Making your research accessible

Finding the right photo

By 14/02/2010

Although it has become much easier for researchers to photograph their work (and see our earlier blog about how to take better digital photos), quite often we need the photograph that the researcher didn’t take. If you are going to print a large image, for example for a cover, a snap from an ordinary digital camera is rarely good enough. Or perhaps you’ve got lots of photos of rural agriculture, but you don’t have an urban market shot to provide the rest of the story. Or perhaps you have none at all…

As ever, you’ll get the best results if you plan ahead and budget.

With so many photo stock agencies online it’s tempting to just do it yourself; log in, use a few search words, and start browsing. Do set yourself a time limit, however, as this shortcut can often cost you many hours. The most popular online stock photo sites these days are iStock, Shutterstock, Dreamstime, Fotolia, 123rf, and BigStockPhoto.  Be aware, however, that stock photographs are usually very generic, and often better suited to tourism and commercial advertising than to the subjects that development research usually covers. They can be very useful when you want an attractive photo with the country’s flag flying, and sometimes you can even find this type of photo in the agencies ‘free stock’ section. iStock, owned by Getty Images, has recently done a deal with Flickr that has given them some more unusual stock from around the world. But to get a good photograph of a rural health centre in Malawi treating children… you will need to go to the specialists.

Photo agencies have experienced researchers who will search through their thousands of photos to give you a shortlist of photos to choose from, and this service is often free. To get an accurate quote and enable the researcher to provide you with the most appropriate selection give them as much information as you can: the country and general topic of your publication; how many copies you will be printing; whether they will be free, for sale, or online only; and whether your design requires more portrait (upright) or landscape (horizontal) photos. If you can provide an abstract or executive summary of your publication plus all the relevant keywords then the researcher can filter their stock to really suit your needs. And these days you don’t need to be in a Western capital city to get this great service, because the agency can email you a selection of low-resolution images to choose from. Once you’ve chosen and paid, the agency sends you the high-resolution images. If you prefer to browse yourself, all the agencies’ sites have that option (although on some you need to register first). Don’t assume you can’t afford the big agencies either. Make sure they’ve got all the details about your subject and your circulation and dissemination plans; small-scale  charitable projects can often get a good deal. It’s particularly worth paying more than usual for a professional cover photo.

The British Association of Picture Libraries and Agencies provides this list of agencies who specialise in photos of the developing world.

The Open Directory website has a long list of agencies, of archive and stock libraries, and of photographers. Many are general or specialise in other areas such as sport of celebrities, but the lists include documentary and developing world specialists too.

For further resources and Part Two of this post, please click here.

4 Responses to Finding the right photo

  1. Avatar Becky says:

    You make some good points on some of the shortcomings of finding photography on stock photo sites, including the time investment required to dig through libraries of photos and the tendency toward generic shots.

    There’s a new site that aims to help resolve some of those issues and make it easier to get the right photo directly from the photographers:

    FocalPop essentially flips the model around and has the image seeker create a request for the photo needed (with description, file specs, price and deadline) and then crowdsources the right shot from a large community of photographers from all across the world.

  2. This is a really helpful post. We will pull sources from this to add to our photo search protocols. Thanks! (And thanks, too, to Becky, for the interesting tip)

  3. Great post! Couldn’t see any mention of Flickr though. It’s also a great way of finding high quality development images. A lot of NGOs, including HelpAge International, have Flickr accounts and share their images for free.

    You can see ours here

  4. Didn’t realise that there were so many photo sources around. Where I work, in the Centre for Poverty Analysis, Sri Lanka we have a passion for taking photographs and tend to use our own mostly. We also had a policy that we do not use any images of ‘recognisable’ people in our imaging – this is a reaction to the “wide-eyed developing country child” imagery that we see in many development documentation. In some of the video documentation we do, especially in work that is verbatim documentation or based on testimonies, we are now considering getting permissions to use photographs/images of people, rather than avoiding it altogether… so my question is more about how organisations deal with the ethics of imaging..