Knowledge Bridge

Global Intelligence for the Digital Transition

Using photo-sharing site Flickr to source UGC images

Yahoo’s Flickr might not be as well known as other photo sharing sites, but it has a number of features that make it incredibly useful for journalists looking for user-generated content.

Flickr has enjoyed a renaissance recently with the launch of an updated mobile app to allow it to compete with mobile photo services such as Instagram, which is owned by Facebook.

What is it useful for?

Flickr can be a great source of images, but it is important to understand what it is good for and when you probably are best relying on more traditional methods:

  • Flickr can be a good source of images for travel stories.
  • Flickr includes information about the picture that will help you verify it including camera information and location information on some photos.
  • Flickr allows you to search by licence showing you photos that you can use at no cost as long as you attributeAttributeA single piece of information known about a user and stored in a behavioral…
  • Flickr is used by the US government, including official presidential photos from the White House photo account and the branches of the US military, including the NavyAir Force and Army. It is important to note that not all government agencies in the US or elsewhere post their pictures on Flickr with licences that allow for use on news websites. We’ll discuss the licensing of photos on Flickr in detail below.
  • Unlike Facebook where you can only see pictures from your contacts and people who have no privacy settings, most Flickr images are publicly searchable.
  • Flickr is not a replacement for your own photos or for a photo wire service. Unless it is a story in the United States or Western Europe, you will most likely not find photos of current news events here.

Licencing: Can I use this photo on my website?

One benefit of using photos from Flickr rather than Twitter or Facebook is that images have clear licensing terms and you know which photos you can use legally. Everyone on Flickr retains full copyright to their photos, but some people choose to pre-emptively licence their photographs for reuse. Photos that are not licensed will carry the copyright symbol and the text “All Rights Reserved” on the photo pagePageA document having a specific URL and comprised of a set of associated files. A…

If a Flickr user wants to pre-emptively grant certain permissions for the reuse of their images, they can choose one of several Creative Commons licences. Creative Commons is an easy way for creators to tell others how they would like creative work – photos, images, writing, videos, etc – to be reused and on what terms. Note that creators still retain traditional copyright to their works.

Creative Commons licences have four options that can be used in combination with one another. Flickr has one of the best explanations of the options for Creative Commons licences:

Creative Commons Attribution icon

Attribution means:

You let others copy, distribute, display, and perform your copyrighted work – and derivative works based upon it – but only if they give you credit.

Cc icon noncomm gif v2

Noncommercial means:

You let others copy, distribute, display, and perform your work – and derivative works based upon it – but for noncommercial purposes only.

Creative Commons No Derivatives icon

No Derivative Works means:

You let others copy, distribute, display, and perform only verbatim copies of your work, not derivative works based upon it.

Cc icon sharealike gif v2

Share Alike means:

You allow others to distribute derivative works only under a licence identical to the licence that governs your work.

Note that the Share Alike licence means that if you use a Share Alike licensed image, you must then licence your own content using that exact same Creative Commons licence. Using such a licence is rare for a commercial news website, which effectively rules out the use of Share Alike licensed content.

Finding Creative Commons on Flickr

For most news organisations, you’ll want to use photos that have either Attribution or Attribution-No Derivative Works licences. If you use a photo with a No Derivative licence, you can resize it but not crop it or alter it. For most Flickr users, if they use a non-commercial licence, they do allow for news use. However, Creative Commons users will often have more detailed information on their profile page. For instance, US space agency NASA uses the non-commercial licence but does allow for news use as is explained on the agency’s profile page. NASA explains the terms of use for the photos that it posts as this:

These official NASA photographs are being made available for publication by news organizations and/or for personal use printing by the subject(s) of the photographs. The photographs may not be used in materials, advertisements, products, or promotions that in any way suggest approval or endorsement by NASA.

There are two ways to find photos with the appropriate Creative Commons licence. The first way is to use Flickr’s advanced search. To access the advanced search options, you’ll first have to enter the subject of your search. That will show you all of the results related to your search keywords. Now, you will the advanced search option to the right of the blue search button.

Flickr advanced search option

If you’ve ever used the advanced options for search engines, many of the options here will be familiar. For instance, you can search for an exact phrase or exclude terms for your search. There are other options that are specific to Flickr. For instance, if you are a Flickr user, you can search your own photos, photos you have favourited, photos from you contacts and photos from your friends and family. You can also search special photo collections on Flickr as well. These include:

  • The Getty Images Collection – Flickr uses Getty to allow Flickr users to licence their photos through Getty for sale. If you have a budget for photos, there are many high quality images on Flickr by professional photographers.
  • The Commons – This collection shouldn’t be confused with photos that are licenced by Flickr users using Creative Commons. The Commons is a collection of photographic archives and libraries around the world. They are mostly historic photos and many, if not most of them, are either copyright free, in the public domain or available for reuse with attribution. You’ll want to pay close attention to the licencing terms on the photo page.
  • US government works – This can be an excellent source of photos for news coverage, and for all intents and purposes, these images are free of copyright. Under most images under this licence, there is comprehensive caption and sourcing information. The White House and major US agencies including the US State Department, the US Treasury, the US Department of Energy and US Food and Drug Administration just to name a few.

At the bottom of  the page, you will see the options to limit your search to only look for photos with Creative Commons licences.

Flickr advanced search Creative Commons options

By selecting the first option, you will limit your search to only photos using a Creative Commons licence. The next option will limit your search to photos that can be used commercially, and the final option will search for photos that can be modified, meaning that they lack the No Derivatives licence. Note that this will not exclude photos with the Share Alike licence, so be careful to look out for that in photos you want to use.

Another fast way to find Creative Commons on Flickr is via a page dedicated to all of the Creative Commons licences photos that have been uploaded.

Flickr Creative Commons page

The first two groups include photos with the appropriate licences. ClickClickA click can denote several different things. It can be a metric that…

Flickr search for Creative Commons Attribution licence photos

You can sort your search by “Relevant – Recent – Interesting”. Relevant and recent are self-explanatory. But what does Flickr mean by “Interesting“? Flickr explains interesting this way:

There are lots of elements that make something ‘interesting’ (or not) on Flickr. Where the clickthroughs are coming from; who comments on it and when; who marks it as a favorite; its tags and many more things which are constantly changing.

In a lot of ways, it’s a mark of popularity.

After looking at some of the photos for this search, you’ll notice that some of the photos have come from the Official US Navy account, such as this one:

Aerial view of damage to Wakuya, Japan following earthquake.

It is the kind of photo that an editor probably would have wanted to use to illustrate a story about the disaster. If you look to the right of the photo, you will see a lot of information about it, including the account of the photographer or group, information about the camera that was used to take the photo as well as when and sometimes even where the photo was taken. You’ll see the most recent photos in the account, and below that you will see tags, keywords, that help describe the subject of the photo. Below the tags often is information about the settings of the camera when the photo was taken. Below that, you will see the licence information, in this case, the Creative Commons Attribution licence. For official photos like this, an official caption will be included with the photo. In this case:

WAKUYA, Japan (March 15, 2011) An aerial view of damage to Wakuya, Japan after a 9.0 magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami devastated the area in northern Japan. Ships and aircraft from the Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group are conducting search and rescue operations and re-supply missions as directed in support of Operation Tomodachi throughout northern Japan. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Alexander Tidd/Released)

Attributing the photos correctly

You’ll notice that we frequently use Creative Commons photos from Flickr here on Knowledge Bridge. I include the attribution in alternative text of the photo so even if there isn’t a caption that the attribution is still available. For photos that require attribution, it’s best to include the title, when relevant, but you must include the photographers name, the agency name if it came from a governmental agency, or the Flickr user name if no real name is given. Flickr appreciates it if you say that the photo is from Flickr, and when using Creative Commons photos, you should also note, Some Rights Reserved to make it clear that the photos are not from a wire service or your own copyright. For instance, for the photo above, a correct photo credit would be:

An aerial view of damage to Wakuya, Japan, U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Alexander Tidd, from Flickr, Some Rights Reserved

If the photo isn’t from a government agency or official account, you will want to verify the source of the image. Flickr also helps you do that, which we will cover in another guide.

Flickr is a valuable service for journalists because it retains a lot of information that will help you know with confidence not only the licence of the photo but also its source. It is why a number of journalists use it as a source for photos for their stories when they cannot get a photo through traditional means.

Article by Kevin Anderson

Leave your comment