2- When detail bleeds away, colors often go with it.  Your photographs or scanned images should normally contain at least as many colors as you’ll want in the final product.  It’s usually harder to add colors to an image than eliminate them.

3- Similarly, it’s easier to reduce the file size of a high-definition picture than it is to make the image more robust.  If only dieting worked that way…

4- Don’t forget to crop your images; if it doesn’t end up appearing on the screen, you don’t need it.  A smaller image takes less time for people to download.  Your visitors will thank you for it by sticking around until your page finishes loading… unless your writing scares them away sooner.

And now the joy of pointing out people’s stupidity.  Item one: people often confuse their original image with what ends up appearing on their blog.  I like my candelabra image over on the top right, but it’s pretty easy to make an awful background out of it.  For instance, tiling the image can give us this:

Slide1Easy to read, right?  That’s why I have these big box-like things on my blog to shield the text.  However, that doesn’t eliminate all of the problems in the example above.  Let’s look at something a little wiser:

Slide02That is no longer my candelabra.  It is a pattern, and not a bad one either.  Some people have tiled images that cause corneal bleeding and/or blindness within 45 seconds.  Nevertheless, this background isn’t too great if I want you to recognize the candelabra as my trademark.

Free advertising is important, so let’s make the candelabra bigger…

Slide01Yes, people do make this mistake.  What part of that screen calls out “candelabra” to you?  There’s maybe one or two candles on the right, but no abracadabra.

And that goes along with another standard act of stupidity.  Bloggers sometimes have a wonderful photograph but they don’t realize it looks different behind all those boxes.  For instance, look at this cute little puppy:

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The original puppy image was borrowed from http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Jack_Russell_Puppy.jpg

That background image looks like a puppy’s ass because you can see the puppy’s tail end and not much else.  The blogger also ends up looking like a puppy’s ass.

The most popular photo I’ve ever posted on this blog can also face similar issues:

Slide04The image mostly looks like random color there.  Since a visitor can’t tell what the image was supposed to be, it loses much of its visual interest.  It becomes an abstract pattern and not an exciting one.

If you must use a photograph, you should usually go with simple and small and repetitive.  A pile of leaves or a brick wall can look amazing.  You don’t need the Eiffel Tower.

Despite this, a well-modified photo can work:

Slide05You don’t have to recognize the tower; it serves its purpose by framing my header image.  And let the record show that my original post was correct: the Eiffel Tower looks much better in a different color.

Of course, your photograph can concentrate the increased detail at the bottom of the page.

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And in the interest of not freaking you out, I should mention that you don’t have to do such over-the-top color modifications.  Here’s another photograph that looks a little less altered:

Slide3The sky’s color looks about as natural as a supermodel’s breasts, but otherwise the photo maintains its realism and stands out a lot more than the drab original.

But as I already said, you don’t have to use anything so fancy…

Slide06That was the bottom of my shoe.  And no you are not looking at radioactive mud.  At least I hope the mud was safe…

Slide07And this was a yellowed old lampshade.

Slide08This came from an old piece of clothing.  Scanners do a great job with fabric.

Slide09This was also clothing.  It’s actually my original background image from when I was using the default gray content boxes.  I derived this image by running my current background image through the editing program a second time.  (Yes, that can be an effective technique.)

Slide10

I generally don’t recommend standing so close to a woman’s midsection to take her picture.  Fortunately, this isn’t a woman. It’s a sombrero.

And then if you want a little extra color, include some shadows in your original shot.  When you torture the photograph digitally, the shadows increase the number of colors in your image.  It makes enough sense, since shadows make colors look darker in real life.

Slide12This was my black bath towel hanging from a peg.  Even though the image quality may not be the best, this still looks good as an abstract pattern.  Remember, we’re not judging these as photographs.

And then sometimes more than one shot of a single object will get you wildly different results.  For example, take this little piece of Harley Davidson:

Slide13And this:

Slide14Both of those came from my gray hiking backpack.  It just goes to show that nature lovers can go all biker on you in an instant.

By the same token, camera flashes work as well as shadows:

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You may have noticed that many of these images originated as close-up photos.  I shot a lot of these just a couple of inches away from the object.  While that usually makes for horrible pictures, going in close lets me capture more subtle patterns.

That means there’s no such thing as a ruined photograph.  All I captured in the following shot was the flash, but the coloring effect is good.  I didn’t edit this from the original photo and you may be surprised to learn that I was trying to photograph something green.  Hooray for competent incompetence!

Slide16And then this next image was a bar of soap.  The streaks didn’t turn out as expected.

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This image illustrates my final lesson perfectly: if you want all the colors in this horizontal image to appear, there are alternatives to tiling or rotating it.  You could crop the sides to make it a vertical image or you could stretch it vertically to make it look resemble the flames in the earlier example.  This is a cropped version:

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The possibilities are as endless as your limited imagination.

And there you have it!  Lots of background images formatted to prevent you from stealing them and making them useful.  I’m such a sweet guy.

Realistically, though, you ought to be able to make these yourself by now.  So get off your butt and start shooting some pics.