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Cut Your Photography Budget to $25/Year with Flickr

Every device we buy these days seems to have a camera on it but it can still be difficult to find great pictures when you need them for a website, brochure, presentation or just about any other type or print or digital media. Well what if I told you that you could tap into more photos than you would know what to do with without breaking the bank or the law. Interested?

Most of us have heard of Flickr and may even have created an account and uploaded a few pictures. So what’s the big deal? Well, Flickr has two great pieces of functionality that make it easy to take advantage of all the talent and content on its site that now has over 1.5 million photos uploaded to it daily.

  • Groups: Flickr Groups allow you to create groups for just about anything. I am in local government so I would usually create a group named after the city I work for but you can be creative here. The cool thing about groups is they let you create a “Terms of Service” for joining the group, more on this later but I am pretty sure you can see where I am going…
  • Geotagging: People that upload photos with location information have the ability share that location information as well. Flickr provides the ability to search photos by location. Here is a quick video on how to accomplish this: http://www.flickr.com/help/screencasts/vol2.

Now that you know about those two features, let’s talk about how to use them to build your own collection of great photos.

It is real simple:

  1. Create an account and upgrade it to a pro account (cost $25 for a year or 45 for two years).
  2. Create an appropriate group for the type of photos you are trying to acquire.
  3. Create a “Terms of Service” for the group.
  4. Search for Photos.
  5. When you find photos you like, post a comment asking them if they would consider adding their great photo to your group (link to your group).
  6. When they join the group they will have to accept the “Terms of Service”.
  7. Download and use the photos J

It is always good to give credit where it is due when you are using photos in a public space. Most people will share their photos with you knowing that you are a government organization and are not looking to make money on their photos. If they don’t… it is a good thing there are a lot of photos to choose from.

Check out the City or Round Rock, Texas Flickr group for an example of how this can be done. When you join the group you will be presented with a “Terms of Service” like the one below:

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Scott Horvath

One very important point that’s not fully touched on is the use of the photos. Flickr allows photographers to provide photos as “All Rights Reserved” or “Creative Commons”. If the photos are All Right Reserved then they retain their full copyrights and you’re NOT allowed to use them without explicit permission. To do that, you can contact the photographer through the Flickr message system. If a photo has Creative Commons license applied to them, then you have to pay attention to the variations of the CC license and what’s required of you if you use them. Most people ignore this. In addition, according to the CC license (which is easily accessible from the photo in Flickr) you have to attribute the photographer in a way that the author specifies. Many times it means providing a link back to the Flickr page if you can, or if not, at least putting their name and the source it was discovered through.

People need to pay attention to those licenses. Sometimes the author will put the image under Creative Commons, but not allow modification of the image. Therefore you have to us it as is.

Joe Flood

I would make the terms really clear and state in unambiguous terms what the photos will be used for. Also, keep in mind Scott’s note about rights that photographers retain. As Scott mentioned, photographers must be credited. “Photo courtesy of Joe Flood,” for example.

As a photographer, I’m really ambivalent about this. Government can’t pay for photos? I’ve allowed little nonprofits and specialty groups to use my photos for free. But when big companies, nonprofits or media companies have approached me, I’ve asked for payment. If some massive govt agency with a billion-dollar budget asked to use my photos for free, I’d be outraged.

Bear in mind too – if you go this route, you’re going to get what other people think is interesting, not necessarily what you need. You may not get the quality you want either. If you have specific photo needs, find and pay for a professional photographer.

Tim Howell

Great point Scott. So you think that having them accept the terms of the group would not bypass “All Rights Reserved” or “Creative Commons”? I would think it would at least be an argument because they are basically given you permission when they click accept. I wonder how many people use the “All Rights Reserved” and “Creative Commons” because I know a few cities that have setup Flickr this way and have never had any problem. Round Rock, TX has been doing this with Flickr for at least 4 or 5 years and they are a decent size city in a very tech savvy area (Dell Headquarters, Austin Suburb, etc….). You may have to put something stricter in the terms, such as, by posting in this group you forgo your reserved rights and creative common rights to the City, Agency or whomever it may be managing the group. People may be more hesitant to post though…

I think your target here is more the amateur photographers and lucky picture takers that just happen to catch a few great shots now and then but are not making a living on photography. They just want their great pictures to be seen by the world and have their name attached to it, ha.

Tim Howell

To your point Joe, I would say you want to absolutely charge if you are a professional photographer. But if you are amature or just do it for fun, why not help save a few tax dollars. I guess maybe cities are just in a different market because we do not have big budgets. Hiring a photographer to take good photos is often a signficant cost for small agencies.

Samuel Lovett

This sounds like a great win-win system. I don’t have a firm grasp on internet copyright law (it’s my understanding that very few people do) but it’s clearly spelled out in the terms of the group that photos will be used by the city in their materials.

Do you have any links that show examples of how you are attributing photos from the flickr group? Sometimes it’s hard to write photographer names and keep a good aesthetic.

Scott Horvath

Tim: If you create a Group and add a disclaimer about the use of the photos, and what the people submitting will be agreeing to then you would be covered as long as it’s very clear. EPA does this with their Flickr Groups. If you are just grabbing a photo for a presentation or your website then you need to follow the licenses.

To provide attribution you can do something simple like: “scotthorvath on Flickr” and then make the handle “scotthorvath” a link to the photo page.

Tim Howell

I will see what I can find Samuel. The way I have done it in the past for pictures we used on our website was through the mouseover text. We do not currently do this at my present job becasue of conflicts with a photo contest we were running when I first started working here. We are launching the Flickr group soon though 🙂

Samuel Lovett

Rollover seems like good unobtrusive option for giving credit. I wasn’t sure whether attribution had to be posted more directly but I guess there are lots of different options.

Mandy Denby

Working for State Gov, this idea has a lot of potential. We’re actually doing a professional, paid shoot now, but I know in a couple of months time we’ll have a need for a pic that the shoot hasn’t covered!

The issue I see is that we generally need photos of people and how do you ensure that the people in flickr pics have given THEIR permission for their image to be used more broadly?

When we do our own shoots, we ask all the participants (who aren’t paid models) to sign a ‘release’ form. It doesn’t seem at all practical to do that up front or retrospectively for flickr pics, but how do you overcome the risk that someone will see their pic on a government brochure and be outraged because they thought they just posed for a pic for a mate!?

Scott Horvath

Mandy, if someone takes a photo at a public event, from a public place, then it’s legal to take a photo. They may not like it and you should do everything you can to give them the opportunity to say, please don’t use that photo (through a sign at the event, for example). Where it gets dicey is if you put their their name to the photo when you use it. When you identify them then that’s where you need to get their explicit permission. In many cases you probably don’t need their name anyway.

Mandy Denby

Thanks Scott, yes, you’re right. I guess we’d need to make sure the photos were taken at public events, rather than happy snaps among friends (perhaps something we can stipulate in the conditions). I’m in Tasmania, an Aussie island state with a population just over 500,000, so we have to be really careful about the images we use because the chances are someone will spot themselves in our flyer/ad/website!