CROWD PHOTOS: Are crowd sourced pictures a golden bullet?

It’s temptingly lazy but wrong to think residents pictures can fill the hole left by dwindling budgets.

A couple of things have made me think.

First, basking in the afterglow of a successful project a debate started.

We’ve worked with residents to turn an empty shop window in Walsall town centre into an information point brightened up by shots from the Walsall Flickr group.

It’s a brilliantly simple idea that came from Flickr photographer Lee Jordan. I’ve written about it here and you can read Lee’s blog on it too.

Lee and others were fine about having their work used and showcased.

In response to my venturing a repeat in a different scheme one Flickr member on Twitter wrote:

“Local council have just requested use of some of my pics on Flickr for a printed guide, for a credit and linkback. I declined. Any thoughts? On one hand it may be good publicity, on the other it devalues photography. What do others think…?”
After an online debate I deliberately stepped back from, other residents talked about the benefits of photo sharing. The member changed heart and threw his hat into the ring.

Thirdly, blogger Pete Ashton invited his council to ‘f*** you’ (literally) after they once again asked to use pictures for free. This came after a shot of his which he got £50 for was used without his knowledge for a major national cultural campaign that wasn’t fully explained when he was first approached.

Fourthly, when I post an image to Flickr these days I always add a liberal creative commons image so they can be re-used as long as there is a credit and a link. I’m forever using and linking to cc images on this blog so it seems churlish not to share. So long as you are not a commercial enterprise. You can read more about creative commons here.

So, there are four views. For my money each if those are just as valid.

Why FOUR answers and they’re all right?

Because everyone’s approach is deeply personal. That’s why.

There’s no such thing as one size fits all.

Are crowd sources images a cure all for cut budgets?


Don’t think that Flickr is a sweet shop full of free images that’ll solve your slashed photographic budget.

Don’t think you can wander along to Google images, right click, save and Bob’s your Uncle. Don’t ever do that.

There’s still a place for commissioned freelance photography for marketing and press shots. Not least because photographic staff on newspapers are being laid off.

There’s a place for stock photography websites such as istock.

There’s a place for searching The Commons on Flickr where scores of museums and institutions have added millions of images that can be re-used by anyone. NASA, The Smithsonian and the US Library of Congress stand out.

There’s a place too – if residents are agreeable – for their images to be used by local government. Just so long they are not taken for granted and the shots are treated with the same reverence as a very delicate vase or a signed first edition you’re borrowing for a while.

That’s why I’m not desperately keen on the approach that some councils have of creating a Flickr group where by adding you allow automatic re-use. It just doesn’t feel right.

If there’s an image a resident had taken ask nicely, explain what it’ll be used for stick to the agreement and don’t be offended if the answer is ‘no’ and if there is some cash in the budget for payment try very hard to.

Everyone benefits that way.

Creative commons credits


Smiling Sky

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  1. Good blog post Dan.

    I’ve recently had a few requests from Walsall Council to make use of my images. It would be nice to be remunerated for the contribution, but in this case I don’t mind. I judge it based the costs I incurred when I took the photo. Luckily with my local photos, my only currency was time.

    However as there *is* a cost benefit to the publishers in using lower cost materials, that benefit should be shared with the supplier; not least of all because it will allow the supplier to re-invest in better equipment to produce better results in the future that are worth paying for properly.

    As far as licensing goes, I would still retain the copyright on my material, unless I signed an exclusive rights license, so if the photos were used for something other than what the first intention once, once again permission should be sought. (Exception being of course in the case of a CC image as permission has been given in advance by the copyleft).

  2. A well thought-out post, Dan.

    It needs to be borne in mind by organisations looking for free or cheap photos that they have no legal rights to use anything without permission, and the copyright holder is entitled to ask for a fee if they wish, and ask for a credit, link back etc.

    Professional or semi-pro photographers need royalties and fees, they have a living to make. Amateur photographers have expensive gear to pay for. What people wish to charge, or not, is a matter for them – and they should always be asked.

    Even if something is out of copyright, a facility fee may be payable to the owner of the item. Though lots of museums claiming copyright on images which they haven’t taken or commissioned are in fact simply wrong to do so.

    There’s no such thing as a free lunch, even at an unconference – someone has to pay.

    That payment may simply be in goodwill – if the approach is right.

  3. Cheers, both. Some really interesting points.

    As a Flickr user I’ve been approached in the past for permission to use shots. Even when I’ve added a creative commons licence.

    I’m far more appreciative of people who take that approach.

    I think everyone’s response is going to be very different.

    My good friend Andy Mabbett’s take in this is to encourage people to release EVERY image under the most liberal possible creative commons licence to allow re-use on wikipedia.

    What I’m very, very keen to see is for organisations to be really open and transparent when the look to use images.

    It’s also an opportunity, rather than look at this as simply free images, but as a way to connect with residents, tap into their creativity and showcase it.

    That’s something of real value for residents (and I count myself as one too.)

  4. Thanks Dan for a very well-considered blog.

    As you say, Lee and Stuart have raised some interesting points.

    I’ve just had a look at Pete Ashton’s blog and the various replies from your link above – I’d say that your approach should go a long way to avoiding the ruffled feathers that Birmingham’s photographers seem to be feeling 🙂

    Well done that man — keep up the good work!

  5. Good post Dan. I wanted to particularly agree with your point about LA people setting up groups seemingly specifically to ‘harvest’ free photography.

    My own feeling and approach is to try to work with and help to promote existing local Flickr groups where-ever possible and for my own part to release my own limited photo offerings with the most open license I can.

    1. Thanks, Mel. It sort of jars the Flickr site that is designed as a way to plug a missing photography budget. But if you can work with residents – truly work with – then good things can take shape.

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