Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Good, Free, Sources for Photos that You Can Reuse, Part 2: Crowdsourcing with Facebook and Reddit

By Steven S. Vrooman

The photos on your blog or PowerPoint are not as good as they should be. Come on, be honest with yourself.

A few months ago I wrote a huge blog post that shared a bunch of places you can go to find free photos that are actually good. Today I am writing about two new sources for interesting, creative photos that don't stink.

Aren't you tired of the apocalypse of terrible, obviously staged "funny" stock photos that we throw up on PowerPoints for one or two chuckles from that guy who always laughs at those things but slowly creeping ennui from the rest of the room?

And you can find them easily by Googling the kinds of stupid things we Google when we 1) procrastinate the introduction to the speech and try to find "funny" the day before or 2) forget that we work in a world where adults have brains and can use them if we ask them to instead of forcing us to coddle your devotion to broad stock photo jokes that only make people who laugh at everything laugh and make the rest of us wish our phone would ring so we could leave and pretend it was an emergency:

"yelling at computer"

"boring meeting"

In that previous post I tried to explain why you should get permission for images. Use things that people want you to use instead of stealing, is the idea. Go back to that post to get the reasons why we still need ethics in these confusing times.

But another answer is that you can increase connections by doing this stuff honestly!

If I get a message from you telling me that you are using my image in your presentation (if I listed it free for reuse), or if you ask for my permission to use the image, that makes a connection. Like the one I made with the creators of the zombie movie short Cargo when I asked for permission to use a film still in my book. They said yes and sent me a hi-res copy:

Cargo (2013)
Directed by Ben Howling &; Yolanda Ramke
Produced by Ben Howling, Yolanda Ramke, Marcus Newman &; Daniel Foeldes (Dreaming Tree Productions).
Production still provided courtesy of the filmmakers.
That connection can spread across social media if you let it. They might share a link to your blog post or book or t-shirt or whatever if you let them know. That's organic audience.

In response to my previous post in this series, a commenter on LinkedIn suggested that if you really want great photos you should pay the professionals who take them, often at reasonable rates. This is true. But if you are a blogger who does it out of passion, not for ad revenue, or if you are building a better PowerPoint for class, paid photos is not really an option.

Plus, it seems that the great benefit of the social web is that you can crowdsource tasks like this. You can ask and you will receive. The crowd doesn't just have wisdom, though. They are more likely to be in the right place at the right time. Need a one-in-a-million shot of something rare and strange? Good thing the world runs around with cameras in their pockets...
So where should you look for these great sources of images you are asking people for?


Facebook, it turns out, has a search function that is good for more than finding out if someone you've been arguing politics with has unfriended you. I searched "beach pictures" and clicked "see all" in the first set of results, "Photos from Friends and Groups."

Now I have a bunch of cool pictures of what I wanted. People will likely say "yes" to my request to use them because they are, well, my FRIENDS, and it is likely that their pics, which they posted at a significant enough moment for them to share on social media, will already come with a caption-ed story. If not, you can always ask.

Here's what I got when I did this search today:

This is Trial Harbour, Ocean Beach in Tasmania:

Photo by Charlie Tyrell

When I asked Charlie for permission to use this picture, he sent me a higher resolution copy via email, since Facebook compresses them. He also said this when I asked him about his world travels:

"I always had a plan to live my life backwards. Work hard for 25 yrs, save, and then retire and travel. If needed, I can always come back at 60 and find a job again. You are much better working in your 60s, when you need good healthcare etc, and having your 40s for travel while you still have health."

Not a bad bit to add to whatever you are using beach picture for.

This is a photo by my cousin. We used to fight like cats and dogs as kids. I was older, so it really is all my fault (Sorry, again, Jessica! [But maybe not sorry enough to promise never to tag you in spider videos on Facebook]). She jogs on the beaches in Southern California and occasionally slows her pace to snap fantastic shots like this:

Photo by Jessica Vrooman-Hahn

The following picture was taken by a former student on a post-graduation trip to Costa Rica. I love the composition here. She says the following about her travels:

"A few years ago I was lucky enough to have a few family friends pay my way to Costa Rica. Day after day we went to beach after beach. The only worry we had was making it home before the rains came in."

Photo by Natalie Zuniga

This next one was my favorite of the few dozen I scrolled through. This was taken by an old high school friend (We went to Homecoming together once!) while she and her kid were hunting for Pokemon at Newport Beach in California at sunset. I just love the colors in this:

Photo by Tish Izquierdo-Purcell

Another picture I liked because of the color, and because the waves were a visual contrast to the other pics I'd chosen:

Photo by Bryan Mittelstadt

But when I messaged Bryan to ask for permission to use the photo, he immediately tagged me in some other beach pictures he'd taken that he liked even better. Take a look at these shots I had not seen in my searches:

Here's one at Forio di Ischia in Italy:

Photo by Bryan Mittelstadt

Not bad,eh? I'm sure you'll recognize this next location from his post-graduation travels:

Photo by Bryan Mittelstadt

I spent 6 minutes scrolling for pictures, another 5 minutes messaging everyone to ask for permission and then a bit more time later following up with everyone, which was a lot of fun, actually. Perhaps there were even better pictures to find if I spent a bit more time? Hard to believe I'd find better options, but still.

Googling things is soooooo 2005.


Look, if you haven't been on reddit, there are things here you don't want to see. Porn. Death, Spoilers, etc. But usually those are labelled NSFW or NSFL ("not safe for life," noobs). And lots of content on reddit is sad reposts of other people's material. Reddit works on a popularity scheme where "upvotes" give people rank. So cool pictures will just be shared as if they were the original photos taken by the poster. You know, good old-fashioned lying and cheating for popularity.

But sometimes they are honest. You can always ask them and see.

Here are some good places to go:


This is my favorite place. Usually these are just regular people who, because the whole world has cameras in their pockets, just happened to be able to take a cool pic of something, as it says, "mildly interesting," that just happened.

I scrolled the subreddit (as they call the topic pages on the site), found things I liked, messaged the people who posted the photos, and got all kinds of friendly permission.

For example, let's say you wanted to make the point that even small mistakes matter, I'd just throw up this image:

Photo by /u/TheFamousMrRed.
Choices made in visualization and design make a huge impact. Here, for example, is a maintenance person's labels of boxes that are "old":

This redditor responded back with permission to use, without attribution, within 5 minutes of my message.

Need an image to use as a metaphor for being small or just behind the curve?

This redditor just wanted credit as a /r/mildlyinteresting enthusiast.

Need a traffic metaphor that seems new to the audience (no more stop signs, please!)?

Another redditor who didn't want attribution.

Subtle, eh? Might take them a minute to get it. Perfect for a PowerPoint.

I suppose this picture of an imprint on a bed when someone was pulling on their pants is not quite safe for work, but I guess that depends on where you work. I'd throw this on a slide to talk about managing the impressions we leave.

A redditor, who, perhaps understandably, did not want a credit.

Feeling a bit out of place? Or, really, if you were doing a bit on Trump's relationship with red and blue America, you could do worse:

Anonymous redditor.

I know I'm piling on metaphoric uses of these images here, but really, you can't tell me you wouldn't be interested in the next picture. I'd let you look at it for a second and then suggest that, as with this image of a bullet in a tree that got turned into planks, conflicts and other things that are buried eventually come back to the surface.

This person wanted to be called "a kind reddit user."

I honestly don't know how I'd use this picture, but it is breathtakingly cool! These are shadows that are pixelated-looking because of LED streetlights.

Reddit user /u/Stevenswipe even wanted me to send him a link to this post when I finished it.

Sometimes we find exactly the right tools for the job:

This picture is by /u/AlbusSiriusPotter.

This redditor suggested these seagulls looked like lights. I like that, and I also like that they look like they are working in their own little cubicles.

This redditor said "Thanks for asking first."

Light and shadow. Life and death.

/u/Mr_Prolix posted this picture of his uncle's house.

I think this owl in the teabag is funny. In the comments on reddit, they provided the right pun: "sippin on some owl-grey."

The reddit comments gave a few more lesser puns, but reddit orders comments by "upvote," so the best are at the top. 

I saw this graffiti many years ago, before I walked around with a camera phone in my pocket, but thankfully someone else thought to snap it when they saw it:

Photo by Scott S.

Finally, my favorite picture, of ice on lug nuts. Again, I don't know exactly how I'd use this picture, but I imagine something about surprising beauty in the mundane? This was the best experience of the day, as the redditor who posted it offered up this extra information when I asked for permission, within minutes of my request: 

"If you want, here's a little more information on the picture; I was driving a truck to Jackson Hole in Wyoming. I was driving through the national park and they don't salt the roads (because the ice melt isn't very eco friendly). So I guess it's pretty rare to find icicles like this on lug nuts because the salt normally makes them melt off."

Posted to /r/mildlyinteresting

All these pictures and permissions represent a few minutes scrolling and a few minutes of messaging. Every day a new crop of interesting images comes to the top.

/r/pics /r/wtf etc.

There are sometimes some great things in these other picture-oriented subreddits, but there are a LOT of picture posts here that are clearly not taken by the people who posts them. Lots of video screencaps from all sources, etc. 

You can search for images within subreddits, and usually, the community being what it is, someone will identify a picture swiped from another source in comments. That will allow you to find an original source. Also, if you click over to the user who posted it, you can often see what kinds of things they typically post and get a sense of whether or not you can trust them for original content or not.

All of this is a bit of a headache, but think of the implications of reddit's upvote/popularity rankings, which determine what you see when you search. You know hundreds or thousands of people have already clicked a thumbs-up on this stuff. People like it. You are using a field-tested image that works.

Here, for example, was the top post to /r/pics one afternoon:

Not only did the photographer give me permission to share this on the blog, he also emailled me the original image at higher resolution. When you go to his Instagram, which is where he wanted his attribution to go, you can see that he takes pride in only sharing pictures he actually took.

I would use this image of a puddle, upside-down, for all sorts of things about perspectives or reflections. 

/r/historyporn /r/mapporn /r/carporn

Almost all of this stuff is DEFINITELY grabbed from somewhere else. But, as with /r/pics, people will often out the source, and, for some of the older stuff, these will be public domain photos anyway.

The whole "____porn" thing is odd, I know. The idea is that these things are as awesome to look at as porn, that you might just drool over the image, etc. I know. Ick. There's a whole series of groups like this on reddit.


Just as with the last blog post in this series, I'm not promising that these sources of images will take less time. But it will take less time than you think. Plus, you get the library shelf effect where you find something in the neighborhood that surprises you and takes your thoughts in a new, creative direction you didn't anticipate. Google, or even flickr, image searches often do not do that. You also get a narrative to make your picture work in your document, blog post or slidedeck, as well. You also have now connected with people who might be interested in sharing your work with others since you are sharing theirs. That's what happens in social networking, eh? Finally, you get to connect with people, which is inherently fun in this context, even if you are Gollum and don't like filthy hobbitses and live alone in a cave with your Precious. I have learned, in starting my podcast and now branching out to interviewing people I've never met who I connect with via social media, that having conversations with people, even via text, about something that people are passionate about or feel proud of or are just glad someone noticed, well, those are really awesome conversations.

And who says you shouldn't have fun while you are working?

1 comment:

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