Finding images

This posting is about finding images and attributing them. I’ll look at some sites and discuss their pros and cons as well as ways of attributing and hopefully some reassurance about usage. Elsewhere there’s a posting on copyright, but for now, I’d like to share some sources you may not yet be familiar with.

Using the web to locate apposite imagery.Copyright

A valuable first port of call is Google’s Advanced Image Search. This search engine is customizable with a range of filters including those aimed at copyright licensing. The subject search is similar to those used in academic library searching, allowing users to distinguish between exact words, any combination of words and so on. Usefully, it can also filter for size and that’s important for quality control. There’s no point in using an image that is pixelated beyond interpretation, so depending on purpose, we can rule out smaller sizes. I never use smaller than 800 x 600 – like the ones in this blog. It’s right for filling a PPT slide projecting onto multiple screens in any lecture theatre I have ever come across. There’s a handy guide here to resizing if you need it.

Google Advanced Image Search

Superficially, Google searches filtered for copyright are safe. But critics have pointed out that for Google to seek images, images need to already exist somewhere on the web, which means that whoever uploads an image may not always be accurate in assigning a copyright status to them. I’ll come to this in more detail in separate post on copyright, but as a general rule, if we’re not making money from an image, few people show any concern.

There are a few other sites I rely on. The first one sounds dodgy but contains the best of the best for my purposes. This is DeviantArt, one of the largest sites for commercial and non-commercial artists in the world. The search engine is effective and the variety enormous. Switch on the ‘mature’ filter and your searches are safe. This isn’t a copyright free site, despite there being ‘free-to-use’ stock images. My method of securing use of an image has been to contact an artist whose work I would like to use and ask permission for educational purposes. Nested comment boxes and accessible contact information allow rapid communication (or compete silence). My experience to date has been that when an artist hears I want to use their image for teaching, they are happy to support this for altruistic reasons, and also because it is free advertising for the artist because it will be attributed, of course. No-one has declined a request, although there have been some non-replies. An example I like to us to illustrate the calibre and potential of this site appears below:

In one image (above), the artist, Christophe Kiciak, conveys the tumultuous transformation from the DNA strand through fish to man in a primordially-brutal sea and sky.  Referring to evolution whilst talking over this image has been very helpful, according to survey comments. So the point is that images on sites like DeviantArt may require a little more patience to locate and secure, but can be invaluable as teaching imperatives, initiatives and innovations. Christophe agreed in writing for his image to be used for educational purposes with attribution after I wrote to him through the nested comments section on the page on which this image appeared.

My second source tends to be Flickr. Flickr is well-known and has been around a while and the quality of imagery can be outstanding (as well as less remarkable). They also provide a handy overview of copyright licensing here. Images appearing on Flickr can also appear on Google’s AIS, which is why I normally go to AIS first. I also use Pixabay, which in my view is the best of the free sites allied to a commercial image site, which I’ll come to shortly. Below is an example of the quality of free images on Pixabay, but the breadth of material is less ample. Nonetheless, for my purposes (some of which are image composition in Photoshop), it is an excellent site.

Performing water ritual

Most of the free sites are only partly free. Pixabay, for example, draws in image seekers with freebies and then exposes them to all the items on sale with an organization called Shutterstock, which brings me to a different category of image sites. These sites have millions – literally – of images covering most areas, although I’m sure academia’s propensity for the arcane will challenge the best of them. They charge on a variable basis, and have different forms of subscription. My own School discipline lead, Prof MN Ravishankar, has a budget that covers the cost of a subscription to similar site called 123RF and the School can download a given number of images a day for use in teaching. The total cost per year is about £500 and the limit on the number of images we can use is a little shy of 2000. Similar deals are offered by Depositphotos. In my experience, the subscription has been worthwhile. One reason for this is that it means I never have to use substandard images, allowing a consistency of quality across my teaching. Subscription sites won’t be able to provide everything, but they provide a lot and plug gaps. Shutterstock is another good quality provider, along with Depositphotos, 123RF and then Getty Images and the associated iStock, both of which cost a lot more than the others. They do have some of the finest shots in the world, however, drawing from the famous Getty collection of the last century or so, but at a routine whopping £400 a shot, I don’t think it represents the kind of value for money we are looking for.

Cost of some images on Getty Images

More recently I’ve been using Unsplash, images on which are free for use without attribution (which doesn’t affect us, we’d attribute a source anyway I imagine) has received some critical press in terms of contributing artists not be recognized – but it’s not a clear picture, ironically. But wherever you access images, they should be attributed, just as we would any other source we referred to. Generally speaking, I can think of two ways to choose from for this. First, we could follow scholarly convention and put the attribution at the end, after the main section, like a bibliography but numbered or some other way associated with a particular slide. Second, we could paste the source onto the image we use on the slide in a small font so as not to detract from the visual experience we are instigating, and make it semi-opaque. Or come up with your own approach and maybe share it with the community.

This is slightly complicated by different preferences suppliers have. For example, Depositphotos doesn’t seek attribution automatically, whereas 123RF have information to be copied from their site to the location of the image when you use it. I think it’s unlikely to the point of absurdity that if you show where the image came from in the wrong format, and you have not been using it to make money, anything worth noting will happen. Mostly people only get strict with such matters when commercial copyright is under investigation. Honest representation of the origin of the image will protect us. I may go into this in a little more detail in another post.

Finally, a quick mention of Haiku Deck. This is an online platform that at first appears to be the answer to visual communication. You can create image-based slides by typing in a word and telling the programme to get pictures associated with the word – all of which are copyright safe.  You can select styles, fonts and themes like PPT but with the added bonus it will select images and insert them into slides in seconds. They charge: it isn’t much at $4.99 a month for educators and it’s a way into visual creation and it’s laborious sharing and downloading then revising lectures. But mainly it’s constrained in the calibre of the images it uses. There’s a price to pay for this low price: the images are OK but they are selected by some form of artificial intelligence. There is no substitute yet for human selectivity; but it is a decent way into this method. Here’s a short online overview of some of these sites. And here’s a visme blog that outlines a bunch of others. Most are limited because although the images are free, they area  shopfront for other collections.


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