Picture perfect

Every picture tells a story.  Images can enhance your profile via social media, help you communicate your research and create outreach opportunities. There are many free apps and software programs available to create, edit and store your photographs. You can connect with the broader community to showcase your research and find out what others are doing in your field. The large number of digitised collections made available online can also extend your research options. With Creative Commons licences, images can be re-used within your own work to offer a richer and more interesting website or presentation.

It has become important to understand just how we can find images, use images and pictures, and share material legally and (for busy academics and educators) manage the process effectively.  This applies to research, social media, and even the way we integrate images into our learning management systems (Blackboard at CSU).

Want to know some of the ways to better support you online content? Check out these quick tips.

Getting started


Instagram is an app for smart phones (both IOS & Android). It’s sometimes characterized as a place where people share their photos of food and sunsets. However, more and more individuals and organisations are using this visual social media platform effectively to promote themselves and their work and to connect with similar organisations or the community.

Instagram is mobile app based but has recently enabled your profile to be loaded on a desktop browser for viewing. However, this does not have the full functionality of the app. With the app, you can take photos on your phone, as well as make 15-second videos, and load them onto your Instagram profile. There are a number of different effects and filters that can be applied to your images and video, while other apps enable you to add writing over your images or create a collage.  Hashtags are used, as with Twitter, to enable searching within Instagram, but also for humour and to help create a tone or voice for your feed. Images can also be geotagged, but the strength of Instagram is the conversations with followers. Like all social media, it’s about interaction. Images created on Instagram can also be shared to Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Flickr accounts.

With personal and professional lines blurring on social media, researchers can use Instagram for raising their profile. However a growing number of organisations are now using IG in creative ways showing ‘behind the scenes’ views, or a more personal (rather than corporate) personality. This useful article on the Research to Action website explains ways to use Instagram for research communication, while the University of Bergen here highlights the activities of its researchers via Instagram.

Consider these examples for more inspiration:

Thesis Whisperer

Karolinska institutet (KI) researchers

New York Stem Cell Research Institute

Desert Research Institute (Nevada)

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (USA)



Flickr is an online photo hosting site, although Holding a cameraa mobile app version is also available (IOS & Android).  It has a social media aspect, enabling you to follow image feeds from people or organisations but Flickr’s real strength is as a resource, an image-bank. An enormous number of images (organised into albums) can be uploaded and you can use licencing, such as Creative Commons licenses, to protect your work. Subject tags can also be applied, so your images can be indexed and searched, and you can also use geotagging, which takes advantage of Flickr’s map search function and allows you to explore images via region or specific location. Additional information and hyperlinks can also be applied to images and it is this aspect that makes Flickr a very content-rich resource.

Many Archives, Museums and Libraries are sharing their digitised collections online via Flickr Commons. This brings a wealth of searchable online material to your desktop. The British Library has uploaded over one million images to the Commons and released them to the public domain.  However, many other institutions (outside the Commons) are also adding material. See these for inspiration: Kladcat – Penn Provenance Project, Walters Art Museum Illuminated Manuscripts, Special Collections – University of Melbourne.

Private or public groups can also be set up within Flickr offering collaboration within a community. A fantastic example is the Great War Archive, which incorporates thousands of family photos, documents and correspondence.

Images from Flickr can be shared via Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Pinterest. Flickr also hosts 90-second videos giving researchers even more options for content sharing.

The University of Bath uses Flickr to promote images relating to research on campus, and students have blogged about the usefulness of Flickr as a research tool and for visual data research within a group. For more inspiration:

Koehl Lab Research

Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute

IBM Research


The free online image editor, Photobucket allows you to store, edit, organise and share your images. The editing is similar to mobile apps (applying filters and adding frames and stickers etc.). Images are shared with Facebook and Twitter accounts, but other social media can be selected, such as Pinterest, LinkedIn, and Stumbleupon. An app version is also available.


While Flickr and Instagram can be great sources of photos, you should always be careful about using material you did not create yourself.  You can certainly use Creative Commons licensed material, but you have to be mindful about meeting the conditions of the license. Furthermore, you also have to make certain that the Creative Commons material you have chosen for your project has been shared online legally.

If you want to keep informed with latest developments, new ideas, or strategies to consider in your daily work you can’t do better than keep in touch with the Copyright Blog from the University of Melbourne which amongst other things covers all things copyright and images.

Try this

  1. Flickr
    This is the biggest photo sharing site on the web, and many of the pictures are available for personal or educational purposes. Use the advanced search feature to select for Creative Commons licensed images.
  2. Foter
    Foter uses the Flickr API and searches Creative Commons photos
  3. Pixabay
    All images and videos on Pixabay are released free of copyrights under Creative Commons CC0. You may download, modify, distribute, and use them royalty free for anything you like, even in commercial applications. © Attribution is not required.
  4. Trove: Australia in Pictures
    All images included in this group are also made searchable in Trove, a service hosted by the National Library of Australia but built on the collections of thousands of organisations and individuals!
  5. The New York Public Library
    The NYPL Digital Gallery has digitized over 800,000 items for free and open access from the library’s vast collections. You’ll find illuminated manuscripts, historical maps, vintage posters, rare prints, photographs and more. Taking a MOOC on the history of Asia? Well, if you can’t get to central Manhattan to study in the library, you can try the digital collection instead.
  6. The Rijksmusem
    One of the largest museums in Europe dedicated to arts and history, made 250,000 works from its huge collection available for free online viewing or download.
  7. FreeRange
    This site has a good collection of animals, objects, people, places or abstracts that can be useful for archaeology or architecture projects. The site was formed with the goal to provide quality stock photos for commercial and non-commercial use. For free.
  8. Morguefile
    This site contains free images for creative projects and hosts over 350,000 free stock photos which are free to use for commercial use.
  9. Free MediaGoo
    FreeMediaGoo gives access to quality free stock photo backgrounds and images – for free. It provides content developers with royalty-free photography that can be used in print, film, TV, Internet or any other type of media both for commercial and personal use. The content is provided obligation free – there are no trademarks or copyright issues and no limits on the amount of free photos you can use.
  10. Getty images
    Free to embed in websites, blogs or online content. Getty has an extensive collection of embeddable images. Select the filter option to sort for ‘Embed Images’. The embed code is provided – when you use the embed code you are not actually making a copy.
  11. Engage Media
    This is an Australian-based site which distributes videos about social justice and environmental issues in the Asia Pacific. All videos are CC licensed.
  12. Wikimedia Commons
    Wikimedia is a database of over 17 million freely usable media files. Almost all content hosted on Wikimedia Commons may be freely reused subject to certain restrictions (in many cases). You do not need to obtain a specific statement of permission from the licensor(s) of the content unless you wish to use the work under different terms than the license states. See open content and public domain.


Explore further

How to install the FlickrCC Attribution Tool.

Many of us rely on the generosity of others as we search the web for all of the images  used on our blogs, keynotes, and slide decks. Passionate artists and makers often share their work using a Creative Commons license that allows us to openly use and remix the work of others. As committed people supporting the open web we must provide recognition to these folks if we want to defend the Commons.

Now with more TASL: Flickr CC Attribution helper

Because I use it almost daily, I have to admit that my favorite tool I built is the flickr CC Attribution Helper which makes attributing Creative Commons licensed flickr photos a one click copy / paste operation.

Time to do some testing yourself now, and share your discoveries with others!   Let’s build our academic integrity and knowledge practices through photos, pictures and images.

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